So far, we've had an amazing time in Africa. We saw more Wild Dogs than we ever expected (based on how little we saw them in 2015 and their endangered status). We saw Machaba female (the pregnant leopard), and plenty of elephant, giraffe, and warthog. It was great to be reunited with Chris and the rest of the Machaba Safari staff. And, as travel will do to people, our travel-squad of 21 is becoming more like family. Those of us that knew each other at the start of the trip are tightening our bond, and those that just met have become quick friends. Traveling with people expedites the "get to know you" process. It's exciting...and we are not done yet!
If you remember where we left off from my last entry, we loaded up into two vehicles to head from Maun to our next camp: Meno a Kwena. I was in the van with 12 of our travel-squad. It was a very tight fit and since I was one of the last to get in, I got the pleasure of climbing past everyone to the very back. On the way we stopped at a beer and liquor store to pick up drinks for our time in Meno (yeah, we did!). It was strange to see such a commercial area after being out in the middle of nowhere at Machaba for the past several days.
The drive was hot, and due to celebrating our last night at Machaba the night before, several of us were pretty fragile. I welcomed the required foot-cleansing station, where we all had to get out of the van and step on a "cleansing pad" that was suppose to prevent "Hoof and Mouth" disease from crossing over into the farmlands. The cleansing pad really just looked like a welcome mat that was saturated with water.
We arrived at Meno and were greeted by TT and Matilda, who manage the camp. Mom and I were assigned tent 1, at the far right end of camp. There are 10 tents in total at Meno. The camp sits on a river at the top of a steep cliff. The sun was already starting to set and the view with the sparkling of the water was so beautiful. There is a large gathering area at Meno. They have several sitting areas centered by a large campfire, surrounded by chairs and benches. The main area sits under a roof supported by tree logs turned into support beams. In this area is the dining area for breakfast and lunch service, as well as a living area for lounging and where tea is served daily. It is cozy and dressed in dark wood and leather. The ceiling is covered by a parachute, and the camp decor has a 1920s safari camp feel. It was warm and comfortable, and we felt right at home. The bar area is out toward the river to the left. It is the honor system - you take what you want but keep track by ticking off on a paper. Even further toward the river about 10 steps is the pool and lounge area. Along the overlook there are three sitting areas that include chairs and lounges used to watch for animals along the river below, and all the way to the right there are steep stairs that take you down to the river and the boat used for the river cruise.
Check out the videos and pictures below of Meno a Kwena.
Since the sun would begin setting soon, we no time to rest before the bushmen began arriving at camp. We had two options our first night in camp: we could go on a river cruise, or we could go on the bushmen walk. Since we were the second group to arrive at camp, the river cruise was already full. However, I was excited to do the bushmen walk and it was one of the things I had most looked forward to when reviewing the activities available at Meno a Kwena.
The bushmen did introductions, however the way they speak is so different from our language that I had a hard time moving my mouth the in a way that remotely sounded close to what they were asking me to repeat. A combination of Setswana, ohs, and clicks is the best way that I can describe it. It's really neat to hear.
We didn't walk long before the bushmen stopped and performed a ritual that provided guidance from the Gods on the outcome of their walkabout - whether they would be safe and successful. A member of their tribe that spoke English translated for us and explained the ritual. They assured us we would have a safe journey and it was time to walk on.
We stopped a few times along the way to learn about the plants and how they survive out in the Bush. We passed under a huge spider web that they told us was very poisonous (I think they may have been kidding us)...well, most of us passed under it. Kevin actually took the thing out...running from it, thinking it had attached to his backpack, about knocking me off the side of the mountain. The bushmen got a big kick out of it and were laughing AT us. I only wish I had my GoPro running when it happened. Nope, Kevin will never live that one down. Maureen has a thing for spiders and did not want to get anywhere near the thing. She did amazing and was able to make it through, after help from one of the bushmen to pull the web (what was left of it) out of the way, and continue on with the walk.
We stopped one last time and the men of the tribe started a fire, while the women sat on the outskirts. Once they got the fire going, the men danced and sang around the fire while the women clapped and sang. It was AMAZING! I really enjoyed it, and they were very good!
We were all exhausted by the end of our walk, and the sun was now almost set. We didn't have much time between finishing the bushmen walk and dinner under the stars for our first night at Meno a Kwena.
On Sunday we did our first game drive at Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. On our way we passed over a river by using a "ferry". The ferry was basically a small floating barge and it was operated by the farmer that lived on the land. By "operated" I mean that it had a small lawnmower sized motor on either end, that I am surprised had enough power to get us from one side of the river to the other. The life-rings that were on the sides in case of an emergency were completely falling apart (they definitely wouldn't pass inspection at the pool, right Kathy?!). Who knows when (or even if) they had an engineer check this "ferry". We felt perfectly safe (I say in sarcasm). But, we made it across and we were on to the park!
