Safari Self-Drive #5: Moremi Game Reserve

Again we took the plunge and committed to visiting the Moremi Game Reserve by booking ahead at the Wildlife Office here in town. According to at least one of our guide books, this may not be strictly necessary at Moremi. We’ll figure that out some other time, though. Or not.

Again we had several firsts, including our first disappointment.

Elephant skin smooshed and pulled

This is what you can do with a close-up of elephant skin and Photoshop. It’s useful for breaking up a giant wall of text.

We entered Moremi at the South Gate, driving the stretch of road that has been my favorite out-of-Maun road to date. Once in the reserve, there were three routes to choose between: two going to Third Bridge (hmm, I wonder what that is) and one going to Khwai village and Chobe National Park. The two roads to Third Bridge are game drives, while the road to Khwai and Chobe is a getting-there road, through the reserve but not necessarily through areas visited by animals.

When we checked in at South Gate (registered ourselves and our vehicle in two giant ledgers), we inquired about the roads and were told they were “bad” but that we would probably be okay. I can only guess that the guy was basing his opinion on the appearance of our awesome Bush-mobile and Mike’s stylin’ safari attire.

We had had some rain, but rain here is very localized—your neighbor can get 10 inches while you get none, or something close to that—and what does getting rain mean, anyway? That knowledge comes from experience, and we have none.

Elephant skin image altered in Photoshop

What we do have is wonky altered pics of elephant skin.

Well, we were there to explore, so off we went. Our first choice was the left-most road to Third Bridge. We got about a kilometer down it when we came to a puddle that gave us pause. We couldn’t go over it; we couldn’t go around it; we’d have to go through it, but not without having some sense of how deep it was and what the bottom was like.

It really was just a puddle. Chances are good someone from here might laugh themselves silly at our caution, but we just don’t know. We needed to see another vehicle go through it, or we needed to walk through the puddle, or, at the very least, we needed to have a second vehicle there to pull the risk-taker out should s/he get stuck. There was no other vehicle, and Mike was not keen to walk the puddle. I actually offered and was willing, but even that was more of a hassle than Mike cared to deal with.

We turned around. This was supposed to be the worst of the roads, and we had two more to try.

So we tried the middle road, also leading to Third Bridge. We got about four kilometers down that one before reaching a puddle that stopped us. Same assessment. Same potential solutions. Same choice.

We headed back to see what the road to Khwai had to offer. On our retreat, we caught a glimpse of this:

A bad picture of a spotted hyena walking away.

A spotted hyena in Moremi Game Reserve.

A spotted hyena. Hooray! I can’t wait to get a longer and better look at one. Even on this one, you can kinda sorta see the toothy grin. They’re supposed to be a real nuisance in campgrounds, so I’m optimistic about seeing another sometime. This one still counts as a first, though, and after being twice defeated by mere puddles, it was a welcome treat.

It was now Khwai or Bust.

Bust it was. Yep, another puddle put the kibosh on our plans for day tripping in Moremi.

Now, there’s a mishmosh of thought and emotion tangled up in the African adventure driving. We want and need to push our comfort zones a little without being stupid, stressing me out excessively, or making ourselves miserable—that is, having to dig ourselves out or (horrors!) ask for help. So there’s a bit of stewing involved in these decisions as we figure things out, more for Mike than for me, I would guess.

We decided to take another tack and see if someone else might be headed out to Third Bridge on our first-choice road. Maybe we could surreptitiously follow that vehicle and see how it’s done. We parked off the road, had a snack, got our first pictures of southern yellow-billed hornbills, and we waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Two safari vehicles came at us from the Third Bridge direction. They appeared to be staff hauling gear. They turned up the road that also goes out to Third Bridge, which made me wonder if they got turned back on this road, too; although, I’m certain they didn’t get turned back by the puddle a kilometer away.

We waited for at least a half hour. Two Land Rovers pulling trailers headed out toward Khwai, but that was it for fellow travelers. No one was headed the way we wanted to go. On one hand, we love the uncrowded spaces; on the other hand, had we needed help, it might have been a long time coming, and following someone was not an option.

We threw in the towel. We wanted to know what the roads here were like, and now we knew. Sort of. So, hooray! The day was a success, and it wasn’t noon yet! We’d been having tremendous fun (and success) on the South Gate road outside the reserve, so off we went to familiar territory. The guy who checked us in checked us out. He couldn’t understand why we were leaving so early. He actually seemed disappointed.

So that was our big disappointment. But I have a secret: I’ve been holding out on you. The day was a success before we even got to the gate at the reserve. I’m altering the order of events because who wants to end a post here, right?

As with our trip to Nxai Pan, our mission was to get into the reserve, so we weren’t doing our usual creep-and-search. And as with our trip to Nxai Pan, we couldn’t help but see a few things along the way.

Black-backed jackal in brush

Black-backed jackal in brush

Black-backed jackal

Black-backed jackal

Again, same as our Nxai Pan day, the first animals we saw were a couple of jackals.

A goose and a roller in a tree.

A perching spur-winged goose converses with a lilac-breasted roller.

And then there was a crazy goose perching in a tree, seeming to chat with a roller. Silly goose.

And then . . . then . . . something caught my eye. It drew my gaze over my shoulder. In an instant I knew what it was. I did that whole-body startle-freeze thing, grabbing my door and Mike, as though bracing for impact, and I whisper-shouted, “Mike! Stop!”

We’d rounded a curve and passed some trees and shrubs so the sight was slightly behind us on my side. It might easily have been missed. Mike eased the truck back, quietly, slowly, don’t-mind-us-ly. About ten feet from my open window was this:

Male lion lying on its side with a hind leg in the air.

Lion, lyin’ around.

About thirty feet away were two more.

The close guy lazily got up and moved back with his pals, but otherwise he didn’t seem concerned.

Two male lions resting together in the shade.

Lion companions.

The morning was overcast and breezy, perfect for lounging in the grass. The lions were doing what lions do for 18–20 hours a day: snoozing. They were rather boring really, except that they were wild, unfenced lions that we’d found all by ourselves.

A lion resting in the grass outside Moremi Game Reserve.

Portrait of a Lion

The treasure-hunt aspect of finding animals on our own is a big part of the fun for us. A discovery excites us more than being shown something. Reading about the animals in our guide books and looking them up online is more interesting and entertaining than being told natural history facts by a guide. Our moms and dads were right when they taught us that earning something is more satisfying than having it given to us. We think about this as we contemplate a trip to a Bush camp or an organized safari. Such a trip may not be the slam dunk for us that is for many people.

Three safari vehicles came and went while we watched the trio of lions. Each asked what we were watching rather than just looking and seeing for themselves. Another private vehicle pulled up. Those people didn’t ask us anything, but they were going the opposite direction, so had a better view on the approach.

Male Lion, yawning.


Eventually, the lions tired of the gawkers (or something) and, one by one, got up, yawned, and sauntered behind some bushes.

Not far from here we came upon a group of impalas.

Male impala.

Psst, impala! There’s a carnivore over there.

Surely they knew there were lions nearby, right?

The last big sighting of the day was a big bull elephant smack-dab by, on, and across the road. He wasn’t at all concerned about us, and I got to study his trunk, eye, foot pad, and tail through the binoculars.

Elephant Crossing a Sand Road

Why did the elephant cross the road?

A close-up of an elephant's tail.

What an interesting tail, no?

And that’s the tale of the day. While exploring Moremi didn’t pan out, I’d be lyin’ if I said the day was anything less than spectacular.

Categories: Africa, Africa, Travel

11 replies »

  1. I am so enjoying your Africa blog. Your pictures are fantastic! Thank you for sharing your adventures with us.

  2. OK, you’ve seen lions so now, come home and enjoy lousy weather – it’s winter you know. The weather on Pinochle Trail is even better than on Boyd Drive. Come home? Naw, not yet. I want you to find out what’s in those puddles.

  3. Just LOOK at how much fun you’re having! Good for you! Thanks again for sharing your adventures (and excellent writing and photography) with us!

  4. I’m not so sure about learning what’s in those puddles, Dad. What if there’s a snake in one? I am mostly of the opinion that there is so much to see here that missing out on what’s beyond a puddle is just an opportunity to see something else someplace else.

  5. You first, Beck! The lions appeared totally mellow, like they might not have minded a good scratch. It occurred to me that such mellowness is a luxury of being at the top of the food chain.

  6. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Dannette. Please know that most of the photos are Mike’s. He’s the real photographer. A few are mine, but Mike gets some credit for my good pics, too, because he’s taught me all I know about photography.

  7. I know, Tess. And I’m enormously grateful for all this fun! Part of the fun is sharing here and hearing that you’re enjoying it, too. So thank YOU! It takes time and effort to comment, and I appreciate it.

  8. Thanks for sharing your adventure! We enjoy seeing your pics. Fantastic! Greeting from cold Ohio! Safe Travels!