We’re slowly heading south, having left the incredible adventure of Elephant Sands behind, passed through Nata and are now headed to Tuli game reserve, not far from the SA border and about 400km from Nata.
Finally at 5pm we arrive at Molema Bush Camp in Tuli after the road slowly gets smaller and smaller before turning to gravel and then into a 4x4 track. The sun is rapidly heading toward the horizon as we setup our tents under a bug tree - a keep trying to type “big tree” but for some reason this phone changes it…must be a warning? Hopefully, the tree will give us some shade because at the moment we are sweltering.
As hardened campers we have become quite efficient and soon our campsite is set up and Josh is busy preparing homemade burgers for us. As we sip a cold beer I say, “This will be fun guys. Wild beasts everywhere, and just us alone in the bush.”
There’s only one other group at a nearby campsite. “We can handle the wild family!” I say. But little do I know there’s one beast we’re not that good at handling!
“There!” Nicky shouts pointing at something fast and dark scuttling across the floor as darkness settles over our camp and we prepare our evening meal.
“A scorpion or spider. Kill it!”
It's a call to arms and I respond with valor, grabbing a shoe and chasing the beast in the darkness. The last thing we want is a spider running into our tent. It's fast and dexterous but ultimately no match for me and soon it has been dispatched. Peace reigns.
Me:1 - Spider:0
The heat is oppressive. It's now 7pm and it's still in the high 30s and doesn't seem to be abating. “How on earth will we sleep in…”
“Spider!” shouts someone. And sure enough there is another large spider running across our eating area. Like synchronized swimmers we all raise our feet in unison as the beast scuttles past. Didn't I just kill that spider?
“Another one!” screeches a kid, pointing at yet another large arachnid making its way across our eating area.
“OK, spiders. If it's war you want it's war you'll get. We are prepared for this!” I dig out the bug spray. I knew there was a reason we had carried this around for so long. Soon I have sprayed a protective barrier around our eating spot and all around our tents. That will put and end to any more forays by scuttling beasties.
Me:2 - Spiders:0
Bliss reigns…The food is sizzling away, and we’re relaxing (with our feet off the floor).
“Spider!” sounds the shrill cry again. These beasts are immune to the poison and there seems to be no end to them. Are we camped on their house. They're scuttling all over the place and have us on the run.
It's one too many! The family retreats. For a while I try valiantly to hold the fort, much like Don Quixote, I'm armed with a broom attempting to joust with my furry foes. It's a nimble dance as I have to balance keeping my feet briefly on the ground while attempting to wield my ungainly and inappropriate weapon. The family looks on from the safety of the car, faces pressed to the windows.
After a near encounter with one of the beasties…which scuttles through my legs and into our toiletry bag…I realize I'm losing this battle. Discarding my weapon I run for the car feeling the hot breath of my pursuers behind me…or it could just be the hot wind…but either way the battle is over.
Me:2 - Spiders:2many!
It’s 8pm and we're all seated inside the car - the aircon on, our phones plugged in for charge, and the doors shut to protect us from the attack. We laugh as we think of where we are. This is adventure…who knows what else the night will bring. Giant spiders gnawing through our tents, elephants...Oh, forgot about those…
Dawn...There were no spider or elephants in the night…however there were lions. Thankfully after my exhaustion after my gallant display of chivalry while jousting the furry beasties - which are apparently called Solifugids or Red Romans - I snoozed through the roaring. With dawn comes our awaking as the cacophony of bush sounds rudely brings you back from sleep. The bark of baboons, the serenade of doves, the shrill cry of some nameless bird. The bush, it's awake…and so I crawl out and soon have coffee and mealie meal brewing away.
We're camped under a huge Nyalaberry tree which provides beautiful and much-needed shade in this hot part of Africa. We've quickly learned what's important for camping - shade, grass, electricity, water…and the bonus, our own ablutions. Our campsite here has the first and last of this list, and the bonus ablutions.
We can't walk away from the campsite as we're in a game park - hence the roaring - so we spend the day under our shady tree reading, working, relaxing…soaking up Africa.
