Sunday, April 2, 2017

Safari: Camp Savute

The Great Adventure Begins:

After a long day of travel, two game drives and a lovely late dinner, this bed was a welcome sight! Our lodging was very comfortable and private as it was tucked in the bush with its own private walkway. The shower could be open to the deck - if you so choose!

Our accommodations were beautiful. The staff turned on the lights and pulled the drapes while we were at dinner. I appreciated that as I preferred not to shower in front of the sliding glass door even though I was assured that it was very private! Closed drapes were perfect for me!

The mosquito netting was lowered around the bed and the room sprayed so it would be relatively bug-free when we came back to sleep. I did find it a little challenging at first when I tried to fight my way out of the netting in the dark to go to the bathroom! I soon figured out a technique that served me well for the rest of our safari adventure.

We quickly settled in and messed up the place with our stuff. Dennis was busy trying to figure out how to work the new SLR Canon camera I had given US for Christmas and had Barb and Joe bring it to Cape Town as a surprise. Not much time to learn how to use it, but I knew the iPad and small cameras would not get close up shots.

Here are a few facts about Botswana before we head out into the savannah to look for animals:

Our first view of the savannah in the morning was
blessed with this herd grazing at sunrise as we left the camp.
Botswana is a landlocked semi-arid country the size of Texas with a population of 1.5 million people. This makes it one of least densely populated countries in Africa. It is sandwiched between Namibia on the west, Zimbabwe on the east, South Africa on the south and by Angola, Zambia and a portion of Namibia on the northern side.

About 84% of the country is Kalahari Desert which is an immense area of thornbush and dry grasslands. Botswana has dedicated 20% of its land to wildlife parks and reserves. This is more than any other African country. And why we wanted to support it with our safari adventure.

An older elephant had been unable to defend itself and met
its fate at the jaws of a lion. After the bigger beasts finish
feeding, smaller ones like this hyena and the vultures move in.
Chobe National Park is the largest park in Botswana and is bounded by the Chobe River and the Linyanti and Moremi Rivers. The northern area has water year-round, but the southern regions, which include Savute, are bone-dry except for rain-filled pans. The large herds of elephants and buffalo are the most popular attraction along with most species of game.

We were booked at two different areas: one dry and one wet. This was a nice way to see the different climates, topography, animals, flora, etc. Our first stop was at the Savute Safari Lodge in the dry area.

During breakfast, Gwist enlightened us with the daily schedule:

1)    Early morning wakeup call – at in 5:30 AM followed by light snack
2)    Into the vehicles and on the trails by 7 AM to see the animals before they hide from the sun and heat of the day
3)    Breakfast back at the camp around 9:30 AM then rest time
4)    Lunch at the camp around 1-2 PM
5)    Afternoon walk or other activity
6)    Tea time at 3 PM followed by an early evening game drive
7)    Cocktails in the Lodge followed by a fabulous dinner
8)    Night game drive
9)    Bedtime and ready for another early wakeup call

Huge vultures sit in dead trees waiting to feast on
whatever carcasses are available in the area.
So, our first day in camp was long and busy, but so exciting! The next two days were the same as we traversed different areas of the park to see the habitats and spot the residents.

We found it interesting that you cannot leave the gates of your camp until 7 AM and you must be back within the gates by 7 PM. The reason: the park rangers patrol from 7 PM to 7 Am and they will shoot humans wandering in the bush as they could be a poacher! Botswana is serious about protecting its wild animals and their environment. 

A giant Baobab tree.
We saw so many different animals including elephants, zebras, wildebeests, impalas, rhinoceroses, wart hogs, kudu, buffalo, hippopotamuses, roan and sable antelope, giraffes, lions, a leopard, spotted hyenas, jackals and wild dogs. Gwist was so knowledgeable and had a sharp eye. He could see and or hear the animals long before we did. He also pointed out the birds and plants we saw.

We had a visitor one afternoon during our "naptime." Dennis had gone off exploring the camp and I was changing clothes when I was startled by the presence of a tree squirrel! He was happily nibbling on our bag of trail mix on the writing desk!

Then I discover that he had been there awhile or before when I found another bag of it that had been pulled out of my backpack and was full of chew marks on the plastic bag. So much for those snacks. As for the squirrel, my scream sent him scampering up the wall, across the rafters and out a hole in the thatched roof. Maintenance would be right over to fix it!

