For the majority of our trip to Botswana, we would spend our time at Sango Safari Camp, on the Khawi River. Oliver and I were driven three hours up to the camp in what felt like a road straight through the African bush. It was remote and wonderful. Upon arrival to the camp, the entire staff met our truck, singing traditional songs and dancing.
We met the guide that we would be with for all of our activities. He told me his name was Jewel.
Me: Hi Jewel.
Him: No, you are calling me Jewel, that is a girl’s name. My name is Joue-ellll.
Him: No, J-o-e-l.
Me: Oh, Joel.
Him: No, Joue-ellllll.
Oliver and I had a delicious lunch. I ate less rice so that I could sample all of the cheese varieties available and then we were led to our tent. The camp was literally on the banks of the river. We stayed in another safari tent and it was as comfortable, and more adventurous, than any hotel. We sat on our porch reading wildlife magazines and bird watching. That afternoon we went out on a game drive to Moremi Game Reserve. A lioness had been spotted in the area and we soon found her with a roan antelope she had killed. We watched her lay in the grass, looking so full and hot and uncomfortable that it was difficult not to regret that last helping of cheese. Just as we were about to leave, I spotted two lion cubs hiding in the tall grass behind her. Jewel-Joel pulled the truck into a better vantage point and we saw the cutest cubs rolling around in the grass. On that drive we saw a number of other animals but the lion cubs were the clear highlight.
The next morning after breakfast, we went on another game drive. Joel told us we were going to find a leopard because Oliver mentioned one in passing the day before. And then began the hunt. To me, we just drove around a lot. But every few minutes, Joel would stop the tuck and stare at the ground, and finally he showed us leopard prints. That to me was exciting enough and took a few photos to document the experience. Oliver and I had tried looking for leopards on several occasions but have never been successful. And then it started to get serious. Joel began looking at which way antelope were standing and drive us next to trees to peer up them.
Finally we were in a large empty grassy patch and I began to wonder what we were doing—I’ve always seen photos of leopards in trees. The only thing in the area was a tree stump. Suddenly Oliver shouted “Leopard!” And I looked at the stump and slowly the stump became part stump, part leopard. We rushed to take photos and look through the binoculars and good thing because in a few minutes, he was gone. He appeared to us several times briefly but mostly seemed like any cat, indifferent to our presence.
After an exciting morning we returned to the camp and Oliver and I sat on the porch discussing our good luck. And then we looked up and saw a herd of 30 elephants crossing the river in front of us. And suddenly our afternoon siesta was booked.
For our afternoon activity, Oliver and I went on a mokoro, a traditional dugout canoe. It seemed more like Venice than Africa with a man standing in back using a pole to push us a long. We went down a shallow river to avoid hippos and crocodiles which prefer deeper water. It was so relaxing and quiet, just shared the water with birds and elephants. One elephant we saw bathing and then a bit later saw a herd of elephants crossing the river right in front of us. Needless to say, that afternoon is already going down in Zornow history.
Sango only takes 12 visitors at a time, the Okavango Delta operates on a low tourist level to help preserve the area, but our camp hadn’t been very busy until that night. Only two other couples were there but that evening a French mother and daughter arrived who would also be using Joel as their guide so we did all of our activities together after that. It was fun, they didn’t know much English and Oliver and I were open to embarrassing ourselves for the sake of practicing our French. There were in fact a lot of nationalities represented at the camp—American, Dutch, French, German, English visitors were represented while the camp workers were from Botswana. The camp is actually owned by brothers who grew up in the nearby village.
We began teasing Joel, what else could we see to top lion cubs and a leopard sighting. Very nonchalantly he said that the wild dogs in the area had been missing for a month, but their den was just spotted, they hadn’t been seen lately because of their new litter of puppies. Now, wild dogs are very rare, about 30% of which were in Botswana but they’re quite difficult to find so I wasn’t counting on seeing them though Oliver and I knew Botswana would be our best bet at a glimpse.
So, the next morning involved a successful sighting of wild dogs although we didn’t see the puppies. That day we also watched more elephants and antelope from our tent and went on another mokoro excursion, this time with everyone staying at the camp and had a good time.
After dark, the guides always walked us to and from our tent because of animals in the area. That night during dinner, a hippo family came up on the bank to see what we were having. After a night game drive, we retired to our tent – then, in the dead of night, Oliver and I were awakened. It sounded like tree branches were breaking and Oliver jumped out of bed and came eye to eye with an elephant through our tent screen. I don’t know who was surprised more us or the elephant but eventually he went on his way and we got back to sleep.
The last morning we had breakfast and went on a game drive. It was time to say goodbye to our French friends and Joel and get on the bush plane to fly back to Maun and continue the journey home. It was a really wonderful trip with one of a kind experiences. The camp staff was wonderful, always offering me another gin and tonic, and the animal encounters we had were first rate, allowing Oliver to take some amazing photos. Someday, most definitely, we’ll be back.