Botswana day 2: Chobe National Park

I woke up at 4:30 am. Since the wake up call was at 5 am, I decided to just get out of bed and start getting ready. Even though I had no problems waking up early, I am not a morning person by nature, which meant that I was a little grumpy as I got dressed for the morning game drive.

It was chilly outside, colder than our room. The stars shone brightly in the sky. I had never seen so many stars in my life. It was usually too bright or too cloudy in Singapore to see any stars at night. But out here, the only other light was from our room. I am normally not interested in astronomy but as I looked up at the stars, my mind naturally drifted to thoughts about life in the vast universe. There were so many stars in the sky. If each star was a distant sun or planet, with the numerous stars out there, surely there is a chance for one of them where somehow all the conditions were right for life to exist. And I thought I was beginning to understand the appeal of space and the cosmos. If you glanced up into a night sky such as this everyday, you too would wonder what else was out there in the vastness of space.

I tried to take some pictures of the stars but the photos turned out blurry. Pity.

After making sure that we were dressed warmly, AC and I walked to the lobby where coffee and tea were served at 5:30 am. The rest of the guests were chatting as they drank their coffee and tea. They seemed to be in a happier mood than me so I concluded that they were probably all morning people. I felt as if my brain was not fully awake yet and moved mechanically to the nearest sofa. I also had a mild headache for some reason.

A staff brought out two trays of fresh muffins came out a few minutes later. They were still warm from the oven. At first I didn’t want to eat anything because it was too early to even feel hungry. Then AC reminded me that it would be a while before we had breakfast, so I took one muffin. When I tore it into half, some steam escaped from the warm, moist interior. The muffin was delicious and I was glad that I ate one.

At 6 am, we all went for our morning game drive in Chobe National Park. It was still chilly so we were all dressed in warm clothing. My guide was a big woman with dreadlocks called Rati. She was nice and tried her best to show us as much as possible.

Click on the image above for the wallpaper version (2000 x 1500 px)

We stopped beside the river to watch the sunrise. There were swarms of dragonflies flying around, probably just woken up from their sleep.

Now that the sun was up, the animals were also starting to be active. It was also starting to get hot. We passed by a baboon family sitting up in a tree, doing their morning grooming. Other baboons had already come down from the trees and were walking along the dirt roads. They did not seem very concerned as our jeep drove past and some younger ones stared at us with timid curiosity.

Sometimes we drove by the river banks and sometimes we drove on the dirt roads. The ride was a bit jerky at times but that was part of the fun. Besides the baboons, we also saw some birds and impalas.

All the guides communicated through walkie-talkies as they drove around the national park. Towards the end of our morning game drive, a voice from Rati’s walkie-talkie informed her about a sighting of a whole herd of buffaloes. Up until now, we had only seen a few animals at one time. So order to let us see a large herd, Rati stepped on the accelerator and sped down the dirt road. The buffaloes were located quite far away so Rati did not make any stops along the way.

It was a big herd but they were pretty scattered. They were not standing near the road so half of them were hidden by the tall grass and bushes. The buffaloes looked at us as they chewed leisurely.

The guide on another jeep pointed out an interesting sight. Far away was a lioness stuck in a tree. We looked in the direction he pointed but the lioness was so far away that we could hardly see her. It didn’t help that she was in the shadows. I tried zooming in with my camera but even then I could only just barely make out the lioness’ outline.

As we watched, the lioness stood up and looked as if she was going to climb down the tree. Then she changed her mind and sat down again. This happened a few times. Rati explained that the lioness was afraid to climb down because there were many buffaloes grazing under the tree. Their sharp curved horns would cause quite a bit of damage.

On the way back, we also came across another lioness lying down in the tall grass. Even when Rati pointed its position out to us, it was really hard to see it as only the top of its head was showing. I would probably die really quickly out in the African bush because I am so bad at spotting animals.

After a while, the lioness stood up and we had a good view of her.

