I’ll be honest. I’m baffled as to how to put this incredible experience into words. Where to even begin? Ok, how about this: One fateful conversation over a BYO sushi dinner and a couple bottles of wine with friends. That was all it took to have us begging (literally, I have no shame) to tag along with them on safari in Botswana. We woke up the next morning not quite knowing what we’d signed up for; but we did know this opportunity was way too good to pass up.
(Just had to throw some of my favorites in there before continuing on.)
With flights booked, we had months to go before the trip – but enjoying our last few weeks in Chicago and moving to Scottsdale kept us more than preoccupied. That is, until four little words appeared in the subject line of an email that made its way to our inboxes. ‘AFRICA IS UPON US.’ And with that, emotions began running high. Excitement (giddiness, really), pride, uncertainty, a tinge of fear…. oh yea, we ran the full gamut. Throw the EBOLA scare into the mix and there were days when we were just ready to return safely, even before having stepped onto the plane. Or should I say, planes. Three consecutive flights, one of which (you can guess who informed me) is the fourth longest in the world, clocking in at just under 16 hours.
Our awesome group. We’d be venturing into the Moremi Game Reserve, one of the best and most beautiful places for safari in Africa thanks to it being situated in the heart of the Okavango Delta. With both water and land, the landscapes are varied and there is a TON of wildlife to see. But for night #1, we were more than happy to stay at the Okavango River Lodge in Maun and get to know everyone (Jake and I were the only newbies in the group) in the safe confines of the lodge bar before heading into the ‘bush’ the next day.
(Yes, those were our quarters! Seriously this looked like the Four Seasons by the time we returned for round 2 at the lodge after 5 days in Moremi.)
Prep for nine people camping far, far from civilization was in full swing the next morning. We drove this beauty all around town until she couldn’t hold more supplies, food and of course, an exorbitant amount of ‘refreshment beverages.’
And we were off! We set out on a three hour drive that would land us at our first campsite. The plan was to get progressively further and further into the game reserve each night, starting at the tamest of sites near the gate and eventually making our way inward to entertain honey badgers and packs of hyena as dinner guests. (It’s a toss up which of those two are more fierce. For anyone that hasn’t seen this ridiculously stupid clip about honey badgers… It’s dead on. Not even a brick to the head would stop these food mongers.) Anyway! We started spotting new friends about two hours into drive. (And because I never pass up a photo opp involving local children….. here ya go.)
Us newbies were pretty thrilled at the start to our trip, me furiously snapping pics of every bird and every beast in sight (No matter how far away. Yea, some of those early pics were winners.) Little did we know each day would top the last…
That being said, the next morning at sunrise was still pretty tough to beat:
NOTHING made Jake happier than the giraffes. Hence why they now cover at least a few of the walls in our house. What can I say, I too am a sucker for that face….
Not so much these. Wildebeests. Don’t they look eerily familiar?! Like SO many of the animals we saw, these made an appearance in the Lion King. And let me say, kudos to the people that worked on the film because they totally NAILED the looks, mannerisms, movements and personalities of each and every animal they animated. Being on this safari was oddly enough like stepping into the world of Simba…
AND Pumba (look at the attitudes – and the manes – on those two) AND Zazu with that hot orange beak.
So, check out the attire that would become my uniform for the week. When we looked at the weather forecast, we were pretty pleased to see temps would hit the 80s and 90s. Perfect for getting a little sun and ESPECIALLY for packing light since we couldn’t be hauling our usual huge roller suitcases on this trip. What we overlooked however, were the lows. Given the fact that 90% of our clothes were tanks and shorts, fifty degree dips at night could have spelled disaster if not for the sweats we had sported during travel. Crisis averted… Unless you consider having to rewear the same clothes every single night by campfire a crisis. (Which, by the end, it was reaching that point.)
That’s alright. Nothing like a little hot coffee with Amarula to make us forget our bad hygiene and warm the bones during the FREEZING morning game drives. And who’s to say we didn’t need a bit of liquid courage and we moved further and further into the wilderness…
No trip to the Okavango would be complete without a river tour. Check out the gorgeous lodge on the water where some were living in the lap of luxury (Imagine, a bed! Electricity! Hot showers!)…. Sissies.
