Okavango - First Safari Day

Our game viewing excursions while staying at Mogotlho Safari Camp were outstanding. Our first game drive was a spectacular success.  We departed early for the best photographic light and to see animals while most active. Impala

We drove along the nearby river, spotting lots of Impalas immediately.  They are beautiful and graceful, but so plentiful that we soon began to refer to them as "MacDonalds" - fast food and one on every corner (the zebras eventually became the Starbucks, and the Warthogs, KFC). We also saw, and heard, lots of interesting and colorful birds.  As we had no birders in this group our interest had a quick decline, unless we saw something really interesting - like Marabou Stork or African Fish Eagle.

African Fish Eagle

We also saw Sacred Ibis, Egyptian Geese, Short-Tailed Eagle, Tawny Eagle, and various herons, storks, or other brightly colored avian neighbors.  There were far too many to keep track of - but our ace guides Beaman and Master knew every one.  We even saw a Cori Bustard, one of Botswana's national birds.  Its a big bird, somewhat like a smallish ostrich, though a bustard can fly.

Hippo with baby

The first excitement of the morning came in the form of hippos. We came upon a group of 4-5 (hard to be sure as they bob and down like apples at Halloween) including a baby.  The baby had a tiny head (relatively speaking) and its hide was more pinkish than the adult chocolate brown.  As always with game sightings seeing a baby adds to the viewing pleasure.  The hippos occasionally made their croaking bellows and we were told this is the way they warn off intruders to their territory (they mark their land-based territory with their scat).

Okavango hippos

It became a common sound during out 3 days in the delta - both far and near.  In the forward safari vehicle (SV) we were treated to what I can only describe as a hippo "breaching" like a whale.  An adult lunged up out of the water and spun around to face the opposite direction. Big splash and big drama for us!  The following SV, some 5 minutes or so behind, was treated to a cranky hippo charge.

Grumpy Hippo

Apparently, the SV seemed big and close enough to constitute a threat and one male made several watery (read not very fast) but clear charges.  One of our tour members got the whole scene on video, including the animated comments of: "He's coming after us!" Pretty exciting stuff - but Master kept them easily out of harms way.

Our first giraffe

After various other Macs, Starbucks, and KFC sightings (and yes, we were still stopping to take tons of pictures) we came across 4 giraffe - all seemed to be young, though clearly not babies.  Our first exposure to these lumbering but graceful (sounds like an oxymoron I know, but they are simultaneously both) creatures was truly exciting!

Twin giraffes

They were a big favorite throughout our safari days, no matter how often we found them.   Even so, the first sighting of each animal is inevitably the most exciting. Continuing on through the bush we came upon two Giant Eagle Owls - as the name suggests, theses are immense birds. Even though we've all seen owls and know about their amazing necks, is was still remarkable to watch them turn to look down upon us - without turning their bodies at all. We also saw bushbucks, striped mongoose, and more I've forgotten.  We also stumbled upon our first group of baboons. We would see hundreds more, but this first exposure was pretty amusing. Baboons cavort and play rather vigorously. The guides even talked about how they play to an audience. It really seems like they are showing off.

Giant Eagle Owl


Baboon with baby

Our safari vehicle

Our safari vehicle

Big Tusker

We'd stopped for a snack and the morning was waxing  so we headed back to our safari camp.  Having had the experience of safari 20+ years ago, I was not anxious for us to see more animals on our first outing.  In fact, I said aloud, "This has been a perfect morning.  I hope we don't see any more signature animals on our way back to camp." As if on cue, we rounded a bend and there was a huge tusker right next to the road. I saw hundreds of elephants in East Africa in 1993, but I'm quite sure I was never this close to one.  And he was immense! It was quite intimidating, but he seemed quite unconcerned with us. Many of my tour members had ridden elephants with me in India and Thailand but none were prepared for how much bigger the African version is. Wow! What a spectacular finish to the morning.  We returned to our camp literally buzzing with excitement.

Imprinters at Mogothlo

After lunch and some down time (I think most had a nap) and tea with cake we began our walking safari. More a nature walk than a safari, our very knowledgeable guides taught us about the local flora, including their medicinal and cultural values.  Less spectacular than big game spotting, but interesting and enlightening.

Master at work

Walking safari elephant - "Babar" (distant center of image)

We got our first glimpse into Botswanan culture and started to learn about our hosts and host country.  Oh, and for those hoping for or expecting a bit more excitement, we stumbled upon another, albeit smaller elephant about 5 minutes from camp. We did not approach and we never got close, Master workingbut seeing these immense beasts, even a smallish example, while on foot is a totally different experience.  Intimidating is the first word that comes to mind.  I certainly felt comfortable and safe with Beaman and the now-armed Master, but I have to admit that vulnerable was probably the second thought/ feeling I had.  But Babar, or so I later christened him in my mind as we saw him almost daily, kept his distance and all was well in the jungle.

Bar on Mogothlo deck

After returning to camp much of the group gathered in the Boma-style dining hall for one of our usual, unplanned happy hours.  Somehow having a cold beer or glass of wine under the immense thatched roof with a hippo-stocked river a few yards away was more special that the usual hotel bar gathering.

Mogothlo staff performing for our group

A few minutes before our scheduled dinner, we heard crescendoing music coming from the cookhouse.  The entire staff of our safari camp made a musical procession to the Boma and sang a handful of "welcome" songs.  What a treat! This seems to be a pretty regular tradition in much of southern Africa (we had it twice in Namibia) and the staffs seem genuinely to enjoy it. And it seems that everyone is musical as the harmonies and melodies are excellent. Needless to say, a musical tradition based on percussive accompaniment meant the singing was always pleasingly rhythmic.  I am not particularly musical and rarely listen to music, but I found myself swept up in the rhythms and harmonies of Africa.  It certainly touched something in me.  Perhaps I lived in Africa in a former life.

Nighttime owl

After a delicious home-style meal, we headed out for our last activity of the long first day - a night safari. We piled into our respective SVs and proceeded into the bush, armed with powerful spotlights. I really didn't know what to expect but it was another amazing experience.  We found more Giant Eagle Owls perched high in trees, caught impala literally like "deer in headlights", and spotted some mysterious unidentified "glowing eyes" in a distant tree.  Our imaginations probably exceeded the reality.  The night's clear highlight was again the massive waddling hippos.  Hippos leave the water at night to graze and we discovered 2 or 3 wandering out on shore. That was fun - and a very different experience than seeing them 95% submerged in the river.

That night I think we all slept soundly after such a full and rewarding day. Except we were all awakened several times by very close hippos croaking out their defiance - perhaps as retribution for our having disturbed their evening?Hippo yawn BRColorful bird BRGiraffe sillouette JG