We were on a mission to find the Tao (lion) since we had not yet seen one during our safari drives. Makgadikgadi Pans National Park has seen a lot of rain this season. Due to that, the grasses were very high making it very difficult for us to see anything that might be lurking around in the bush. We soon stopped for tea and there was a zebra and wildebeest hanging out under a large tree. In addition to all kinds of animal that we don't see in America, there are interesting bugs as well. We found a huge grasshopper that looked almost prehistoric. He had thorns on his back that looked like he was wearing a armored vest. We also saw a small beetle that had markings like he was wearing a tuxedo.
After tea, it was time to get serious about finding some lion. It didn't take long before we were on the trail of the local Pride. The Pride is a group of 10 and they were spotted just in the last few days in the area. The guides were on their trail, and we drove looking for them for what seemed like ages! Their trail was visible in the long grass, as well as in the sand (when we found patches amongst the grass). You could see where they had walked in single file and then split off into their own paths, based on where the grass had been pushed down by their giant paws and heavy weight. The day was very hot, and although we figure they were close by, we had no luck. They were too well camouflaged. We decided to give our eyes a break around 2 (and we were pretty hungry at that point) to go set up for lunch. We drove down by the river where there were probably 50 or so elephant playing in the water and mud. They were amazing and are one of my favorites to see. They never get boring. We went up to the top of the ridge for lunch where the guides put down blankets for us to sit on and a great lunch spread including tuna quiche, pasta salad, ham, and bean salad. It was nice to sit in the shade and enjoy the breeze with a cold beverage. After lunch we went back down to the elephants before heading back to camp.
Monday we got up and drove to a local village. Mpahpe (pronounced Mmmm-Papi), one of our guides at Meno a Kwena, is from the village and we stopped to meet his fiancé and see where he lives on our way to the village center. We parked at the library and walked through the village to school. The Principal of the school was going to be giving us our tour. As soon as we walked through the gates of the school, the children started peeking out of the windows and doors of their classrooms. It is not common for them to see foreigners. They were waving at our group and yelling something in Setswana, the local language. I learned from the Principal that the children were yelling "Makgowa", or "white people".
The first classroom we went in were the 5-6 year olds. They greeted us at the door with smiles and high-fives! Lots and lots of high-fives. It was very emotional...much like most of the trip. I was amazed by their vocabulary words on the classroom wall. They all must speak English when in school, as displayed by the rules hanging on several of the classroom walls. We visited 4 other classrooms of different ages. Many of the children were orphans, and we all found it interesting how open they were about calling the orphans out in the classrooms. Towards the end of the tour, the youngest class had moved outside and were sitting under the shade of a large tree in the main yard. Sherry and I went and sat with them while they had a lunch of black beans. They were all so sweet and well behaved. They all wanted to get as close to us as they could. Several of them picking up their plates and relocating to be nearer, as soon as we sat down. The teacher had them sing us a song. It was all very overwhelming and we were all so glad we were able to come visit the school and bring some supplies and treats for the children.
After finishing at the school by thanking the head master on our way out, we began our walk back to the library. On the way, we passed the post office and there was a small gathering. We stopped for some pictures and some of the local woman even started dancing with us. They are very happy people.
After a short tour of the library (which we learned had been donated by a man, who like us, had fallen in love with Botswana and this village), we went out to the stage where the local women had gathered. Mpahpe (remember how to say it? Mmm-Papi!) told us that the ladies were going to do a dance for us. It was much more than we anticipated. They had shaker-skirts that moved when they shook their booty at us and used garden tools as instruments to bang as they sung. Me, katie, and Mo got up and danced with them. Afterwards, Katie and I discussed we would have bought the shakers had we seen them for sale, and when we told Mpahpe he relayed the information to the woman (who he said had a meeting about how to begin doing that, immediately after we left). We tipped the woman for their generosity, and after counting it they said it was more than 2,000 local currency. They were so overjoyed and gave us a traditional holler - using their index and thumb they squeeze and slide their fingers down their cheeks to their mouth and holler with rounded lips. It was a cheer for how happy they are with our kindness to them...however we couldn't express to them how happy we were for the kindness they showed us by allowing us to visit their village and by showing us their customs. The whole village sent us off with high-fives and hugs. It was an amazing experience that none of us will forget. We look forward to keeping up with the village to see how their new small business works out, and perhaps we will visit again one day.
After the village we rode back to camp for lunch and a rest. It was our last day and we had the choice between going on Safari to hunt for the lions, doing the bushman walk, or the boat ride down the river. Mom decided she would stay and do the river cruise. Although I was exhausted, I decided to go out on the hunt for the lions. We had lunch and quickly after loaded up to head back to the national park. We instructed our drivers that we couldn't stop for anything but Lion or Hyena, since we had not seen thouse yet and they were now our priority. I had a very good feeling...I just knew we had to find the lions on this (our last) game drive. We drove very quickly through the dust behind the first truck, "the boring truck" (per Jake, lol). We crossed back over the river using the "ferry" that we had used the day prior (we're increasing our chances that this thing may just dump us off into the river!!). We made a quick stop at the office to sign in and use the loo, and we were off on our lion hunt.
