Just When I Thought A Safari Could Not Get More Exciting! – My Botswana Adventure
I thought I had several great safari experiences so I was not looking to add another safari outing to my itinerary. However, I had several recommendations to go into Chobe National Park in Botswana so I thought I would make a detour and check it out.
It was about an hour taxi ride from my hotel to the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers, where the borders of four countries meet. Namibia is off to the right, Zimbabwe across the river and off to the left and straight across the river from Zambia is Botswana.
The water safari on a large barge was a great way to view the crocodiles, water monitors, hippos and other wildlife in the water. In the center of the river, the marshland island provided a feast for grazing animals in the dry season. In the wet season this island would be covered by water again. The animals swim across the water to get here. I am surprised to learn that so many animals, even the buffalo and the elephant, are good swimmers.
The island is located right between Namibia and Botswana. The guide tells us that the flag of Botswana was placed on the island after the Netherlands solved the island property dispute between Namibia and Botswana in the nineties. Namibia wanted the land for farming and Botswana wanted the land as conservation for the animals. After much study of the geological area the island was determine to belong to Botswana.
The are many impalas, cape buffalo, birds and other animals enjoying the water and the green vegetation. Elephants, kudos, and giraffes come down from the parched earth of Botswana to the drink water. Crocodiles find a dead baby elephant in the river and have a feast. They point their snouts up then chomp and gulp their meat. More crocodiles join the party late but there is enough for everyone. One elephants stands motionless and watches the scene.
Later in the afternoon we pack our bags in the jeep and drive to the national park. On our first game drive we see a lion resting in the shade under a tree. All the usual subjects are in the park as in previous safaris. Then we find a leopard resting in a tree with a full belly. All four paws hang down; He doesn’t move an inch at first, then he passively looks over to us. I know that look……It’s the same look as we Americans get after eating too much at the annual Thanksgiving meal. His eyes lazily look over as if to say, “You’re not even worth it.” Soon other jeeps find us. The leopard gets a little annoyed then sits up and shows a few teeth. Lacking energy to do anything else he lays back down and just lets us watch as he goes back to sleep.
That evening we went back to “check on our lion”. It is nearing dust and at first we spot an impala standing still and watching a lioness intently. The female lions eyes do not move off the impala and it is like a contest of “who can blink first” between the two. A male lion, with a full mane, lays under the tree, behind his mate, watching her, the impala and all the jeeps accumulating on the dirt road nearby.
We all whisper under our breath to the impala, “Back up, back up.” and “You need to move.” but she does not understand or just does not heed our advise. After some time, she moves a few meters but stops behind a nearby bush. “Keep going. Keep going. Don’t stop.” We all hope for her. The lioness moves first, then the male stands and follows. They do a slow jog to the end of the bush and halt. The lioness peers through the green bush and stands motionless. All at once the chase is on and the lioness is out of sight. Neither she or the impala reappear.
We follow the male lion who stops to roar at the other jeep on our tour. We speed to where the lion stands. It is apparent that he is not happy with either of us but we are safely in the vehicle so we watch. He is not going to let us proceed to look at the nearby kill.
Just then another male lion with a large mane appears from behind. He jogs toward us, marks his territory and then lays fifteen meters behind us on the right of our jeep. The other male lion continues to walk back and forth from the left side to the front of our jeep and every once in a while roars. At some point I realize we are all alone.
It is getting dark now and tourist not camping inside the park had to leave the area. I am not sure if they had even seen the chase. I never noticed their exit. The other jeep in our party has now left. We are alone and the lion behind us gets us and approaches. I think, “Shit. We are the impala.” At some point, both lions are roaring and we feel surrounded. When X, our guide, tries to drive one way the lion in front changes directions and he has to stop. He backs up a little and tries to shift directions. Blocked again. “X, I think I am okay not to see the lions anymore tonight.” I state calmly.
At this point the girls from Northern Europe who were sitting on either edge in the first row of seats behind our guide have moved center. They are now sitting together in the center seat. Anika continues to film. I have put my camera away and I am watching the lion from behind stare at me. Everyone chirps in to let our guide know where the lions are as he drives. Just then I hear X call “391” and then say something in another language. I know he is calling the other guide whose jeep code is 391. I think, “Okay someone will come to help us.”
Sinker, the other guide, drove back to us straight away. I was feeling better to have two rigs there. However, the lions were not deterred. Our guide was able to get back on a road and drove conservatively along the bumpy dirt road. Sinker drove in the opposite direction. From behind me I hear Steve, a fellow traveler, say, “X, one is coming behind us.” Then I hear, “They are both coming now.” I hold on as I look behind and see that both lions decided to run after us. X turns up the speed and the guys in the back continue to relay how far the lions are behind us. They are still running. It is dark.
The lions chased us for about two hundred meters after X was able to safely speed up the vehicle. We arrived to our based camp, in the middle of the park, just minutes away from where the lions were chasing us and then had our first view of the small tents we would be housed.
Several people started drinking to calm their nerves. When I heard that there was not a night guard, as I was used to I in the other safari camps, I decided not to drink anything, including water. I decided right away that I was not going to have to leave my tent for any reason until morning.
That night the guides had most of the safari goers believe that that type of lion encounter happened all the time and we were safe……but I was not buying it. “What if we would have gotten a flat?” I asked X when we were alone. “Well…That would have been a problem.” When I asked if he was nervous at all, I could tell he was giving a line. Though what else was he going to do. No one would be able to sleep.
A couple hours later, I asked our guide to walk me to the toilette, behind the camp, before I retreated for the night. As we walked back toward my tent he laughed, “I see you have the tent in the center.” “Of course! I choose this tent because if the lions do something else “non-typical” tonight I did not want to be in the first tent he reached.”
The next morning both X and Sinker admitted that particular situation had never happened before and was quite unusual. We all had a sense of humor of the encounter by morning and could laugh about it. “Did you see the girls move and sit in one seat together?” X then laughs in a deep voice. “I will never for get that. I will surely remember this trip the rest of my life.”
Happy to be in the daylight, we head out on a morning drive and were lucky enough to not only see the rare wild dogs but also a chase and eventually chomping on an impala. “It’s just nature. Everyone has to eat.” our guide says. Later we find another impala taken down by a leopard. The leopard has hidden the remains of the impala under a bush to save for an afternoon meal. I think to myself, I am so glad that I came to Botswana and I realized that just because you have an exciting “first time” predator experience, it does not mean that the unpredictable wild won’t have more exciting adventures in store for you. I loved my Botswana safari and I am even more grateful that I survived it.
YouTube link to video of lion encounter: