Safari April 2016 ~ Day Seven

Day 7

Day seven would be our last full day of game drives. I rose with anticipation of another wonderful day in the Okavango. Sadly, my record of being first each day to the breakfast table was dashed when three of the others beat me by a couple of minutes. Perhaps they wanted to make the most of the last day as well. After yet more cornflakes and honey and some full-bodied filter coffee it was time to set out and see what we could find.

I joined Shadrack in the front seat of the vehicle and we drove out of camp. N’cosie had heard a lion roar on the west side of the camp and I had heard one roar to the south. It seemed that it was the same lion circumnavigating around the camp. The vehicles split up and did a pincer movement around the bush in the area where it had last been heard. In no time at all we found him walking away from the camp, but no more than 400 metres from it. He had undoubtedly passed very close to us as we breakfasted.

In the first hints of morning sunshine we followed the lion’s progress. He passed by what had become known by us all as the sunrise tree. It’s stark black silhouette stood out against the red ball of the sun rising directly behind it.

Sunrise photos taken, we continued along the route of the lion’s morning patrol. He lay down beside a small mound and we all thought, “Here we go again. Another sleeping lion.” He did doze for about ten minutes and then, a big yawn. He got back to his feet and resumed his patrolling.

There are many bridges in the delta and mostly they are constructed from wood. Water ways are not fixed and can alter course from year to year. Inevitably, some bridges become redundant if the water they spanned changes course, and this is one of the main reasons the bridges are constructed from local timber. They can be abandoned, and over time they will naturally be broken down by the forces of nature, exactly as dead trees and branches around them would be.

It was over one such abandoned bridge our lion crossed, thereby avoiding a slightly boggy area. There is no need to get one’s feet wet unnecessarily. There were branches across either end of the bridge along with no entry signs, but they made no impact on this lion who obviously was no respecter of the Highway Code.

Crossing the disused bridge

Up ahead we spotted a giraffe who had quite obviously spotted the lion. The giraffe did not run but remained rooted to the spot staring at the lion, which by now was walking towards it. If giraffes can stand on their tiptoes, then this one certainly was, either to make itself look bigger or to make sure it did not lose sight of the predator advancing towards it. When the lion got too close for comfort the giraffe trotted off to safety, occasionally looking back to make sure it was out of danger.

We decided to let the lion go and we would head off in search of other wildlife. But then he stopped and did what we had all been hoping for. He started to roar. As he broadcast his ownership of the territory, the sounds were amazing.

Eventually we moved on with the sound of his roars ringing in our ears. We parked up in an open area and watched the antics of some zebra, wildebeest and tsessebe. The wildebeest were in high spirits having mock fights which in turn agitated the tsessebe who responded by charging about, threatening to join in the fights. Mean while the zebra tried to get on with grazing whilst chaos raged around them.

High spirited tsessebe

Suddenly Shadrack spun around in his seat and said, “Alarm call!”

“Look at that impala. It is watching something very intently. It was that impala that made the alarm.”

He started the engine and drove off in the direction of the alarmed animal. As we approached, the impala totally ignored us and kept its stare aimed at an area of dense bush. Shadrack recalled that at one time there had been a hyena den in this area of bush and on previous safaris had seen hyenas with cubs near by.

We drove slowly around the periphery of this bushy area trying to spot any signs of hyena but to no avail. Shadrack decided on a closer look and turned the vehicle into the mass of bushes. His attempt to explore the inner reaches was met by fierce resistance by the undergrowth. An area of wet boggy ground in the midst of the bushes resulted in an admission of defeat and we manoeuvred our way back from whence we had come.

As we emerged out of the bush, we came face to face with a hyena, walking directly towards us. She walked straight past the side of the vehicle. She was so close I could have patted her on the head as she went by. Needless to say… I didn’t. She disappeared into the bushes behind us and was gone.

