I feel guilty for taking everyone so far out of the way and begin to worry that they won’t have room for us at the lodge – or that they will, but it will be outrageously expensive. There really isn’t any changing my mind now that I’ve dragged everyone out here. (Not that our friends seem to mind.)
I actually had several lodging options to choose from, but the other places were more traditional hotels. Kubu Lodge appears to be something between a hotel and an all-inclusive safari lodge – and at an affordable in-between price. Even if the price has gone up from what is in the guidebook, this will be a great deal for us. Heck, even if it turns out to be double what the guidebook says, it will be worth it. But I am worried.
Finally Kaiser pulls onto a private road. A guard opens the gate and we drive past what must be the world’s largest bougainvillea – a large tree draped in brilliant pink – and stop outside a reed fence topped by towering trees awash with blossoms.
Kaiser jumps out and begins to gather up our luggage. We suggest that he wait until we see if they have a room available. He laughs and takes our bags, saying he will take care of us. After all, he tells us, he used to work here. At this point, this only mildly surprises me. Kaiser has contacts everywhere and know everyone. (Probably part of the reason he is such a good guide.)
There is a room available. It is $150 per night, including one breakfast. Other meals, game drives, and river cruises are extra. We are welcome to eat breakfast while our room is prepared. The sense of relief is almost overwhelming.
Kaiser offers to pick us up in the morning to take us to the ferry, but we noticed the transfer point on the way here, so this would be out of the way for him and the rest of our party. Kaiser insists, but so do we: We will meet them at the ferry transfer. He agrees only after we assure him that we are capable of getting there on our own and promise to wait there until he arrives so we can say goodbye.
And then he is gone.
For the first time in nearly two weeks, Lane and I are on our own.
We follow the porter through Kubu’s lovely gardens to our “room,” a delightful cottage with a small deck and thatched roof. It reminds me of a Fijian bure. Inside it is large and comfortable, with a ceiling fan and full bath – all cool dark wood and African prints. Outside the landscape is a mix of carefully tended gardens, towering trees, neatly trimmed lawn, and untended woodlands. The Chobe River is visible through the trees beyond our window.
We settle in, wash up a bit, and head to breakfast on the expansive deck that overlooks a manicured hippo lawn that sweeps down to the tree-line river which then, in turn, stretches away to the Zambian shore. A huge baobab towers above the distant countryside.
Along with the gardens and lawn, there is a pool and, below that, steps leading down the steep embankment to a dock. At the top of the stairs is a stern warning about the dangers that await in the river.
I already knew there were hippos about – the neatly trimmed lawn and deeply indented tracks running through the grass had made that clear.
Back at our cottage I shower. Ah. . . Lovely running water. While brushing my teeth I hear a sound outside the bathroom window. I peer through the screen to see a group of striped mongoose lounging in the shade just outside the window. They hear me move the shutters, peer back at me, shift a little farther away, and then return to their business.
We decide to follow their example and do some lounging ourselves.
First I watch the beautiful, intensely blue, iridescent starlings as they play in a bird bath outside our cottage and then dry off in the tree directly across from our deck. When the starlings retreat into the shade of the tree to wait out the heat of the day, I do likewise, retreating to the comfy beds in our cottage to read, write, and nap.
By early afternoon we decide to do the evening river cruise. I don’t anticipate great game viewing, but we have already seen a lot of wildlife and it will be nice to relax on the water.
There is only one other couple doing the river cruise and we are dropped off at an almost imperceptible trail that leads down to a small dock where an equally small boat awaits.
Soon are off.
The first part of the trip is what I anticipated, a relaxing, but rather dull recitation of the names and owners of the homes, businesses, and resorts we pass mixed in with friendly greetings to local residents (mostly children) out fishing or playing in the river. He also provides an interesting overview of the economy and history of the area, including and explanation of Captivi Strip and Botswana and Namibia’s battles over the location of the “real” river channel.
But soon we start to see both more boats and a lot more birds. Many of these birds are old friends from the Okavango, but our guide is very knowledgeable and we learn many new things about them. The birds here are more acclimated to people than those in the Okavango, they are less skitterish here and allow us to move close to them in our small boat.
We also see a smaller group from the herd of buffalo we had viewed the day before. Like the birds, they let us approach amazingly close, actually allowing our small boat to bump its nose against the grassy shore directly in front of them.
Despite the parched land, there are also many animals on the mainland shore where we see giraffe, elephants, and a variety of antelope – including puka, which are rare in this area. (Another antelope for the list 🙂
We watch a troop of baboons for a long time. It is a large group and the youngsters are engaged in all matter of play, including what appear to be ferocious battles. There are attacks and loud screeches, but it is all practice and the adults lay about in the shade nearby. When a baby loses its grip and falls from a branch, it is another juvenile baboon who rushes to the rescue. As we watch, our guide tells us everything there is to know about the lives of baboons (or so it seems), including a few things we really didn’t care to know. (I can do without detailed information on baboon sexual practices, although it is fun to see them with their colored rears prominently displayed.)
We also witness an actual life and death struggle farther down the shore, as a pair of shore birds screech and scream at a monitor lizard. Our guide guesses that the monitor lizard has already succeeded in raiding their nest and the pair can do nothing now but scold him for it.
Hoards of boats converge at narrow points on the river creating a safari boat traffic jam. They are here for the same reason we are – to observe the elephants as they cross between the shore and various islands and peninsulas. This isn’t a tranquil scene. Many of the boats are much larger than ours – all pushing off of one another as each maneuvers to secure the best view. Some seem too close to the elephants too, causing these great creatures to hesitate and look about nervously. I can empathize with them.
On the other hand, most of the time I am unaware of the commotion around us – transfixed by these magnificent animals as they swim from shore to shore, raising their trunks high to breath, and then stopping to splash each other and play in the shallows.
It is incredible in a way I simply cannot describe.
The second elephant highlight is sunset. As I noted in a previous post, the elephant-in-the-sunset picture is ubiquitous in Botswana. This time I understand the appeal.
Back at the lodge, we have dinner by candlelight on the deck overlooking the yard. I order the local fish while my husband tries the impala. Throughout the trip it has seemed that every time we saw a new animal M would ask how it tastes. (Which eventually led to a discussion with Kaiser about why he quit hunting and the importance of protecting wild game instead of eating it. Unfortunately, we were interrupted before we got to discuss farming game.) Aside from fish, this is the only time we eat game. I wish M could have had this opportunity too.
(The fish was fine and the impala would have been excellent as a roast, however, it was served shredded in the style popular in Botswana. This preparation was a poor choice on several levels, both culinary and philosophical.)