During our three days in Chobe, we saw many wonderful sights, went on a boat ride, and spent one sleepless night listening to the roars of lion slowly coming closer.
On our first morning we saw the largest number of giraffe that I have ever seen. They don’t typically give us too many photo opportunities, but these guys were being highly photogenic. We got shots of them from up close, laying down, in stretches (the name given to a herd of giraffe), and various other opportunities rarely seen. While the morning was quite slow, it was a terrific introduction to what would be a hugely eventful afternoon.
Our afternoon began with a game called BafaBafa – a cultural immersion game. The idea is to separate into two groups who take on the persona of two strange and very different cultures. Each culture, through a series of visits to the other, has to learn about each other and report back to their own, attempting to learn all they can about this new and fascinating land. The idea was conceived in the 70s, after American military personnel misinterpreted a foreign cultural norm, nearly sparking an international incident. We came away with many wonderful ideas about how to approach a new culture without embarrassing or insulting our hosts or ourselves.
After the game we went on another drive and very quickly found the tracks of two lion. The John Chase guides are incredibly skilled. These guys can not only tell which direction the lion are traveling, but also the gender, size, age, eye color, and family history of the animals they are tracking – it is a sight in and of itself. As we slowly tracked the lion, though, we still saw plenty of other animals, including an entire herd of Cape buffalo. This was an incredibly frightening experience, as buffalo are quite large and imposing. However, with complete faith in our drivers, we safely passed through the herd of what must have been 2000 buffalo.
Our day only got more exciting from there, quickly spotting the lion actually stalking the buffalo. In my 8 years of doing this trip, I have never actually seen a kill. I’ve come close a couple of times, seen a few animals eating, but never actually witnessed the chase, catch, and kill. To make matters worse, I have been on trips with groups who have seen a kill, twice, in fact, but I have always managed to just miss out. To witness a kill in the wild is the gold medal of safari touring. It’s an incredibly brutal, yet exhilarating experience and anytime I see lion stalking their prey, it’s quite an exciting moment. We zipped back and forth around the herd, restricted to the roads in the park, hoping to get a better vantage point than any of the other 5 cars doing exactly the same thing. It’s quite a game of chess and on this day, two of our cars won as both lionesses passed directly between our cars, not five feet from either. Unfortunately, we did not get to see a kill, but the excitement of the day would stretch deep in the night.
Dinners on John Chase safaris are always an extravagant affair. John and Tina Chase do a marvelous job making their guests feel very comfortable in the bush and somehow manage to serve meals worthy of a five star restaurant. Freshly baked roles, grilled vegetables, roast chicken – it is an impressive production that everyone really enjoys. On this night, we decided to have dinner in pairs. The chaperones wrote up a list of 40 questions to provoke dialogue between the partners. The questions ranged from identifying what animal you think you are to describing family dynamics and our deepest, darkest fears. There were many great conversations and I really enjoyed learning about my partners (I was in a trio with Olivia and Sydney). This exercise took a long time and most of the kids were worn out after a long day, choosing to go to bed shortly after the exercise. Shame. The adults on the trip remained around the fire and some 20 minutes after the last student went to bed, a flock of guinea fowl screeched out in the darkness. I quickly shined my light in the direction of the noise and was greeted by two sets of greenish-yellow eyes. With the company of two of our guides, the adults ventured closer to see a family of leopard. We could hear them purring as they stalked the guinea fowl and watched for about 20 minutes as they slowly made their way by our camp. Figuring we had reached the climax of our evening, the rest of us went to bed.
On one’s first night in the bush, your mind can play a lot of tricks on you. A frog sounds like a lion and a cricket might as well be Big Foot. Our first night in the bush went like that for many of the students. They swore up and down that they heard lions, and tigers, and bears go bump in the night – but in reality, it was a very quiet night. Our second night, however, was very different. After the leopard left camp, shortly after we had all turned in, the roar of a lion echoed softly in the distance. After a few minutes, the sound grew louder and continued to grow louder throughout the night until the early morning when it sounded like they were right on top of us. One thing that is also very hard to appreciate for newcomers to a safari, the sounds these animals make is so loud and travels well, it seemed as if they were right there in camp with us. Again, reality is very different. While the lion were close, probably a few hundred yards, they were still far enough away to make our fears of imminent death a little laughable. Needless to say, very few of us slept well that night!