Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Hemingway Safari: Savute (Part 6)

Morning dawns cold and early. We have breakfast around the campfire and head out once again on a game drive. This is about the coldest I have been in a long time, and when we come back, I buy a heavy sweater.

At lunch, we are asked whether we would like duck breast at dinner, or beef stroganoff. Our entire table opts for the duck breast in a sweet chili sauce, served over cous cous. Imagine, a million miles from anywhere, and eating and sleeping like kings.

As we finish our afternoon game drive, we end up in a long line of traffic returning to the lodge – the young lions like to walk in the road. More like sauntering in the road, after all, they are the kings, we are the gawkers, so we all just toodle along behind as they take their sweet time walking along. It was a fun moment, but meant that we just barely got back to the lodge in time for the dinner bells, a man playing on one of those wooden xylophones with the tinkly wooden sound. It’s an inviting way to be called to dinner.

When they finally had us all seated for dinner – remember, there is a maximum capacity at Savute Elephant Camp of 24 guests – there was an expectant pause. Then, from the kitchen area came a conga line of all the staff, kitchen staff, chambermaids, laundry staff, grounds people, game trackers and managerial staff, black and white together, singing “Cmon everybody”. They danced all around the dining room, oh what fun. Then they gathered at the bar/lounge area and sang a song that started “Beeee-you-ti-fuulll Savute (clap clap clap), Beeeee-you-ti-fuuullll Savute (clap clap clap) I will never forget . . . . Beee-you-ti-fuuullll Savute”. And then they sang the same for Botswana (clap clap clap) and for Aaf-reee-kah (clap clap clap) and I am embarassed to tell you, but seeing them all together, working so hard, so graciously, to give us a good time, I just cried. Tears just rolled down my face, I couldn’t help it. It was so beautiful.

The whole idea of Savute Elephant camp is so beautiful, and the graciousness and hospitality is so personal and genuine, I just loved it.

September 15, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Cultural, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

The Hemingway Safari: Part 5 Savute

“Good Morning” you hear, at 6:00 a.m. sharp, and zip zip as Richard and John deliver your hot water for washing off before leaving. At six, the air is quite cold, and the water bottles are no longer hot. I figured out that if I lay out what I am going to wear the night before, I can get dressed really quickly in the morning. I keep heavy socks right by my bed, as occasionally there is a sticker in the tent, but the socks provide a layer of protection. We put on several layers, as not only is it cold, but our vehical is open, and the wind is cold, even though we also have blankets to wrap up in. So a T-shirt layer, a long sleeved shirt layer and a cotton windbreaker layer, and then a sweater layer. Yes, it is that cold.

AH is already out by the campfire with Godfrey, discussing the plans for today, which are to drive to Savute. Although it is a mere 200 km or less, it is all single tracked road, and mostly sand, a very slow drive. Godfrey has a big pot of hot coffee all readyAND we go into the dining tent and get some breakfast. When I started the trip, I was eating the granola cereal, but watching Godfrey and AH eat the hot cereal, I discovered that it is really good, and it warms you up in the cold cold morning..

We are packed and in the truck by 7, and do one last game drive on our way out of Chobe. We noticed, in Chobe, that while we see herd and herds of elephants in the late afternoon game drives, we have never seen one on the morning drives. “Where are they?” we ask Godfrey, who tells us that they are deep in the bushes where we can’t see. Our running joke is that this is all Botswana by Disney, and Godfrey has it all mechanized, animatronics, so that he can thrill us from time to time by scheduling something new.

During the night, over and over I hear a bird, or something, that calls out, and then others answer, and the calls escalate, higher and higher until they crescendo. “What is that?” I ask Paul, who says it is a Scope’s owl, but Godfrey says it is a Pell’s owl.

We have yet to ask Godfrey a question he can’t answer. Most of what he has learned, he tells us, he learned when he went into the army, and found himself in the anti-poaching unit. He credits his knowledge, and his organizational abilities, and his leadership abilities to his time in the army. As tough as it was, he learned a lot about survival, and learned how much he truly loves nature.

