Last Four Days of Our Mobile Tent Safari

April 13-16. The remainder of our time on mobile Safari was equally magical. One might think that it would become tiresome, or at least less interesting, as time progresses, but in fact the opposite is true. You settle into your routine and become more comfortable in the environment. This process of settling in takes a few days. You figure out how to organize and get around your tent, when and how to wash up, shower, take your malaria pill, etc. you become far more adept at locating and identifying birds and animals.

I have to admit that, after the first day, I wondered whether three days of this might be quite enough. But it would not. In order to get the real experience of the tent safari, it takes six days. And, while certainly, there are great similarities between going on safari from lodges or permanent tents and the mobile tent safari, the latter is a far more immersive experience.

A few of the highlights were:

the fabulous range and variety of bird life that we saw (more than 100 different birds)

45 minutes spent with a family of elephants

the sighting of a giant eagle owl

finding a pride of lions by following their tracks, watching them for a long time as they finished off eating the red lechwe they’d killed, until they roamed off, then calling them back, twice, by Roger making the sound of a water buffalo to lure them back

group of young vervet monkeys playing games with each other

21/2 hour boat ride in the delta with marvelous landscape of grasses, many bird sightings and a totally different environment

visiting dead tree island on which all of the trees had been killed over years of periodic flooding, creating a unique landscape and a habitat occupied by many animals, including a very large herd of red lechwe on the afternoon we were there

locating a large bull elephant, accompanied by fluttering cattle egrets and flying ducks, who eats, takes a mud bath and then sprays himself with water

locating our second different group of about fifteen wild dogs, who have just killed an impala and are eating, resting and playing for the forty minutes we spend with them

finding a small pond in which yellow-billed storks, sacred Ibis and a spoonbill were all wading and fishing together at the same time

On April 14, we woke up at 6:00, and enjoyed coffee and breakfast by the campfire while the camp was being taken down around us. We embarked on a leisurely, full-day game drive with a picnic lunch, arriving at our new destination with the camp miraculously resurrected by our staff, our shower water hot, a campfire blazing, and our dinner being prepared. Xakanaxa is situated at the far end of the nearly endless Mophane woodland in the Moremi Game Reserve. This is the site we occupy for the next three days.

I’ve decided not to give you a day by day account of the remainder of our mobile tent safari, because I think the best way to capture what we experienced is through the many photos, which I’ve included below.

In case you are wondering, Phoebe is totally into the experience. She’s taken literally thousands of photos, many of which are very good and some of which are better than mine. We’re going to need to do something about that. She is excellent at spotting animals and birds and does better on naming them than some people; me, for instance. In Atlanta, Phoebe sometimes gets anxious about situations. She’s shown no anxiety on this trip, despite ample opportunity for it, if one were so inclined. Evidently, the kid is born for the wilderness.

Roger is a solid “A” in all respects. For starters, he’s just a pleasant, comfortable person to spend time with. He lacks all pretense, and clearly loves what he does. He’s a good conversationalist with an excellent sense of humor. We discuss creating an Urban Safari Company, and what that would entail, he accepts a Cubs hat to give to Meghan at her wedding (which Roger will attend at Windsor next month) and says he’ll take a copy of our Africa book of poems and photos to Harry, if we can get one to him before he leaves.

Roger knows about all the animals, birds, trees and plant life. He’s able to identify animals and birds instantly and is very patient in explaining them to us and in indicating how and where to find them. He’s able to find them, tracking and calling them, and intuiting their presence from the way other birds and animals are behaving. He understands their behaviors and why they do what they do, regularly saying things like, “if I were a leopard, I’d want to be right here because…..”. Oh, yes, and he does all of this while driving our jeep on narrow, bumpy roads, around and over numerous holes, avoiding (or driving over) bushes and trees that encroach on the path and sometimes driving through water that is up to the hood of the car, somehow avoiding getting stuck in the mud for about nine hours a day (from 7 until about 12:30and 3:30 to 7).

Going to the (Wild) Dogs

April 12. We survive our first night in a tent in the bush. I’d be lying if I said I was giving serious thought to making this my permanent new life style, but for six nights it will be a great and fun experience.

We’re awakened at 6AM, have a light breakfast and are off in the jeep by seven. We’d been told by our travel agents that mornings would be cold and we needed to pack sweaters and a jacket. In fact, I was very comfortable in a short sleeve shirt and shorts, and did not use the blanket that had been put into the jeep for us. The jeep is designed for nine guests so, being only three, we have lots of room. We are able to charge iPhones, iPads and camera batteries in the jeep, but will have no internet access while we’re here.

Describing the safari experience is very difficult for folks who have not been on one, and unnecessary for those who have. I’ll give a brief explanation a shot, though.

Out on safari, you are in a world completely different from the one you’ve inhabited. Time is irrelevant and space is enormous and everywhere. The air is clear and clean. Dead trees appear as modern sculptures. Sunsets seem unreal, painted for your enjoyment. The sounds you hear could be a soundtrack for an African safari movie, played on an endless loop. Even the smells you encounter are new—fresh sage, basil and grasses of all sorts. In short, you are transported into an entirely new sphere.

