Our first sortie outside Zimbabwe was a short drive across the border into Botswana to visit the Chobe River and take a sunset cruise in the hope of seeing our first game of the journey.
Our camp for the night is right on the banks of the river itself, the first thing we noticed was the signs saying “danger crocodiles” & “danger hippos”. Another reminder that travelling in Africa is not only about seeing animals from a safe distance.
As our drive was so short, we have a bit of time to wander around and explore before joining our sunset river cruise/safari.
There’s a bar, a deck set on on stilts, just over the river’s edge. From there we can see elephants on an island in the river. Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.
(We later find out that this island was at one time subject of a dispute between Botswana and Namibia as to who owned it. It was decided cordially, based on the depth of the channels between the island and the respective countries. Botswana won, so it is now part of Botswana territory.)
The best way to describe the view from the river Bank, is to picture the Norfolk broads but with hippo, and elephant and myriad exotic birds and insects…!!!).
Soon after we set off we start to see animals; kudu, crocodile (small), elephant, hippo. As we sail further downstream the numbers of animals start to increase.
Soon we start to see elephant in large numbers (tens of them at a time). Sometimes they are at a distance, sometimes they are close by. Also numbers of hippo increase and we also see buffalo, who are big beasts, and look somewhat comical with their massive horns looking like some kind of hairpiece. They do actually look like the caricatures of themselves…
In the distance we can see a larger herd of elephant, on a far off bank.
As we get closer, we realise there may be up to about 70 in the herd. We pass more hippo, buffalo and a couple of monitor lizards on the bank. Somebody also spots giraffe on the bank feeding amongst the trees.
The scene is something I never really expected to see. It really is like being in a David Attenborough film, or maybe the scene from Jurassic Park where the animals are all roaming the plains. A young bull elephant, maybe an adolescent, is making lots of noise on the bank. Running in and out of the water, chasing after other elephant. There are so many more. Bathing, eating the lush vegetation in the water. Buffalo are there too, and the giraffe reach up to take leaves from the trees.
The photos tell a story, but what they can’t convey are the sounds. The elephants communicating with each other, hippo calling and snorting, birds, the river…
We could have stayed to watch (and listen) for much longer (I could have anyway) , but we had a sunset to watch.
Reflecting on this, I really don’t know what my expectations were before we left the UK. Not only for this trip, but game watching in Africa in general. Whatever they were, this exceeded them. And by quite some distance. It’s a few hours that will stay with me forever, and every time I look back at the photos of that trip I’m reminded of just how fortunate I’ve been to see such a spectacle with my own eyes.