I stumbled off the plane into the J-Burg airport (a.k.a Johannesburg, but almost everyone traveling in Africa affectionately calls it “J-Burg”). This was it. My first steps on the African continent, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t all that coherent for it. All I can remember through the travel fog was that I made it to the international transfers without any hiccups, and I emerged in a large terminal with the rest of the UK’s over-sixty population. Not really what I was expecting, but since all the seats were understandably taken and my 30 pound backpack was increasingly weighing on my now swollen feet (again), I plopped down on the cool tile floor and unstrapped myself from the torture contraption I insisted on traveling with and not checking through to Botswana.
It was HOT.
If anyone’s been following this little blog, you’ll have noticed I’ve been living on a sub-freezing rock for the last three months. My body had just traveled across 3 continents and 7 time zones, going from 30 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I think I deserved to sit down, and if I had to do it on the cool floor–darn it–I was going to do it! I’m usually very conscious of American stereotypes so I try not to draw too much attention to myself when I travel, but this time I just couldn’t stand it and I fully embraced the stares. I blame my mother–I think I’ve inherited her weather wimpy-ness. 😉
Anyway, I was so, so close to my final destination! I spent an hour waiting on the cool floor of that terminal, another hour waiting on a hot bus to take us to our plane, and finally another 2 hours on a flight to Kasane, Botswana. I got through customs and immigration quickly and was so excited to see him! I was also pretty excited to be done carrying my backpack.
FINALLY. I MADE IT! After dropping off my pack, which Adam immediately took off my hands, and finally showering off 2 days of air plane, I ventured out to find my first wild, African elephant.
Water Lily Lodge in the rain…
We were ecstatic to stumble across a small group of them early in the evening. My biggest hope for the trip was to see an elephant, giraffe, lion, and a cheetah. I didn’t know if I would get to see all of them, but at least the first one was checked off!
We decided to celebrate my arrival and early-elephant-spotting skills at a fancy resort walking distance from our humble hotel. This was where I had my first sundowner. I kept my eyes open long enough for a light dinner and cheap bottle of wine making it to 9pm–late enough to keep me asleep through the night until our early 5 am wake up call for our first game drive!
We spent the first day exploring Chobe National Park with a private game drive organized by our hotel. I saw zebra, baboons, elephants, impala and other antelope, and a very small glimpse of a male lion deep in the bushes. Little did I know someone was paying very close attention to where we saw all the animals, filing this away for when we had our own vehicle!
We exchanged our rental car for a 4×4 later that afternoon (after my one and only nap of the whole trip!) and met up with some friends Adam had made while working in Botswana. All 5 of us piled in for an evening game drive.
This soon became the schedule of our days: up at 5 to start an early morning game drive, and back out by 3 for an afternoon/early evening drive. We would barely make it to dinner before stumbling back to bed! It was exhausting but exhilarating!
The next day, we went out with Adams’ friends again for an early drive through the park heading towards the Namibian border. We were hoping to see more wildlife in the Salambala Conservancy, but it didn’t compare to Chobe. We came across a lot more rural villages than we had seen in Botswana.
We had lunch in Katima Mulilo, Namibia and headed back through Botswana to exit the Chobe National Park before it closed at sundown. We finally saw a cheetah! It was laying down in this field, and kept getting up to stalk a little bit and then would lay back down. It was so eerie!
This was also my 100-elephant-day. I saw at least a hundred elephants on the way back to Kasane! The whole evening drive was just spectacular. I guess everyone was right–if you want to see elephants, go to Botswana. We saw them drinking, playing, swimming, sparring, and eating (always eating). Did you know they spend 75% of their waking life eating? Yeah, I didn’t either. They’re such magnificent beasts…
The next day was the best day of the trip in my opinion. We set out on our final early morning game drive. I still hadn’t really seen a lion (this is a closeup of the lion I had already seen–a really big closeup), and I was starting to come to terms with the fact that it might not happen.
Every time we passed by another game driver we asked about the locations of the animals they had seen, and would give them the locations of the animals we had seen. Since Monday, nobody had seen the lions. Unbeknownst to me, Adam headed towards a location that our private guide had mentioned previously. We rounded a corner and I gasped, “That is not an impala, right? That is NOT an impala!” (in my defense their colorings are very similar from a distance). I will end the commentary here because the rest of the conversation contained a lot of expletives. We had found almost the entire pride of lions. Adam stopped the car, and then decided to edge us closer. (I feel the need to state that Adam had several months of experience going on game drives and safaris on several different long term trips to different countries in Africa, so I was in good hands! Basically, “don’t try this at home…”).
Some were laying in the road, some were standing, some were sitting…they weren’t afraid! They were cool as cats…he-he. A few ambled around our car and we were surrounded. This was the COOLEST experience I had ever had on my travels. We saw 5 females, 4 cubs, and 2 juvenile males. And the best part was we were the only ones there besides another private car which took off pretty soon after we found them them. This was such an exhilarating experience to be so close to these wild creatures. It really opens your eyes to the other lives we share this planet with. Cheesy I know…but it definitely was a moving experience.
We finished our drive and saw some giraffe, elephants, baboons, impala and more. Honestly, after seeing the lions we were just so satisfied with our safari experience. It was the best way to conclude this part of our trip. OH! and I saw wild dogs. I keep forgetting. They are extremely endangered, and it was the whole reason Adam wanted to visit Botswana.
A baby baboon!!!
We headed back to the neighboring resort to celebrate our safari successes with a bottle of champagne overlooking the Chobe River…and to avoid any weird looks from the whole drinking in the morning thing, we asked for some orange juice as well.
We returned the car, relaxed by the pool back at our hotel, and booked ourselves on an evening safari cruise.
When I was researching for this trip, I found that many people highly recommended a river cruise because you can see a lot of the wildlife from a completely different angle. You can also get much closer to the animals because they feel like they have an escape route by being on the land while you view from the water. When you observe them from a boat, they are less likely to walk away because they feel safer. This was such a fun excursion, and I highly recommend this as well! But be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat because the sun is brutal this time of day and reflects off the water.
More baby animals! I die.
The whole time we could only see the hippos from afar. But on the river cruise, we got quite close!!
We were looking forward to sleeping in the next morning and enjoying the hotel’s breakfast by the pool. I can’t recommend this hotel enough. First of all, it is extremely affordable. The Water Lily Lodge is located close to the Chobe National Park, but you don’t feel like you’re surrounded by tourists. I felt very safe and well taken care of.
The next day we would be making our way through Zimbabwe to get to our next stop in Zambia! Look out for my next post about our helicopter flight over Victoria Falls.
As always, thanks for reading! You can find Part Two of my trip to Africa here.
Check out my 8 hour trip to see London here!
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