A few days of tracking with Brian Gibson
03.14.2008 - 03.18.2008 68 °F
Our Cessna 260 lifted off from Tubu Tree and headed toward the south eastern corner of the Moremi game reserve. As we lifted from the airport and cleared our first tree line we looked down and saw a herd of 30 or more Elephants with babies in tow. It was a beautiful way start to the day and we wished we could have called in the sighting for others to enjoy. We were just on the ground moments before and couldn’t see or sense that these giants who were only steps away. From the air, it is amazing how much you can see. We took only 25 minutes to reach the Moremi area and were met at the landing strip by our guide, Brian Gibson who was highly recommended by Allison as a guy who was great for the boys. She was right. Brian is a South African, who hopes to soon have Botswana citizenship. He has a quick wit, a great laugh, knows and loves animals and birds, and he knows this area and its mammalian residents like the back of his hand, which is bandaged due to a recent cricket accident. We are instantly at ease and start finding out more about the area. This area looks and feels entirely different than Tubu Tree. It is flooded already and there is water everywhere. Roads that were accessible two weeks ago are now covered with water. The dry areas for animals are shrinking which is good for game viewing, but our range is a bit limited. There is deep grass everywhere and the Mopane Forest is thick with leaves. The area has received twice as much rain as it usually does, and it shows.
This camp is different than Tubu Tree. It is a real camp at a campsite that Brian has set up for us. It has a dining room, an open area for playing games, or lounging in hammock chairs, and we have two tents with ensuite bathrooms and bucket showers right next to each other. We are close enough to have the boys in one tent without worrying too much, but the rules are clear. Do not EVER go outside your tent at night under any circumstances. The first night will tell us why.
At 4:00 we headed out on our first game drive with Brian. Brian stopped and read the tracks and told us that Cape Buffalo, has just passed through the area and we will use the paths to find them. As we are moving down the paths, we can’t believe how thick the forest is. Brian tells us that we are going to have our work cut out to see animals these days because the grass is so high. The grass is easily 3 to 5 feet high and visibility is difficult. Within fifteen minutes of cruising, looking and stopping to read tracks, Carol stammers something that sounds like Brian or Lion or something. She is so excited that she can hardly get it out. 15 feet from the Land Cruiser is a Full Grown Male Lion, lying in the grass. I have no idea how Carol spotted the thing, but there it is. It is a great spot. We backed up and rolled close to it, and it rose up and walked underneath a bush, which hid it completely, which is more than unnerving. Imagine walking next to a bush and having a full grown lion leap out at you. It could happen. Simple as that. Brian told us that he does walking safaris in the summer, but not at this time of year, for this very reason.
We left the Lion there and began looking for the tracks of the rest of the pride and the Buffalo herd. We couldn’t find the pride, but we did see some tracks. Just then, the radio crackled and the camp called to tell us that two wild dogs, the most endangered predator, had just entered our camp. Brian asked if we would like to see these dogs, and off we went. We were tearing back to camp, on the same path, when we slid around a corner and slammed on the breaks. Right before us, just feet ahead of our vehicle, were four lion cubs, looking attentively at our car. Right behind them were four lionesses and a male Lion. They were spectacular. They were all just lounging around on the road, and waiting for the sun to go down, so they could begin their hunting. Ironically, a herd of Impala was off in the distance looking very nervous as the lionesses made deep and bellowing “hurroomph” sounds. The sound was so loud it could be heard 400 meters away where the impalas stood, and the lionesses weren’t even opening their mouths. Brian joked that the Lionesses looked sooo relaxed, just waiting for another fun evening, while the impalas looked like they were thinking “oh god, not another night…” especially after hearing that sound.
After the game drive which exceeded every expectation we had, heading the “start at zero” advice from our friend at Tubu Tree, we proceeded with a great dinner and a nice time around the fire. We bedded down for the night in our tents and the night came alive around us. Birds made beautiful sounds and wildebeest and other animals interrupted our sleep throughout the night, coming within feet of our tent. We heard the lioness bellowing their sound repeatedly from nearby, “Hurrrooomph” “Hurrrooomph.” The sounds of the Hyena could also be heard nearby, “Awwwwooooyaa”. We are staying in our tents tonight.
The next day we headed out with expectations already exceeded and we didn’t expect much more having hit the lion lottery the night before. We were going to be joined this day by a guide from the Africa Adventure company who actually grew up in Zimbabwe, Andre Steinberg. After a morning game drive and a few Giraffe and Zebra, we picked up Andre who dialed us into some Lion and Buffalo from his flight in. We took an afternoon break to let the heat subside, and we enjoyed a very brief and refreshing thunderstorm. After the thunderstorm we took our first bucket showers. It’s an experience to take your entire shower in one bucket of warm water, but the challenge was quite fun and the shower felt great. Afterward, we headed out on our afternoon game drive. The Lions that Andre saw were actually right next to the landing strip, so it was pretty easy to find them. There was big male Lion and a few females, all of which we had seen before, but the cubs were off in the bush somewhere. These Lions were following the herd of 150 or so cape buffalo that were passing through the thicket. We had spent some time with the lions, so off we went to find the buffalo. We found them in a deep thicket and we could barely get a glimpse of them. It was just the front ranks of the herd while the others trailed behind. Soon after we spotted them, they seemed to just disappear. Imagine 150 2,000lb cows instantly disappearing from view. They blend in so well with the thick greenery, they just dissolve into the background. Either that or David Blaine must be traveling with them. That evening, after enjoying our little sundowner with Andre and Brian, we sat around the fire, told stories, and watched electrical storms flash in the distance against a deep purple sky. We heard the low rumble of thunder and the low hurrrooomph of lionesses, and you could almost hear impalas stiffen nervously as the sun faded into the horizon. The night went black and we finished dinner to the night sounds once again.
