Botswana: Around Savuti

The first stop on the morning game drive is at a watering hole. It is busy this morning, populated by a number of elephants, a large flock of fluffy ring necked doves, funky blue-faced helmeted guinea fowl, and energetic Swainson’s francolins.
Botswana - ExplorationVacation - 2005-09-23_00-06-59 elephants at first waterholeKaiser parks practically next to the elephants, who seem not to notice us or any of the other vehicles parked nearby – all the elephants care about is the water.Two fully mature male antelope stand together awaiting their turn. The impala looks like a toy next to the much larger kudu. I try to imagine how tiny the much smaller stensbok would look. It is a funny image. There are so many types of antelope in Botswana and so much variation in them. It seems hard to believe there are that many niches available for antelope, but obviously there are.
Botswana - ExplorationVacation -09-23_00-04-39 kudu and impala2A pair of kori bustards stroll past looking regal and very contented.
Botswana - ExplorationVacation -09-23_00-26-56 long-tailed shrikesI spot a group of long-tailed shrikes at the top of a tree. We’ve been admiring these birds with their long, streaming tail feathers for days, but had never before seen any close at hand or in a group like this. Maybe they group together to sleep, as these guys still look pretty tired.Soon we drop down into the valley where the channel used to flow.This is a lovely place. A rocky golden hill rises high above us on one side, a step wooded ridge on the other. Kaiser tells us there are rock paintings in the hills here, but they are hard to find and you must watch for lions. He tells us he has seen the paintings.Botswana - ExplorationVacation -2005-09-23_00-32-35 rocksBotswana - ExplorationVacation -2005-09-23_00-33-07 rocks and treesWhat we are all really hoping to see cats. We search the tree branches for leopards, but every branch seems to be mottled and lumpy. If a leopard were there, how would we see it?Suddenly M tells Kaiser to stop. We all look. There is a huge old tree with gnarled and twisted branches beneath a dense canopy. Something large is sitting on a large branch under the canopy.

A cat? No, a bird.

It is a giant eagle owl – two of them actually. “Giant” is actually part of the name, for good reason, as these are very, very large owls. They look like they are beautiful, but they are pretty well hidden in the dense shade. We are lucky to have seen these nocturnal creatures at all.

At the end of the valley we come to another waterhole. The elephants reach down into this one to get to the water. It appears that the pipe that fills the whole has been broken off, but this doesn’t deter the elephants as they use their adaptable trunks to drink directly out of the pipe end.

Botswana - ExplorationVacation -2005-09-23_01-15-25 at wateringhole two Botswana - ExplorationVacation -2005-09-23_01-17-54 waterhole 2We are now on a large, flat plain. This must be the “marsh.” It stretches on as a flat, nearly featureless sea of grass as far as I can see. In the 1850s, when the channel was flowing, David Livingstone described this area as a “dismal swamp.” Now there is no sign of water (aside from the broken pipe at the waterhole) anywhere.

Botswana - ExplorationVacation -P1010146 trees

In the middle distance, under a large lone tree, a herd of a hundred or more blue wildebeest are grazing. They are like something out of a picture book – it is one of the images of Africa that has always been in my mind.

Botswana wildebeast herd - ExplorationVacation -P1010145 pan wildebeast herdSlowly, one “step” at a time, the truck creeps forward until the animals start to get nervous. We sit there for a long time, watching as some run about nervously while others continue placidly grazing. It is hard to focus on the activity of more than a few animals at a time — the whole herd is slowly shifting, but that isn’t obvious.

Botswana - ExplorationVacation -09-23_01-29-46 running wildebeastBotswana - ExplorationVacation -2005-09-23_01-33-26 wildebeestAfter the wildebeest we come across more lilac breasted rollers. Usually they take flight the moment the truck stops, making it impossible to get a clear photograph. Today they are cooperative and we photograph them perched on a nearby tree and, when we are ready, we actually have to ask Kaiser to make a noise to startle them into flight. Ah. That flash of iridescent blue is so amazing.

Botswana - ExplorationVacation -09-23_01-57-40 lilac breasted roller Botswana - ExplorationVacation -2005-09-23_01-57-59 square roller in flightWe also spend time watching a brilliant crimson-breasted shrike as it thoroughly works over a log on the ground in search of a snack.

Botswana - ExplorationVacation -09-23_02-06-11There is one more stop at a watering hole. It is getting late in the morning now and the activity level has declined accordingly. Still, there are a few elephants greedily drinking their fill, as there will be throughout the day.

