It’s three in the morning and I’m sleeping peacefully in my tent. I use the word tent with caution, this isn’t a Boy Scout sarcasm number, it’s luxurious, with wardrobes, desk, sofa, huge king size bed, en suite bathroom and private bathtub, romantic, claw-footed on the veranda. Technically, the word tent applies only because the walls and roof are fabric. Suddenly I woke up to hear a strong thunder creature coming towards the room. I sit up straight in bed, reaching for the bed light.
Something big, very big, brushes against the outside of the tent. Then, I hear a snarl and a roar, and what sounds like a lion, or even two, passes in front of him, again wiping the cloth as he goes. I hold my breath, my ears straining to hear more, as I try to figure out what just happened. A lion is roaring hundreds of meters away, somewhere near the staff housing. A few minutes later, still sitting in bed, I heard a strange shriek as a hyena passed by, followed shortly afterwards by some bickering jackals.
Eventually the noise subsided, and the night fell into silence again. I got up from the bed, holding a torch in my hand. Opening the door, on the sand, right on the doorstep, I could see the buffalo and lion’s footprints. It’s dark, and I’m a little nervous to investigate further, so he retires to bed, trying to imagine exactly what happened.
The next morning, the camp buzzes with talk of what happened during the night. We were drinking our coffee early in the morning, as the cook and her assistant filled us with stories of what had happened in the staff compound in the early hours of the morning. Having crossed our room, nearly entangled in the ropes of the man of the tent on her way, a huge buffalo of three lions, two male and a female, in hot pursuit, stumbled somewhere between the houses of the staff. One of the males jumps on the buffalo’s butt, almost drops it, but is distracted by the sight of the other male sympathizing with the female.
Torn between his desire to eat and his desire for love, he abandons the buffalo and turns on the other male. They are both scrap and fight. Periodically, the two males break away from their fight and turn their attention to the buffalo. But in the end they are so busy fighting that the buffalo slips away unnoticed. The lions also escaped after a while, and the staff finally managed to sleep. By the time the story is told, the coffee has been drunk, the toast, cake, and porridge have been consumed, it’s time to head out on a play trip to see if we can find any trace of the previous night’s activity.
We are in the Linyanti concession area of Botswana, which is a vast and wild area in northern Botswana. Access is difficult, only 4×4 vehicles are able to overcome thick sand and bumpy roads. Most visitors, like us, arrive by light aircraft to remote airstrips. But it is well worth the trip. This is an area with amazing wildlife and stunning views. It is famous for the abundance of elephants and huge herds of buffalo, zebra, giraffe and others. This is a place for people who are passionate about raw Africa. We are staying with African Bush Camps at their Linyanti Bush Camp, located on a private game reserve, which shares an unfenced border with the northwestern reaches of Chobe National Park. Far away and with an incredible sense of space, the camp’s six luxury tents overlook Linyanti wetlands, swamps, floodplains, and Namibia from afar.
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As we set out on the trail of lions and buffaloes, not far from the camp, we find the battle frightened, exhausted, but very lively, sheltering as inconspicuously as possible under some bushes. We found the lions a little later, resting in the shade and stealthily licking their wounds. The victorious man is lying with his “lady” at his side, and he has several deep cuts on his face. The lady in question, who is not disturbed by the attention she has generated, is asleep.
Back at camp, a delicious brunch is served, so delicious in fact that I asked the chef for some of her recipes (which she gave me, carefully written and in an envelope, when we bid you farewell the next day). Hundreds of colorful birds swoop in and rush into the branches of the trees above, and as brunch draws to a close, a small family of elephants wanders in front of the dining room and reaches the watering hole.
We wrap up the afternoon with sunset by the water. Glasses and bottles sparkle in the afternoon light. Tasty food dishes to tempt us. Water channels in the floodplain glow like molten lava, as the sun sinks into the sky. A family of elephants looks at us as we bake the experience.
A light half-hour flight from the Linyanti bush airstrip, but still staying in northwest Botswana, we’ll transfer to Khawai Bush Camp in the Khoai community concession area. Covering an area of 1,800 square kilometers, Khoai is located between Moremi and Chobe National Park, and includes the northeastern fingers of the Okavango Delta. There are no fences here to restrict the movement of animals, and the area has a reputation for great wildlife viewing, something we were about to discover for ourselves.
Early in the morning we sit silently by the hyena’s den. At first it seems that there is nothing to see. But when the sun rises and the air gets warmer, we notice two black, damp noses emerging from the entrance to the den, testing the air. A minute later, eight little hyenas fell. There is no sign of any adults, and two young children remain near the entrance to the den, nervous and ready to disappear at the first sign of danger. Little hyenas are equal parts cute and curious, we spend a few hours watching them play and wrestle. A particularly brave young man heads to the car and stands by the door, looking us in the eye.
A little later in the morning, while we are sitting watching some birds fishing in a watering hole, a wild dog appears. She splashes in the water towards us, scurries around at the last minute around the car, walks purposefully, until she finally disappears from view. Heading towards the direction it came from, we found a den of wild dogs. It’s quiet when we arrive, but within minutes, another woman arrives, calling out in a high-pitched voice. Five kids come out of the den and run towards it in extreme excitement. She vomits some food and eats it. Once they’re satiated, we tackle a wrestling match, before the kids eventually get tired and disappear back into the den.
The next stop on the itinerary is the sister camp of Huay Bush Camp, nearby, the newly opened Huay Ledwood. This is a stunning and elegant campground, with six beautiful “tents” and one family unit, all tucked under trees at the edge of the Huay River. The river is all that separates the lodge from the famous Moremi Game Reserve. A quiet afternoon was spent paddling in Mokoro, followed by delicious gin and tonics on the bank, while we watched six gigantic elephants pass through the canal in front of us. Back to camp, pre-dinner drinks, by a roaring fire, before moving on to a fine dinner served at a long table overlooking the river. Khwai Leadwood effortlessly combines the complete luxury with the feel and excitement of being in the African wilderness.
The great end of our time in northern Botswana was an “open doors” helicopter ride over some of the most remote and untouched areas of the Okavango Delta. Taking off from Khoai Ledwood’s private airstrip, we fly across the Khoai River and over the Moremi Game Reserve. Elephants, giraffes, Waterbuck, lechwe and herds of buffaloes, they all look very small from above. The water below is so clear that we can see hippo tracks on the bottoms of canals and water pits. This is a great way to spend our time in the special and beautiful Northern Botswana. This is a wonderful part of the world and I hope to come back to it again and again.