The next day we had a fabulous time dodging a lightning storm that we saw moving quickly toward us across the delta. We sat in our Land Cruiser and took a few photographs from behind a Hippo Pool at the lightning as it crashed into the delta in the distance. It became apparent that this was going to be a big storm and we were going to have a tough time avoiding it. Brian thought the best thing to do was to outrun it for a bit and try to get to some shelter. Camp was out of the question being quite a few kms away, but there was a shelter by the third bridge, and we just might make it. We sped along at around 40kmph across some incredibly rough and already drenched roads, racing the lightning and rain. As we passed over the rickety stick bridge, the wind broadsided us as did a 10 degree drop in temperature. And the rain came. We made our way into an old bathroom that is shared in the busy season by many campers. Today it sits empty and we were lucky that the bars in front were left unlocked. We stayed for almost an hour as the rain poured down, chatting about things that would make us forget we were in a dark bathroom. The rain lightened up and Brian thought we should leave before the next broadside came. We made it back to the camp, laughing about the new speed record we set getting to the 3rd bridge. It was apparent that the camp got blasted as well. Water had seeped into the dining area, blowing sideways and we were expecting to see something blown over, but all was intact. We ate dinner and hung out telling stories and then made out way tour tents, falling asleep to the sound of rain on their plastic roof tops.
It had rained all night, and was still raining when we woke, so the next morning was a bit “iffy”. As the rain began to lighten up, we set out for the permanent water ways of the delta. Brian had hired a boat and we were to travel up the delta for a few hours, stopping for a picnic and then returning. Brian said that rainy days and the main channels of the delta weren’t great for wildlife spotting, but we’d see some great scenery. On our way, Brian spotted some Lion Tracks in the wet sand. We had all heard a lion last night, and Brian thought this was the one we had heard. He knew it was a male by sight, and this track confirmed his hunch about the sound last night. He told us it was a male over breakfast. These tracks were very fresh, because the rain had washed all the tracks from the night before, and these sat atop the rain drops. At one point Brian got out of the car and found an Elephant track with the lion track on top of it, and a leopard track going the other way. I only know this, because Brian and Andre were schooling us in tracking and to watch Brian track this lion was really something. We raced down roads with Brian looking down at the sand from the car every so often, and saying “yep, this way”. We turned left, right, left, then a right again. We stopped looked at tracks and then went on again, when we ran headlong into a full grown beautiful adult male Lion about 10 feet from the Land Cruiser. We watched it for a while and then followed it for a few km as it marked its territory on the bushes that ran along the road. The lion lay down and rested. We congratulated Brian on his tracking, and he brushed it off saying it was easy. You see the grass is wet and lions don’t want to walk on wet grass, so he was sticking to the roads. Very easy. Errrrrr…. maybe for Brian not for any of us. Another safari vehicle showed up and we left” our” lion for the others as we headed for the delta.
Boating on the permanent water way in the delta was as beautiful as Brian said it would be. The scenery was awe inspiring. Tall grasses rose from the root beer brown water for as far as you could see, leaving narrow paths for boats to traverse, opening to larger channels and pools every so often. Maroula trees and small islands of land seemed to draw close toward the boat as we made our way down the snaking water ways, only to recede toward the horizon as we motored our way around another bend. In one of the wider channels we encountered a hippo and Brian and John got very serious - very quickly. You don’t want to encounter hippos. They can flip boats and often do. We slowed, and then sped up and the Hippo could be seen sliding underneath the boat as we passed. Disaster averted. We took photographs of the landscape and of fabulous birds, and we stopped for our delicious lunch. On the way back, we encountered a few more hippos without incident and passed some elephants that grazed along the edge of the water way and a few others that enjoyed the water, playing and washing themselves as we passed nearby. These Elephant encounters had been the best of our trip thus far. Elephants are working their way into our hearts and becoming a family favorite.
We arose the next morning to a light rain and short schedule with Brian. We would depart at 10:00 for the Kalahari Desert on a charter flight. After packing and eating, we made our way out of camp for one last goodbye game drive with Brian at about 8:00am. While were driving, the crew would pack up the camp site to make way for the next campers. Within those two hours, we saw a heard of Cape Buffalo, a few friendly elephants, and we came within few feet of an elephant, that had just exited the water. This elephant didn’t like us so close, but he was nearly blocking the road and we passed as silently as possible. This male bull turned quickly to face off with us as we passed, and chased us just a little bit to ensure we weren’t coming back. It was actually quite unnerving, having a giant bull elephant that close and that unhappy. We made it to the airport shortly thereafter and had a quick coffee and a sad goodbye while we waited for our plane. Brian was an awesome guide and the experience he provided us was absolutely top notch, exceeding our wildest expectations, even when the weather wasn’t cooperating.
Thanks for a great four days Brian. We really missed you at our other camps. Griffin is ready to come and work on your farm as soon as he’s in High School, so start negotiating now