We were going pretty fast when we first came into the park. Fast enough that it would have been very difficult to see much of anything. I thought to myself, KBL (our guide) must have heard where the lions are hiding. I was right! They had been heard earlier that day calling to each other in a particular area. We went there with speed, hoping to find them straight away. Soon, we caught up to the other vehicle, who had entered the park before us bc there is only one vehicle allowed at a time on the ferry boat (I can't imagine why). THEY HAD THEM! They had spotted two one-year old lion cubs! How exciting! As our truck was approaching the lions the other truck had spotted, we found TWO MORE, even younger cubs sleeping in the bushes. It is like nothing that I can even describe to see these animals in the wild. I actually get teary eyes just thinking about how amazing it is. Marta was so moved when she saw the cubs that she started sobbing. Not a abnormal thing to happen when you are wanting with all your being to find these wild animals, and then you finally find and see them in person. It is indescribable, emotional, moving...you have to experience it for yourself. After watching for a while we moved up and the two older lions actually came out from under their hiding place, likely thinking we were a larger predator.
They walked away from us and watched, knowing their younger siblings could be in trouble. We circled around the area, and went back to see the smaller cubs again, when they moved as well and came into the open to get closer to their brothers. The older brothers welcomed and comforted the babies and they all laid down in the grass and completely disappeared. They are so well camouflaged. It is truly amazing. We decided to let them be bc they were getting a bit nervous with us and they are still wild animals, after-all. We drove around looking for the older lions for a while (with no luck...although, they were surely watching us!) and then headed back to the river to check on the elephants. Coming down the hill, we spotted giraffe down river to the right. We took the high road as not to scare them away. When we cut back around, we had a great view of the giraffe drinking water. We drove along the river back to the other side and passed a grumpy elephant on the way. He was flapping his ears and shaking his head and stomping his feet. KBL told us to make sure we stayed still, as he was worried if he felt threatened enough he would charge us. Thankfully, that did not happen and we continued back to the hippo pool where the other truck in our group waited. We got out and had drinks and took photos at the hippo pool. It is such a beautiful setting with the water sparkling against the sun. We loaded up and it was time to start heading back to camp.
We got stuck behind some people from another camp on the dirt road going out of the park. They were stopping to photograph every bird and landscape they saw (we thought to ourselves, "they must be on their first day"). Emilie shouted for them to move along. Lol. I don't think they appreciated that, but the park was closing and that meant our "ferry" would also be closing. Not somewhere you want to get stuck! Plus, we were all giddy and on a safari-high from finally finding our Tao!
We headed back across the river and the sun began to set. As soon as it did, the bugs came out and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees. It was a chilly ride back, and we had to keep our sunglasses on and our scarves over our mouths as bug screens. We made it back to camp around 7, and it was time for our final dinner together at Meno a Kwena- which, by the way, means teeth of the crocodile.
But, the drama of the day can't stop there!! Before dinner we were having snacks and a drink and chatting it up in the family area. We shared pictures of our adventures of the day. Mom and the group that stayed behind for the boat cruise told us about their birds and elephants, and we told them and showed pictures and video of the lion cubs. All of the sudden, I felt a bit like I was having vertigo or motion distortion. I looked up at the chandelier and they were swaying. We were having an earthquake!! It was getting stronger and I hollered to everyone that we were having an earthquake. It was almost like a dream, and it took me yelling at least three times before anyone actually paid attention to what I was saying. It must have been the excitement of the day! The staff instructed us to come out to the open area near the fire pit bc there was no structure above that could fall. How crazy to have had the day that we had already and then an earthquake to happen?! Wild! We were all fine and no damage was done at the camp. We later found out that the earthquake was centered near where we were and that it was a 6.5, the largest ever in Botswana.
Dinner was again out under the stars. We had white fish and vegetables. All the food has been so amazing. After the main course we asked everyone to go around the table and say who they were, who they knew, and what their favorite experience of the trip so far has been. It was actually super nice to already have known people as they were having their turn bc we had an emotional connection to them. Sitting under the canopy of stars, with these amazing people, in this amazing setting was so emotional for several people (yeah, me, so what!).
After our turns around the table the staff came out with a birthday cake for Jake who would turn 6 the next day (Happy birthday, Jake!). We all sung to him and then the staff put on a little song and dance show. It was unexpected and amazing. One of the songs, "Beautiful Africa" was one we had heard before and tried to sing along.
It was an early night for me and Mom, and the rest of the group actually went to bed pretty early that night as well. Everyone was so exhausted from the non stop action of our trip so far.
In the morning we packed our things and had breakfast. We said goodbye to our guides and told them to keep us posted on how the village does through their FB page. We piled back into our two vehicles and headed back to Maun for our flights to Kasane. We got a few things at the store in Maun as memorabilia from our time in Botswana. I wrote my notes for this entry while sitting on our charter plane. We were soon in Kasane and started our transfer to Victoria Falls. I was sad to leave the bush, however was looking forward to having a bit more civilization and to get some Internet to let people know we were OK after the earthquake last night.
We lost some of our group for the next portion of our trip, where we headed to Victoria Falls. The French family headed down to Cape Town, and Paula and Theresa headed home. Our travel-squad of 21 will now be 15. We'll miss them!
On to Vic Falls!
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