Wild Dogs are Like Happiness
October 24-31 (Maun, Linyanti and Jao Reserves, Botswana; Gobabis, Namibia) —
After three weeks of camping on our own and one too many restless nights caused by the heat and/or the baboons, we decided to pamper ourselves and book into some fancy lodges. When we went to southern Africa in 2008 for our honeymoon, we called a travel agent and arranged a last minute package (leaving that day) at some pretty flash resorts – e.g., Little Mombo (http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-best-hotels-2013/2) for a ridiculously cheap rate (less than 10% of rack rate). We called the same agent, and she again scored us a screaming deal leaving the next day out of Maun.
The long drive from Kasane to Maun was uneventful except for the hundreds of wild donkeys on the road and a recently killed elephant on the shoulder of the road. We love elles, but I couldn’t help but think of the poor driver that was likely vaporized when his truck met the elle late at night on the highway.
At the airport, we took a limo to our private plane to our first camp – DumaTau.
Duma Tau is in the Linyanti and is one of the fancy camps across the Chobe River from where we were in the Caprivi the previous week. Upon arrival at camp, we were met with lots of alcohol and food. Since our guide would be driving, we got stuck into it with our traveling companions assigned to the same guide – John, a 30 year-old-Kentuckian who was now running a mining site in Zambia, and two sisters from Chicago. John was even happier to be amongst “civilization” than we were, and even happier to be drinking something other than lukewarm Zambian beer.
Our “tent” was about 300 times larger than the one on top of Jimmy in which we had been camping:
We saw lots of elles and red lechwes, as well as a beautiful sunset, on our first game drive.
We didn’t get any pictures of the lechwes in motion, but watching them run through the marshes is amazing. Here’s a shot I stole from Google:
After sundowners on the water, we had a night drive on the way back and saw this gorgeous giant owl.
Dinner at these fancy places is at a communal table. We ended up sitting next to a couple from Guatemala who couldn’t have been happier to have a Spanish speaker (yes, I mean Victoria) seated next to them. While Victoria kept up a rapid conversation with the Guatemalans, I had my first run in with the American retirement police. Some drunk Republican let it be known that we were “too young to be retired’ and “it must be because we had inherited a bunch of money.” He was baffled that we had voluntarily left lucrative positions and had earned every single cent that we have. His hackles really went up when I said that we may eventually do some work such as veterinary nurse or ski patrol for fun because “if you may work again, then you’re just not retired.” Ignoring the bore, Victoria, John and I retired to a bonfire on the water that the staff had set up.
We were joined by a lovely couple (Chip and Donna) who were from the other side of the tracks from where David grew up outside of Chicago. They were a load of laughs, in particular once we realized that the D1, D2, D3, and D4 they were discussing were not NCAA sports but rather how Chip kept track of their four daughters after he kept screwing up their names. Even more humorous was listening them to debate which of their daughters would be best for John. We had to laugh when they thought that D2 – a “shoe buyer for [large fancy department store] in Manhattan—would be a good match” for the guy living in the bush.
Our wakeup call the next morning came way too early, and although we struck out finding the wild dogs for which Duma Tau is famous, we did come across an amazing leopard and a cub. The mother had killed the impala and dragged it up in the tree.
While we watched, the baby went to have a snack and caused the impala to fall to the ground. This was a huge problem because lions or even hyenas will steal a leopard’s kill if it remains on the ground. The mother looked at the cub like it was a dumbass – it was – and let it fend for itself for a while.
This included standing by while the cub got the impala stuck on a tree branch on the ground while trying to drag it back to the tree trunk.
The mother went up the tree to chase off some vultures at one point and then came back down the tree to retrieve the impala herself.
The baby leopard watched while the mom did all the work.
After the leopards, we came across two male lions cuddling during nap time.
While we watched the lions, V noticed that I had turned green. Unfortunately, I had sobered up somewhere between the leopards and the big, cuddly lions.
