Waking up to the pitch-black darkness all around is something I’m not sure I can ever get used to. This morning, unlike the majority of the mornings with Nomad Adventure Tours thus far, I found myself barely able to see a few feet in front of me, inside my canvas tent. It was 4:30am and the tour was headed northeast to the Botswana city of Kasane – where we would have the opportunity to take some optional game drives in Chobe National Park. But since we had to be there for lunchtime and it was a big drive, we had agreed the night before that we would be leaving Planet Baobab by the ungodly hour of 5:30am.
To be very honest, I didn’t even bother changing into my clothes for the day- I figured I would when we reached the next campsite- so instead I rolled up my sleeping bag and took my few items that I had brought with me into the tent and returned them to my seat on Harrison, the Nomad Adventure Tours overland truck. I brushed my teeth and washed my face in the fancily decorated open-air ablutions before returning to the campsite to have some bread and coffee for breakfast. Once everyone had managed to eat their morning meals, take down their tents and stow them away in the appropriate compartment on the truck, we all hopped on board and made ourselves comfortable.
The truck pulled out of Planet Baobab ahead of schedule, into the still pitch-black darkness of the African night. I’m not going to lie, as soon as the truck had hit the main road I had curled up in my seat with my iPod on and with some assistance from the gentle rocking of the truck, I drifted back to sleep. When I woke up we were pulling over to the side of the road and the sun was up and beating into the windows, heating up the inside of the overland truck. Shingie, the Nomad Adventure Tours lead guide, came over the loud speaker to announce that there was a pack of very rare African wild dogs on the side of the road. To me they just looked like a mangy mix of dog and hyena. Over the next hour or so, we stopped to see giraffes, elephants and zebra on the side of the road. Only in Africa. Literally!
We rocked up to the small ‘city’ of Kasane- on the Botswana/Zimbabwe border, and the first thing that we saw that indicated we were coming into a more populated area- was the large billboard for KFC. We all teased Sue, my travel companion and tent buddy, that we all knew where she was going to be eating lunch! She had been going on for the past 17 days that she had a massive (and random) craving for KFC- something she would never touch at home, but put her in Africa, and it’s all she could think about! Unfortunately for Sue, we didn’t stop in the city center long enough for her to get any KFC because we had to make our way to our campsite, quickly eat lunch and the 8 of us who were going to do the optional game drive in Chobe had to be ready to go in a very limited amount of time.
Once at camp Sue and I hurriedly put up our tent – in a routine that we now had down pat – then went on and stuffed our faces with sandwiches and some pasta salad. Myself, and seven others on my tour had all decided to splash out for the optional afternoon game drive and we were picked up at our campsite by the large safari 4X4 that would hopefully show us some more of the ‘Big 5’ and other African flora and fauna.
It was a brief ten-minute drive down the road till we hit the main gates to the Serondela area of Chobe National Park – the most popular and heavily vistited areas of the park and home to the one of the largest congregations of African elephants in the entire world. After our driver signed us in at the main gates, we took off down some bumpy unpaved sand-covered paths. Within minutes we saw a beautiful young male impala mere feet from our truck. At first, he stood there like a deer in headlights – but once he realized all we wanted to do was take his picture, he continued about his impala routine.
To the right of us, about 200m through the bushes we spotted our first herd of elephants. Our driver was kind enough to take us down to a better area to view them where we ended up being no less than 5m away! The driver told us that this particular herd was a herd of young bachelor elephants.
INTERESTING FACT: Later on my Africa travels, I learned that elephants live in a matriarchal society and often times the males will create their own herds because they do not reach sexual maturity until at least 25 years of age – thus the females shun them from their group, until the boys can be of service to them.
We followed the herd of bachelor elephants as they walked along the Chobe River and there we spotted crocodiles, water monitors, hippopotamus and plenty of different species of birds. For the following two hours we saw countless elephants, hippos, different antelope species – kudu, impala, even a few sable antelope- giraffe, buffalo, vultures, even a few warthogs. I’ll let the following pictures do the talking.