It was time to go and Rati turned the key in the ignition. The engine rattled, made some spluttering noises and then died. Rati tried a few more times with the same result. Luckily there was another jeep nearby. After waving and honking to attract the driver’s attention, Rati managed to get him to pull up alongside our vehicle. Together, they managed to jump start our jeep which was quite a relief. Of course I’m quite sure that even if there were no other vehicles around, Rati could radio back to the lodge and get someone to drive out and bring us back. But it would mean a long wait.

We thanked the other guide and waved goodbye to him and his passengers. We were running late by now so Rati drove us quickly back to the lodge. Unsurprisingly, we were the last jeep to arrive back at the lodge. Rati said that she would inform DK to start the boat cruise 30 mins later so that we would have enough time to eat breakfast.

AC and I ate quickly so that we had enough time to freshen up before the boat cruise. The sun was fully up by now so it was time to ditch the jacket and put on sunblock. At 11 am we went down to the jetty and found that once again, we were the first to arrive. The other boats had already left.

When everyone arrived, DK started the boat and drove us up and down the river to see what animals we could see today. In general, we saw mostly the same types of animals but this time we were able to get a better view of some. AC and I noticed that DK seemed less enthusiastic and there were a few times she went, “We saw this yesterday…”

When I saw a cormorant spreading out its wings to dry them, I was reminded of the flightless cormorant that I saw in the Galapagos. After three years, I was able to compare the wings of the normal and flightless cormorants. This was a significant moment for me and I found myself oddly moved by the thought.

We returned to the lodge for lunch at 1 pm. It seemed to be pizza day today and the chefs were baking a selection of pizzas at the outdoor kitchen. The pizzas were the thin crust type that I liked. It was a nice treat. There were also other dishes, like rice, stew and gratin, for those who did not fancy pizzas. Everything tasted delicious.

There was also a lunchtime performance and some of the staff sang and dance for us.

After lunch, AC and I went back to our room. I found a shaded spot on the porch, pulled up a chair and read one of the ebooks I’ve brought along for the trip. AC joined me on the porch a while later and both of us just chilled until it was almost time for the afternoon drive.

Along the way to the main building, we passed by some grazing warthogs.

We gathered at the lobby for the afternoon game drive at 3:30 pm. Rati was our guide and driver again.

One of the first animals we saw was a kudu, a type of antelope. The kudus were really shy and kept hiding behind trees and bushes. Even though we saw them a few more times afterwards, this was the clearest and closest view I had of it.

An animal that I hoped to see in the wild was a giraffe and I got my wish today. The first giraffe we saw was far away down a valley. It was walking with some impalas. Rati told us that some species stayed together for protection. Due to its height, a giraffe would be able to spot danger further away than an impala.

Later on, we managed to find a group of giraffes who were grazing nearer to the dirt road.

We also saw an African fish eagle calling for its mate. Rati told us that we could identify the male and female fish eagles by listening to its calls. The female had a higher pitch than the male. But I couldn’t hear any difference.

Minutes later, its mate landed on the same tree.

We also saw other animals like impalas and elephants.

At the end of the game drive, we saw a lone lioness. It seemed to ignore us as it walked past our stationary jeep. Then it sat down in the clearing and started growling loudly in short bursts. Rati said that the lioness was calling to its group. The sun was setting and nighttime was the time for them to hunt. The lioness had to find the other members of its group so that they could begin the hunt.

We sat and waited quietly but no other lions joined the lioness. Finally we could wait no longer and had to leave.

We arrived back at the lodge after dark. I was surprised that it turned cold really quickly after the sun had set. We were also the last vehicle to return. Rati stopped the jeep so that she could get down and close the gate.

After dinner, we returned to our room and found that the dirty clothes we left in the laundry basket in the morning were returned cleaned and neatly ironed. Nice! We were leaving Chobe Game Lodge tomorrow so I tried to do most of the packing before going to bed at 11 pm.

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