Elephants and lions, oh my!

Memories of our magical fourteen days in Botswana are still fresh nearly nine years later. This post is the fifth in my “African Safari” series. If you missed the first four you can click here to read them: Always go…Latitude attitude…It takes more…A leap, a kettle… .

African Safari – Part 5

It was our fourth day. When we rumbled into Savuti Camp we saw what turned out to be elephant-induced mayhem. Men were scrambling to reconnect pipes that lay scattered on the ground. Russell, our guide, jumped out of the Range Rover and ran to add his muscle.

Safari Coordinator Kate explained that water in the Savuti Channel was low — it was September, the end of winter —  and even though the camp’s well water was pumped to the watering hole beyond the compound, elephants would tromp between guests’ tents and yank pipes out of the ground when they weren’t happy with their supply.  The workers had shooed the animals away as if they were mosquitos, and would soon have the situation in hand.

The beaming camp director rushed up with a hearty hello. “This happens almost daily this time of year,” he said, laughing. Behind him, gentle voices sang and native women approached carrying tiny glasses of icy juice and cool washcloths so we could wipe our grimy faces.

What a welcome!

When we were shown to our tent husband Peter and I stopped in our tracks, agog at this scene in front of us. Wow! Hello-o, Botswana.


Elephants gather for their “sundowner.” The group in the center slurps at the now-bubbling outlet pipe, like children with straws.


vbvmbvmnbElephant mirrored.


Our tent had an en suite bathroom…outside! Three walls provided privacy from human eyes, but the fourth side was open for us to watch the animals, and they, us!

At dinner, we seven travelers plus Russell and Kate, chatted and joked as we’d done since the trip began. Mid-meal, Russell whispered to his side-kick. She nodded and together they expained that guides have a “third day” axiom.  If a group gets along well by then, they will have an excellent safari experience.

We already knew we were special. The magic that had trailed us from the start was like a pleasant scent. Wispy. Spicy.

We were in our tents by 10:30. Peter was asleep instantly. I was too excited to lie down so I sat and watched the spectacle outside.  The nearly full moon was as bright as a World War II searchlight. Ellies splashed and trumpeted while smaller animals —skittish zebra, springbok, giraffes — awaited their turns to drink. It was PBS’ “Nature” live!

I was startled out of a doze by stealthy footsteps along the narrow deck that collared our tent.  A German Shepherd-sized silhouette passed the open flap and headed towards our bathroom. The animal went back and forth twice more. Once I realized we wouldn’t be a midnight snack, I went to sleep.

In the morning I peeked out the screen door, not sure what might lurk outside. Nothing seemed amiss except for soap slivers on the shower floor and punctures in my plastic shampoo bottle.

Kate had warned us not to leave toiletries outside because baboons love soap and toothpaste. I’d remembered to bring the toothpaste in, but left soap and shampoo in the shower. Blast! At breakfast I told her what I’d seen and that I was sure the culprit was not a baboon.  “Probably just a hyena,” she said, “they have a taste for ‘bubbles’ too.”

Just a hyena, indeed!

After coffee and porridge around the campfire we headed out on our first game drive. It was 6:30.

We hadn’t gone far when Russell got a radio message about two lion pairs mating nearby.  Off we went, bouncing through the bush in our tank-like vehicle. When he found the first lions he whispered, “Don’t stand up or speak loudly. All they see is a non-threatening, rectangular shape unless you move.” We were as rigid as tin soldiers.


xcxcxcxcxcxcxcxcxcxxxxcxHe looked…spent, she, relieved.


Lions mate about every twenty minutes for two to three days, and that’s it!  When this duo ambled off into denser brush, Russell told us to hold onto our hats. He shifted down and barreled after them.  “We might get to see them ‘do it,’” he said. I was glad we didn’t.


xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxThey didn’t want an audience!



xxxAnother male glared before stalking into the scrub.


IMG_2661_2We drove along the Savuti Channel until Russell found a suitable spot for morning coffee. Kate hauled out a hamper and set up thermoses, biscuits and juice. Nothing fancy, but it was absolutely blissful to have coffee with new friends while absorbing the vast African panorama.

Left: Russell’s geography lesson. (Namibia is just across the water.)


xxxStarbucks should have such ambiance.

Coffee finished, Russell and Kate  looked for outdoor “facilities” for us. This is it, Judy, I told myself.  There’s no “downhill” here!  

Later, Russell told us he’d guided one of President Bush’s daughters. He’d decided afterwards to call the spots where men and women travelers go, “George” and “Laura.”  We loved his joke, and use it still. I was relieved to make “Laura’s” acquaintance.

“Besides privacy,” I asked Kate, “what do you look for when you search out the best bushes?”

“Well,” she said, “lions sleep in the shade at this time of day…”



Dense fan palms are lions’ favorite places to nap; this one made do with a scrubby bush.



5 thoughts on “Elephants and lions, oh my!

  1. Wonderful, Judy, stirred up my memories of bush camps; bucket showers; strange overnight visitors and a brilliant group of seven excited explorers, with our two driver guides. Not least the carefully vetted dash behind his and hers bushes with loo roll and wet wipes – ‘needs must’ cured dithering ladies within hours. Kenya rather than Botswana, but what an experience for our first ‘adventure’ holiday. Thank you so much. Now off to pore over my old photos.


  2. Ooooh, I forgot about the bucket shower. We didn’t experience one until Linyanti, the second camp. And ‘loo roll’ and wet wipes weren’t provided to us at “Laura.” I carried tissues in my pockets.


  3. Wonderful pictures and experiences! You were so fortunate to have a Special Group of fellow safari-ers and great guides; hope same for Cathy if and when her dream Safari trip materializes! Have you ever read ‘Mrs Pollifax on Safari’ by Dorothy Gilman? DO! cj


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