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African Road Trip, part 1

We left Kwara after that last extraordinary morning with the cheetah cubs practically weeping at the thought of going back to taking care of ourselves. Then we got to the airport and saw our new chariot for the next and last month of travel.

I know, isn’t it cool?

When we started planning this part of the trip, I began to wonder if we were seriously starting to lose our minds. We had a conference call with the agent who helped us organize this leg, Andy of DriveBotswana, and he assured me, yes people do this, people do this with kids. In the end we reasoned that we’ve camped and backpacked in the states, we’ve hung bear bags. How much more different could it be to camp with an eye out for baboons and hyenas? We put our last month in Andy’s hands and he planned an itinerary that takes us back to part of the Okavango Delta and Chobe, down to the Makgadikgadi Pan, through the Kalahari Desert, then into Namibia and finally South Africa for our flight home(!!!) This may turn out to be my favorite mode of travel yet- we’re traveling independently, but Andy did all the leg work. We’re camping, but not all of the time. We have a nice selection of hotels and lodges sprinkled in to keep us sane.

We stocked up on food in Maun, which wasn’t the challenge I feared, and drove the next day to the Moremi Game Reserve, another animal rich corner of the Okavango Delta, excited all over again to see impala, zebra and elephants under our own steam. I had fondly hoped to be settled in our camp site, have dinner out of the way and be tucked into our tents soon after dark the first night- instead we took on a wrong turn on a game loop, then had a traitorous GPS try send us through a flooded section of road. Full dark found me squatting next to the fire, turning sausages and scanning with my headlamp for hyena eyes while Vance and the kids struggled to set up the roof tents for the first time. When we were all settled in bed though, hot water bottles at our feet, being up high felt wonderful. When a hippo wandered through our camp site loudly cropping the grass it was comforting, not scary as it would have been had we been at ground level. When he paused in his munching and started making a peculiar flapping noise Della identified it before I did, practically shrieking, “He’s pooping!” because that is what hippos do, fanning with their tails to spread their droppings both as a way to mark territory and make a trail to find their way back to their water hole in the morning.

We had three days in Moremi, another two in Savuti (which featured an elephant proof ablution block the kids named “Fort Toilet”) and one more night on the way back through Maun. At night we heard lions roar, hippos making their evil laugh call, hyenas giggling and elephants trumpeting. Now that all the anti-malarial meds have worked their way out of my system I find I’m capable of sleeping through quite a bit of animal ruckus. In the morning we checked the tracks in the sand of our camp site to see who had visited- African wild cat, hyena, hippo, spring hare. The kids would tell you we’ve spent all our time in the car, but we’ve had some quiet hours in our camp sites, even fitting in some school time (we’re still not quite done with our school year.)

More than once as we drove we stopped to wait for groups of elephants to cross the road. They had a habit of appearing suddenly out of the elephant-height mopane bushes that scared the bejesus out of us. The roads were challenging and sandy- we’d come to a quick stop and eye the elephant(s) eyeing us warily, watching for signs of aggression, hoping the sand we were stopped in wasn’t too deep to allow for a quick getaway. We looked for animals on our game drives but didn’t sweat not seeing lions or leopard- they’re here but we’re not equipped to track and pursue anything elusive. Also, we’ve seen so much, we’re so saturated with our encounters to date, anything now is just icing on the cake. Still, it was really nice of a pack of wild dogs to park themselves in the shade under two bushes next to the road where we couldn’t miss them. The next morning three dogs, members of the same pack I’m sure, ran past our campsite while we were finishing breakfast, tails and ears at attention, oblivious to our presence. They joined the rest of the pack in a clearing and dashed away, thereby revealing the downside to the roof tents. When you are set up, you are stationary and there no quick getaway to pursue a hunting pack of wild dogs. It was okay though, we’d already seen wild dogs in action. Like I said, icing on the cake.

Surviving our first six nights felt like passing some sort of test. We didn’t get stuck in sand, we didn’t have our dinner taken by hyenas. Now, driving down a sandy Botswanan road listening to music and scanning for elephants seems entirely normal. Time to restock and continue for another three weeks!

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