Cheeseheads on Safari. What kind of title is that? Well, if you are a fan of American football, you know the enthusiastic fans of the NFL team in Wisconsin, the Green Bay Packers, call themselves “cheeseheads” (Wisconsin is nicknamed the Cheese State, for its robust dairy industry). On home game days, fans turn out in force wearing funny looking hats that look like cheese wedges … it’s quite the sight! Well, turns out some “cheeseheads” are also very enthusiastic fans of Botswana. Thanks to Sonny S. of Marshfield, WI, whose family traded cheesehead gear for safari gear for sharing their exciting family safari adventure in Botswana with us. Thanks also to Jody Schuster, Africa Director at Borton Overseas, who arranged their wonderful trip and submitted this guest blog post to us:
RAAWWRR! rawwr! RAAWWRR! rawWR! RAAWWRR! RAawwR! RAWWRR! RAWWRR!
Loud at first, then echoed by a softer, purr-like meow. Another loud roar, then the reply – a bit shrill initially and gradually turning gruffer. Throughout the night it increased crescendo, climaxing in a resounding RAAWRR duet around 2 am. Menchu (my wife) and I are enthralled by this chorus, as we huddled inside a tent at the Saile Tented Camp, pitched on the east bank of the Savuti River. We are in the Linyanti area of the Chobe Enclave, right by Chobe National Park, in the Southern African nation of Botswana. What a fitting overture to our African Symphony!
The next morning, we examine the paw prints in the soil just outside the tent. We discover mother lioness’ larger imprints, surrounded by pint-sized cub marks. Foster, our knowledgeable guide (who will be at arm’s length throughout our stay, 24/7) claimed we have little to fear, if we stay nestled in the safety of the camp. He knew the beasts obey Nature’s Rules, re, Territoriality.
Halfway through dinner that evening, we are interrupted by a trio of anxious fishermen. As they were pulling up their nets, they encountered the King of the Jungle, Old Simba himself- surveying the menu. On our next morning’s drive, we confronted His Majesty, still firmly ensconced on his riverside throne, nonchalantly waiting to be served. We felt as if we were in a zoo, except in this case, we were on exhibit; the animals were observing us.
A herd of impala came crashing at, then around our Land Cruiser. They were being chased by a pack of howling, fierce-looking wild dogs. Foster yelled, “Hang on, folks!” and off we go in pursuit too, scrambling over bushes (now we know why it’s called The Bush), raising a cloud of dust. The impala settle in a foot of water, the dogs perch on the riverside, we park a few yards away. We watch the dogs, as they watch the impalas, who were watching out for crocodiles (and the wild dogs!).
Three days earlier, we had checked into the Elephant Valley Lodge, situated in the far north of Botswana on the outskirts of Chobe National Park. Built on a knoll, overlooking a watering hole, the lodge is surrounded by an electric fence which we are instructed to always stay within. We ate meals at the “ Boma” (Swahili ,”meeting place”) while the animals gathered at the pond- a troop of baboons, a sounder of warthogs, a flurry of flamingos. We become collective noun authorities.
We went on a Chobe River cruise the next day. Zambo, our local guide, docked our dinghy by an enormous hippo that was greedily munching on papyrus, oblivious to our ‘Oohs and Ahhs’ and clicking cameras; he had grown up inured to humans. Cautiously, out of the scrub protruded a trunk, then tusks, then the torso of a bull elephant. Was he testing the water temp as he lowered his toe? Must have been suitable because, soon after, his buddies emerge from the brush, and begin wading into the water. In the middle of the river, the boys began wrestling and you could feel the testosterone surge as they joyfully splashed and splattered, jostled and shoved and soaked one another.
After Saile, we would fly deep into the Okavango Delta for a stay at Kanana Camp. This used to be an old hunting lodge that has been converted to luxurious accommodation for photographic safaris. Our four seater Cessna had to circle the airstrip twice to make sure that zebras (hundreds!) weren’t blocking the runway. The next three days would find us on walkabouts, boating, or out on game drives. Each locale had a particular abundance of fauna that was distinct from the others.
Jody Schuster, our travel agent, presented us with a leather bound journal pre-departure. Enclosed was a wildlife list that we would dutifully cross off. Let’s see: Giraffes, check; Leopards, check; Cape Buffalo, check; etc., etc. There is an “African Big Five Must- See” list – we had no Rhino sightings! We are saving them for our next trip…
Photos courtesy of BJ Siasoco