Safari April 2016 ~ To Share or not to Share

In years gone by, I have been incredibly fortunate to have been on safari in South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania. On each of these trips I stayed at lodges, with swimming pools, bars and live entertainment in the evening. It was all very comfortable. The biggest concern I had on these trips was remembering to lock my room up when we went out on game drives so that raiding baboons didn’t get inside and steal my bottle of whisky.

“I wonder if he is Glen Fiddich man or a Laphroaig man?”

However, comfort was not what I was in Africa for. I wanted to spend as much time as possible with the amazing wildlife. It occurred to me that a camping safari might be a solution. It seemed an exciting prospect, sleeping under canvas, out in the bush, surrounded by wild and dangerous carnivores and the sounds of the African night.

So, I broached the subject with my wife. I think it would be fair to say she was not overly enamoured with the idea. She politely, but firmly told me that she was not prepared to put herself in a position where only a thin sheet of canvas separated her from wild animals like lions and leopards. If I wanted to do that, then I could do it on my own.

So, I started hunting for camping safaris and after a lot of research, I settled on a company called Naturetrek. They were offering a 10-day trip, camping in the heart of Botswana’s Okavango Delta with Letaka Safaris.

Tents in a wooded aea

A Letaka Safari Camp

I didn’t hesitate and set about booking the trip. The first issue I had to deal with was, did I want a tent to myself or, for a significant discount, would I be happy to share with a stranger. I am not the best when it comes to making decisions, so I posted the question on Facebook and asked my friends what I should do. The feedback was overwhelmingly in favour of sharing a tent with a stranger, so that is what I signed up for.

I was super excited when the day came to fly south. After a short flight to Heathrow I found myself sitting in a departure lounge looking for people who seemed like they would be happy to sleep in a tent in the wilderness of the Okavango Delta. As we lined up to board the overnight flight to Johannesburg, I spotted an elderly couple with ‘Naturetrek’ labels attached to their bags. At least, I thought, I’m not going to be the oldest on the trip.

After landing at a foggy Johannesburg, we had to transfer to a flight up to Maun, Botswana’s gateway to the Delta. As I attempted to navigate my way through the airport, I spotted a lady of similar vintage to myself, sporting a ‘Naturetrek’ label on her backpack. She looked as lost as I felt, so I approached her and asked if she was going on a camping safari. Success… she was one of my group. We teamed up, found our way through the rabbit warren of Johannesburg Airport and soon we were on a small jet bound for the Okavango.

Maun International Airport is not the largest. In fact it is quite small, and with only 27 passengers on the flight we quickly cleared immigration and made our way out to the  concourse with our luggage. We were greeted by our two safari guides, Shadrack and N’cosie, and other group members.

I knew there were only 14 in our group and I was quickly assessing everyone to identify, if I could, who I would be sharing a tent with. There were two single ladies and five couples. That left a man in his mid-twenties and myself. I went over and introduced myself to this tall, serious looking, built like a brick outhouse, young fellow. My friendly approach was met by rather blank expression and a grunt.

This could prove to be a long ten days.

Day 1

We all climbed onboard two Toyota Landcruiser safari vehicles and set off from Maun at 13:45 for our wilderness campsite.  For the first 30 kms we were on tarmac and then we hit the dirt roads. All in, it would take until 17:30 to reach camp. Bouncing along mile after mile through a totally flat landscape, we encountered several lone bull elephants, and then a whole herd, including tiny baby elephants. We stopped in the middle of the track and the herd slowly crossed the road around us… maybe 15 – 20 of them in total.

Stopped on the way to our camp to allow elephants crossing.

We also saw impala; kudu; banded mongoose; baboons. We had spent so much time watching the animals that it was sundown by the time reached the camp.

The tents were set up well apart in a rough semi-circle amongst some trees near to a river. My new tent-mate, Craig and I checked out our canvass home and were quite impressed. We each had a comfortable camp bed and through a rear door in the tent we had a long drop toilet and a bush shower, (a bucket suspended on a tripod).

Water falls from a bucket shower

Bucket shower

After a drink around the campfire, we all moved to the dining tent which was basically a rectangular tent without walls. The table was set for seven down each side with a place at each end for our two guides. Lighting was supplied in the form of small oil lamps spaced along the length of the table.

Dining table lit by oil lamps

Dining table


Dinner consisted of rice, veg and chicken stew, followed by baked bananas with an alcoholic chocolate sauce. Next to the table was the honesty bar with spirits, wine, beer and soft drinks. Each morning at breakfast we would be expected to sign for any drinks we had the previous night. This was going to be tough safari.

Then it was time for bed. I had slept for less than 2 hours in the past 36. The camp bed was quite narrow, but that was no issue at all. Even the sound of a lion roaring in the distance did not stop me from plummeting into the deepest of deep sleeps.

Craig proved to be a strange chap. He may well have been on the spectrum for Asperger’s syndrome. On three occasions through the night he asked me in a loud, booming monotone voice, “Are you awake?”.

I did not oblige him with an answer.

To be continued……

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