In Maun we met Andrea and Georg from www.toyotours.com again after seven months. First time we met was on Baja California in November 2010 and we traveled together for a while, went different ways, and met up again several times on our trip through Central and South America. Last time we met we drank champagne in Ushuaia celebrating we both made it all the way to the southern tip of South America. From there we had different destinations, and they shipped their Toyota to South Africa a month before we shipped the Patrol. In Maun we were able to meet up again. We had more or less travelled the same route in Southern Africa with some variations. They had visited more national parks than us and they entered Botswana and Kasane from the Caprivi Strip in Namibia. While up in the north eastern corner of Botswana they had two days in the Chobe National Park at the river front, and they said it was the best place they had been so far for wildlife watching.
Taking Andrea and Georg’s advice we spent two days at the Chobe river front. Since it is part of the Botswana National Park system we paid the normal 290 pula entrance fee for the two of us and the car for one day. Since campsites in Chobe are quite expensive we chose to camp outside in Kasane and do day trips into the park. In the park there is one large transit road and many small roads to drive explore. You are able to see the whole river front in one day and drive back out on the transit road before the gate closes.
Recently they have changed the system in the park so the river front closest to the entrance gate until Serondela picnic site allows only tour operators from 06-09 and from 15.30-18.30. When you enter and pay your fees you do not get a map or any information sheets. At the entrance gate there was only a small handwritten map on the wall that showed where you could drive and not, and inside the gate at the different junctions there was no information at all. Our first day in the park we entered the river front were we should not have been by mistake. We did not know the park well enough to know the name of the different places mentioned, and the hand written map on the wall did not really take the scale of the park into account. While in this area we did not meet many tour operators and neither did they say anything to us, so later we entered this part on purpose. It does not feel right when we pay the same entrance free as the others that you as a private visitor are only allowed to parts of the park a few hours a day. But on the bright side, after two days in the park we had our best animal sightseeings in another part of the park. So even if they start enforcing their new regulation in the park you will still be able to see a lot of animals, you just have to drive a longer distance from town than the tour operators.
First morning after entering the park just a few kilometers down the road we saw a hyena walking along a side road. We followed it for a little while, and it took us to a group of other hyenas and a small cub. Very cute, but it was hard to get a good photo of them as they were hiding among the trees. Next stop was the river front where we watched hippos as we were eating breakfast inside the car. An amazing way to start a day. Quite unusual for us Norwegians to watch hippos floating by our “breakfast table”. It was an amazing day watching all the animals along the river front and we had to agree with Toyotours that this must be the best place for animal watching this time of year in this part of Africa. At lunch we had 94 elephants on a plain in front of us together with crocs, lizards, warthogs, antelopes, giraffes, and buffalos. Later in the day as we stopped the car and watched buffaloes coming down to the water out from the bushes we suddenly found ourselves among a herd of maybe 300 buffaloes.
A perfect day in the park had a perfect ending at the river front. Probably where we should not have been at that time of day, but we stopped there because then it was just a short drive back to the gate after sunset. It was just incredible to watch the elephants walking along the river as the sun were setting.
Early next morning we were ready again. Just a couple of kilometers away from where we saw the hyena the previous day, we saw a group of four wild dogs eating on an antelope.
They had blood far down their necks after digging into their meal. We realized we had not just had a lucky day the day before as it was just lots and lots of animals along the river front on our second day too, and along the river there were no bushes so you always had a good view of the animals. At 12, and closing in on lunch time, we were again in the area where we had lunch the previous day when we suddenly had six lions in front of us eating on a young buffalo that they must have killed recently. You always hear that your best chances to spot lions is early in the morning or late afternoon, but here, six lions were eating in the middle of the day. Espen is going to use this as an excuse for not having to get up early early in the morning ever again. I cannot really find other words to describe the scene in front of us than, INCREDIBLE, and it was unbelievable to sit there and watch six lions eat. And we were the only ones there to watch it.
The lions were moving back and forth between eating, drinking and going up to the bushes and trees to lay down in the shade. After watching for a while we realized that it was seven lions, and then, when they moved around again, we saw that it was eight of them.
If you look really closely at this photo you will see that one lion is laying under a bush up in the right corner of the photo and behind it you will be able to distinguish two more.
While the lions were eating, the vultures where gathering around, but at a safe distance. Most of the buffalo had been eaten up and it was only one lion left, and when it turned its back to the carcass the vultures closed in. The lion turned around and chased the vultures away, but as the lion finally left it was their turn to eat.
This is all that was left of the buffalo 3-4 hours after it was killed.
After we had been watching the lions for over an hour one tour operator vehicle showed up and then it was three lions eating. That vehicle called up its friend on the radio and a few minutes later the second car showed up. Now it was only one lion eating. Like us they were all really fascinated to finally see a lion and were shooting loose with their cameras. What they did not know was that just behind their backs was another seven lions hiding in the bushes. Luckily for us all lions don’t seem interested in people and cars, not even the open ones where it is so easy for a lion to reach in and grab a person from the back, especially when all the people is distracted by the lion in front of them.
In Chobe we did not see any leopards, but we could see the evidence that there was some in the area.
We were going to meet up with our friends east of Central Kalahari in a few days’ time, and we were heading back to Maun to stock up on food. To get from Chobe river front to Maun we wanted to drive through the Savuti part of the Chobe National Park. Between these two parts of Chobe National Park is Chobe Forest Reserve and some villages, and we drove into this Reserve and bush camped there before entering Savuti the next day.
Driving through Savuti.
After the river front we were a little disappointed with Savuti, it was so dry and most water holes had no water in them. We saw a lot of animal poop, but we hardly saw any animals. I guess that if they were there they were hiding well in the bushes.