Hyena walk past

This sighting was a perfect example of how the skill and knowledge of Shadrack was instrumental in making our safari special. Without him, I would never have got within patting distance of a hyena.

Later on that morning we stopped to watch a male impala exert his authority over one of the females in his herd. She was in full flight with the male in hot, snorting pursuit. I have no idea what her misdemeanour was, but she was being left in no doubt about the male’s disapproval. However, it was not an eviction from the herd. Having made his point, the male returned to the herd followed shortly by the female. Throughout, the rest of the herd continued grazing as if nothing of interest was going on.

Impala discipline


The other vehicle had also been watching this display of impala discipline, and as they moved off, we followed. In convoy, we arrived at a wide expanse of water. We paused to watch them make the crossing to the other side. The Toyota Landcruiser entered the water and we watched with cameras and videos at the ready. The water got deeper and deeper. The wheels were now completely submerged, and the water level was creeping up to the doors.

Suddenly the front of the vehicle nose-dived. They had driven into an underwater hippo highway. N’cosie did his best to power out of trench but to no avail. They were well and truly stuck.

N’cosie climbed out and stood on the front of the Landcruiser scanning the water all around. The guests were now holding all their camera gear and bags on their knees as the water flooded in around their legs. N’cosie rolled his shorts up as high as was descent and climbed down into the water. He was thinking, where would be a safe place for our vehicle to get across to affect a rescue. I was thinking crocodiles, hippos, snakes and leeches. I was glad it was not me wading around in the swamp.

Eventually N’cosie signalled to Shadrack that there was a safe route to the left of his half submerged vehicle. We all lifted our bags off the floor in the full knowledge that we would likely take on some water as we attempted the crossing. With everyone braced, Shadrack drove forward to the edge of the water. He increased the power and we surged forward.

As well as our bags we lifted our feet. The water was now over a metre deep and water was starting to come in through the doors. A bow wave was forming in front of us and the harder Shadrack pushed forward the bigger the bow wave became.

As we surged past our bow wave struck the stricken vehicle like a mini tsunami drenching all aboard.

The front of our vehicle started to rise as the water shallowed and we safely made it to the other side. There was now the small matter of rescuing our fellow travellers and their vehicle from the underwater hippo highway.

N’cosie waded ashore and retrieved a long tow line from our vehicle. The tow was connected and Shadrack took up the slack ready for a big pull. Fortunately, N’cosie had managed to keep the engine of his vehicle running thanks to a snorkel exhaust which lets the engine run even when under water.

To great cheers, the tow worked, and we successfully pulled them back to safety. As it came out of the water, the Landcruiser looked like a giant colander disgorging water from the engine compartment and the body of the vehicle. Gill, in the front seat, opened the door and water that had been deep enough that she was sitting in it, came cascading out like a mini Niagara Falls.

Having checked that there was nothing lurking in the nearby bushes that might want to eat me, Shadrack had agreed that it was safe for me to get out of the vehicle to film the rescue. You can check out the results with the following YouTube link.

Rescue in the Delta

Sadly our cakes and biscuits, which were stored under one of the seats and were intended for the morning coffee break, were beyond the point of rescue. Even so, the tea and coffee had survived the ordeal in their flasks.

We set course for an amazing place called Dead Tree Island. It was a spectacular area with an apocalyptic feel about it. The area is flat and made up of barren sandy areas with random pools of water. Predictably, the name comes from the hundreds of dead trees that dominate the place.

Dead Tree Island

We parked up for our tea and coffee. The heat from the late morning sun was intense and the dead trees provided virtually no shade. But it was a good chance for the vehicles, and people’s backsides, to dry out. The occasional impala walked past looking exhausted in the heat. A group of sinister marabou storks were hanging around under a tree like undertakers waiting for something to die. On sandbanks in the pools, yellow billed storks and spoonbills congregated, relaxing is if on holiday by the beach, while in the distance a large bull elephant lumbered slowly by, its form distorted by the rippling effects of the heat haze.

