South Africa/Botswana 2007

Planning for this trip occurred over several months. We knew we wanted to visit our 2003 hangout, the Jwana Game Park, and our friends at Cheetah Conservation Botswana, but this would be a tourist trip, not a volunteer one. Eric had never done many of the things I did on my previous trips to South Africa (1999, 2000, 2001), and neither of us got to experience the Okavango Delta on our 2003 trip, despite driving to Maun and Gumare. The weather in November in Botswana had been fine and worked well for being away from home a month, so the dates were set. The first thing I did was contact the KZN Parks about the extended short wilderness trail in Umfolozi Park. I booked that for October 23-25, added on Mpila Camp on Oct 22 and Hilltop Camp on Oct 26, and went from there. For flights I booked through the South Africa Airways website directly, depart LAX Oct 20 arrive JNB Oct 21, depart JNB Nov 23 arrive LAX Nov 24, connecting through Dulles both ways. The price was about $1600 each, which did not rise significantly for the next several months, but I reserved bulkhead seats (61A & 61C) which meant a lot to us tall people. The rest of the South Africa itinerary I knew where I wanted to go, and had Jeremy of Far & Wild Safaris book for me (so I would only have to make one payment, not 6 separate ones). It was great to have Jeremy checking with the SA Parks to get the Kruger camps I wanted (they were booked, but opened up one month beforehand). The Botswana portion I booked myself, thanks to information from the Lonely Planet and Fodor's online forums. The last week was left open, to possibly spend more time with CCB, or add on more safari activities. It turned out that the CCB folks were busy with workshops, so only the last 2 nights of our stay were spent visiting them. Our other extra days, we would try to book a last-minute Delta camp in Maun, or we would just drive to Kasane and visit the Chobe riverfront and do a day trip to Victoria Falls. I researched rental cars and decided a small SUV was the best; we wanted to be comfortable, might need the 4WD occasionally, and the higher clearance and seating would be nice. We ended up with a Suburu Forester, very comfortable and good gas economy. I used, they were competitive in price and had good reviews. Since we were not arriving at JNB until 2:30 pm, I booked a room near the airport at the Airport Grand as we had several errands at the airport (ATM for rand, exchange bureau for pula, SIM card for cell phone, rental car) and I knew it was best not to drive after dark. The flights over were uneventful, after some last-second repacking at the airport due to an overweight bag. The errands went well, except that the first exchange bureau didn't have much pula, and the second was abysmally slow (I wanted to get pula here as we were crossing into Botswana at a small border post and would not encounter a bank for some ways in). Finding the airport hotel was easy enough, only one missed turn due to direction signs being located AT the place you turn, not BEFORE them. The web site and hotel brochures said breakfast (included in the room rate) was available at 5 am, so we were down there ready to go - but no breakfast! The manager quickly got us some boxed lunches, and we were on our way, for our first African sunrise.

Self-driving across South Africa and Botswana is quite easy, once you get used to the "wrong side of the road" thing, and shifting with the other hand, and that intersections and roads aren't necessarily marked...then again, my husband did all the driving! At least all the signs would be in English...or so we thought. Driving from Joburb to Hluhluwe Park, we went through Bethal and Ermelo towards Piet Relief. I had detailed directions thanks to some online route planners. Enter Bethal on N17, turn right on Church Street to connect to N11. One would think there would be a SIGN for the N11. Luckily I am of Dutch heritage, and the Dutch language is close to Afrikaans, so when I saw "Kerk Street" I knew that that was really Church Street and to turn there...eventually, there was a sign verifying we were on the right road. We both liked the signs warning of "Potholes!", although they weren't consistently placed. Stray animals weren't too bad on this leg of the trip, only a few cattle in the road. Piet Relief was our first stop, at a convenient grocery store/bottle store. We purchased a cooler (ice box), which came in very handy during the whole trip. Some sandwich makings, snacks, and drinks, and we were off.

Entering Hluhluwe through the Memorial Gate, our first wildlife was clustered soon inside - warthog, white rhino, buffalo, zebra, and giraffe. The rest of the drive to Hilltop Camp was much quieter. We had lunch at Hilltop (a great Indian buffet), then took the scenic route to Umfolozi, watching crocodile, nyala male and female, sacred ibis, wildebeest, and a large rhino. We checked into Mpila Camp, then headed straight back out as we were supposed to be back in camp by 6 pm. More warthog and zebra and impala and nyala posed in the gorgeous afternoon light, dung beetles did their job, then a few elephant crossed the road, then...6 white rhino playing. Hluhluwe/Umfolozi are known for their rhino, we would end up seeing nearly 30 white rhino during our stay (no black rhino, unfortunately). Heading back to camp, Eric joked about not missing any BIG he drove right past a bull elephant munching at the side of the road. The elephant was relaxed, so we reversed back past him. Note how close to the car he was! After a great sunset, we enjoyed an evening of drinks and gin rummy. Note - the barbecue pork flavored potato chips are gross. At one point in the card game Eric wondered why I hadn't discarded yet, I said "Because there's an animal walking by!" It was a hyena, on his nightly stroll looking for food left out at the tents. We heard hyenas that night as well.

