AFRICA: JEWELS OF
SOUTH AFRICA, BOTSWANA AND ZAMBIA
The pre-dawn sun is beginning to light up the clouds above the sparse acacia trees. As we heat up water to run through our french press coffee maker, and build a fire at the ablution block for warm showers (we're not barbarians after all). Fellow expedition leader Graham Jackson stumbles over to me, in a similarly un-caffinated, groggy pre-dawn state.
"Come here, check this out! Should we show everyone?" he asks. I look down at the ground and see a meandering trail of giant cat paw prints criss-crossing through the campsite. Telltale signs that at least inquisitive lion explored our campsite as we slept (safely?) in the roof top tents above. Now, we're faced with a dilemma: Do we show this out our clients and fellow expedition members? Tell tale evidence that the elusive apex predator, and one of the famed "big five", are in fact nearby and all around us and visited our campsite could just as likely enthrall or terrify them, guaranteeing sleepless nights ahead.
The expedition crosses Third Bridge in Moremi National Park, Botswana.
There's no more stark reminder of just how low we are on the food chain than to spend a night camping in Kalahari. As the sun goes down, the night comes alive with strange and unfamiliar sounds. Nearby watering holes echo with "ho, ho ho" sounds reminiscent of Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars. Lying in bed, the sound of crashing trees being knocked over are a reminder of powerful elephants that roam the savannah.
Oh, and if I have one "pro tip" for you when traveling to Botswanna its this: Don't bring night vision goggles. There are few things more terrifying than going to the edge of a watering hole at night, turning NVGs on and seeing literally hundreds of eyes staring back at you. Knowing full well that all of them are making the calculus of whether you're the source of their next meal.
Left: A lone bull elephant flares out his ears as a means to defend a watering hole in Chobe National Park.
Right: A male lion lazily yawns in the early morning sun.
Our group flew into Johannesburg, South Africa. This sprawling metropolis is ideally situated as a jumping off point to explore the vast savannahs of southern Africa. From nearby national parks with paved roads and sedans full of cranky children to fly-in luxury safari lodges for only the most well-heeled travelers, this region has a spectrum of ways to explore the home to elephants, and lions and so much more.
For our expedition, we rented safari ready Land Rover Defender 110s from Britz 4x4 rentals. Stepping out of the airport, we were greeted with a fleet of trucks, all equipped with dual roof top tents, awnings, propane stoves and almost everything else you would need to immediately head off into the bushveld.
Watching animals from atop Land Rover Defenders on a morning game drive.
A hippo eyes us from its safe haven in a watering hole. These seemingly innocuous animals are in fact the most deadly animals in Africa killing far more people than the other "big five" combined.
The expedition drives along the edge of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan, the remnants of a vast inland lake that was once the size of Switzerland.