Seniors on Safari, Page Four
Safari #2 – Duma Tau Camp
We crossed over the Zimbabwe-Botswana border in a van, heading for a small airport in Kasane, Botswana, where we would fly out to the Chobe airstrip for our first of two 2-night stays at true wilderness camps. At the border, we were required to exit the van and walk across a section of the foot path that was impregnated with insecticide while the van drove through a large puddle of the insecticide. At the airport, we boarded two small planes where a short flight took us to the massive 275,000 acre Linyanti Reserve, bordered to the east by Chobe National Park. Three quarters of the whole land area of Botswana is part of the Kalahari, a vast semi-desert. It is touted as a great wilderness where “intrepid travelers” can find isolation and marvel at Africa in the raw. It offers the dazzling white saltpans under the baobab trees, stretches of savannah where the game is plentiful and the indelible imprint of the original San inhabitants (formerly known as Hottentots), some of whom still live in the desert today.
Our first two night camp was Duma Tau, in a region that has a unique habitat diversity that makes it a haven for wildlife, especially elephants. We were met at the small Chobe airstrip by Land Rovers and headed out on a 30-minute drive to the camp. Don and I quickly realized that we were finally on our “dream safari” when the Rover was halted by a procession of over one hundred elephants crossing our path! Most of them ignored us, but some of the females with calves raised their ears, stomped the ground and lifted their trunks in a loud trumpeting. A few even seemed to take a few steps toward us. But our driver took all of this in stride. After a few minutes, we were able to continue to the camp. Since this area is part of the Kalahari, the roads were mostly two ruts in very deep sand, often over 1500 feet deep. Driving in this sand, as we did for two days, was in itself an interesting experience as we “rocked and rolled” our way around the game preserves.
When we reached the campsite, we realized that this was no more like Sabi Sabi than Motel 6 is like the Ritz Carlton. The main buildings were smaller, more compact and very rustic. All were open, thatched covered tent-like structures. Duma Tau overlooked a lagoon, built on raised decks. The camp could accommodate up to 22 guests (since our group had only 15 people, other guests were also with us). After a warm welcome of African songs, we had an orientation similar to the one in Sabi Sabi, except that we learned that we would have just one driver/tracker with us, no rifle and a slightly different daily schedule. Wake-up was at 6:30 AM, brunch at 11 AM (combining two meals). All of the elevated tents were reached by above ground walkways. They were made of log supports and heavy canvas and screening. A real door (not a zip-up) added to the feeling of safety. The tent had in-room facilities as well as an outdoor shower. The bed was covered with mosquito netting at night Generators that ran while we were on game drives supplied electricity to each tent.
Since Don and I had just celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary on June 14, we were given the “honeymoon” tent. This had a king-size bed and a gazebo for game viewing. All of the tents had views of wetlands where the animals came to drink. There were no fences to keep out the animals, so we again had to be careful going back and forth to our rooms, especially after dark. I quickly found that I could sleep right through most of the animal sounds (including the hippos slurping and grunting), despite the thickness of the canvas being our accommodations'only protection.
On our first game drive, it became quickly apparent that Sabi Sabi was a “boutique” safari camp where the numbers, not varieties, of wildlife were limited. Here at Duma Tau, we had already seen the vast number of elephants and within two days time we also saw large herds of antelope, wildebeest, giraffe, zebra and buffalo. We saw several male lions and two lionesses and their cubs. We also spotted the lionesses feeding on an impala that they had stolen from some wild dogs. Since wild dogs are on the endangered species, we were very lucky to see seven of the fourteen dogs known to be in the area. Our driver/tracker, Kane, a Bushman, was a wonderful young man who was working at the camp trying to raise enough money to get married. (He had to buy seven head of cattle for a male “dowry” and throw a village wedding party.)
Safari # 3 – Tubu Tree Camp
Our departure from camp on the last day was delayed by a small herd of elephants who decided to gather around our Rovers to say goodbye. We eventually made our way back to the airstrip where our planes were waiting to take us to our last camp, Tubu Tree Camp. Since this was smaller than Duma Tau, our group was split up with two of our companions going to a different camp. After flying into Jao airstrip (first making sure that no elephants were on the strip at the time), we drove to our final destination of the trip, Tubu Tree Camp, situated in the Jao Reserve, an area of about 232 square miles, in Botswana's Okavango. Tubu Tree Camp offers both land and water activities, depending on the fluctuating levels of the Okavango's floodwater. The camp is built on the western side of a large island called Hunda that has diverse vegetation ranging from dry Kalahari sandveldt, through to forests on the edge of permanent waterways.