We eventually returned to the Kasane city center, where we met back up with the rest of our Nomad Adventure Tours group. From here we were going to be heading on a sunset cruise along the Chobe River. We were dropped off at the boat docks and stepped on board a pontoon boat with lots of plastic chairs set up around the perimeter. We made ourselves comfortable and soon were joined by another overland tour group from a different company. As the boat pulled away from the dock, we all introduced ourselves, got comfortable with a few cold beverages and started taking in some of the spectacular views.
The boat soon stopped at a number of elephants that were happily drinking and cooling off by splashing themselves down by the riverside. Cameras were whipped out and pictures were snapped. Once everyone seemed content with what they had seen the captain pulled away and continued on down the river.
“There’s that elephant from earlier today. The dead one!” Someone who had been on the game drive earlier that afternoon said aloud.
“What’s going on? Why are there so many other elephants around?” Another tour goer who hadn’t joined us, piped up.
These were only a few of the things that were said when we happened to stumble upon an elephant funeral on the side of the river. We had been told earlier in the day that there was an elephant that had died from anthrax and the park rangers had come across her body in the river. To prevent poachers from coming in and stealing her tusks for the ivory trade, they brought the dead body onto shore and removed it’s head – a common practice in many national parks in Africa.
Prior to my trip to Africa, I had read up on elephants and knew that they felt emotions much like humans – but it wasn’t until I saw this that I truly understood. The dead elephant lay on the riverside, with a small gathering of 3-4 elephants standing beside the body. For as far as I could see, there were elephants walking in a procession, making their way by the body and as each one passed by, it would touch it’s trunk to the already decomposing elephant. It was their way of mourning. It was so powerful and so emotional. It actually brought tears to my eyes. I don’t think I fully understood to what capacity that these animals could feel- and it was so incredible and moving to see how they were honouring their fallen sister.
From the elephant funeral we moved on and anchored by a large gathering of hippos that were lounging in the water, enjoying the last bit of sunshine before the sun set for the evening. With camera in hand I patiently waited to get the perfect ‘open mouth’ hippo shot – much like I did whilst in the mokoros during the Okavango excursion. While I did manage to get a few shots that fit that bill, I was even more excited when a mother hippo and her baby seemingly posed for our boat, a mere 20m away.
The beautiful evening on the river cruise was then made complete with the most perfect African sunset one could ask for. The skies went a fiery reddish-orange colour as the sun made it’s way below the horizon. It was the perfect end to another great day on tour. The pontoon docked and Sandile was there to pick us up in Harrison. He had left Shingie behind at the campsite, preparing our meal for the evening. We reached camp and dinner was ready and waiting to be eaten. This was our last night that we would be camping together- as the following two nights we would be staying at a lodge in Victoria Falls. It was sad to think that our time was coming to an end.
After dinner, Shaun, Ivan, Sue, Jasmijn and myself all rocked up to the campsite’s bar where we had a few drinks with people from other overland tours as well as some locals and some non-overlanding travelers. The men all played some manly drinking game that required them to get into a push-up position with a beer can under each palm and walk themselves out as far as they could. The women of the bar just watched in horror. Beer went everywhere, hand’s were cut and left with seemingly permanent indents – only guys would find this type of ‘macho’ behavior amusing.
At some point around eleven o’clock I decided to call it a night. I snuck off to my tent, leaving the others behind to enjoy their drinking games and cold beverages. I both looked forward to and dreaded reaching Victoria Falls- I was excited to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but was sad that my time with Nomad Adventure Tours was coming to an end. Day 18 was so incredible and full of beautiful animal sightings – I had a lot of the same feelings that I had during the few days we spent in Etosha. I would have one remaining opportunity to go on a game drive and hopefully see my last remaining animal of the ‘Big 5’ – the leopard. The following morning myself and a few others were going to go on one last game drive at sunrise and I knew that I would have to get at least a little bit of sleep before my alarm went off at 5:00am.
The story continues as we cross into Zimbabwe for Day 19 – click HERE
Start from the beginning! Click HERE for Day 1
**DISCLAIMER: While Nomad Adventure Tours did provide me with a discounted tour, all expressed thoughts, opinions and experiences remain my own.**
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