So far, our African adventures have been pretty mild, so we’re about to kick it up a notch. Who doesn’t love a few near-death experience stories?
For three days, Kgosi/Corey and I we’re taking a 4×4 truck (rented by the company him and some Peace Corps buddies met “on set” with National Geographic Wild, which makes perfect sense…) across Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park ending at the border of Botswana. The truck came packed with essentially everything you could ever need (fridge, drawers, tools, water, etc.) and had a pop-up tent attached to the top for quick and easy set-up, resulting in this:
Day one we learned some valuable lessons. Namely, that there aren’t any real roads in the parks, mostly sand, dirt or rock piles that resemble pathways, and that these “road” conditions will result in a dozen broken eggs, an explosion of beer and puncturing of juice cartons despite being stored away and strapped down.
We also learn what is like to get stuck in said sand. Turns out it’s not easy to get an ever-sinking truck out of sand and that’s coming from a girl who has survived the polar vortex and digging her car out from an icy blizzard. This thing was not going anywhere despite searching the bush for branches for some traction (which is frowned upon due to the wildlife lurking around) and digging the wheels out with a shovel. Eventually, as we’ve run out of profanity and faith, two trucks drive by and end up helping us. They let some air out of our tires, furiously dig at the sand and casually tell us about their various treks around the world (last time via motorcycle, this time via 4×4 – what a life). We are saved from what would have been a very long night stuck in the absolute middle of nowhere.
Driving around we see what seems to be an infinite amount of wildlife including elephants, giraffe, several species of antelope, zebra, cape buffalo, birds, wildebeest and my favorite, a giant eagle owl which looks like it’s wearing eye shadow (full list of creatures spotted, here).
As we’re driving, we come across some cape buffalo and continue winding down the path until we realize we are surrounded by a giant herd. Not our first run-in and still not a welcome encounter. We realize there are a few females with young and one is really giving us the stink-eye. After some careful maneuvering we eventually made it out unscathed, the second escape of the day.
Notice the angry buffalo on the left.
Sunset is quickly approaching and we have to be in camp at Third Bridge before dark. After a long day, we build a fire which is quite difficult to do without the giant logs that us Midwesterners are used to. After some work, we build a fire, cut up all of our vegetables, cook up some meat and make a mean stir fry. By the time we’ve pitched the tent and cooked dinner, it’s pitch black.
Luckily, we had the foresight to bring headlamps. So, we’re sitting at the fire with full bellies and tired bodies when all of a sudden we hear a branch snap close by.
Me: “Holy [expletive]. That’s big.”
[Both of us look around with our red headlamps and see these HUGE beady red eyes staring back at us from across the fire. We quickly turn our headlamps to “spotlight” mode.]
Corey (in a harsh whisper): “THAT’S AN [EXPLETIVE] HYENA”
Me: “I KNOW it’s an [expletive] hyena.”
There we sit with zero protection mere yards away from a giant spotted hyena. Not a welcoming creature to see even in the middle of the day. This thing is HUGE. Ugly. Hunch-backed. And is coming closer and closer with every step – it’s now just across the fire pit.
Corey: Get outta here! Get! Go!
Me: That’s not working.
Corey: I KNOW IT’S NOT WORKING.
[Awkwardly sit in silence and wait for imminent death.]
Corey (starts clapping his hands): GET! GO! GET!
Apparently clapping works wonders in the bush. The hyena scampers off into the darkness and Corey and I both exclaim “That’s it!” We throw everything remotely flammable on the fire, making it as large as possible to thwart off any more creatures. We’re banging pots and pans with our heads on swivels, making sure we aren’t being stalked as we shove all of our belongings in the truck. Climbing up the ladder, we finally zip ourselves into the tent on the roof. We have outwitted death once again!
Not too long later, the hyena comes back with backup and we spend the night listening to hyenas laugh which is a menacing sound, especially when right outside your tent.
That night is filled with “Did you hear that?” “What’s that?” “Are you awake?” between the two of us. We hear baboons and monkeys roaming, hyenas laughing and lions roaring along with some other unidentifiable sounds. By 6 a.m. we’re packed up and hitting the road to go find a leopard. Spoiler alert: We will never find one.
Some highlights from the other two days we didn’t die on our self-drive safari:
- Two sets of two male lions.
- World’s best indoor/outdoor shower (Khwai Guest House was my favorite accommodation the whole trip. Beautiful surroundings, incredibly kind and knowledgeable staff, life-changing showers, etc.)
- Unsuccessfully searched for bushman cave paintings.
- Huge hippo pool with 50+ hippos.
- Large group of elephants in a watering hole interacting with a severely injured cape buffalo.
- Almost having our car flip on the “road” to the exit of Chobe National Park.
- Going airborne in our truck thanks to some unexpected bumps.
- A terribly bumpy four hours of going 50-60 mph over the most terrible sand pits in order not to sink and get stuck and losing a side mirror from a rogue branch in the process.
Amazingly, we survived that portion of the trip and ended at Senyati Safari Camp on the border of Botswana and Zimbabwe where we met up with a Peace Corps volunteer, Caitlin, and her parents. Next up, Victoria Falls!
Some photo highlights:
Source: my own & YouTube.