By 7am, the seven of us, our luggage, and our guide were in a minivan for a short 45 minute drive to the Zambia / Botswana border. Land border crossings always feel a bit more sketchy than the more orderly airport equivalent, but this particular one wins the "most unusual yet" award. After we checked out of Zambia, we were held in a kind of no-man's-land on the bank of a river. Here, masses of people waited for various ferries to take them across the river to - yeah - Botswana. Our questionably seaworthy ferry had to make two trips for our group and luggage (even though we were limited to 25 pounds of luggage each). Once on the other side, we checked in to Botswana, walked through some type of chemical to clear our shoes of cooties, and were picked up by another driver who drove us a short ways to Chobe River Lodge in Kasane.
We picked up $10 of corn for our camera beanbags at an adjacent grocery store and then boarded a pontoon boat. After a brief stop to officially check in to Chobe National Park, we had an amazing afternoon that included huge herds of ellies drinking at the waters edge (and some swimming), crocodiles, and lots and lots of birds. We ate aboard the boat (chicken wraps and chocolate cupcakes) while watching a large herd of elephants - can't beat that !
We were met by another vehicle (and our luggage) that would take us the rest of the way for today's journey. We had to stop twice to fix flat tires, but the group made the best of it and used these as snack / happy hour breaks. The long drive took us in and out of Chobe National Park several times, eventually arriving at the Linyanti private concession. Highlights along the way include more elephants than I could count, seeing my first sable antelope, and an amazing sunset over the river.
Linyanti Trails CampWe arrived at Linyanti Trails Camp around 7pm. It was a ridiculously long day but our spirits rose immediately when the singing camp staff greeted us. Linyanti Trails Camp. The camp was comprised of riverfront semi-permanent tents, just a short distance from the Caprivi Strip (so close that our cell phone coverage was from Namibia, in fact). Our tent, #3, featured wood floors, a sleeping area, an attached bathroom with hot and cold running water and a flush toilet, and a front desk overlooking the hippo-filled river. There was no power in the tent, but the common area had outlets for charging and the generators ran for three hours in the morning and evening (my multi-plug adapter came in quite handy here!). We were definitely not roughing it.
Dinner that night was in the boma, an open-air fenced area. The entire meal - pork, squash, corn, bread, etc. was cooked over an open fire. So far, everything was exceeding our expectations, so the genet off our back deck when we returned from dinner was just icing on the cake !
Monday, June 29thAfter a sounds night's sleep despite hippos hauling themselves out of the river and grazing next to our tent, we were up early to meet at the common area by 6:30. Breakfast consisted of cereals, muffins, toast, and porridge from a giant kettle over the fire. Remember, though it was June, it was winter in these parts, so the fire was welcome heat (not to mention, we were really bundled up!).
The morning game drive included impala, giraffe, elephants, mongooses (mongeese?), red lechwe, an african eagle owl, a bateleur eagle, and a huge troupe of baboons; some that were mating, others that were being chased my impalas. Around 11 we stopped near a pond for a "bush brunch" that consisted of salad, rice, beets, and boboti (one of my faves from South Africa - a kind of ground meat casserole).
After lunch we returned to camp for a siesta before it was time to eat again. Today's tea snack included veggie pizzas and some type of custard pastry thing. I should mention that, like other remote camps, you are escorted everywhere at Linyanti Trails. You are walked to your tent and then they arrange a time to return to fetch you. If there is an emergency, each tent has an air horn - no running around here. So if you are in the common area, and you have to use the facilities, there is one there - however, it only has three sides and the fourth wall facing the river is completely open. A rope at the end of the trail leading to this loo was used to indicate "occupado". Elephants, however, did not understand this signal and surprised Andy during once of his visits.
The evening game drive included the same suspects from the morning; a ton of elephants, giraffe, crocodile, etc. During the stop for sundowners we figured out that we all prefer white wine, because it was all gone yet there was plenty of red left. At one point Andy thought that he saw a cheetah but it turned out to be a stump.
Back at camp, we freshened up and were escorted to the common area for dinner. The friendly staff at Linyanti really enhanced the experience. When dinner was ready, they sang (I just remember the line "the starters are complaining" - similar to "the food is getting cold" or something).
Click to listen
Once seated, they explained that tonight the men would eat first (well, go to the buffet first). The meal consisted of a stew (corn meal and beans?) and zucchini, with ginger pudding cake for dessert - all set to the symphony of hippo snorts.
Tuesday, June 30thToday was a day trip to the Savuti Channel. After a two-hour drive we passed an airstrip, then a quick lion sighting, then we stopped for a picnic lunch, and eventually we reached the Savuti Channel. There was definitely more game in this area ! There was a very active pod of hippos that was fun to watch, and then we crossed the channel (water was mid-way up the door of the open-top land cruiser but it fared fine) to see a huge herd of elephants. On the way back we spotted two cheetah and followed them for a while before they disappeared into thick brush. It was a long, bumpy, sandy drive back to camp, where we arrived after 6pm making this an almost 11 hour day. Entirely too long for me, but the hippos and cheetah made it worthwhile.
Before dinner that night, the staff sang in front of the fire for about 15 minutes. It was mostly in Tswana, but I did keep hearing my name so I assume it was a song about picky eaters or someone with too many electronic devices to charge. Seriously, listen to songs #5 and #6 and I'm pretty sure you will hear it too :)
Tonight's dinner was oxtail soup, chicken, rice, and zucchini, and the women had to prepare a plate of food for their men before they could eat. O...k...
Wednesday, July 1stGiven the game sightings on the two previous days, the group opted for no morning drive today as we would have a two hour drive to the airstrip. This flight was not on our itinerary, as we were supposed to have an 11 hour road transfer to the next camp, but because of the rains earlier in the season the road transfer was impossible. This was FABULOUS news as I was not looking forward to this trek.
After a full breakfast by the fire (ham, eggs, beans, tomatoes, etc.) and a gorgeous sunrise, we said our goodbyes to the staff and they sang as we drove out of camp. Five minutes out of camp, two wild dogs ran across the road ! Wild Dogs Wile Dogs !!! We'd never seen wild dogs before, and because they are so rare (3000-5000 in 25 countries) we didn't have our hopes up, but there they were ! Tracking wild dogs is much different from tracking a pride of lions - these guys were all over the place ! What a great way to end our time in Linyanti.
We arrived at the airstrip, which had a very nice, clean flush toilet, around 11. Next up - Lechwe Island Camp.