The next morning we had time for a leisurely scenic drive and saw hadeda ibis, rhino & buffalo, male kudu, young wildebeest, and spent time at a hide watching Egyptian geese, turtles, and an elephant. Another road brought a mother zebra with foal, impala chasing each other, waterbuck, an agama lizard, and lazy warthog. Returning to camp, the vervet monkeys had attacked, and found some of our granola bars by UNZIPPING the tent. The camp nyala were much better behaved, just grazing nearby. Large colorful locusts were also around. At noon we met up with out trails group at Mpila. Guide Sownooty (I don't know how to spell that), tracker Richard, and trainees Sean and Louis. Our fellow hikers were from a variety of places - San Francisco, New Zealand, Cape Town. One man, Russell, grew up in South Africa but now lived in the US, but had friends in common with the three Cape Townians. We hiked to the trails camp in a misty rain and met Shadrach, the cook. They showed us the dining area, kitchen, bucket shower, and toilet area, our home for the next 3 nights. A brief downpour drove us to our tents but it cleared up in time for dinner, a nice buffalo meat spaghetti. Hyenas again called at night. Bright red millipedes and giant land snails visited camp. Our hike the first day was pretty gentle, along the river. We stalked some kudu and wildebeest, saw skulls and fungus of various sorts, posed for a group shot, talked about tracks, and then came close to a white rhino nursing a calf. We saw other rhino, and buffalo, on more distant hillsides. Dinner was buffalo stew.

The second day's hiking was much more eventful! We started going uphill in the mist, and the guides pointed out 3 dots on the distant riverbed and said they were lions! We didn't believe them until the dots moved. We hiked along and then saw a hyena just in front of us! We followed the vultures (and smell) to a giraffe kill. After a rest break a rhino ran around us quite close - they can sure move fast! We went up and down more hills in the mist, seeing many rhino, then some waterbuck, then - in the distance - elephant! We hiked down to get close to the elephant. Now it was getting late - we had a quick lunch (the big excitement was me choosing the wrong clump of bushes for a pee and surprising two buffalo) and then a long hike back, seeing lion tracks, leopard tracks, more rhino. We arrived back in failing light, all very dirty and tired.

On our final day, the donkeys came to carry our stuff out. We crossed the river, checked out rhino tracks, and then snuck up on a few more rhinos. Next, more vultures - a buffalo carcass - this was where the lions we saw yesterday were! Back across the river to base camp, with more rhino on the way. We then drove back to Hilltop to SHOWER! (I like my long hot showers) and do some laundry. On the way we saw a scenic overlook, female kudu, giraffe, impala, zebra, nyala, wildebeest, baboon, and a leopard tortoise, which crawled under our car and wouldn't come out! He then did the same to the next car that stopped. Besides the usual game, there was a crested hornbill and great white egret. The buffet dinner was excellent. Saturday morning we drove out via the river, with more hornbills, black masked weaver, giraffe, play-fighting zebra, rhino and our last sighting, another warthog. A road leads through Hluhluwe/Umfolozi, making for interesting signs.

Our next stop was nearby St Lucia. We were in the Lidiko Lodge, a great place. Jurik set us up on the sundown estuary cruise and we were off for a walk in the forest, which also had interesting signs. We saw several duiker in the forest, but all ran away quickly (I never did get a duiker picture all trip, despite many sightings!). We also saw many birds, butterflies, crocodiles, and hippos (and their tracks). After lunch at the boat club, Eric wanted to touch the Indian Ocean, so we got sandblasted walking in the wind to the water. The cruise started off with weavers, a water monitor, more crocodile, pied kingfisher, white egret, more hippo, and then, Eric spotted her - a Leopard! In the excitement I never did see the leopard that first time, but she actually came back to the water's edge several times - the boat captains were amazed! St Lucia is also known for the hippos grazing on people's lawns in town at night, but as that doesn't happen until midnight usually we missed it - we were on a 9 pm to 5 am sleep schedule! By 6 am we were on the road with a box breakfast, and drove through Swaziland on our way to Kruger. There were no lines at the borders, many cattle and goats on the roads, and lots of sugar cane on the road as well. We reached Komatipoort by noon, to stock up on more supplies.

