After arriving in Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, I met up with my travelling companions and was taken to collect our Land Rover, named Burton, from the touring company through which we had booked the trip, Safari Drive.
We hit the liquor store and the supermarket before enjoying a comfortable night at Thamalakane River Lodge, next to the river. It seems fairly pointless to stay in such a good lodge given the minimum time we were there, but I can at least say that the beds were very comfortable and I slept well, enjoying the bird life on the river as the sun rose.
Setting out early we drove north towards the legendary Moremi Game Reserve. We encountered several species on our route through the park to our campsite that night that included tsessebe, wildebeest, impala and a large elephant going for a swim. At several points we had to cross water, which, according to the Safari Drive manual is pretty much forbidden, although it is difficult to imagine how you would see anything of the Moremi without at least getting wet occasionally.
As the vehicle had no snorkel, in each case someone had to risk wading out into the channels to test its depth before Burton went through, which of course means avoiding hippo and crocodile. Only once did water come into the cab, and one particularly precarious crossing had Burton at a worrying angle, but we made it to our camp site at Xakanaxa at the edge of the floodplain. At each camp site we stayed the facilities are impressive, what feel like new ablution blocks offer hot and cold running water and are clearly well maintained.
Having set up camp and taken an early night we were awoken several times by hyena walking right past the tent as they searched for morsels to scavenge. The following morning we tracked to a location called Paradise Pools. The maps we had were a little off, as was the GPS, but by using the combination of the two we found our way around easily. Of course, getting the latest information on the state of the roads from the parks staff is also a good idea, but I can attest that almost all information we were given was wrong.
At the pools we had a brief but breathtaking sighting of a leopard and her cub in the dim early morning light before they slipped in an amongst the trees and were gone. Spurred on by this we headed towards our camp site at Third Bridge where we were tipped off as to a possible good sighting at nearby Second Bridge. As the soft afternoon light took hold we arrived at the stated location and began to scan the area, but were coming up frustratingly empty handed. One last sweep and, just a few metres from where we had started, we spotted the flick of a tail in the grass just a few metres from the bridge. We waited. As the temperature cooled the leopard rose and crossed what little water remained here toward a large tree. She effortlessly climbed up and we could see she had an impala kill tucked away amongst the foliage. Having sated her appetite she rested on a branch like the regal cat that she is.
Back at camp, as we celebrated our successful first full day on safari, a Scops Owl joined us. Flying from a perch a few metres away it would land right by our feet and catch insects drawn in by our camp lights. As darkness fell a herd of bushbuck joined us and munched their way through our sleep.
Next day we drove onto Mboma Island, currently a peninsula jutting out into the Okavango Delta, in the hope of finding cheetah which are apparently often seen on the northern side. We were not lucky this morning, but on our return down the other side of the island we spotted an familiar shape coming through the grass.
First one, then ten then hundreds of buffalo emerged from the long grass, chewing as they went. We watched for some time hoping above hope that this herd was not alone. And there, sitting on an anthill, quietly surveying the vast herd was a lion, a young male by the look of it. We soon realised he was part of a coalition, his sidekick being bigger built. After a few minutes the two of them were stalking towards the herd – game on! The buffalo seemed oblivious to the oncoming threat and continued their slow march towards water, and out into the open. The lions continued to use cover to stalk closer. A group of old bulls split from the herd and moved into the thicker bush, right where the lions were waiting. With some loud snorts echoing across the island we knew the lions had been spotted and the herd went on full alert, backing away. The lions gave up and found a tree to settle under for the day.
We headed to our camp site at North Gate, where we received a tip off about a lioness at the edges of a nearby flood plain. We soon found her on a kill, and with two young cubs playing nearby. We watched as the family went about their business, but as we were about to reposition our vehicle we realised that a leopard had snuck up on the other side of us and was watching the lions. For some ten minutes the leopard watched before slinking back into the undergrowth, the lioness being completely oblivious to her presence.
As we went to sleep the sound of lion roaring near camp rang through the night.