Tubu Tree Private Concession
03.11.2008 - 03.13.2008 70 °F
The Okavango Delta is located in the northern most regions of Botswana and is the only place on earth where rivers dump into a flood plain, without any exit. The Okavango river and a few others, pour into this Delta and convert savannah and grassland into seasonal marsh lands for thousands of square miles. These seasonal changes in the Okavango Delta provides one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world with forests, grasslands, seasonal marshes, and permanent waterways all accounted for. The delta is technically in the Kalahari basin, sharing the same sand that exists in the most arid areas of the Kalahari. Rains from Angola fill up the river, which floods the delta and then the Kalahari sand simply absorbs it. An endless variety of animal and bird life exist here, and it is because of this uniqueness that we chose Botswana as our primary safari destination. We chose three different areas within the Okavango delta based on recommendations from Allison Nolting at the Africa Adventure Company. She has two boys the same ages as Parker and Griffin and she laid out an itinerary and guides that would be perfect for them. The first place we safari’d was a privately owned concession, while the second and third were within the Moremi game reserve, a national park within Botswana. Each area was unique for its environment and animals.
We took a 70km drive to the Botswana border from Victoria Falls and crossed the border with little hassle. There was no Visa fee for entering Botswana for Americans. Compared to Zimbabwe at $30 and Zambia $130, we welcomed the bargain. Woohoo! We drove a short distance to the Kasane airport and boarded our chartered flight to our first camp in the Delta. The plane was a Cessna 260 which barely held all four of us, the pilot and our few bags. We would be on this plane for 1½ hours, traveling over Botswana for 150 or so miles. As we flew over Botswana, warn paths, like spokes in a wheel, led to full watering holes which we could easily see 3,000 feet below us. Elephants showering themselves in the middle of watering holes looked like the last cocoa crispies in your cereal bowl of faux chocolate milk. As we grew closer to the Delta, the grasslands appeared to be reflecting sunlight, providing a clue to how wet this environment becomes when the floods flow. We dropped to 500 feet for the last 20 or so miles. Scores of elephants, giraffe, zebras and other animals could be seen from the air, and it felt a little like dropping into Jurassic Park. Could this all be real? It didn’t seem so.
We landed at a remote dirt air strip and were met by Johnny, our guide for the next three days. He drove us over sand paths and through tall grass, for a half hour to the Tubu Tree camp, where we were met by the entire staff who were belting out a beautiful African welcome song. We met Demi and Bono, the managers, who informed us that our rooms were ready, but we couldn’t walk there at the moment, because an Elephant was blocking the way. Yeah right, we gaffed. They weren’t kidding. An adult male elephant was standing on the path to our room. He eventually moved away, and we split into our rooms. Carol with Griffin, Blake with Parker. This whole elephant business is repeated with Hyenas and Leopards at night, and we weren’t to walk the long paths from room to room at night under any circumstances – without our guide. Check out the photo if you think I’m joshing. That’s a bull elephant outside the window of our tent.
Tent is kind of an understated way of saying “nicest rooms we’ve stayed in on our trip”. Technically, these are tents, but they are tents with hardwood floors elevated 8 feet off the ground, with indoor and outdoor showers, a sink, hot running water, lights, beautiful bedding, a desk, coffee, and a gorgeous elevated balcony. All the conveniences of a great hotel are here. There is a fully stocked bar, a library room, a dining room, a curio shop, and a little pool for cooling off. We are pinching ourselves. It is hard for any of us to believe that an elephant is standing at the window at our 5 star tent, eating the trees. This must have been planned for our arrival? Oh, did I forget to mention the Baboons who were climbing all over the tent as well? Not to mention that a few Impala, and snakes made appearances on the way.
The managers explained a pretty hard core schedule for us. Each day we would take two game drives. We would take an early morning game drive, rising at 5:30am and heading out at 6:30. We would head out again at 4:30pm for the evening drive. Animals are much more active at these times. That evening, we took our first game drive in the 10 passenger land rover. We drove a few meters from the camp, and began seeing all kinds of game. We couldn’t believe how much was here, and it furthered the “Could this be real?” feeling of the whole place.
We experienced some incredible animal spotting. We saw from the Land Rover in no real order Elephants, Hippos, Impalas, Wart Hogs, Ostrich, Kudu, Wildebeest, Banded Mongoose, African Python, Giraffe, Zebra, Steenbok, Red Lechwe, Bat Eared Fox, Brown Hyena, and the Leopard and… the incredible Leopard Tortoise. We also saw a huge and beautiful assortment of birds. We saw all of these things at Tubu Tree in our first two days of game viewing. We have ten more to days to go at two different camps in the Okavango and one more camp in the Kalahari.
You could rattle through the list above by visiting a zoo, but seeing these animals in the wild, in their own environment is breathtaking, and you feel privileged that the animals let you watch them. We saw a full grown bull elephant running across a field shaking his head to warn us not to come any closer. We saw a mother leopard stalking a wart hog and we watched the chase that ensued. We saw a juvenile leopard climb a tree and rest. We watched a male leopard walk toward us and come within 4 feet of our Land Rover as he passed, barely giving us a thought. It seems that animals think you are one big and harmless animal when you’re in the Land Rover. Don’t step out though. As soon as you step on the grass, their pray drive kicks in and you are just another meal or intruder to them. We hit the jackpot at Tubu Tree seeing more Leopards than anyone expected, and we were told by a woman who runs a UK safari company staying at camp, to keep our expectations low for the rest of the trip. “Start at zero at every location” she told us. That is probably very good advice.
Johnny was an excellent tracker and he would look at tracks in the sand, listen to the birds, and say in the coolest Botswanan accent, “a leopard is this way”, and he was usually right. After he sensed we had seen enough of a particular animal or had a watched a scene long enough, he would say “oookaaayyyy.. “and off we would drive to the next spotting. Johnny would drive the Land Rover in some unbelievably harry situations and pull out of it without an issue. I couldn’t believe what these Land Rovers can do. They go anywhere and over anything. My respect for Land Rover is forever changed. Johnny would turn the vehicle off anytime we asked a question, or when he wanted to point something out and we would all listen to the sounds of the delta, and look over the expanse of plains rolling into islands of jungle. He’d fire the car up and you wouldn’t even hear the starter motor. We would have a “sundowner” each evening, which was a drink with cheese and crackers overlooking a watering hole, or perhaps the savannah. The evening game drives were so peaceful – as the sun usually dipped behind storm clouds on the horizon.
The meals at Tubu Tree were prepared by an excellent chef and were so good and abundant that you had to decide what you wouldn’t eat – sorta’ like a cruise ship. If we ate everything we were served, breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea and cakes, and an incredible dinner, we would have weighed more than the Land Rover. If you are going to Safari in Botswana, Tubu Tree is an excellent choice.
The evening before we departed, the same bull elephant that greeted us kept Carol and Griffin up all night as he ripped tree bark off a tree next to their tent, trying to get to the tasty inner bark that is packed with vitamins. It was a fitting farewell to this amazing place