We listened with awe as he would tell us about different trees and flowers, how they mingle, how they struggle against one another for survival. We tried to memorize all the names of all the animals and birds he would show us, and he very very patiently told us as many times as we needed to hear them. Best of all, Godfrey would let us just sit and watch and experience as long as we wanted. It was a blessing to be such a small group, and such an agreeable group. We all loved just watching – watching the giraffes feed and drink, watching the elephants wallow and play. Being able to just sit and watch helped us to understand better.

Leaving Chobe game park took most of the morning. When we stopped for mid-morning tea (and Simbaseku’s egg sandwiches, which we grew to love) it was in the midst of a herd of zebra, which we hadn’t seen before.

Godfrey has pointed out a high circling Batteleur eagle, which is the symbol for CCAfrica, Conservation Corps of Africa, which recently bought AfroVentures. Godfrey tells us about the flag of Botswana, that the blue is for the blue of the big sky, and the black and the white are for the people, black and white working together for a new country. He tells us this several times during the trip. He is a true believer.

The more we get to know Godfrey, the more we like him. At first, we know him as a guide, the one who explains how our tent works, what we will do tomorrow and in what order, a teacher. But as we spend more and more time together, we get to know the person inside, and his experiences, and his dreams. And on this day, we are greatly honored, we get to stop and meed Godfrey’s family. Godfrey’s family was originally Namibian – Namibia is just across the river, we can see it while we drive. But when the nations were separated, they chose to live on the Botswana side where they had family.

First, we see the new housing they live in. In Godfrey’s village, there are signs for Habitat for Humanity, who are building new houses, cinderblock houses, in the village. Godfrey’s Mom and Dad and one sister live in one such house, and have a large circular corral for their cattle built out of large sticks. His Mother is sitting in front of the house on the ground, legs straight out in front. She recently became blind overnight, and Godfrey has been taking her to the hospital frequently to see what, if anything, can be done. His Mom and Dad are both in their seventies, a miracle in Botswana where 36% of the people have the AIDs virus and life expectency isn’t much more than 40 years. We also meet his sister, and a sister in law, and several young nephews and nieces.

All I have with me are some cinnamon candies, which we share. If only I had known I would have this opportunity! After leaving Kavimba, we pass the now deserted compound where Godfrey grew up. We can see the circular remains of the housing, of the cattle pens. They are a little farther away from the river now, but the cinder block keeps them safer.

We can understand why the children are SO afraid of the lions and the elephants; lions think of cattle as easy prey, and the elephants take what they need, and just knock over whatever gets in their way. They have memories of where to eat just the right vegetation to provide the minerals they need, and sometimes the villages have been built where they graze on that one particular vegetation. It’s a constrant struggle between the villagers and the wild animals.

We get to see the school, and we see the ambulance, and we can hear the pride in Godfrey’s voice as he points out signs that the life in the village is getting better. As we near Savuti, we pass a herd of male elephants wallowing and drinking, jostling a little for space, and then, thrill of thrills, a pair of honeymooning lions! The lions are just 30 feet from the truck, male and female, lying very mellowly in the warm sunshine (we have stripped down to T-shirts during the morning tea break, as it has become quite warm.) Godfrey explains to us that normally, females hang around together with their young, and young males hang around together, and every now and then, rarely, you see a mating pair. They spend about four days together, mating and just relaxing together. This pair is VERY relaxed, and we photograph them to our heart’s content.

Godfrey tells us that the lions don’t really “see” us, they smell the diesel and the rubber, and think of us and the truck as one animal. So it is important, he continues, to sit still, and not to stick our heads out the top as we watch. At one point, the male lion stands up, looking at us, but he falls back down, as cats do when they are feeling relaxed and not at all threatened. All this stopping and watching makes us run a little late, and we drive up to Savute Elephant Camp about one.

First, Godfrey had to undo the electric fence links and then re-fasten them behind us. As we drove up, a group of about ten chambermaids were standing together, and began singing “you are welcome (clap clap clap) You are welcome (clap clap clap) you are welcome” and it was so lovely, so charming and so unexpected that I found myself getting a little choked up.