We entered Kruger Park through the Crocodile Bridge gate, seeing African jacana in the river. Our only serval sighting of the trip was, unfortunately, the stuffed one at reception. Inside the gate the first sighting was - wait for it - impala!! Then scimitarbill bird, fish eagle, then we saw several cars and safari trucks pulled over. I reminded Eric this meant something good usually - we pulled off on a side road, at the head of the line - and had the best position as a cheetah walked past us. We didn't even realize how rare it was to see cheetah in Kruger (although, not as rare as seeing leopard on a boat cruise.). We then checked in to Lower Sabie, checked out their skull collection, and got safari tent #15. Wow - we could have stayed here a week! Camp birds included crested barbet and doves. We headed out again and saw a troop of babooncrossing the river (well, they mostly used the bridge like we did). We tried some back roads but they were very quiet except for birds like purple roller, yellow-billed hornbill, and magpie shrike, so we headed up towards Skukuza to the "pizza slice" of tarred roads around the two rivers there. We did see bushbuck, a large breeding herd of elephant, saddlebill stork, a skink, and hippos.

The next morning we were one of the first cars out the gate. A quick stop at Sunset Dam revealed gray heron, fish eagle, and hippos. A pair of klipspringer were posing a bit further on. Other cars stopped for a distant white rhino but we didn't, not after Umfolozi! Thus we were the second car to come across - 3 lionesses laying in the middle of the road. This video is great, as we slowly backed up to parallel them, a waterbuck came into view behind us - you can see the instant change in their demeanor. We drove by just *feet* away, with the car window open.

As we drove on, there were 3 more lions in the riverbed, including at least one young male. We saw more elephant, a hyena, and many great birds like guinea fowl, blacksmith plover, goliath heron, wire-tailed swallow, and vulture. After shopping at Skukuza, we started to head north. The same large elephant breeding herd was there, crossing the road for us - with a tiny baby! One youngster wanted to smell us. The drive north revealed fields of flowers, steenbok, rhino, and hippo. At Tshokwane picnic area, the local pests included yellow-billed hornbill, glossy starling, and vervet monkey. Mazithi Dam was a wildlife hotspot, with many buffalo and zebra and birds. After passing more elephant and a rhino, the next car jam was at Sweni River bridge - 3 male lions (sorry about the guard rail in the photo, we were good and did NOT get out of the car, unlike some others). We then checked in at Satara, a no-frills rondavel. In the afternoon we headed down the S100 gravel road. We had great general game - waterbuck, impala, zebra, wildebeest, kudu, giraffe, buffalo. The best was a brown-hooded kingfisher killing a scorpion! Continuing down the S41 we crossed a river and saw the odd-looking black crake and a black-backed jackal. Then to the H6 and giraffe and elephant and our first ostrich and more steenbok. We quickly zipped back to the Sweni bridge, and were the last ones there as the lions got up to go out on prowl for the night. We squeaked inside the gates at closing time. In the morning we saw gray lourie in camp, with a nice sunrise and hyena right outside the camp gate. We then tried the H7 towards Orpen, photographing Burchall's coucal, giraffe, spur-winged geese, lilac-breasted roller, francolin, and grey-billed hornbill. After some mongeese, Eric spotted hyenas some ways off the road on a kill, and then followed snorting impala to - another jackal. The only "cat" was this leopard tortoise. We hung out at the dam on the way back, watching male elephants get their day's mud bath. In the afternoon we headed north, a drier area, and found a secretary bird. A large herd of buffalo had many young. We were headed to Oliphant's Camp but never made it past Olifant's Bridge, one of the few places you can exit your car in the park. We watched 4 different breeding herds of elephants, swallows, hippos, and photographed elephants, vulture, a distant lioness.

We returned via the tar road (with one major car stoppage for a VERY distant lioness sighting) to Satara and immediately entered S100 again, as it is well known for cat sightings. A slender mongoose posed nicely, and the target end of a waterbuck. Eric was quite tired from all the driving and suggested just returning to camp. I asked him to just pull over for a while while I scanned. Within a minute I said, "I have a lion!" Two black ears were peeking out over the dry grass. Soon she walked over to two other lionesses, then a male also joined the group. There was a younger cat in there too, but it was difficult to see as you can't go off-road and the grass was tall. By now we had created a traffic jam of our own, but gate-closing time was approaching. One car left, and we followed, back towards Satara. Coming around a bend, there was a Singita safari vehicle. Of course we asked what they were watching, and right next to the road in a tree was a leopard. She looked very pregnant. We left as the light was failing, but were actually back at camp with 20 minutes to spare. We should have stayed, as the other cars that left the lion sighting after us drove right past the leopard and didn't see her! In the morning we tried the S100 again - no leopard, no lion, but a nice hyena sighting. Heading south again, a fish eagle posed, and the Mazithi Dam was again a hotspot - this time, with 6 lions in a clump of grass, watching a waterbuck. Plus a sleeping male lion. The waterbirds were great - a grey egret, hammerkop, and saddlebill stork all used this hippo as a platform to catch frogs from! From there it was back through Skukuza and out past the hippos through the Paul Kruger gate.

