Africa P3: Chobe National Park

August 11, 2018 – August 24, 2018

Day 9

To continue our safari vacation, we flew from Johannesburg to Kasane, Botswana. Our flight only had 32 people on it while the aircraft seated 100. Before takeoff, we were all up in the front of the plane, but then they asked for volunteers to move to the back to balance the plane. Tyler and I each ended up with our own row!

We landed in the slightly bigger airport of Kasana and after going through customs went off in search of our transport to the lodge. Apparently there was a mixup with our reservations for this portion of the trip because the driver (and the lodge) thought our name was Johnstone and we had a miscommunication. We sorted it out and drove the 7 minutes to the lodge.

The Chobe Safari Lodge near Chobe National Park was very different than the Jock Safari Lodge. While Jock was basically a beautiful boutique hotel, Chobe held hundreds of people and was the center meet up place for activities in the area. We checked in and had a bite to eat at the buffet before setting sail on a safari cruise. Getting our activity tickets and getting everything ready before the boat was a little bit chaotic, but we made it to the boat with about 50 other people. This boat had a bar on it, so Tyler and I immediately ordered a gin and tonic because it was super hot.

Our cruise was down the Zambezi River, where one side of the riverbank is Namibia and one side is Botswana. There’s an island in the middle called Sidudu Island where there is a great debate over who the rightful owner is.

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We boated to the island and saw a big herd of cape buffalo along with several elephants. We sat and watched them roam around for a bit before going to the other side of the island where we saw a huge crocodile and a smaller one too. They were slightly terrifying.

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This is a bird

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We continued along the cruise and saw another crocodile and some water buck.

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At the top of a tall tree, we saw an African Fish Eagle and learned that they are so efficient at hunting, they spend just 1% of their time looking for food and the other 99% just chillin. They mate for life, and when their mate dies, they do not find another.

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A bit further along the cruise, we ran into a herd of probably 30 elephants. We hung out watching them for basically the rest of the cruise. There were several small babies, some teenagers and some moms. The babies were adorable and would roll around in the mud to get natural sunscreen and then they couldn’t get back up. So they would squirm around on the ground and sometimes the mom had to help them out.

 

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Once the sun started setting, we headed back towards the lodge, spotting a cape buffalo swimming across the river.

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This is also a bird – stork

The sunset over the water was beautiful. The sun turned a bright pink color, while the sky stayed a subdued blue. So magical.

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View of the lodge from the water

After the cruise we freshened up for dinner and had a drink by the pool. I was all covered up in fear of being bit by a malaria carrying mosquito and within 2 minutes I had gotten bit 6 times through my socks. I took off to the room to change and hope that the malaria pills I had started were already kicking in.

To end the night we had the dinner buffet, which was less than great and there were a lot of flies covering the food.

Day 10

Morning drive

We woke up bright and early for our first drive in Chobe. It was a bit of a different experience because our car was 100% capacity of people, so I was stuck in the middle row in the middle seat. Not the best for viewing. We had to drive into the park and register our vehicle before we could start our animal viewing. The authorities at the park have to tell you which route you can take. This time, we got assigned to the upper route, which drove through the woods and not down by the river.

We saw a few elephants right off the bat, hiding behind the trees.

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We didn’t see much else besides kudu and impala for a while.

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It kind of just felt like we were going through a zoo because we had a set route and couldn’t really track anything. Also there were so many other cars that when you did see something, if you didn’t get there first you were looking through several other cars. But I did find $20 in our car. I gave it to the driver as a tip.

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We spotted a male lion through the trees, but he was pretty far away. It got really crowded so we left and spotted another lion close to the male one.

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We spotted a male breasted rolla which is a bird with vibrant blue, pink, and green feathers.

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We spotted a huge group of baboons with their babies trekking through the grass. I especially liked the babies.

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We spotted more baboons hanging out with some impala. Apparently they are friends and watch out for each other. The baboons can climb trees to see if danger is coming, and sometimes they drop fruit down to give it to their buds. Once it’s November and the impala start having babies, the deal is over though, because baboons will eat baby impala.

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We spotted some cape buffalo on the island across the distance.

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We spotted a group of hippos in front of the buffalo, just chillin’ in the water with their heads sticking out and sometimes part of their back.

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This was all pretty exciting, but then we got word of the elusive wild dog in the vicinity. We pulled up right as they were running away, but we did see them and their silly wild dog ears that are round and look like a bear.

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The drive was pretty cold the whole time, and the sun didn’t warm us up as much as in Kruger. But it was cool to see a few different animals and different terrain than we had seen in South Africa.

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The morning and afternoon until the next safari drive was spent lounging by the pool and eating lunch at the buffet. I got a few more mosquito bites by the pool and started obsessing about the possibility of contracting malaria.

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Highlight of the day was definitely when a warthog came into the pool area looking for food. He found a bag of chips and went to town. The staff did not seem worried or impressed, so so I guess he has made his rounds here before.

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In addition to warthogs at the pool, we saw so many monkeys playing around in the trees, jumping from limb to limb.

On our final sunset cruise, I was hoping to get up close and personal with the hippos. Our guide Isaac was so knowledgeable and told us many important facts about the animals we saw.