No gators to be seen but the sunset MORE than made up for it.
The next morning we were back on the road early. Our schedules every day went a little something like this. Me: Wake up at 2 am dying to go to the bathroom. Peek outside, see weird shadows and hear rustling that I can only assume is an animal or six in our campsite. Quickly shut my eyes, hide under the covers with my Kindle. Count down until 5:45 when the rest of the crew would wake and I finally deemed it safe enough to step outside and relieve myself. Scuffle around in the dark to throw on shoes, grab Amarula and biscuits to go, and drag my entire bed into the truck with me (yes it was THAT cold!!). Begin game drive #1 of the day, all before the sun rose!
We’d go out for three, four, sometimes five hours, rolling along the windy trails and then the big flat plains scavenging for signs of life…. me personally feeling like we were on some ride in Disney. VERY surreal. When we were ready to call it a morning, we’d head back to camp for lunch and to pack up, move on to our next site, set up and do an evening game drive until the sun set. (Then we’d feast! Sad to say some of our campfire meals were more gourmet then what I do at home in my new fancy kitchen.)
Long-winded story out of the way – back to the next morning. Or rather our next campsite, which was across this ‘bridge.’ (Looked a lot to me like we’d just be plowing through a bunch of water, praying that at best our gear wouldn’t get soaked and at worst, the elephants grazing in the grass wouldn’t stampede us.)
We made it across. (I never really doubted our ability. We had fabulous guides.) Next challenge: Decide what to do about the elephant standing on our new campsite. Answer: Steal the campsite next to ours and hope our new neighbors wouldn’t notice when they rolled in a little later. (They did.) All’s well that ended well though – we ended up making a new friend who visited us twice and made for a pretty nice backdrop.
Ah yes, our first cat sighting (plus a giraffe for Jake for good measure):
He was chilling in some grass and was a little hard to spot, but from what we could see, very beautiful, very regal. Very Little D.
Drinks and cheese in hand, game drive luck at a high, we were ready for more action. And it came to us, right in the midst of these guys:
There she be. A cheetah. And it gets better…
She had CUBS. (!!!!) We were lucky to be the only ones to spot this little family, and to top it all off, she was hunting. We sat and watched the trio for a good hour, with the mama eventually leaving the cubs concealed behind a rock while we went into the thick of the forest to catch her prey. She didn’t appear to have much luck – we saw hoards of animals RUNNING for their lives from a distance, but no kill.
At that point, we had already seen enough game (for me at least) to declare that I could go home one happy camper. But we still had one more day.
Now, little bit of a backstory. Remember the wildebeests? We had seen one a day or two prior in a heartbreaking situation: He had badly broken his leg to the point where he couldn’t walk. It would only be a matter of time before he wound up as someone’s dinner. Since he was on the island near our site, we kept tabs on him and he stuck it out a long (almost too long) time. But that last morning, when we woke and found lion tracks in the sand, we knew he was a goner. It was absolutely the saddest part of the trip, but silver linings, right? The lions had to be nearby! And we’d follow those tracks until we found them.
How did we get to be so smart? Well, WE = Trav and Angus. The Most Interesting Men in the World. (Yea, forget that wannabe on the Dos Equis commercials.) When we signed up for the trip, we knew Stef’s good friend and his brother would be guiding us. Little did we know they going to be some of the most exceptional people we’ve ever met (and I say that in a totally non creepy way.) When I say they had insider knowledge into the animal kingdom, it’s because they have LIVED IN IT. As kids they moved from England to the bush, more or less roughed it for 10 years, and intensely studied the patterns of lions with their mother until they were ready to go off to university. Some of the stories they shared (and I’m sure we only got a small sampling) blew our sheltered little Type A minds. Nothing but awe for these guys and we feel so truly fortunate that we were able to experience this journey with them, and with our whole amazing crew.
Okay gushing aside! It was time to find some lions. At first we stumbled on the usual, zebras, impala…
Bingo. Not one, but a pride of lions. Five female with one male. (PS – if you get the chance, look up the concepts and rituals behind how these prides work. Incredible.) So there you have it folks. A finale deserving of this incredible trip.
And one last sunset. <3