The camp is a traditional style tented safari camp built onto raised wooden platforms with a beautiful view over the floodplains. The camp only has six large and comfortable guest tents with a private deck, en suite bathroom facilities with hot and cold running water and a wonderful outdoor shower that overlooked the water where the zebra and impala splashed along with us. Walking to and from our tents was done on sandy paths at ground level.
The main dining and lounge areas consist of large tents built on raised platforms, with an outdoor pub area built under the canopy of a large marula tree, which appropriately, produces Amarula, Africa's most exotic cream liqueur, from its fermented fruit. The liqueur is creamy with an interesting twist of fruity sweetness, something like Bailey’s Irish Cream, but better. No wonder Amarula is the favorite fruit of the African elephant and also baboons and monkeys!
Our daily schedule was very similar to that of Duma Tau Camp, but the activities were quite different. Since the camp is on an island, we had to travel through water (the vehicles had snorkels) to reach the area of the game drives. It was winter, so the floodplains were covered with water, permitting activities such as boating, both in flat bottom boats and in mokoros (dugout canoes). We had several “up close and personal” encounters with hippos, water buffalo and crocodiles while on the water.
The variety of bird life was impressive with dry land species seen on the large islands (notably Ostrich) and many wetland birds seen on the floodplains and waterways. We also encountered some antelope that we hadn’t seen before, such as the Red Lechwe, Tsessebe, Kudu and Bushbuck.
On our last night in camp, we ate dinner around a campfire on the sand, with much of the hot food cooked in black iron pots in the fire. The native staff sang songs and danced, inviting us to join them. Tubu Tree was the most rustic of the three safari camps on the trip, but it had quickly become our favorite as we reached the end of our two day visit. The combination of land and water activities, the myriad of animals and birds, and the small size of the camp with its friendly native staff made this safari especially appealing.
The following website provides specialist information on Southern Africa wildlife viewing. Details of the Botswana camps and the flora and fauna that we encountered during our stay in Africa can be found here: http://www.wildlifesafari.info/ .
Note: As we prepared for our flight home the next day, Don and I thought about how some of our concerns about safariing in Africa never materialized. No wildlife ever seriously threatened us. As long as we stayed in the vehicles and didn’t make a lot of noise, even lions and leopards ignored us (they had plenty of tasty game available; we’d just be playthings to chase). The rhinos and buffalo didn’t charge us, but some elephants tried to scare us. We never saw any snakes, although there are many poisonous ones in Africa. Since it was the winter and the dry season, we weren’t pestered by mosquitoes or flies. The tents were not full of scary, unknown insects, only friendly geckos. The daytime temperatures were pleasant, not higher than the low 80’s, and the mornings and evenings didn’t get much below the high 40’s.
Safaris are not especially strenuous unless you decide to take an optional walk through the bush with a guide. The native people are quite friendly and generally speak English. We never encountered tainted water or food poisoning and, in fact, the food was very good). I had been concerned about the three to four hour long game drives with no 'porta potty' in sight so I purchased a product called Urinelle: disposable, cone like paper devices that allow women to stand to urinate with minimal undressing. But by severely limiting my liquid intake before the game rides (the Rovers had water if we got thirsty, and we always stopped for coffee or sundowners), I never felt the need to put the product to the test. We were never anxious about sleeping, despite the proximity of the animals to our canvas tents. And their noisy conversations rarely awakened us. Except for the elephant at Duma Tau that ripped out a water pipe under the tent next to ours and disrupted the camp’s water supply, we and the African wildlife coexisted very well.
On June 20th, we flew from Jao airstrip to a small airport in Maun, Botswana where we connected to Johannesburg International Airport. Here we picked up our stored luggage that we hadn’t seen for a week, sadly said goodbye to our safari companions (vowing to keep in touch via E-mail), and headed for our flights home. Over the Atlantic, Don and I looked back at the previous sixteen days and marveled at the trip that had taken us from the elegantly sophisticated Cape Town to the awesome wilderness areas of Botswana. We asked each other “How do we top this?”
Joan Rapp was born in New Jersey, but has resided in Bucks County, Pennsylvania for the last 32 years. She is a graduate of Douglass College where she met her husband, Donald, a Rutgers graduate. For the 47 years of their marriage, Joan and Don have traveled extensively, with or without their two children. Since retirement, their favorite hobby is researching, and traveling to, new and exciting venues. Sometimes these places are only a few hours from home (like Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Falling Water’), and sometimes they are over 8000 miles away (like Botswana’s Kalahari Desert). They can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2005 Joan James Rapp for SeniorWomenWeb