“Hi, I'm Sakeo,” our guide says. Sakeo is key to the operations at the camp and has been very attentive to ensure our stay here has been comfortable. This afternoon we are going on a game drive wth him.
We wend our way through the bush on the landrover while Sakeo shares his fascinating bush knowledge with us. It's amazing that I've been on many bush drives yet there are still so many things I don't know.
“It's easy to tell which is the male zebra,” Sakeo says as we watch a herd nearby. “It's normally the one at the back as he protects the herd.” Now surely I should have known that by now. However as it turns out there is still plenty I need to learn as Sakeo tells us about the different animals we see.
After stopping to enjoy some sundowners near a dry river bed we head back sweeping the search light in search of animals. The leopard - as usual - are elusive although we do come across a herd of elephants, some bush babies perched in trees and a lone Wildebeest sentinel. Here too I learn how the males remain alone in their territory while the females move around.
“I’m glad I’m not a wildebeest,” I think to myself as sleep slowly draws me away while the night sounds reverberate all around our small tent. I’d far rather be in my tent with my female…Note to self: Don’t become a wildebeest.
Now that was a great night's sleep. Aircon. King-sized bed. Blissful. We awake to a new day and a new journey from Kasane and begin our southward bound travels back towards South Africa. We bid farewell to this oasis and the unmistakable smell of African luxury - polish and thatch.
It's an easy drive on great roads as we head from Kasane towards Elephant Sands, just outside Nata, about 300km away. We hit one road stop and are worried we might lose our meat, but thankfully they don't search the car and we just have to do the requisite “stand on the mat” thing….to kill bugs…we seem to have done this enough times.
We spot the turnoff to Elephant Sands wondering what it will be like. The road is sandy so we quickly engage four wheel drive so as not to have a repeat of yesterday. As we approach the lodge we see that the name is given for a good reason. A herd of elephant are drinking from the waterhole right in the center of the lodge. It's amazing. This is really up-close-and-personal…but it’s about to get even closer!
We are standing about 5m from the herd as they drink. All that separates us is open space and a slightly raised pool deck area. The African sun is doing its thing and soon we are cooling in the pool, sipping a beer and watching the herd drink right in front of us. Our chalet has a great view of the waterhole so we decide to sit there and enjoy our sundowners as the sun dips towards the horizon. We put our chairs in the shade on the side of our chalet and I decide I'll use this time to do some podcast recording. Soon I have my laptop setup up in this blissful environment and am busy recording a scene when suddenly a sixth sense causes me to turn around.
A massive elephant is making its way silently to the waterhole from behind us and is only a couple of meters behind us. With a yelp Nicky and I leap up and make a mad dash for the safety of our verandah while the large dusty grey elephant saunters by. Eish…Africa is crazy.
Soon I'm settled down again and all is good. I'm midway through another scene when I hear someone clapping on the verandah. I look up with irritation to see who has messed up my recording to see that I'm being warned of several elephant heading my way from the waterhole in front of me. A hasty retreat to safety is necessary. It seems my idyllic position is not really ideal for video recording as I'm on the elephants' path.
After rustling up a mince and nachos dinner we decide to stroll back to the pool area to watch the herd drinking at night. More and more elephants arrive. We see their huge dark forms silhouetted by the full moon as they emerge out of the bush. The waterhole is a hive of activity. Slurping, rumbling, stomping and the occasional trumpet of warning. Thick dust hangs in the air mingling with the wet earthy smell of the elephants.
Seated just meters from them it feels like we are in the middle of the herd. Every now and then one of them walks towards us causing a hasty retreat as their massive forms loom too close for comfort. Their thirst seems insatiable as they spend hours slurping the water while more elephant arrive. It's a spectacular scene lit by the dull light of the full moon.
However there is one big challenge. Getting back to our chalet. There is a constant stream of elephants appearing out of the darkness from all directions and leaving the waterhole again. Our chalet is in the path of on one of their main routes. We huddle together standing by the edge of the restaurant peering out into the silvery darkness looking for a safe path. Several large elephant are too close for us to walk and are looking at us. We retreat.
