Botswana safari plus, day three
03.07.2018 - 03.07.2018
I had a restless night, punctuated by dreams of alarm clocks failing to go off and of missed flights. But the alarm did ring, at 4.30, and before five we were on our way to the airport through already busy, and rainy, Nairobi streets.
The airport too was already busy, and we had to queue to enter through security gates. Once in, check in went smoothly, and we then paused on some nearby seating to consume some of the very large packed breakfast given us by the hotel on departure, abandoning the rest in the hope that someone else would make use of it.
By the time we were through passport control and security it was almost time to board our Kenyan Airways flight to Livingstone. We took off in a light drizzle and up through the low cloud, to be greeted soon after by the wonderful sight of Mount Kilimanjaro peeking through the clouds, also nearby Mount Meru.
Mount Kilimanjaro from the plane
Mount Meru from the plane
Breakfast was served soon after take-off (tip: poached eggs are not a great option for in-flight cuisine!) Soon the clouds cleared, and we had views below of dry scrub with patches of agriculture and some arid hills. As we came into land at Livingstone Airport we could see the distant spray rising from Victoria Falls, but too far away to get a decent photo.
Disembarking at Livingstone Airport
We landed in bright sunshine, a welcome change from the grey clouds of Nairobi. The airport here is very new (opened last year) and shiny, and we were pleased to see short queues at immigration - but less pleased to be told there that we weren’t eligible for a so-called Univisa, which covers both Zambia and Zimbabwe, because we were going to stay in Botswana between our time in those two countries. So we had to pay $50 each to spend about one hour in Zambia, simply driving from the airport to the border with Botswana at the river. We were told later by our driver that pretty much anyone who travels between the various countries of this region has to come through Zambia, so I guess the visas are a nice boost to the national economy!
Having handed over the payment we were soon through immigration, collecting our bags which had already arrived, and heading outside to be greeted by Kennedy, the driver who would take us to the border. It was an interesting drive, through the town of Livingstone and part of a national park (where we spotted impala and a baboon) to the Zambezi River.
The road from Livingstone to the Botswana border
They are building a bridge at this point, Kazungula, which will link Zambia and Botswana by road, but until that opens (in 2020, all being well) everyone must cross by boat. There is a drive-on ferry for vehicles but foot passengers cross in small motorboats. I enjoyed the short ride and the vivid blue colour of the water.
On the Kazungula ferry
First sight of Botswana!
On the far side we were met by another driver, Onks, who took us to the border post where formalities were quickly completed - no long forms to fill in, no visa fee to pay. Just a couple of simple questions (‘how long will you stay? will you be driving?’) and we were through. Onks made sure we walked across the compulsory mat soaked in disinfectant (I have never been convinced these serve any purpose!) and we were officially in our third country of the day. And it wasn’t even lunchtime!
The drive to our accommodation in Chobe Game Lodge took about an hour, the second half of it through the national park. Although not really on a game drive, we were in a safari vehicle, and Onks stopped a couple of times to point out, first, a lone giraffe among the trees, and second, a herd of hippos down by the river. We also saw lots of impala and several types of bird, including a fish eagle high in a dead tree.
Hippos on our drive to Chobe Game Lodge
We had a warm and very well organised welcome at the lodge. Unlike many in Botswana, Chobe Game Lodge is rather large, which means more facilities but also less of that ‘intimate luxury’ feel. It lies along the river bank with lovely views from the restaurant and a boardwalk especially constructed to make the most of the setting.
Panoramic view from our terrace
We were shown to our room, a double on the lower of the two floors, which was very attractively presented - lovely décor, large bathroom with two basins, a free-standing tub and huge walk-in shower, and bougainvillea scattered everywhere!
Our room at Chobe Game Lodge
We unpacked our small bags and headed straight back to the restaurant as lunch was being served.
Lunchtime at Chobe
All meals, drinks (apart from premium brands) and activities are included in your stay here. Three courses for lunch and dinner would defeat us both, so we skipped the starter. For my main I chose a warm steak salad (very good) and Chris a pulled pork burger, and we both had strawberries with ice cream and a coffee after. We also enjoyed the traditional dancers and musicians performing just outside the restaurant and assumed this was a regular occurrence, but we were not to see them again during our three days stay.
After lunch we settled in properly and explored our surroundings a little. But there is a very full programme of activities here (typically three a day) so we had little time to linger. We had a boat to catch!
Did I say three countries? Make that four!
Our first activity at the lodge was a sunset cruise on the Chobe River, departing at 3.30 from the jetty. All the boats are electric, out of environmental concerns, and all the guides female, to support local families with employment opportunities. We were welcomed on board by our guide for the afternoon, along with a family of four from Helsinki.
This was an excellent introduction to Chobe and I suspect that all guests are offered it as their first activity for exactly that reason. It was relaxing to be out on the water after our early start, the guide was informative but also knew when to shut up and let us enjoy the moment, and we saw such a lot!
Here are some of the highlights:
The bird life - our first exciting sighting was a Fish Eagle perched in a dead tree, and we were to see more of these and many more beautiful birds, including egrets (Great, Little and Black), Helmeted Guinea Fowl, Pied Kingfisher, Reed Cormorant, White-crowned Plover, Yellow-billed Stork, Egyptian Goose, White-faced Whistling Duck, Jacana, Squacco Heron, Grey Heron and African Darter. Several of these were completely new to me. The photos below were taken at various points during the afternoon/evening:
First sighting - a Fish Eagle
Great Egret, and Reed Cormorant
Helmeted Guinea Fowl
Jacana with chicks
Another Fish Eagle
Yellow-billed Stork and White-faced Whistling Ducks
Grey Heron and White-faced Whistling Ducks
A herd of elephants came down to the water to drink, lick salt from the rocks, and sand bathe. There were several youngsters among them, including one who seemed very reluctant to step into the water, like a holidaymaker trying to brave a too-cold sea!
Elephants arriving by the Chobe River
Enjoying their drink
Another got very carried away with his sand bathe, flinging the sand everywhere in his enthusiasm.
Sand-bathing elephants, Chobe National Park
A ‘pod’ of hippos was eating grass in the shallows. Two young males kept breaking off from their meal to indulge in some playful sparing, which was very entertaining to watch.
Hippos by the Chobe River
Hippos sparring, watched by a Jacana
A crocodile was cruising the water’s edge and another lying on the bank.
On our return journey, a large number of impala were at the same salt-lick where the elephants had been earlier, glowing in the light of the setting sun. The colours and shapes reminded a little of a cave painting!
Impala at sunset
The sunset itself was of course another highlight. I will let the photos speak for themselves.
Giraffes at sunset
Elephants at sunset
Flying to their roost
Sun setting over the Chobe River
And why four countries? Well, the Chobe River forms the boundary between Botswana and Namibia, so when our boat was nearer the far side of the river we were technically in Namibia!
Evening at the lodge
We were back at the lodge around six, an hour before dinner, so there was time to check over the photos before freshening up and heading over to the restaurant. By now it was getting chilly but not too bad on the open terrace, which is very sheltered. The food was all good (I especially liked my pear and blue cheese starter), and the service friendly. But we didn’t linger long over our meal, or visit the tempting bar, as we were tired from our early start and knew there would be another such tomorrow. Our wake-up call was scheduled for 5.00!