It’s not an exaggeration, I think, to say that the safari experience would be wonderful if you never saw an animal. You’re not assaulted every minute by Donald Frigging Trump, and whether the Cubs won or lost last night doesn’t even seem that important. You pretty-much forget all of those things on your plate back at home; they just don’t exist. And you won’t have an email or a Facebook post for a week and a half. You’ve sorta forgotten how good those days were.

Of course, you do see animals and birds, and they are amazing. For those tempted to think, “big deal, I can go to the zoo,” I don’t mean to sound condescending, but you just don’t get it. It would be similar to saying, “I really don’t need to go to the Grand Canyon; I saw my sister-in-law’s snapshots.”

Part of the appeal of the safari is its total unpredictability. We set out hoping to see elephants, giraffes and, perhaps, lions this morning. We saw none of them. But we saw some of the most incredible birds—the little bee eaters, the lilac-breasted rollers and the pied kingfisher jump to mind as outstanding, but we probably saw at least forty different birds this morning. And, it’s not as if we didn’t see animals, hippos, zebras, red lechwe and wildebeests, to name a few. Roger is expert at finding and identifying birds and animals and has a delightful, easy manner and a good sense of humor.

We rolled back into camp at a bit after noon (five hours after leaving) and had an excellent cooked lunch . We have several hours to relax, blog, read, shower and nap before we set out once more at four this afternoon.

The clear highlight of the afternoon was running into a pack of twenty-two wild dogs who were on a hunt. Seeing any wild dogs is an unusual treat, but seeing so many and staying with them and watching their techniques, explained to us by Roger, for at least an hour was incredible. They were hunting impala and were not successful up to the point at which we could no longer follow them. Chances are, though, they eventually succeeded, because Roger said they were the best of all hunters, succeeding in over 90% of their hunts. To give you an idea of how unusual the experience is, Roger said that there are an estimated 2000 wild dogs in the world; so we saw more than one percent of them.

We returned to camp, where I took a hot bucket shower before another excellent dinner, then retired. The soups at dinner are terrific, but they’re put completely over the top by pouring into them a bit of sherry with chilis in it. (This becomes a nightly treat.)

Into the Bush

[NOTE: We’ve now made it home. This and subsequent posts were written when we had no WiFi and so could not post.]

April 11. Excellent buffet breakfast at hotel, then driven by Freedom to the airport and checked in for our hour and a half flight to Maun, Botswana. There, we shift some clothes and other stuff to soft bags and leave all of our hard luggage, with Percia, from the office of the operator of our tent safari. Percia has bought me some pain medication recommended by a dentist in Maun because our travel agents have written her that I’ve been having headaches that I think may be dental-related on flights I’ve taken recently.

Our half hour flight to Xakanaxa, which gives us great areial views of the Okavango Delta. Before our flight, we meet and have a drink with our guide, Roger Dugmore, one of Africa’s professional guides originally from Kenya. He has been living in Botswana, leading mobile safaris for the last 30 years. He has a deep love and understanding of the country’s people and wildlife, guiding safaris in the Okavango Delta and Kalahari. Together with his brother David Dugmore and friend Ralph Bousfield they started the first permanent camp on the Boteti River, Meno A Kwena.

Roger has worked with numerous film crews for TV Documentaries In Botswana, Madagascar and Tanzania. Most recently he undertook a canoe expedition through the Okavango from Sepopa to Maun, paddling a distance of 300 miles in 16 days. In 2018 he circumnavigated the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, one of the largest salt pans in the world. This was undertaken with quad bikes and over a period of 16 days. His passion is about being out there and the adventure of the unknown. Carol, Phoebe and I have no current plans to paddle 300 miles in a canoe or to circumnavigate the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans on quad bikes though, of course, this could change. We take an instant liking to Roger, which is a very good thing, because he’ll be in charge of our lives for the next six days.

We take a slow game drive to our new camp away from home. Roger suggests that we just look and soak things in, forget about photographing, on this drive. For a while we adhere to that guideline, but eventually succumb to taking some photographs. Phoebe is the first to spot an impala and her digital zoom allows her to get more close up photos than I can get. The drive, in a comfortable, open jeep, is a good introduction to the safari experience.

Arriving at camp, we get settled into our camp and meet the team of seven that will be looking after us (plus Roger). It’s dark and so getting settled is a bit difficult, but we get settled enough for the first night. We go out by the camp fire that has been lit for drinks (gin and tonic tastes mighty good) and then have an excellent fish dinner, prepared by Dorcas, our chef. After dinner, we get back to our tent and retire. Bucket showers will need to wait until tomorrow.

Bodumatau is a big game country. The camp is nestled on the edge of a marginal flood plain and lagoon (filled with water depending on seasonal rains).  This is a spectacular remote area in the reserve. Our days will be spent exploring and looking for lion, cheetah and the elusive leopard.  Quality time in this area is needed to appreciate the Moremi Sand Veld and marginal flood plains.   The tented camps are set up in prime areas using designated exclusive campsites.