“Ok, family,” I say after five minutes, “this is our chance.” There are several groans of objection from the kids citing their youth and non-preparedness for an early demise as reasons to wait longer. However, we push on. Most of the herd is now on our left near the waterhole. They are at least 5 meters away! Several others have walked off towards our right but are off our direct path.
We scuttle quickly in the light of the moon toward a log, using it as some form of cover. A dark shape looks ahead. We freeze. It moves silently off. We dash and with several elephant coming up from our left we just make the safety of our chalet in time. The children will get to live another day - and more than that, celebrate the amazing invigoration of having lived that day in the incredible majesty and adventure of Africa.
We’ve left the excitement of Zambia’s Devil’s Pool and the majesty of Victoria Falls behind and headed back into Botswana in search of adventure. We’ve lived in some quite rustic spots lately, and so we are doing a civilization reset with a couple of days staying at the Mowani hotel in Kasane…Eish! Hotel! That’s a first for us on our trip. Electricity, own bathroom…with running water…aircon…paradise.
“I think we should go to Chobe,” Nicky wakes me up dissolving my vision of a sedate day at the lodge. She's right. We are all the way here, let's do it. The girls opt for aircon and pools and Nicky, Josh and I head out to explore Chobe. After parting with about R400 - that's costly for just three people - we enter the park in search of the big game. However, it's not the big game we're expecting that we will find. We see lots of kudu, elephant and some amazing bird sightings. However the “big game” is avoiding getting stuck. The roads are Mozambique-style roads - thick and crazy sandy. We spend more time plotting routes and approaches than looking for animals.
After engaging everything including low range and diff lock we decide to take a direct road back. This turns out to not be a good idea. We had thought because the road was not along the river, like that previous road we had been driving, it would be better. We are wrong. It's worse. Very thick sand and hilly.
Nicky closes her eyes as we approach a particularly daunting hill ahead. I put foot giving Pajey full torque. We slide and slither up the thick sand. “Oh no!” I say, which causes Nicky to open her eyes. A vehicle is coming down the track in the opposite way. “You don't move,” Nicky yells. So I hold my course refusing to budge off the road in the hope that he will try and drive off to the side into the even thicker sand. He's going nowhere either. He knows he will be stuck. Eventually as we are nearly on top of him and he's fishtailing towards me I pull to the right…and immediately come to a grinding halt.
To say that Nicky is not particularly enamoured with me is an understatement. However all is not lost. I am able to slowly reverse backwards down the track while Nicky gesticulates furiously at the other vehicle making it clear they must move aside. Eventually, he decides to move aside rather than face the glaring Nicky, and with a lot of scary sliding he manages to get slightly off the track. Giving Pajey full throttle again we slither and slug past him finally making it up the hill.
It's a long drive…or at least it feels that way with us not relishing the thought of getting stuck and having to dig ourselves out in 40c heat with wild beasts everywhere. Thankfully we make it and are soon cruising back homeward bound on a tar road again. Josh has loved the whole experience and wants to do it again…but I fear his mom is not that much into 4x4 adventures.
We have decided to do a cruise on the Chobe because it is famous for its amazing elephant sightings. Grabbing our snacks we are soon seated on the boat by 3:30, grateful that it has a roof to protect us from the sun. The river is glass smooth and we enjoy some magnificent sightings of elephant - close up. As they beach the boat, so we can watch an elephant close by on an island, it decides to walk right up to the boat and then into the water. It's magnificent being so close to them. Later we see more elephant crossing the river with a small baby in tow. The baby literally vanishes under the water, with its trunk popping out of the surface every now and then for air. Somehow it makes it, cooled down and faithfully following mom.
After witnessing another unforgettable sunset over the river, we finally return home. The boks are playing again, and this is one of the few occasions we have a TV - in our own room. They had better not let us down. Thankfully they don't as they hammer Samoa. Now that was fun. Lying in the cold aircon room we let the sweet call of sleep claim us. It's our final night of luxury. Aah, enjoy, tomorrow we're on the move again as we begin to head south, towards home.