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Old 10-11-2011, 06:44 AM   #154
Underboning OP
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10/7 Acting Like Tourists in Chobe National Park

Except for a quick run to the grocery store in the afternoon, there was no riding today. Instead, we got up at 5am to go on a game drive in Chobe National Park. 5:00 am is way too early to get up on any other day, but today it was worth it. After splashing some water on our faces and brushing our teeth, we assembled at the pool and bar to wait for our ride. Our guide arrived in a large, 4-wheel drive truck that had several rows of open seats where the bed would be. Before we left the campsite, Re grabbed her fleece and asked me if I wanted mine. I said no, we're in Africa (forgetting once again how cold it has been so far). It was only about a 20 minute drive to the park entrance, and I spent the entire time wishing I had brought my fleece and contemplating the irony of hypothermia in Africa. Once we entered the park, the driver hopped out and locked the front hubs before proceeding onto the deep sand tracks that crisscross the park.



The first animals we came across were elephants and impalas. As the morning went on, we also saw giraffes, warthogs, banded mongooses, fish eagles, and a variety of other birds.


The highlights of the morning were catching a glimpse of the rare wild dog, seeing a leopard sleeping in a tree, and coming upon four lionesses basking in the sun.



Our guide explained that there were perhaps only 13 lions left in the park and that their numbers continue to decrease. We felt very privileged to see these beautiful animals in their natural habitat. The entire trip was only about 4 hours, but Re and I arrived back at camp absolutely overwhelmed by what we had seen.


As the group campsite the previous night in had been reserved by one of the big safari trucks, we had to move to another campsite. The reception office gave us our choice of two possible sites, but a security guard suggested that one was much better than the other. We moved our gear and tent to the suggested site and were very pleasantly surprised to find that our new site was huge and less than 100 feet from the Chobe River's edge. While we were setting up in our new site, Christel (a solo female backpacker from Rouen, France, who is taking a year to travel around the world) stopped by with her leaking Thermarest pad. We used our Big Agnes pad repair kit to fix the leak, and while we were doing so, the security guard stopped by to chat. We thanked him for recommending the site, and that was when he mentioned that most nights there are hippos and elephants on the riverbank by our site. We were hopeful but a little skeptical that we might see something good tonight. We spent the rest of the afternoon taking it easy before our afternoon boat ride.

We left the camp again at 3:30 and took a short truck ride to the boat dock, where we boarded a large pontoon boat and shoved off. The chance to see such amazing wildlife in their natural environment is such a treat to Re and I that we were disappointed when we saw that some of our companions had obviously come from one of the safari trucks and were lugging a 60-quart or larger cooler with them. Now, Re and I are all about having a beer or two, but it seems like many of the people who travel in the safari trucks are drunk most of the time. Fortunately, they were well-behaved and quiet for most of the trip.



Over the next 3 hours we got to get up close and personal with hippos, elephants, crocodiles, and water buffaloes. We also saw impalas, water bucks, red lweche, warthogs, and dozens more different species of birds.



Our boat must have gotten a little too close to some of the hippos, because at one point we felt a large bang on the bottom of the boat. Our guide explained that hippos are very territorial and will strike boats from below in an attempt to overturn them. He went on to explain that the hippo then bites the boaters, killing them, but then leaves them for the crocodiles. He assured us that we were completely safe in such a large boat. Some people kind of smiled at this story, but hippos actually are responsible for more human deaths in Africa than any other animal. A little while later, we pulled away from another pod of hippos and were pursued by one of them who actually porpoised out of the water, snapping its jaws at the boat. It was one of the most incredible sights I have ever witnessed.



Another cool experience was to see a group of elephants wading across the river to one of the many islands. When they exited the water, they were still dusty gray on the top but black where the water washed away the dust.



But perhaps the very best experience was seeing a very young baby elephant rolling in the river with its mom and aunties. The baby elephant still had some pink coloration around its face and head and was squatting to drink instead of using its trunk. Our guide said that it may only be 3 or 4 days old, as they soon learn to drink with their trunks. Through the binoculars, Re could see that its umbilical cord hadn't fallen off yet. The little guy (or girl) sure seemed to be having fun rolling in the mud. Again, we felt very privileged to see such sights.


Later at camp, Re and I had dinner at the lodge and talked about the day's events. We both were having a hard time processing everything we'd seen that day. We've been to a lot of zoos and seen most of these animals in captivity, but there is something magical about seeing them in the wild. Instead of being a display of hippos, then a display of elephants, then a display of birds, here it was fascinating to see them all together and interacting with one another.



Perhaps the picture I will remember the most was watching the sun set over the river and the islands, with a herd of elephants silhouetted on the horizon, surrounded by dust.


But wait! The night got even better! After dinner, we walked back to our campsite and heard branches breaking somewhere in the dark. We walked to the edge of the campsite, and just beyond the electric fence were elephants. A small herd of 8- 10 elephants of various sizes were working their way down the riverbank less than 50 ft from where we stood. At one point, some idiot turned on his flashlight, and one of the elephants turned and walked toward the source of the light with ears held wide and trunk out. Fortunately for Mr Flashlight, it turned away before it reached the fence. After this the elephants moved further down the bank, but we could hear their occasional trumpeting. Worn out, we went to bed.

6 miles, the rear tires are really very thin.


Underboning screwed with this post 10-13-2011 at 12:35 PM
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