After 1 night in Savuti we were all a bit tired of all the sand and the long walk to the ablutions so were looking forward to moving on to Moremi. We had no idea what type of campsite we were heading to but all had dreams of it being something like Dan’s place in the Caprivi (private bathroom, kitchen, dining room, clean sand etc etc).
Accommodation in Moremi is limited and in high demand. We had ended up booking on the edge of the park in Magotho campsite on land belonging to Khwai Development Trust. The journey there turned out to be incredibly slow and bumpy and was made even slower when our trailer broke (luckily not permanently). In the early afternoon we arrived at the co-ordinates for Magotho campsite and our hearts sunk. There was no office, no person to tell us where to camp, no running water, no ablutions. To put it simply, there was nothing. Suddenly the sand and distant toilets of Savuti seemed like luxury.
We drove around looking for someone to help us and eventually found some campers who said that no one from Khwai Development Trust had been around for a few days. They suggested we should just find a camping spot and set up. We looked around for a bit and found a few potential spots – some had numbers on a tree and others just had the remains of another campers campfire. We chose one of the latter on the main road with a lovely bunch of trees behind us and a beautiful open view to the front of us. It later transpired that where we had camped was not an official campsite (still not sure what made a campsite ‘official’) but we were settled there so we stayed.
Be under no illusion, although I may make references in the above paragraphs to ‘campsite’, ‘official’ and ‘booking’ this was no ordinary camping holiday. We were completely on our own in the middle of the African bush. So, should you expect to find yourself in a similar situation one day, here are our ‘7 Lessons from living in the African bush’.
1. A campsite is sometimes just a bit of land around a tree.
When in the wild, do not expect modern luxuries of buildings, a roof, lighting, electricity, toilets, showers or water at all. Do not expect the security of a fence, an armed guard or even a sign telling you that you are permitted to be there. Instead, content yourself with a flat, dry area of land and hopefully a tree for shade.
2. Elephant walk along ‘corridors’ and camping within these mean elephant will walk through your campsite
We cannot help you identify an elephant corridor as our experience of Botswana is that elephant are everywhere. While the sight of 5 large bull elephants suddenly emerging from the trees behind your tent and passing by your campfire may be quite alarming, we found that they generally just ignored us and continued with their eating / drinking / walking. We had about 2 hours of the one herd hanging around and, with us keeping a respectful distance away from them (and close to the car) they were an absolute delight to watch.
3. Camping next to the water means hippo
While a campsite with a view is always in demand, remember that a watery view comes with the risk of grazing hippo (one of Africa’s more dangerous beasts). We had a lovely view of a river from our campsite which meant elephant and buck came down to drink during the day. However, as the sun set we would start to hear the now familiar grunt of hippo as they readied themselves for their night time graze. During the night you could hear the ‘chomp chomp’ of the hippo as they wandered around near our camp eating. Definitely important to stay in your rooftop tent until morning! Although, saying this, I believe hippo can travel up to 10km at night while grazing so even if you chose a campsite without a water view you may still see them.
4. Be prepared to build your own toilet
When in the African bush and faced with the prospect of no formal ablutions, be prepared to build your own. You will need a spade to dig the hole and to put sand back in the hole after every visit. Choose your location carefully. It should be far away enough from the campsite for some privacy but close enough so that people can hear your cries for help if you are at the toilet and come across a lioness. Ensuring good visibility is also a good idea – I never feel comfortable having my back to the African bush.
5. You will only shower if you make one
If cleanliness is important to you then perhaps living in the African bush is not for you. Water is scarce and swimming in the water channels is downright dangerous. We were fortunate to have one of our team able to safely collect river water and build us an outdoor shower so we could at least feel a bit cleaner. Luckily, some elephant chose to wander down to our camp at the same time providing an exceptional showering view.
6. Make a big fire, you never know what will try visit you at night
A fire is your friend as it provides light, heat, a place for cooking, a center point to your evening conversation and a deterrence to some particularly scary wild animals. On our first night, we sat nervously around the fire surrounding by a thick blackness like I had never experienced when Don suddenly said ‘whats that?’ and aimed his torch out to the front. There, a mere 8 meters (we measured the next morning) was a hyena. A giant hyena. A giant hyena with a jaw that can crack bones. What amazed me was that it had got that close to us without the rest of us hearing one thing. We reassured ourselves that with the fire it would not have come any closer.
The next night we were setting the table for dinner when a car suddenly came careering along the road in front of us. It slammed on breaks and asked us if we had seen the leopard. Ummm…. no? Apparently it had been walking down the road towards us but when the car came up it ran into the bush next to our camp. Now it was somewhere around us and we had no idea where. The next morning we woke up and found its footprints on the road right next to our fire. Like it had walked through the camp, around the fire and back out the other side. We heard and saw nothing of course.
7. Be prepared to work hard
Life in the African bush is not easy. Anything you need you have to either have brought with you or be in a position to collect yourself (firewood, shower water etc). The roads (where there are roads) are just marked out of the bush and you must get used to sand, bumps, obstacles and water crossings.
It sounds like a cliche but is an absolute privilege to stay in the wild in the African bush. There are not many places left in the world where you can go without the restraints of a reception desk and checkout times and without the security of phones and wifi. If you are lucky enough to experience this, embrace it. Give in to the lack of toilets and showers and relish the chance to walk around a corner and see a family of elephant playing in the water. Be respectful of your surroundings and remember that you are the intruder. Leave it as you found it so many more travelers can get the chance to experience the same.