Mala Mala was a last-minute addition to our itinerary. I originally booked Kirkman's Kamp for 1-2 November, but they upgraded us to Leadwood as the rest of Kirkman's was taken up by one group. As a big fan of the Mala Mala cyberdiary, and former 2 time visitor to Harry's Camp, I decided to splurge on one night at Mala Mala main camp. Exiting Kruger you then enter the Sabi Sands game reserve. The room was nice, with a sitting area, bedroom, and deck with a view of a waterhole that attracted nyala, bushbusk, and impala. Our first drive started well, with a visit to the Styx pride of 7 lionesses, mostly still sleepy. Red-billed hornbill made an appearance. Then we went to a young female leopard, one of the Campbell Koppie's daughters. She went down a steep gulley and our driver attempted to follow - and burned out the clutch in our vehicle. He couldn't pop the clutch so we were stuck waiting for a replacement vehicle (whose driver got our vehicle into 1st gear, no problem!). No apologies for the lost safari time. We had previously tried to make clear that we DID NOT want one of their "big 5" certificates and to NOT go out of his way just to check off certain animals. This was disregarded completely, and we were duly shown elephants hiding in the reedbeds. A saddlebill stork nearby was more interesting. Then we went to the Kikilezi female leopard, who had a bushbuck kill.

The night drive was disappointing, I think we saw maybe one hare. Dinner was tasty, but our guide spoiled the evening a bit by ranting about the other guides and his job. The next morning, we saw parrots and cuckoos and barbets and lilac breasted roller, found a buffalo herd, then drove a LONG time to go see a rhino. Which no one in our vehicle really cared to see, as the others had seen rhinos the previous day. Finally we went to a leopard sighting - there were two in the area - the Kirkman's Kamp vehicle followed the young female, while we alone followed an older male leopard for 35 minutes as he strolled through the bush. Unfortunately one of the other people in the vehicle was "bored" of leopardsand off we went to see giraffes and zebra before returning to camp well before any other vehicles. One last sour note was receiving a bill for bottled water and a delayed sundowner drink, none of which should have been charged. I'm not sure I'll return here unless this inane big 5 policy and drink policy changes! I miss Harry's Camp. But, the leopard viewing was great. That's what I paid the $$$ for. We visited Rattray's on our way out, which looked very nice.

As we were self-driving we then went back to the Shaw's gate and over to Newington Gate and up to Exeter Leadwood. We were hopeful to have a really cool sighting while self-driving but a distant elephant and European bee eaters were about it. At Leadwood we were greeted by Thulani and shown the beautiful grounds and our room, well, our villa really, it was huge! Foyer, sitting room, bedroom, bathroom, plunge pool - it was all incredible. A tiny gecko on the door was cute, while the camp birds were noisy red-billed hoopoe. At 4 pm we headed out with guide Marcelino and tracker Isaac. I like how the tracker sits in front here, like at Phinda (and actually does something, unlike at Mala Mala). The drive started with water monitors and general game, then on to Maquela, a 13 year old female leopard. She is small but beautiful. On the airstrip we visited a male cheetah bedding down for the night, then after sundowners we came across two lionesses on the hunt. Dinner was served at private tables, very romantic. On the morning drive we headed to the south of the Western Sabi Sands GR to a known hyena den, one very cute 8 month old pup stayed out for us. On the way we saw a lizard, rhino a few times, and the adult daughter of last night's leopard. After breakfast we went for a short walk with Marcelino, then enjoyed our private plunge pool! Then they served lunch. I can't believe how many times a day they feed you here!

On the afternoon drive we (well, Isaac and Marcelino) searched for lion tracks in the riverbed, went to a dam to see hippos, then found the lions- the Sand River pride of 2 lionesses and 5 cubs (two 9 months old and three 4 months old). We spent over an hour with them as the sun set. Then off for sundowners. We saw a genet after dark, then when we were almost back to the lodge the call came in that the lions had killed an impala - and back we went! One impala doesn't last long with 7 lions but we saw some good feeding behavior. Dinner was an outdoor braai, only a few drops of rain threatened us. In the morning the birder in our vehicle was happy, we spent an hour listening to birds like white-fronted bee eaters among the sausage trees along river. We had a spectacular sighting of a giraffe drinking, and some fuzzy caterpillars, then went back to the dam where the Wellington Male leopard had been found. As we followed him through the bush, we punctured a tire - with a loud hissing noise that intrigued the cat. He didn't move off far, and rested on a termite mound waiting for us (Isaac and Marcelino) to change the tire. He posed, saw a wildebeest, and went towards it - but no luck. After another breakfast, we were off, driving north through Tzaneen to our overnight stop in Makhado.