Savute Elephant Camp is a mind blowing experience. First, we see our rooms, which are so lovely, so luxurious and so unexpected that our eyes nearly pop out of our heads. But we didn’t have time for anything more than a very quick face and hand wash, as they had held brunch/lunch for us and we needed to be back at the lodge right away.

The lodge is also breathtakingly lovely, all open and airy, with gorgeous leather upholstered furniture and a spacious huge bar. And oh, by the way, there are SO many elephants at the water pit just below the swimming deck, which is just below the dining room.

The food here is fabulous. I have babootie, a South African cassarole dish which I tried to make once but it never tasted THIS good. As we are sitting, some of the local game trackers come and sit with us, and tell us about the camp. After lunch, we meet Liesl, newly wed and the Food and Beverage manager, who usually works at the Eagle River Gametracker’s lodge, but who is filling in for someone else off on vacation, and we meet Freddie, who tells us the way things work at the lodge.

Most important of all is that you NEVER NEVER NEVER go to your cabin or come from your cabin alone after dark. They have escorts, and you set a time when you will be picked up for dinner and then they escort you back to your cabin. There are only a maximum of 24 guests at any one time. We only have a short time back in our “cabin”. Our cabin is huge. Yes, it is a tent, but a tent built over a mahogony platform. There are two 3/4 sized beds together, which makes up a huge king-sized bed, surrounded by white hangings, and with a white cover, so that you sleep totally insect free. There is a reading corner, with two chairs and a table, and a writing table in the other corner.

Behind the sleeping area is a built in mahogany area for hanging your clothes, for your suitcases, for putting things away, and a laundry basket. Anything you want laundered must be in the basket by 7 in the morning and will be back to you by the next evening, washed, dried and ironed. There are fresh bathrobes hanging in the mahogany closet, and a shoe shine kit. And oh, heavenly joy, there is a hair dryer! And a huge walk in shower! Even though I have been showering in the camp, having a huge walk in shower and a hair dryer – oh what luxury. So I quickly shower and wash my hair, but leave it wet and tuck it up under my hat, as we are going on a game drive and it is HOT HOT HOT.

We spend a little time on our huge teak private terrace, watching the elephants amble up to the water hole in front of the lodge, and then ambling past on their way to other watering holes. Only this last month, we learn, have they put up the electric fence. Before that, you might be showering and into the shower would pop an elephant trunk, sucking at the shower water. It had its charm, but having the elephants inside the camp also caused a lot of destruction. They thought long and hard before putting the fence up, and did so reluctantly. It is just too expensive and to resource intensive bringing in materials to repair damage done by the elephants.

On our game drive that afternoon, we see SO much game. In particular, a group of young lions, who also seem to be well fed and very relaxed. They are oblivious to us watching, maybe even hamming it up a little for us. We are SO close to these lions that they are lying on the ground maybe five feet from our open back of the truck. One gets up, heading toward us and our travel companion says “Godfrey, drive!” and the look on her face is pure fear. We laughed, but I was on the other side of the truck.

My wet hair keeps me nice and cool, but as the sun goes down I am glad to have my hat over my hair, as it gets cold quickly once the sun goes down. We drive to an outcropping of rock and AH and I hike up to see the San Bushman carvings. They don’t look very old, to me, but AH dutifully takes a photo and we hike back down.

Back at the lodge, I dry my hair and we wait for Godfrey to escort us to dinner. At dinner, all Godfrey’s friends stop by to talk to him, and we learn that in 1997 Godfrey was voted Guide of the Year, and that no one has been elected since, so he is still it. Dinner is a buffet, with a choice of baked chicken or ostrich shish-kebab with fruits. AH and I both have the ostrich, which is really good. They have funny butter dishes here, designed to prevent the baboons from eating the butter. The butter is in the top, so when the baboons pick up the top, they see an empty plate on the bottom. It never occurs to them to look in the top, where the butter is packed.

People are gathering around the campfire, but we are TIRED, so Godfrey escorts us back to our tent. All night long we can hear the elephants walking to and fro, crashing through the trees. And we can hear other things too, long loud screams in the night.

September 13, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Cultural, Social Issues, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment