An unforgettable safari

Earlier this month In The Saddle guest David Faen headed out on a long-awaited visit to Kujwana in Botswana. David has written this super ‘blog’ of his safari which he describes as “unforgettable”.

“I booked this holiday 22 weeks before my departure date – I know that because I put a weekly count-down note in my electronic diary, and for quite a while it seemed like it was a long way off, then all of a sudden, it was about to happen. I was very excited!

Whist this was my 5th riding holiday with In The Saddle, I was hoping that it would be something really special, not only because I had never been to Africa, but the thought of seeing, and riding alongside big game was just so incomprehensible.

I arrived at Johannesburg from Sydney and had a night in an airport hotel, and the next morning took the short flight to Maun, Botswana where I was met by a representative of Okavango Horse Safaris. She assisted me with the formalities, and before too long I was up in the helicopter for the 25 minute flight to Kujwana camp. I hadn’t been in a chopper before, so that in itself was exciting, but then seeing the landscape change from burnt scrub, near Maun, to lush green as we flew over the delta was quite an experience.

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Pic: Flying into camp by helicopter – the only way to travel!

On landing at the camp I was greeted by camp manager Duncan & Katie, and some of the staff. I was given an iced tea, and we walked to main dining tent, where I met some of the other guests, who had arrived earlier.

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Pic: Camp manager Duncan & Katie

I then received a safety briefing, was shown to my tent, and was told to return to the dining tent at 4.00, dressed to ride, as we would have afternoon tea and then go on a short 1 hour ride to acclimatise. I think that this was also for Duncan and Katie to assess our riding, to ensure that they would match us with suitable horses for the rest of the stay.

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Pic: Heading out on a ride with Rogers as lead guide

Two items that I vividly remember from the safety briefing were:

  1. Don’t leave any items like shoes, gloves, towels etc . out on my deck, as they would be stolen by the monkeys, and
  2. When walking from my tent to the dining tent, if I came across an elephant on the path, turn around and go back. Someone will soon work out there is a problem, and will come and get me.
Pic: David's tent at Kujwana camp

Pic: David’s tent at Kujwana camp

It made me realise very quickly that the animals I had only previously seen in books and on film, were now very real , and very close.

Pic: Elephant in camp

Pic: Elephant in camp

We were told that on the short, 1 hour ride, we probably wouldn’t see much game. WELL, we only saw elephant, giraffe, baboon, impala, red lechwe, kudu, waterhog and an eagle – not a bad start!

Pic: Great game sightings from day 1

Pic: Great game sightings from day 1

After dismounting and getting our drinks, Duncan indicated for us to stop speaking, as a young elephant had come right up to the camp, and was feeding only 3 or 4 metres away from us.

During that first night I heard hippos in the water directly in front of my tent. I couldn’t see them, as it was dark, but I could certainly hear them.

Pic: Hippo in the water

With a few exceptions, we then fell into a comfortable daily routine. At 6.00am the staff would come to our tents with a thermos of boiling water and some milk, so that we could enjoy a tea or coffee.

We would then assemble in our riding clothes for breakfast at 6.30, after which we would be introduced to our horse for the day, and then head out around 7.00. We would normally return around 11.30/12.00 and lunch would be at 12.30. The next activity would then be afternoon tea at 4.00, after which we then did a variety of things – sometimes going for a short ride, sometimes going in the safari vehicle searching for game, sometimes going in the boat and then doing a walk.

Pic: Gliding along in a mokoro

Pic: Gliding along in a mokoro

If we wanted to do something that wasn’t on the itinerary, it was never a problem – like the time 3 of us wanted to try out the mokoros (traditional dug-out canoes). That afternoon we had our chance, and whilst we found going in a straight line relatively easy, turning them around was a different matter!

Safety was always paramount. On every ride, car trip, boat trip or walk, we were always accompanied by two guides, and we were given briefings specifically relating to the area that we were in.

Pic: Your guide / back-up will carry a rifle and bear-banger

Pic: Your guide / back-up will carry a rifle and bear-banger

The knowledge of the Botswana guides was totally amazing.  On horseback my guide was always Rogers (obviously his English name, but as everyone referred to him as that, I don’t know his African name). In the safari vehicle or boat, it was Percy.  They knew everything there was to know about footprints, dung, breeding habits, age of animals etc, and could spot game kilometres away, when all we could see was trees and termite mounds, although we did become more skillful as the week progressed. They were both passionate about the birds in the delta, and when asked, said that they could identify all of the 500 species in the area.

Pic: Guides extraordinaire Rogers & Person (aka Percy)

Pic: Rogers & Person (aka Percy)

On day 4, we were told to pack a backpack, as we would be changing camp for 2 nights. Apart from a siesta on camp beds after a picnic lunch it was a full days ride, culminating in a short bareback section to arrive at the campsite. Some of my group had not ridden bareback before, but we were all in our swimmers, it was only at the walk, and everyone enjoyed it immensely.

The second camp was called Moklowane, and it felt more remote than Kujwana, however, our facilities were just the same as the main camp.

Pic: The mess tent at Moklowane

Pic: The mess tent at Moklowane

Over the whole week, the riding didn’t change a lot. It was not like rides in Europe, where you have a destination. We would head out, in a different direction each morning, looking for game. Whenever we spotted some, Rogers would always steer us around, so that we approached from downwind, and then we would get as close as we could, with safety always in mind. We would be walking, trotting or cantering, with the canter through the shallow water always being so much fun. As there were no major landmarks on the horizon, I asked Rogers if he ever got lost, and he replied in the negative, saying that he had an inbuilt GPS in his head!

Pic: Splashing through the delta was great fun

Pic: Splashing through the delta was great fun

I found all the food very good, well balanced and healthy, particularly the ‘baboon curry’, which turned out to be lamb, but which gave the staff the opportunity to play a trick on us.

Pic: A magnificent breakfast spread at Moklowane

Pic: A magnificent breakfast spread at Moklowane

My last night there also happened to be Duncan’s birthday, so after dinner 5 of the Botswana female staff came out to the dinning tent and sang a couple of songs for him. The simplicity of the song, and their natural harmony just gave me goose bumps.

Pic: Zebra blending in with the bush

Pic: Zebra blending in with the bush

I loved everything about this holiday – Africa to start with, then the accommodation, the staff, the horses and horsemanship, the food, the fact that there are not too many guests (in my case – 5), the knowledge of the guides and the planning that has gone into making every guest’s stay so memorable. I found it to be a once in a lifetime experience, and I urge anyone thinking about it to do it – there is no point ending this life with an unfulfilled  bucket list.”

A huge thank you David for writing this wonderful blog which has brought back fabulous memories of our visits to Kujwana.

Please contact abigail@inthesaddle.com if you’d like to add a safari at Kujwana to your bucket list.

Categories: Equestrian Travel, Ride reviews, riding botswana, Riding Holidays, riding kujwana, Riding Okavango Delta, Riding safaris | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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