It was about a 2 hour drive to the Pont Drift border post from Makhado. The crossing went smoothly, then we went to the Mashatu office just inside the border to decide whether to wait for the regular transfer or drive ourselves to the tented camp. Armed with a map, we decided to drive ourselves there. All was fine until misleading intersections and forks in the road NOT on the map started to show up. We made the correct choice at the intersection, but not at the fork. We knew the road we were on looked a little too rough for us, so we turned back, then Monty came to the rescue - we should have gone the other way at the fork. With careful driving we didn't bottom out (too much) or scrape up the rental car (too badly) and at least we missed the bigger pointy rocks. It was a warm day so I was glad to visit the pool after admiring our tent and porch complete with resident bushbuck and lizard. The hide and waterhole provided fine birding, especially for lilac breasted roller. It was a bit cooler as we headed out, but we soon found that recent rains had brought out not only noisy cicadas but also the mopani flies, a type of stingless wasp. The flies were really just annoying - they didn't bite, but there were thousands on every mopani tree and bush - our driver got several in his eye, and I'm sure we all ate a few! We found two male cheetahs and followed them a while but as they were walking through mopani we eventually gave up. Next we went to a small lion pride - an adult female, her 3.5 year old son and daughter, and two 10 month old girls. They were "flat cats" mostly. An immature martial eagle posed nearby. Mashatu had many less birds of prey than anywhere else we visited - our guide Dan thought because local farmers poisoned them. At sunset we watched some ostrich, and then drove a long way to see a young male leopard in a riverbed as he began to get active. Dinner was held in the boma - we turned the paraffin lamps way down, as it was better to eat in the dark than attract the bizillion cicadas and mopani flies! Neither could we read in bed or play cards, as any light attracted too many bugs.

On the morning drive we began with - a flat tire. Next we admired the same young male leopard, asleep high in a Mashatu tree (aka nyalaberry). For the morning break we watched many elephant heading to the river, with much vocalization. This little sparrowhawk was at the fountain near the bar at camp. Some lightning and rain didn't affect us. After stopping at main camp to visit the giftshop on the evening drive, we saw many more elephant (video), kori bustard, a troop of baboon with young, ostrich, some giraffe, and eland. Even a large elephant looks small under a mashatu tree! After dark we saw 3 genet, including two who posed for us. Much more lightning and rain followed, so dinner was held in the verandah. More rain overnight had Eric worried about our drive out, so while I went on the morning game drive Eric and Monty did a car shuttle to the reception area. On the drive Eric missed the male lion going for a walk, a female white-faced Scop's owl with young, eland, and MANY more elephant - we could see over 100 at one time from the break spot. One was new-born. Monty then ran us back to the car in a "Ferrari safari" so that we could be on the road by 11 am, as we had a long drive ahead of us.

Mashatu supplies directions on how to get to the paved road, which is good because these roads & bridges & villages were not on any maps! All went smoothly, despite the usual lack of directional signs - in Bobonong there was a 5 way traffic circle with no signs to say what went where! Luckily all the people are friendly and were happy to confirm I picked the right road to get us to Phikwe. Many more livestock were on the road, and some didn't make it. Often the cars didn't make it either! From there we joined the main road A1, to Francistown, and guess what - the intersection with the A3 to Nata wasn't marked! We found it easily enough, by heading west - there aren't that many tarred roads. The sky got darker and darker and then the rains REALLY started - there was quite a downpour for a few kilometers! Then we broke through, and it was daylight again. We drove through Nata at 5:30 pm, with 100 km to go and an hour before sunset. The setting sun was directly in our eyes, and we had to slow down every few km because of a donkey, cow, goat, or horse in the road! So it was a bit after sunset when we arrived at Planet Baobab, but not full dark yet. We missed the big aardvark in the dark, but saw the planet sign. Our room was cozy and indeed under baobabsDuring a drink at the bar, we met our guide for tomorrow, Bones (really something like N'boda). The main reason for being here was to do a day trip to Nxai Pan. A display of skulls, as usual, greeted us at the entrance. Bones warned us to bring/wear something warm, but as we could barely sleep from the heat we didn't listen! Sure enough the 60 km drive was quite cold, and we had but one warm jacket to share between us. Weather-wise this was the worst day of our trip, essentially; there was a drizzle or mist most of the day, so our wildlife sightings were definitely affected by that. On the drive in we saw lion, hyena, and cheetah tracks, but only giraffe and black korhaan were actually seen. There was an elephant and springbok at the waterhole, and jackal and a secretary bird nearby. Nxai Pan is one of the few places were impala and springbok both occur. We saw many kori bustard, including one flying. Due to all the rain, game was quite dispersed instead of being near the waterhole. The best sighting was of a male elephant tearing leaves and bark off a baobab tree. A tawny eagle sat nearby. It was odd to see pelican in the middle of a field.

