June 13 – to Savute

Up early this morning. VERY early. About 2 a.m., give or take. There is nothing that gets your heart pumping quite as much as hearing a great big adult male lion roar just behind your tent. I couldn’t find the iPod quickly in the dark and the lion moved off, after giving off an even-scarier purrrrrrrrr sound, roaring twice more farther and farther away (thank heavens!) before I could come up with it, but that’s okay — all it would have recorded was the pounding of my heart, I think! (Fred says that just as the lion did his purrrrrrrrr sound, the oil light in front of my tent went out. He was convinced that the lion was sitting on my doorstep, bib around his neck, knife and fork in paws…)

Grant went looking for the tracks when it got light enough to see — not as close as we would have thought (I would have said, oh, 18-24 inches behind my tent, personally) — probably 25-30 feet away at the closest. Heart-pounding distance no matter what. (If you have a good internet connection, check out this site — cursor down to the Sounds section — to hear something of what we heard!)

Now… there’s no delicate way to discuss this… but you know… when you get scared like that, you have to go. I mean you have to go. And there was no way, no way in God’s green earth, that I am getting out of the tent with an adult male lion wandering around, possibly with bib and knife and fork. So… now what? No chamber pot issued as standard camping equipment! So I’ll tell you what — it’s called IMPROVISE!! I had packed a bunch of plastic zip bags just in case I needed ‘em for anything. So you take one one-gallon plastic bag and tuck it inside another one-gallon plastic bag, you put the whole thing on top of a towel (in case you miss…) and you aim as carefully as we female types are capable of aiming. Then you zip the inside bag, zip the outside bag, and go back to bed. (Necessity is the mother of invention after all. Nobody said anything about the father. He can just, well, stick it outside the tent flap if he has to!)

Sigh…

Khwai river bridge

Khwai river bridge

Once the sun was up, we headed off on a long hard drive from Moremi to Savute today. The first thing you face on your way out of Moremi is the bridge over the River Khwai (sorry, the reference is irresistible). It’s made entirely of mopane poles.

Then there’s the rest of the drive. The distance itself isn’t all that much — I think Grant said it’s about 180km — but though there is a nominal speed limit in the parks of 40km/h, the roads of Botswana do not permit anything even vaguely approaching that speed. Four wheel drive is essential, there is deep sand or brush or both, you never know when approaching water if it’s safe to drive through or whether there’s a hole 4′ deep hiding underneath. It’s a sure bet that I wouldn’t have wanted to drive for ten minutes on that stuff, and Grant has been driving us around for DAYS.

elephant

elephant

On top of the condition of the roads, there’s the issue of game. You never know when something is going to come out of the bush just in front of you, and you have to be aware of everything. It’s a bit disconcerting to be driving along and have an elephant suddenly decide it wants to cross right in front of the vehicle.

The first hour or two of the trip was actually a game drive in and of itself. Elephants, hippos, giraffe and more. We came to the conclusion that it would be a dog day when Fred spotted a black-backed jackal just to the side of the road.

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But once the animals thinned out a bit, it was just a long haul. Lunch was in an area where there was but a single tree, and in the tree were roughly a kazillion (or two) red-billed queleas. Grant says they’re a real nuisance, and can gather in such numbers that branches will literally break off under their weight. We were also “joined” for lunch by a warthog or two that stood within easy run-for-your-life distance and looked at us as though they were just amazed at the sight. (Sometimes I wonder if we’re not as much a spectacle for the animals as they are for us.) The lunch area was also one where Grant has seen lions before but… sigh… once again the most we saw was tracks and no lions.

Savute turns out to be even more sandy that Moremi (so the driving was even tougher) and yet more rocky as well. There are actual outcrops rising from what is otherwise a very very flat marshland. We should be able to see some Bushman rock art on our way out on Sunday. We did our usual camp-day arrival routine: dropped the trailer with Nami and Likan to set up camp and headed off for another game drive. Fred and I think this is wonderful but I’m amazed that Grant isn’t exhausted already yet with the driving.

We saw lots of different antelopes, including an impala licking a termite mound (for the minerals it has), and more interesting or impressive birds — a juvenile Bateleur eagle, a tawny eagle (which kept moving so I don’t think I got a shot), another fish eagle (they are so darned impressive), some noisy little birds called lapwings, a Meyer’s parrot (the only parrot in Botswana) — and all kinds of elephants.

eagle

juvenile bateleur eagle

Impala

Impala with termite mound

lapwing

Blacksmith lapwing

parrot

Meyer

We also saw lots and lots of lion tracks but… no lions. That doesn’t mean no CATS, however. Fred simply has the best eyes of anybody I know. We were driving through an area of grass and reeds all painted a golden orange by the afternoon sun. Suddenly he sings out that there’s something moving in the grass. Now, for the life of me, I couldn’t see it. Even after he pointed it out, I’m not sure I would ever have seen it on my own. Turned out it was a serval — a simply gorgeous cat with great big ears. Bigger than the wildcat by orders of magnitude (the wildcat runs to about 3-7 kg (6.5-15 lb.) while the serval runs to 13.5-18 kg (30-40 lb.)) and just simply beautiful, especially with its eyes catching the light and its body so very well blended with the grass until it turns its back and you see those black and white ears.

Serval in grass

Serval in grass

After spending time watching this marvelous cat, we got to see yet another spectacular sunset.

sunset

Waterhole sunset

Giraffe

Giraffe in setting sun

Maybe… just maybe… tomorrow lions????

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