After visiting the lions, we returned to camp for a huge brunch and retired to our posh room for an afternoon nap. After eating again at afternoon tea, our evening game drive was all about finding the endangered wild dogs that continued to avoid us.
Perhaps feeling the effects of one too many sundowners, V noted that “wild dogs are like happiness – sometimes you find them only when you stop looking so hard.” After a brief silence while I looked at V like she was crazy, the group broke out in laughter and V looked sheepish. As if on cue, however, the radio suddenly chirped and a guide from a nearby camp reported that he had found the dogs! As the sun set, we rushed to his location and were ecstatic to find these amazing creatures.
We returned to camp with giant grins on our face. Since we were so late, DumaTau had set up a private dinner just for our group, and after another late night of drinking on the water around the bonfire, we crashed after a great day.
Morning came too soon, but seeing the birds, buffalos, elles, and other animals on our morning game drive were worth it.
Sad to leave Duma Tau, we hopped another puddle jumper to a camp called Tuba Tree. Tuba Tree was a bit underwhelming compared to Duma Tau but we made the best of it. One of the other guests in our Land Rover was a grizzled Ozzie named Bill whose caustic wit had us in stitches as he took apart all the failings of the camp (which are not worth repeating here other than to say we would not go back given the other amazing options available). Bill now lives in Thailand and, oddly, decided to live there after surviving the tsunami when he was staying in a cottage one block off the beach. Listening to the harrowing story of how he survived the three waves is something we’ll never forget.
Our game drives were nice, and the sundowners fun, but we saw few predators other than hyenas which appeared to be everywhere.
We did learn one of the weirdest facts ever in the animal kingdom: hyena cubs lick their father’s penis to show obedience. Bill’s comment on this is not fit for a family publication but you can use your imagination.
We did see lots of giraffe, kudu, elles, as well as beautiful zebra and impala just outside our tent.
Although we thought that fancy places would allow us to avoid our nemeses, baboons continued to plague us at Tuba Tree. We awoke our second morning to find that the water was out due to baboons breaking through the water lines. During our stay there, we had water for maybe an hour. Bill offered (repeatedly) to remedy the baboon problem (permanently) but the camp did not take him up on his offer. They were considering it on our last morning after baboons unzipped one of the unoccupied tents and proceeded to cause thousands of dollars of damage.
Another puddle jumper brought us back to Jimmy, and we hit the road for our two days of driving back to Windhoek to drop off the car. As night approached, we stopped in the only town of size in Botswana west of Maun and were surprised to find out that the only hotel was sold out. Thankfully, there was a small lodge on the outskirts of town that had one room left. Upon arrival, we were surprised to find two things; First, it was a predator rescue area so there tons of lions, cheetahs and wild dogs around (They’re like happiness!). Second, that the TV in the room was running some Discovery channel marathon on “Bush Pilots” which featured our pilot from that morning. We would have asked for an autograph had we known he was a celebrity.
Our drive the next morning returned us to Namibia and we stopped in the last sizeable town before the airport to clean Jimmy (the contract required that we return it spotless). The Lonely Planet plays down Gobabis as a ranch town, but we found it lovely. We had the best meal that we had in Namibia (I love schnitzel but there’s only so much breaded meat that I can take). There were no car washes right in town, but someone sent us to literally the other side of the tracks to the world’s greatest car wash. The guys did a great job and couldn’t have been happier with all the camping stuff that we gave away (e.g. blankets that we had purchased solely for our time in Namibia). While we waited for the car, David spied a barber across the street who gave him a great haircut.
Since David was the first white customer that the barber had ever had, he took a picture of David’s cut to show any potential clients.
A short drive later, we were back outside of Windhoek, dropped off Jimmy, and headed to Cape Town for the next part of our travels.
We absolutely loved Namibia (and Bots), and highly recommend it to everyone. If we can do it without a baboon taking our food or getting eaten by a leopard, then anyone can.