A rainbow accompanied us on the 2 hour drive to Maun. We had arranged an 8 am meeting at the Maun Cash Build with Masson Safaris. Sallie Masson then led us to their home, where we met our team for the next 8 days: guide Nick Langton, cook Sam, and his helper/girlfriend Maritzie. We all headed out with a trailer full of gear, and an ice box full of drinks, up the tar-then-dirt road from Maun to Moremi Reserve. We saw zebrabefore even reaching South Gate, where we enjoyed lunch. Kudu were the next sighting, and when we came out by the water near Xini Lagoon I saw two new antelope for the first time, tssesebe (some with young) and red lechwe. There were also several sets of ground hornbill, in addition to the yellow, red, and gray-billed hornbills we had grown used to seeing everywhere. Hippo peeked up from every deep pool, sacred ibis and various other waterbirds abounded. Wildebeest had also given birth. Nick mentioned what a beautiful campsite Xini was, but we drove on to Bodumatau (Hatab 13), which is when Sam told Nick to check his paperwork - we WERE at Xini, Hatab 14. We took a different route back, and what timing - a female lion was walking down the road. We drove past, dropped off the trailer and Sam and Maritzie, and went back to watch the lioness get watched by giraffe, stalk warthog and impala, settle on a termite mound, walk past our camp, call for other lions, hear a reply, and then head BACK past camp to meet up with her friend. Some photos were taken while I'm standing in our campsite (the rest are from the vehicle).

The tents were quite comfortable, bush shower nearby, everything provided. This was our kind of safari, with a fridge full of cold beers and cider always on hand. Nick stuck to his "old man" beer (St Louis) while Eric had a supply of Lion Lager and I of course drank Savannah Cider. Sam is an incredible bush cook, we had some great dinners during this portion of the trip. He can make anything in an iron pot over a fire. The viewfrom this camp was great, and we were visited by a lot of game. In the morning we headed north, seeing jackal, secretary bird, wooly neck stork, and these neat red flowers. In the open areas near there we found this python, which we followed so I could get some nice close-ups. Campers at 3rd bridge told us about 2 lionesses who had just killed a buffalo near 4th bridge. On the way we found this large lizard. The vultures were waiting for the lions to start lunch - the lions were still panting from the exertion of the kill and hadn't started eating yet. It was hot, so we returned to camp for a break. In the afternoon we saw black egret and their unique fishing style of hooding, reedbuck, squacco heron, crocodile, found a secretary bird nest, and when a bush hissed at us, flushed out a honey badger. We drove to a former campsite - the hippos in the lagoon were NOT used to people anymore! One impala baby was seen, distantly. After another great dinner, we slept till 2 am, when the sound of lions fighting over a kill woke the camp. Followed by alarm calls from the local antelope and birds. Followed by hippos getting in a fight. Followed by hyenas cackling. Followed by lions calling to each more sleep that night for us! In the morning we found the remnants of the kill, while one lioness chased off a hyena. One magnificent male lion came out of the bush and walked over to 2 females, before posing in the early morning sun. There were at least 8 lions around, and possibly 2 kills.

We had a mokoro ride scheduled that morning, so off we went for the long drive to Mboma station. Kudu and giraffe along the way posed. The ride was hot, the waterlilies pretty, a few birds and butterflies entertained us. Then Eric tried poling - good thing he didn't try to go far! On the way back to camp we saw wattled crane, and checked on the buffalo carcass - someone had been busy overnight, it was pretty much finished. On returning to camp Sam informed us all the lions had walked by right in front of camp - would have been a good day to just hang out there. In the afternoon we saw more mongeese and returned to the secretary bird nest to get photos of them flying.

On Sunday morning it was packing day, to move to Khwai; on the way Sam spotted two cheetah, one with a collar. We took the straight road from South to North Gate, very boring mopani forest, very loud with cicadas! At least there were no mopani flies here. The bridge over the river Khwai is interesting, the logs move as you drive over them. The Khwai river valley is beautiful, with tons of game and water birds. There was a convention of Marabou stork going on, they look like undertakers. We also saw open-bill stork and white face ducks, francolin, wooly neck stork, egrets, black headed night heron, green back heron, pied kingfisher, african darter, cormorants, fish eagles, bateleur eagles, black and yellowbill kites, tawny eagles, coppery tailed coucal, and Meyer's parrots. Many hippos and crocodiles played in the river, while a python hung out in a leadwood tree. In addition to waterbuck and tssesebe, we saw more impala babies. The sign at the airstrip amused us, as did seeing elephant nearby. Our campsite was under a camelthorn tree. In the afternoon, we saw more lions, 2 females with 2 cubs of different ages, and another gorgeous sunset. Dinner was a yummy mutton stew, and then we went out for a night drive. We had two good sightings of African wildcat (a good sighting despite my crummy picture), and also saw many springhare, crocodiles, a bushbaby in a tree, and the same lions again - but this time we also saw two male lions.