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Right off the bat, we saw a bachelor herd of elephants. We could tell from afar they were male because there were gaps between the elephants when they were eating because they had no one to protect. Elephants can live up to 60 years, but sometimes the older males get kicked out of the group and have to start their own bachelor herd. Elephants have 6 sets of molars throughout their lives and how well they take care of these determines how long they will live. That’s why they shake and twirl the grass they are eating to loosen the soil which can grind their teeth down.

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Right beside the elephant, we saw the first of sooo many crocodiles. Crocodiles take 3 months to hatch their eggs and then after that the babies are on their own because crocs are solitary creatures. They eat fish and can grow to be 20 feet. They can go 3 months without food while they are digesting the food that has already been eaten. They are cold blooded so they get their energy from their body heat and must lay in the sun. They open their mouths to get warmer.

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Big boy crocs can hold their breath for 30 minutes by slowing down their heart rate. They were literally everywhere in the river and I would not want to be swimming across it.

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staring straight into my soul

Further down the river we saw the red lechwe antelope who has shorter front legs than back to help the back legs press into the ground, which is great for jumping through the mush.

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The crocodiles and birds were so abundant throughout our trip down the river. We pulled up right next to them a few times.

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At last, we spotted some hippos, and saw so many during the drive that is was laughable we saw zero during the boat cruise the day before.

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We saw them in the water blowing bubbles, we saw them on the land, we saw them snoozing, we saw them yawning. Hippos have sensitive skin, so you rarely see them grazing during the day unless they have to because predators are around at night. They eat 140 kg of wet material a day!

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When hippos are mating, they have to do it in the water because the males legs are so short, but they have the babies on land. The gestation period is 8 months, and hippos are related to whales, making similar calls and traveling in pods.

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When you see a hippo yawning, really it means that they are trying to scare off predators with how big their teeth are.

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Post hippo frenzy, we saw a bachelor herd of buffalo. The herds can reach up to 2000 members and when younger males come in they kick the older males out and they have to form their own herd. This was a common theme among many of the herd animals. The buffalo take shelter on Sidudu island because it has water and access to grass and mud to roll around in to coat their skin. Since these bachelor males are old they have hair loss. Also a plus is that the lions won’t swim to the island because of the gators.

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One of the most amazing things we saw on our entire safari time came next. We ran into a big herd of elephant mamas and babies. An elephant’s mission is to raise their young together so the matrons of several families combine. The oldest female leads the group.

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We saw the female lead the whole group across the deep, 100 meter wide river to the island. It was amazing. They all went together in a group, even the babies. Because elephant bellies hold a lot of air, they are very buoyant when they get in the water. They don’t actually swim, but they bounce along the water.  Apparently the elephants are creatures of habit and make this trek to the island frequently.

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After we were done marveling at the elephants, we saw a pod of about 20 hippos. The males aren’t allowed to join the group after birth and have to find their own squad so they don’t dominate their own father.

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I didn’t think the boat tour could get much better, and then we found lions. They were more active than most of the lions we have seen and I thought they might try to take down one of the antelopes they were stalking. We watched for a bit as they circled the herd, but no luck on the kill.

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Instead of a lion kill, we witnessed another magical sunset with bright pink and orange hues. We watched as it climbed down the sky.

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On the way back to the lodge we also saw more hippos and elephants.

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Baboons on the bank were our last animal sightings on the boat.

Of all the Chobe safaris we did, this was definitely the best one. We saw so many different animals and our guide was great and knowledgable about all of the animals. As a bonus, we were sitting next to a Dutch couple who worked at PwC the whole time and we made new friends. Such a small world, and I’m glad our time in Amsterdam has allowed us to more easily connect with people. I constantly am pushed out of my comfort zone and am able to experience great things.

Our last dinner at the lodge was pretty good and we shared a bottle of wine and reminisced about our favorite parts of the trip so far. We went to bed at 9pm, once again exhausted from the day.

Day 11

The day started with another early morning wake up call for our last game drive of the trip. We were again the last ones to the car and got a seat in the completely full car, this time in the back row. Our game mates were very outspoken Germans and Canadians. They pretty much verbally abused our driver the whole time telling him what to do and made the trip less than fun. They were also so interested in birds and wanted to stop to see every single one.

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The highlight of the trip was a leopard spotting. Unfortunately, about 30 other safari vehicles also spotted the leopard and were crowding around it. He was a sleepy kitty, but woke up a few times to look around.

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This was pretty much all we saw for the whole drive. When we got to the break, the Canadian zoomed in on her pictures and noticed that there were 2 leopards. No one had been able to see with their naked eye, but on the camera it was clear. We didn’t have a good angle or a close enough camera and couldn’t see if on any of our pictures.

A guide told us a story about a group he had that went the whole time without a leopard sighting. They took a group picture at the break spot and when they got home and were looking at the picture on the bigger computer screen they saw a leopard in the tree right above them! These leopards are so sneaky and blend in so well.

Along the safari we also saw:

Hippo

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Buffaflo

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Spotted hyena

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Birds

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Elephant and giraffe

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Impala

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Although we saw so many incredible things, I still liked Kruger better where we had a more intimate and less crowded experience. It was more about the hunt and tracking the animals than racing to the spot where someone had previously called in a sighting.

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After our last safari, we went to breakfast and then packed to make our transfer to Zambia to see the Victoria Falls.

Post coming soon.

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