Monday, July 20, 2015

Chobe National Park Safari

Isaac and I knew what we wanted to share with our team while we were in Livingstone, and Chobe National Park in Botswana was on the top of our list.  As one of the largest animal reserves in Africa, it’s spectacular.  It borders the Chobe River (leads into the larger Zambezi), and draws in animals from all over when the water levels get low.  This time of year is winter below the Equator, and in Zambia, that means it’s the dry season.  However, the rainy season wasn’t so rainy a few months ago, so the whole region is experiencing a drought.  We were shocked when got to the river crossing and saw just how low the water was.  It made sense then why the nation is load shedding (cutting power to particular parts of the nation in set blocks of time).  Zambia is dependent on hydroelectricity for power, and the dams are struggling to have the water levels needed to run the plants.  The only benefit is that it’s drawing the migratory animals back to the river a little sooner than normal.

To get to Chobe, we drove about 45 minutes to the Zambezi River crossing between Zambia and Botswana.  At that point, Namibia is to the right and Zimbabwe across the river and to the left.  It’s the African 4 Corners!  We take a little pontoon boat across the river where we then load into a safari jeep.  Man Cub thought the boat ride was awesome!  He also had fun squealing on the safari jeep as the wind would blow in his face.  Sweet boy!  From the river bank, it’s about a 15 minute drive to the entrance of Chobe.  It’s a fun little experience!

At dinner on Sunday, we asked everybody what they hoped most to see on our safari.  Elephants, zebra, monkeys, giraffes, hippos, and cape buffalo all made the list. Before we could even reach the park entrance, our driver and guide, Motaa, pulled over for us when I spotted a herd of elephants on the side of the road, eating from a lush acacia tree. Acacia trees are my absolute favorite trees in the world! What a way to start our safari!  The park isn’t fenced in, so the animals can roam freely.  We also saw a family of warthogs before ever entering the park.

While Motaa signed us in at the park entrance, we had a little tea and water break.  We weren’t wanting to stop long though because we were so excited to see more animals!  As we started down the path, we began to discover vervet monkeys, baboons, and several types of birds.  Off in the distance, we spotted a lone bull giraffe munching on some trees.  Isaac and I were amazed at just how dry everything was.  We’re used to seeing the changing and falling leaves, but some of the plants were dead, and the ground was even dustier than usual.  As we drove closer to the river bed, we were shocked to see how low the river was.  Still, we weren’t disappointed in our animal sightings.  It didn’t take long to discover crocodiles of all sizes, some mud-loving hippos napping in the sun, elephants crossing the river, water buck, cape buffalo, and more impala than we could ever, ever count.  We also saw several king fish eagles and 2 different kinds of storks.  Hoping along in the dirt near the river was a horn bill, you know, Zazu! A little mongoose was scurrying in and out of the brush near the road during one of our stops. At one point, we stopped to observe a herd of impala.  Something startled them, and they took off in a stampede all around us.  It was spectacular!

When we drove up the river bank, we headed deeper into the park.  We saw another jeep stopped up ahead of us, but couldn’t quite figure out why.  As we approached, we realized an elephant herd was on either side of the path, just munching away on the trees and bushes.  Motaa told us that as long as the elephants didn’t show signs of distress, park rules allowed us to turn off the engine and sit quietly amongst the animals.  The elephants didn’t seem impressed with us at all, so we just sat in awe….and snapped 100s of pictures between all of us.  The babies would nurse and then run around with their friends.  The grown-ups just ate and walked around us, at one point, showering the back of the jeep with dirt as they applied ‘sunscreen’ to themselves.  No one needed the zoom on the cameras for these photos!  

Later, we saw a different herd of elephants walking single file down to the river for a drink.  It was adorable!  We also found several male giraffes, still off in the distance, but close enough to see well. A lone, elusive sable was finally spotted by me.  They're beautiful and so shy, so I always think it's cool to find them.  And remember baby Matches from my trip in 2010?  Well, we found his grown-up relatives around a little watering hole!

We were sad to arrive at the end of ours safari, but we were getting hungry and ready for lunch.  We headed to Chobe Marina Lodge, the same place we ate two years ago as part of our safari, for lunch.  Lots of ‘normal’ foods were on the buffet, but warthog stew piqued my interest. It was SO GOOD.  The vervet monkeys have made themselves at home at the lodge, so we had to shoo them away from our table several times.  Ha.  They were pretty cute though.

It was late afternoon when we finally made it back to Zambia and on in to Livingstone.  We had originally thought we’d go on down to Victoria Falls, but there wasn’t time.  Instead, several of us went to the Livingstone Museum, a place Isaac and I ran out of time to visit in ’13.  The museum is more about Zambian history with just a small section devoted to David Livingstone, but we weren’t disappointed.  One section talked about ancient human life in the country, another was about the wildlife that could and can be found, another discussed the timeline of Zambian colonization to independence, and another was about the modernization push that drove people out of the villages and to the cities, leaving many disenchanted with life and missing the ways of the past.  I can’t blame them.  My favorite room was the one dedicated to Livingstone.  They had letters of his along with photographs of him with his family and even when he met Queen Victoria.  This British missionary who wanted to find the source of the Nile but instead discovered Victoria Falls intrigues me.  He traveled extensively to share the Gospel, all while his family remained far, far north.  He died young from dysentery, but he accomplished so much.  

For dinner, we ate at one of our favorite local restaurants.  We ordered crocodile sausage and mopani (caterpillars) for everyone to try.  Most did, and several of them went back for 2nds.  Yay for adventurous friends!  I ordered impala stew (one of my most favorite meats on the planet!) and nshima.  It was as traditional of a meal as I could get, and I was in heaven.  Many on the team had crocodile burgers, and the verdict was that, yes, they did taste like chicken!

Isn't this sleeping little babe under a mosquito net just the sweetest thing?

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