On the morning game drive, we saw many more birds(pale chanting goshawk) and hippos, lilies, the usual antelope (impala, waterbuck, red lechwe, and tssesbe), plus jackal, elephant, and buffalo. The afternoon drive was similar, with some sleeping lions added. The night drive brought genet, a giant eagle owl, and a grass owl. While Sam and Maritzie packed camp in the morning, we found more lions walking in the mopani. Then we drove off to the Mababe Gate into Savuti. The drive along the river brought more elephant and kudu and the other usual suspects, until we hit the mopani forest, which was quiet. When we reached the Mababe Depression sightings picked up again. Giraffe, wildebeest, many zebra, warthogs, ostrich, jackal, plus elephant in many places. At the main waterhole male elephant ruled the day. Camp was set up quickly, but it was quite hot. We set out late and decided to just sit and drink by the waterhole and watch elephants. Well that lasted until another guide told us about a male lion around the corner. It was a large adult male, missing two canines. He took a short walk while being watched by all the impala, roared to his companion, listened to the answer, and rested in the shade. In the meantime... A second male of the same size slowly walked across from the opposite mopani forest and also laid down as the sun set. That night we could hear them roaring, and also heard elephant rumbling

For the morning drive we saw yellow mongoose, and then we went around the "marsh" looking for cheetah and bat-eared fox, both of which remained elusive. We had great displays from male kori bustard trying to attract the ladies, also of them flying, and more jackal. At Rhino pan there was a dead elephant that appeared to be being guarded by another elephant, as otherwise I think the scavengers would have been more active. Jackal, vultures, and marabou stork were all hanging around the carcass. We found some wild dog tracks but were not lucky there either. A male steenbok was getting lucky, however. Blue-cheeked bee eaters and crimson-breasted bush shrike were our sort of bird, colorful and photographable. We watched 3 male giraffe necking for some time, I had always wanted to see that behavior. Returning to the elephant-filled main pan, we heard where yet another male lion was hanging out with a female at Harvey's pans. The female lion wanted to hunt, the male just wanted to follow her around. Five roan antelope, another first for me, were keeping a close eye on the lions and followed them for a while. We saw one buffalo, rare for this area while it's still dry. And of course we saw lots more elephants. For the first time, the flies and lack of wind back at camp drove me inside the tent during the break. It was another hot day, the evening brought more lions, elephants, jackal, kori bustard, and an eagle owl, before we watched the sun set over the elephants at the pan.

The next morning, we knew where the lions were by their roaring but couldn't get there in the mopani forest. We headed back to Maun, the only day on our mobile safari we didn't see lions. That night was spent at Marina's in Maun, a nice place but too hot to sleep well. Dinner was at the Sports Bar.

At this point we had several free days in our itinerary, which I was hoping to fill with a camp in the Okavango Delta. At 9 am we turned up at the Wilderness Safaris office and spoke with Precious, who gave us some prices for different camps, but wasn't sure of availability because the system was down. We went a few doors down the street to the Travel Wild office, where we got quotes for going to Shinde camp. Another more water-based camp was offered, but we were interested in game drives, not water activities. Unfortunately the Kwando camps were full, they were high on my list. We used the internet at Bush Telegraph before returning to Wilderness Safaris. The system was still down, so we went off to secure a room at the Maun Lodge (one of the few places in town with air conditioning). Back to WS and Precious called the Joburg office, and found that the only camp with availability was Vumbera Plains, at US$2400 for 3 nights for the two of us, including airfare. At $400 pppn, that was a bit more than we wanted to pay, but certainly a discount from their rack rate. I had heard good things about Vumbera so we said yes. We spent the rest of the day relaxing at the Maun Lodge. A local disco nearby was noisy until 12:30 am so we watched a horrible movie (Speed 2) and played cards.

After breakfast at Bon Arrivee and more internet time we were ready for our flight. First our 6-seater from Sefofane stopped at Jao camp to pick up Colleen and Nada, then a short low flight to Vumbera. Flight pictures - 1,2,3,4,5,6. Our guide Ona picked us all up, and on the drive to South Camp revealed zebra, giraffe, warthog, impala, and tssesbe. After seeing the common areas we were shown room 7, again a villa of our own, similar in size and amenities to Leadwood. A nice end (well, near end) for our trip! Pictures of: sitting area, plunge pool, bed, bath. Red lechwegrazed on the plains, and kudu nearby. On the evening drive, several vehicles combined to track the Kubu pride of lions, leading to 7 flat cats in the grass. 2 adult females, four 2 to 3 year old males, and a female of a bit less than a year old. Another adult female was missing, and presumed to be off having a litter of cubs. Next we viewed a large breeding herd of elephant, with many young ones. Going back to the airstrip, there was an impala carcass up in a tree, but the leopard who put it there was shy. Nearby was a different lion pride, with 6 lions (2 adult females, 2 young males, 2 young females). Laying nearby were the 2 adult male lions who controlled both resident prides. More genet were seen on the way back to camp. The rest of camp was occupied by Ben's Birthday group. Dinners were served individually, but I missed the buffet style and choices.