He may be one of the "losers" which means he had been
exiled from the herd as younger male has taken charge!
Even though we were only there for two nights, it seemed much longer because we did so much. And when we weren’t looking for animals, we were cocktailing and dining or resting. We discovered early on the need for a midday rest so we had the stamina for the early morning and late evening game drives. The animals have it figured out: hunt when it is cool and sleep when it is hot! A good plan! And one that may become a habit.

The highlights were seeing the vultures and hyenas devouring the carcass of a dead elephant, spotting and tracking a leopard which are usually difficult to see up close and being so close to elephants.

Truly, the King of the Savannah!
The best experience of all was a morning drive where we spent three hours with a pride of 13 lions. We could have reached out and touched the male lion. Apparently, they are not afraid of the vehicles so as long as you keep all limbs inside the space of the open air jeep, you can be very close to them without being in danger.

He was an arms-length away from me!
We spent the morning following the pride across the savannah while they stalked a dazzle of zebras. The females lead the hunt, while the males stayed back. In this pride, there are two males, brothers, with the older one being the alpha male.

The ladies were very stealth in they movements, while
the males sort of sauntered along slowing at the rear.
When the zebras caught on, they moved away and the hunt was over for a while. Then the females and the young ones just laid in the sun and played like children. After a while, they started moving across the open area toward shade for the heat of the day was building. We continued to follow them and watched them play in a water hole part way across the savannah. What an amazing experience!

Whenever one of the rangers would spot animals, they radioed the other rangers so everyone could have the opportunity to see as many as possible. We traveled through grass, brush, water, mud, sand while going up and down hills and valleys to get into a viewing position.

Moms' day out? The young are rolling and tumbling behind.
On night drives, one vehicle would stay in position shining a spotlight on the animal(s) until the next ranger could park and get a light on them. Then the first group would move away so each small group of visitors could have the experience without a lot of distraction and risking disturbing the animals. I was amazed at how the rangers could spot them in the dark.

A stop at a small watering hole. They are few and far
between in the savannah at this time of year.
The cats are the hardest to find. We finally found a leopard sleeping in a tree one night. Unfortunately, the lighting was too dim to get at good photo. During one afternoon drive, a ranger spotted a leopard sleeping under a tree in the grass. Soon several vehicles showed up and began jockeying for position. Some of them were independent drivers and didn't respect the practice of taking turns getting close to the animals. At least, we got to see it!

Once the leopard woke up and began to move, everyone scattered in different directions trying to figure out which way she would go. Sometimes the rides were rather exciting as we raced across rugged terrain to catch up with a sighting.

A leopard was spotted sleeping under the tree on the left.
Learning about the social structure in the various animal groups was most interesting. Generally, one male, who has fought for the alpha position and won, has a harem of many females who all produce young to increase his pride, dazzle, herd, flock, etc. - whatever happens to be the correct term for that particular species.

Since it is "survival of the fittest" out there, a number of them won't last long. Everyone needs to eat. And if you are too slow, too old, too young, too ill, etc., you will be someone's meal. That is just the way it is!

There she is waking up. She will move soon and we
will all go looking for her.
Speaking of eating! The meals at the lodge were wonderful as was the total environment. The cocktail hour in the bar before dinner was a good place to mingle with other guests. It is also the place where I discovered my new favorite red wine! We tried local appetizers - some great, some, well ... Wine, alcohol and all other drinks were available any time upon request and included in the package, unless you ordered premium or something special. 

We caught up with her about 20 minutes later on the other
side of the hill. She was stalking impalas: dinner!

I found it interesting  and pleasant that the rangers and management team joined different tables each meal and were interested in getting to know the guests. The attentiveness of the staff was continuous, but not obtrusive. It was hard to say goodbye as we had become very close to them in such a short time.

The Desert & Delta Safaris group has a great customer service model! Apparently, the land used for the camps is leased from the government for a period of 15 years. After that time, the lease, facilities, operations and staff are reviewed. The lease can be renewed or denied.

It was a beautiful 5-star experience. The only question was: can the next camp possible measure up to or top this one?

Additional photos below will tell the rest of the story at Camp Savute.

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