Some fallen trees were identified, a respectable distance apart, and checked out by Shadrack and N’cosie for the presence of dangerous wildlife. The two areas, having been declared safe, were then allocated as suitable places for ‘Gentlemen’ and ‘Ladies’ to go and mark their territory. This was a daily ritual after morning coffee. Despite the prevalence of nature in the wilderness, the call of nature must be answered.

As we set off again we disturbed two warthogs. They trotted away around the side of a pool with their tails erect like poles on a dodgem car. Bizarrely, the further they got from us the faster they seem to run until they were sprinting as if their very lives depended on it.

We stopped to watch a brown snake eagle and an understandable debate developed. Did the bird’s name indicate that it was a brown eagle who ate snakes, or was it an eagle who only ate brown snakes? Shadrack smiled, shook his head, and let us argue.

The argument came to an end when we pulled up to watch two bull elephants feeding at the side of the track. They seemed completely relaxed about our presence and ignored the fact that we were only about ten metres from them. One of the bulls started to move away, but the second one turned around to look at us. He stared at us for a few seconds and then slowly moved towards us.

Sitting in the front seat next to Shadrack, I glanced at him, telepathically suggesting that this might be a good time to start the engine. He saw my expression and whispered, “Stay still.”

The bull was now getting closer and still advancing.

I am always aware when someone uninvited enters my personal space, and that can make me feel quite uncomfortable. But it was interesting how much bigger I suddenly wanted my personal space to be. Four metres didn’t quite cover it.

“Stay still.” whispered Shadrack.

The bull moved closer. At this stage not only was I staying still, I was no longer breathing. His approach was slow and gentle and seemed borne out of curiosity rather than anything else. He eventually stopped and stared at me. The tip of his right tusk was less than an arm’s length from my face. I was motionless and he was motionless. He was staring directly at me. I was staring back at his right eye. I couldn’t see his left eye around the other side of his face… he was too close.

Willing my heart to stop making such a noise, this mutual staring went on for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a few seconds. Then, having satisfied his curiosity he turned and lumbered off.

“Well done!” said Shadrack with a grin.

It was only then that there was a collective exhalation from the six sitting behind me in the rear of the vehicle. They had been caught up in the tension of the moment every bit as much as I had. Shadrack explained that had the elephant shown the slightest sign of agitation or aggression he would have backed off. But the bull was utterly relaxed and was just having a look, albeit a very close look.

Up close to an elephant’s eyelashes

“Be sure that elephant will know you again.” he said,  smiling, “An elephant never forgets.”

After lunch and a refreshing bush shower we set out for our final afternoon game drive. There were no major incidents of note. We encountered another large herd of buffalo crossing the track in front of us. Our bush skills were improving to the extent that we had smelt that buffalo herd before we saw them. There is a distinct similarity in smell to that of a midden that has just been added to after mucking out a byre.

After our rescue drama in the forenoon we were all wary as the two vehicles approached a river crossing. N’cosie held back and allowed Shadrack to find a safe way across. We crossed without incident even thought the water proved deeper than we had expected. We then sat back to watch N’cosie cross. Like we had done, the other vehicle made it safely across which was in one way, a good thing, but slightly disappointing in another. Another rescue would have been fun.

N’cosie negotiating the river crossing

After our last dinner together, we gathered around the campfire. I had been nominated to collect the tips for the guides and the camp staff who had done a fantastic job of looking after us and feeding us.

One of the group had anticipated tipping on a daily basis and had come armed with 200 American dollars in one dollar notes. Finding envelopes to fit great wads of dollars was a challenge but we managed. As I made a wee speech to thank the camp staff I pointed out that they should not get too excited at the apparent size of tips as I presented them each with their envelope.

Drinks were drunk and tales were recounted around the fire as we reflected on what had been a wonderful and memorable safari experience. The next day we would strike camp and make the long trip back to Maun airport.

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