At 2:30 am there was a huge thunderstorm with lots of wind and lightning, Eric rolled down the shutters outside to keep us dry. The staff hadn't expected a storm, the common area and outdoor furniture got soaked! On the morning drive bird alarm calls led us to *something* we disturbed as it ate a young tssesebe - the mother tssesbe and her herd were still nearby. Ona claims it was a caracal that made the killing, but the trackswere inconclusive - possibly serval or jackal. All anyone saw was a blur as it jumped in some bushes. Then we tracked the Kubu pride until we caught up with them resting by some bushes. Giraffe stared intently at them, as the young males looked on with some interest. The airstrip leopard was still hiding, but the impala had been moved and eaten off of overnight. Nearby we viewed a relaxed young male leopard as he walked through tall grass, went to part of a kill, and settled in the shade to have a bite. He was a handsome fellow! My first sighting of carmine bee-eaters followed, and there were lots of other birds, like yellow-billed stork and spoonbill. We said hi to the lions again on the way back, they hadn't moved much. A rock monitor lizard was resting near camp.

During the break, a breeding herd of elephants decided to have lunch at camp, attack room 6, crawl under the boardwalk, and pose with Ericand I. In the evening we went for a short motorboat ride and then a short game drive. Rain threatened so we didn't go far. Three hyena were seen close to camp. Dinner was held in the boma, with singing and dancing. In the morning after a great sunrise we looked hard for sable, but had a good giraffe family sighting instead. We tracked lions, then went to a leopard sighting first. This male was very relaxed, but had a hurt front right leg

The Kubu pride had meanwhile been found, resting up after killing and eating a wildebeest. Huge fat lazy lions! We then all went to the airport to drop off Colleen and Nada. Many tssesebe with young were nearby, and reedbuck. A group of kids from Children in the Wilderness were leaving, and another arriving. The boys left too, so we had camp to ourselves all afternoon! We took a walk to see the view from North Camp, and just relaxed a lot. Only 3 elephant walked by our deck (video) today. Meyer's parrots, green pigeon, butterflies, little bee-eater, and squirrelalso visited. We had a private game drive in the evening, but our cat luck had left us. Except of course we could visit the lazy fat Kubu pride! We looked for cheetah and serval in the open areas with no luck. After sunset we saw bushbaby, more genet, a baby impala, a side-stripe jackal, and MANY frogs. For dinner the staff had arranged a wonderful private dinner on our deck but the bugs were horrible and we were tired, so the experience was a bit lost on us. We left very early to look for serval again, said hi to the lions, then spent a long time looking for cheetah, way to the north of the concession. It was much drier up here, and we saw ostrich in addition to all the usual antelope. Another vehicle found a nervous male leopard, but we were far away. Instead we enjoyed watching 3 hyena in a pan.

After brunch we had some time to relax and watch a lechwe family before it was time to go to the airstrip. We said goodbye to the still-fat and lazy lions, then had to wait as a rainstorm moved in right as our flight was due. We were only an hour late, so we still had time to collect our car, visit an ATM and grocery store, fill up on gas, and head south 300 km to Ghanzi, where we spent the night at the Kalahari Arms.

From Ghanzi it was another 5 hours or so drive to Jwaneng, home of the Debswana diamond mine which is the base of Jwana Game Park and the home of the main Cheetah Conservation Botswana research camp. We had spent several weeks here in 2003 and wanted to revisit our former home. The chalets were freshly painted, the ground squirrels were fat, and many improvements had been made, as well as new vehicles. Time for a game drive - the west side of the park was dry, we just saw a few ostrich and a single oryx (the first we saw this trip!). Our favorite bird was still there, the black korhaan - the flying brick! The open plains in the southeast were much busier - springbok, secretary bird, warthog, ostrich, zebra, wildebeest, a large oryx herd, vulture nests, red hartebeest with young, giraffe, and eland - there was a huge herd of over 100 eland, including young. After checking into the Cezar Motel in town and having dinner, we met with biologist Ann Marie and director Rebecca and had a good catch-up. The next morning we drove around Jwana again, finding a large springbok herd and watching them pronk, jackal, and then we saw a large amount of vultures on the ground 100m from the road. You can exit your car here (there are no elephant, buffalo, or lion, although they are about to introduce rhino), so we walked over and found a dead zebra. It's possible it was a cheetah kill, as they do take down larger prey here than in parks where lions and spotted hyena are found. We also visited the site where CCB hosts local children in educational workshops, with various games and displays set up. There was a bird nest on a tower here, I think vultures?

We then drove to Mokolodi, home of the CCB offices. Veterinarian Kyle was there to show us the X-ray machine that the Feline Conservation Center had donated. Volunteer Brian has helped produce many great educational pamphlets and school workbooks, check out the Cheetah Conservation Botswana website to download them! Of course the highlight of our visit here was seeing their two tame cheetah, Duma and Letotse.

We stayed in one of the chalets on Mokolodi. We could have done a game drive here too, but were content to have a fire and watch our last African sunset. The next morning we drove the 4-5 hours back to the Johannesburg airport for our long flight home

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