Accommodation consists of reasonably spacious walk-in tents complete with twin beds, linen and all amenities for a comfortable stay in the bush.  The daily safari schedule will vary and will be determined by Roger. In the evenings we’ll eat gourmet three course meals prepared to the highest standards, served with a selection of South African wines, and fellowship around the campfire in this wilderness atmosphere. Bodumatau means “the place where the lion roars.”

Hey, it’s a tough gig, but somebody’s got to do it, and we’re prepared to make the sacrifice.

Joburg

April 10. When you take a long trip encompassing multiple countries and large distances, you need to expect some “travel days,” days on which little will be done but get from one place to the next. Today is a travel day for us.

Our stay in Ghana has met or exceeded our very high expectations. What we’ve done and seen has been terrific, but the key to our enjoyment has been the people—first, being with Phoebe, second, having Daniel as our guide and shepherd and, third, all of the old friends we’ve been able to visit. All of these make for a truly distinctive and wonderful travel experience. Botswana will be totally different, but I’m expecting that it will prove equally engaging.

We arrive at the Accra Airport, and after enduring frustrating, but not disruptive, delays due to incompetence, checking out at the hotel and checking in at the airport, and spending a bit of time in the Business Class Lounge, we board our six-hour flight to Johannesburg (Joburg for short) on South African Airways. Flight schedules do not permit us to get from Accra to Botswana in one day, so we overnight in Joburg. Our landing is a bit more exciting than necessary, as the first attempt is aborted because of rain and wind conditions. Second time was a charm, though.

Our travel agents have arranged for us to get a VIP service in Joburg, so we are met at the plane and escorted through the baggage and immigration process expeditiously. As we emerge, we are met by our travel agent’s representative, Freedom Dube, who Carol and I know from prior trips. Freedom escorts us to our hotel, The Peermont D’Orleale Grand. There’s a casino here, but not sure we’ll make it there..

Because of restrictions on the type of luggage we can take on small planes in Botswana (no hard luggage or wheels), we were going to repack in Joburg and leave our non-qualifying luggage with Freedom to be delivered to us on the way back. A couple days ago, though, it occurred to me that we might be able to store luggage near the airport in Maun, Botswana, which would be more convenient, so our travel agents arrange for us to do that.

Before leaving Ghana, we discovered that the FASUL employee who headed the team making arrangements for us in the villages in Ghana, Frank Bannor, would be in Joburg, so we arranged with him to have dinner together at the hotel tonight. Frank has come to South Africa in order to get a PhD in economics. He’s 33 years old and married with a one-year old daughter, Audrey, back in Ghana with his wife. Great to talk to Frank about his PhD, which will consist of three papers on aspects of the impact of climate change on farming in South Africa. Though the program is generally four years, he hopes to complete it in three. Not only was the conversation interesting, the food was excellent (I had a fillet in peppercorn sauce that was delicious.

After dinner, we took a walk over to the casino, where Phoebe made a killing. She’s still down at the casino, trying to add to her winnings.

Upstairs to pack and get organized for tomorrow.

On the Road to Accra,

April 9. Breakfast at the Four Villages, finish packing and settle up our bill. Joe Kwarteng comes by again for a final farewell, with his son, Joe Jr. we chat for a while and then Joe asks us to hold hands and he gives an extemporaneous prayer, grateful for our coming, for what we have done, for our friendship, and wishing us safe travels from Ghana and that we will see one another again soon. We feel very well looked after, as family members.

Steven, our driver, picks us up at 10AM, without Daniel, who spent the night in Accra. There is one advantage to not having Daniel–the car is much more comfortable with four than five. Joe kindly leads us in his car, Steven following, to three different places, at the third of which we are able to change more dollars for cedis.

Our 4-hour drive to Accra is over good roads. I continue to be fascinated by the landscape of shops, people and signs, and the picture they paint of Ghana culture. So, if you’ll excuse me, here are a bunch of photos that add to the montage of Ghanaian life that we experience.

Actually, a long drive provides opportunities for talking. Carol and I were telling Phoebe about our new book of poetry and photography on Southeast Asia, called WHERE FOREST TEMPLES WHISPER, which will be out at the end of the summer. Carol said that she was really frustrated that we’d been unable to find a publisher or agent for the children’s book we’d done a couple years ago, called CHILDREN ARE CHILDREN AROUND THE WORLD. We began talking about new ways we might approach getting this book out and have come up with a bunch of ideas that ought to keep us out of trouble for a while after we get back home. I think we’re happiest when we have a project that we’re invested in.

We get to our hotel, a Holiday Inn near the airport by mid-afternoon and have lunch. After lunch, Phoebe and I swim in the pool (Phoebe more than me). Carol joins us and reads in the shade.

Up to the room for blogging and games, then down to meet Daniel and Euther, the Chicago investor who came to look over the pineapple farm. We had a delightful dinner with Daniel and Euther, a Liberian-born University of Chicago-educated lawyer who used to work for Latham & Watkins and now is involved in venture capital in three African countries. Euther is married to an Ethiopian-born lawyer who works for Skadden and they are expecting their first child in June. Wonderful evening talking with Euther and Daniel, who were connected–how else?–by Dick Kiphart,