Botswana - ExplorationVacation -2005-09-23_02-21-52 waterhole 3The size of the elephants here is amazing. They are bigger than I ever imagined an elephant could be. Each seems to be absolutely HUGE (even for an elephant) and there don’t seem to be any young ones around – no family groups at all. The elephants in Moremi weren’t this large and, while we didn’t see any babies, there did seem to be a range of ages present. Here they all seem like giant mature adults. It seems odd.

Nearby, Kaiser shows us a dead tree worn satin smooth by the sides of elephants rubbing against it. Itchy elephants can do a lot of damage!

Botswana - ExplorationVacation -09-23_02-47-27 rubbed smooth by elephantsPeriodically we spot giant baobab trees. They are so odd-looking with their short stubby branches. Young trees look very different and people traditionally believed that baobabs sprang from the earth fully grown.

Botswana - ExplorationVacation -2005-09-23_03-06-45 baobab

We end our game drive with a loop back through a portion of the valley and then. with a quick turn to the side, head straight up the ridge on a track that looks impossibly steep.

Botswana - ExplorationVacation -P1010150 end of the tour Botswana - ExplorationVacation -2005-09-23_03-13-55 hillside on returnWe pop over the top just 100 feet or so from our campsite.

In Camp

Besides being on a road that goes down into the valley, we are also camped just off and across the road from a trail the elephants use to get to one of the watering holes. We often see elephants walk past, always single file. They still seem unreal as they quietly walk past.

While the passing elephants are wonderful, this is a hot, dusty campsite. There is a public campground relatively nearby, with restroom facilities specially designed to keep the elephants out. The last facility was destroyed by elephants determined to get to the water. When a friend of mine stayed there he had to reach down into the hole with the broken pipe, just like the elephants at the waterhole this morning! I am eager to check out the new facility – both architecturally and functionally (a real shower would be really wonderful), but since we aren’t camped there we are told we cannot use those facilities. Dang.

It is unbearably hot. K says it is over a hundred today. Although it is dry here, it feels more humid than the Kalahari or Tsodilo, intensifying the heat. The beverages aren’t on ice (the cooler has a broken latch so the ice keeps melting faster than planned for),so there is nothing cold to drink. We are served a hot lunch. Ugh. There is no shade and no way to cool down. I considered begging Kaiser to contact one of the lodges here and see how much it would cost to stay just for the night. I search my travel book, but can’t find one that is even remotely affordable, even if I weren’t paying for it on top of what we have already paid. Still, all afternoon I fantasize about escaping to one of those lodges.

The heat, the monotony of the long afternoons, insufficient sleep, lack of privacy, bad interpersonal dynamics, and the inability to ever feel clean is getting to me. My husband and I play cribbage – it is enough to distract me from focusing on how miserable I am. I tried writing, but all I was doing was documenting how miserable I am. That didn’t seem particularly productive. I am actually winning a few of our cribbage games, which always lifts my spirits a bit.

Later I am visiting with K’s parents in a small patch of shade by their tent when I hear the rustling of leaves. A breeze! Funny though, but I don’t feel a breeze. The leaves are definitely rustling and it sounds like wind, not an animal. I look around in search of the sound’s source: There, behind the campsite, a whirlwind of yellow leaves swirls above the scrubby tree tops.

The leafy whirlwind sweeps away, leaving silence in its wake.

My husband and I skip the evening game drive. Instead we shake the sand out of our bedding and ask to have the shower set up . We politely decline OT’s offer to heat some water for us – the water has been sitting in black containers in the hot sun all afternoon, so we suspect it will be plenty warm. The shower bag is hung in a tree between our tent and the road and my husband and I take turns under it, me in swimwear, he stripped down to his boxers. For the first time since we have been here, another tour vehicle drives by.

The temperature is pleasant now. We sit at the table playing cards, reading, and doing some writing. More elephants pass by.

Botswana - ExplorationVacation -09-23_10-58-44 lane w elephantNow that I know how close the valley is, I want to go there to take some pictures. I know I will not be allowed to walk down into the valley itself, so instead I ask to walk to the edge of the ridge so I can look down into the valley. OT approves this, but directs me to not spend a lot of time there and to stay in sight of the camp.

Once at the top of the track, I see I would need to go much farther to have the view I am seeking. I photograph a few odd shrubs, but there is nothing else here that isn’t in the campsite.

Botswana - ExplorationVacation -09-23_10-09-06Time for a nap before the others return. I wonder if they have seen a lion. I’d like to see one, but I know how very pleased K’s father would be to see one (he’s been asking about them for several days now) so I hope they found some.

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