A Highway Safari

Day 699 – 28 January, 2017

“Elephants!!,” someone shouted as our truck simultaneously slammed on the brakes. Such shouting of the obvious observation could not be contained on our safari truck. The excitement of seeing living and breathing creatures on the highway after seeing almost nothing in the Okavango Delta Reserve brought shouts almost as if we were trying to call their attention, “Hey, ELEPHANTS! Here you are!!!” The whole lot of passengers were spread out in various degrees of lounging – reading books, playing cards, listening to music, sleeping – but all immediately jumped to attention with cameras poised to see an elephant family peacefully, majestically lumber across the road and disappear behind a swath of acacia trees.

The Caprivi Strip is a narrow strip of land, geographically north of Botswana and south of Angola and Zambia. It is administratively part of Namibia, but it has been in dispute before and probably will be again. Meanwhile, our truck passed from Botswana to Namibia for a full day’s drive to the east where we would spend one night near the Zambezi River before doubling back into Botswana on the other side. Technically, our drive encompassed a reserve zone, preserving a natural corridor for wildlife that crosses between these man-made boundaries that we call border control. The most notable sightings of thriving elephant herds would elicit a shout without fail, if not only for us amateur photographers, but also because given a competition of elephant v safari truck, the truck will lose every time.

My fellow travelers – Tomas, Liz, Elin, Emil, Julia, Michael, John, Bianca and Marcelo from Brazil, and 4 others from Belgium and Brazil – and I had bonded over rainstorms, police road blocks and the ubiquitous sighting of the Common Squawker Heron, but like it or not, our itinerary would be drawing to a close too soon. We camped near the Zambia border, overlooking the Zambezi. The mosquitoes were thick; the river glowed cyan in the twilight next to our campfire. After a day of elephants and antelope and roadside baboons, this is the essence of Africa.

The following day we passed back into Botswana over the Ngoma Bridge and into Chobe National Park. Our afternoon itinerary included a game drive and a sunset cruise and our last opportunity to spot more wildlife before leaving the country. In two open-air jeeps, our Nomad Africa team piled in – we were on the edge of our seats to begin checking off the bucket list, which turned out to be a huge success, although you would never know from our poor attitude. Baboons, impala, giraffe, hippos, buffalo, zebra, kudu, warthogs, waterbucks, crocodiles, and vultures…absent, of course, were all members of the feline species. While this was unsurprising, our group finished the game drive like a deflated balloon, the ungrateful lot that we were. You mean that’s it? No cats?

A light rain was starting to fall as we boarded a “sunset” cruise that looked more like a small auto ferry than a leisure cruise. Already our hopes had been dashed by not seeing the king of the jungle, but now the threat of a thunderstorm might prematurely end our cruise as well. We had prestocked a cooler (an Esky or a chilly bin, for those of you that speak another type of English) with beer so at least it appeared we wouldn’t be bored. We kind of took over the upper deck, entertaining ourselves by challenging John to do 100 pushups or seeing who could do the most complicated yoga poses. At least two deep in Carling Black Label Lager we hardly noticed when the clouds began to part. Our boat cruised past crocodiles and hippos and the sun began to shimmer in every shade of gold. This is what I love about Africa and what will take me back there again and again – the drama in the landscape and the sky and the wildlife. Africa has a way of becoming part of you. You feel at one with the natural cycle and it’s with pure wonder that you marvel at how death begets life and life begets death and how life can really be that simple so far away from Western civilization.

The next morning, bright and early, we decided to go on a second game drive through the park. It wasn’t included in our tour package, but everyone really wanted to see some lions and I regrettably learned (insider tip!) that buying a single game drive on the spot directly from the lodge only costs about $50USD rather than the several thousand a tour operator would like you to believe. Thus, we got an early start back into Chobe on the lookout for the flick of an ear or the wiggle of a tail in the tall grass. If you’ve never been on a game drive, you should know that far more time is spent driving over bumpy dusty roads than observing actual living breathing wildlife and this morning was no exception. Almost everyone except for a few giraffe were hiding today. Unfortunately, it was a huge bust for the big five and a few members of our tour would be leaving Africa without this unforgettable safari experience. We all piled back into the safari truck with Doc at the helm, hoping for one last chance of another highway safari en route to the grand finale, Victoria Falls.