5 Years Ago: Ngoma Safari Lodge, Chobe National Park

On November 2, we flew out of the small airstrip at Kadizora Camp to the city of Kasane, and from there drove to our next stop at Chobe National Park. Ngoma Safari Lodge was perched on a hillside overlooking the Chobe River, with virtually every seat in the house getting a premium view.

Five years is long time to remember the small details, and though my photo library certainly reveals much about what we saw and when, other fine memories are fuzzy. In the process of researching names and places, I’ve come across other people’s journals of their own safari experiences. One spoke of the sounds of the night, and I had almost entirely forgotten the astonishing roar of a lion late at night. At our previous camp in Botswana, Kadizora, the tents were arranged around a grove of large trees, and one night, the baboons got riled up and made an amazing racket, just above our heads! I wish I had recorded some night sounds.

The Ngoma Safari Lodge at Chobe was rather more insulated from the wild, both having solid walls and a roof, as well as being some distance from the river. The property had a watering hole that was lit up at night, and a big old baobab tree, the first we’d seen so far. But I don’t recall getting to see any interesting game from the patio deck, other than perhaps a couple of antelope. Getting spoiled, I know!

I was interested to see that Google’s satellite view of the area shows the river at flood stage, but while we visited it was the end of the dry season, and after a prolonged drought as well. So the river was a relative trickle, the entire valley floor a light green carpet. You could tell where the edge of the flood stage was, because the dirt above it was barren and a dusty shade of red.

After arriving and getting settled in our rooms, our guide Bevan took us out for our first Chobe River game drive, the lodge being only a short distance from the National Park’s gate. We spotted our first hyena pretty quickly, though it was just quietly resting in the shade by itself. Later we came across another hyena that was being eyed warily by a jackal… the hyena looking upriver at a pack of wild dogs. The dogs seemed oblivious and were scrapping amongst themselves.

We stopped on the riverbed at sundown for cocktails, celebrating the passing of another fine day. Across the river on the Namibian side, which is not a national park, there were huts of fishermen hard at work in the waning light.

On the second day, we went out for a boat tour of the river in an aluminum hulled craft that had seats for about two dozen guests. It was quite a change from the Toyota Land Cruisers that we’d gotten comfortable in. Low to the water, close enough to dangle your fingers in the river if you were foolish. Numerous crocodiles were seen, most at a distance, but one was right up next to us. I could count his teeth.

The crocs had reptile company from Nile monitor lizards. I had to lookup the proper name for what I had remembered as an iguana, and found that they are fascinating creatures in many ways. They are known to work in groups to distract female crocodiles away from their nest, while others sneak in to rob the eggs. And they bury their own eggs in termite mounds, giving them a warm insulated nest that comes with food built in for when they hatch!

Nile Monitor
Nile Monitor

The elephants were the stars of the show though. There were dozens of them, some in large groups and some in smaller units. A large group sauntered over towards where we were stationed and each stretched its trunk down to drink from the river. Some would snort up a snoot full of mud and blow it all over their back, I assume to help stay cool. Can you imagine what it must feel like to inhale a few gallons of muck out of the bottom of a river and into your nose? Imagine the bugs in the mud, in your nose. Yuck.

We also got to see something that I never expected. Did you know that elephants are excellent swimmers, and can pretty much act like submarines, using their trunk as a snorkel? We watched a group of four or five as they walked in to the river from one side, gradually getting deeper until they floated and their feet left the bottom. They then dog paddled (I imagine) with their heads bobbing above and below the surface chop, and their trunks alternately breathing or blowing out plugs of water, just like I’ve done snorkeling on rare occasions.

As they approached the island that was their destination, they regained traction and walked up to the bank, where they heaved themselves up and onward to whatever they day had in store for them. It was fantastic.

The next day, we had another game drive along the banks of the river. There were more elephants, including a couple of groups that were sheltering very young babies. A troop of baboons entertained us and a bunch of vervet monkeys harassed us on our lunch break. One quick little bastard dove in when backs were turned and stole a lunch bag right off the picnic table!

We met a few lions along the way, though they were often farther off the track and obscured by the brush. We came across one very satisfied female that was resting up after feasting on an unfortunate baby elephant. Ah, the circle of life. Ruthless.

We departed Chobe via bus to our next destination, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. A long drive and a longer wait in line at the border station… The next installment of this look back at our African adventure.

(Click any image for larger versions and captions.)

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