Safari Self-Drive #6: The Road to North Gate

Having been turned around by a puddle-lake on the road to North Gate at Moremi Game Reserve, and subsequently learning that the “water” sign pointing to a sand track really means “This is the detour around the water” not “This is the way to water,” we had another go at getting to the north part of Moremi, which borders the south part of Chobe National Park.

In trying to get farther afield, we again traveled slightly faster than our usual creeping search-for-interesting-things speed. As we neared the puddle-lake, Mike noticed a truck speeding up behind us. We slowed down to let it around, happy to make it our unwitting guide. It had been dry, so we didn’t expect puddles, but who knew: Beyond that point there may be dragons.

The detour track was fine for driving, but it was longer than we anticipated, so it was nice to have the truck going the same way. We never worried that we had gone astray. Despite the distance we traveled, we returned to the main sand road just on the other side of the puddle-lake.

This, now, was new territory, so it was time to slow down and pay attention.

The first surprise was a darker-than-usual giraffe.

Giraffe with brown spots.

Look how dark it is!

That photo is through the spotted windshield. The giraffe didn’t stick around.

As we photographed the giraffe, we noted movement farther ahead alongside the road. Hmmm…what was that?

Baboon sitting in green grass and brush, looking pretty.

Chacma baboon. A female, I think.

A baboon! Our first First (first-time sighting) of the day—or do we count the dark giraffe? Yes, I think we do. Our second animal, and our second First. The quantity and variety of species in Africa blows Alaska out of the water. There seems to be no end of Firsts.

Baby baboon silhouetted in a tree.

Baby baboons climb a tree, and no one’s worried about them. Kudos to you if you can find the second baboon on the tree.

Oh, wow, look at the babies climbing the tree!

As we watched the one, two, and—oh, there’s another one—three . . . wait, on the tree, four, five, six, seven, eight . . . and over there, two grooming . . .

Baboons. Lots of baboons. Playing, grooming, eating, sitting, walking, climbing.

Baboons. Lots of baboons. Playing, grooming, eating, sitting, walking, climbing.

Scads of chacma baboons. A whole troop, or congress, or tribe, depending on who you want to believe. I think the whole group-naming thing has gone off the deep end, anyway. Bunches of baboons works for me.

Male baboon standing in greenery.

Male chacma baboon.

We sat and watched and photographed for a long time. They were just doing their things: some grooming—picking bugs off of companions, some playing, some eating, some staring off into space or watching the wind blow, some attempting to mate, some climbing and running and jumping.

Baby baboon rides on adult's back.

Mama, I’m too tired to walk.

Some lazy babies begging rides.

A whole passel of baboons strolling down the road.

Movin’ out.

And the whole bunch movin’ out. They kept coming and coming and coming.

Thank goodness they moved on or we might have had to stay there all day.

Somehow, we managed to get a decent picture of this gal, even though she was on her way somewhere.

It's called "blue wildebeest," but it's not terribly blue.

Blue Wildebeest

A wildebeest should face the camera for photos as this one is doing. The head profile is odd. It’s convex like a bull terrier instead of the more common concave shape. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Next up in the animal parade . . .

Male, young, and female ostriches.

Ostrich rooster, chick, and hen.

An ostrich family. There was a second chick, but it was so far to the left that to include it in the picture meant these guys would be much smaller than they are with the brave little adventurer cropped out.

Our guide book says the ostrich call is a roar. I hope we get to hear that someday!

Then there we were, crossing the Bridge on the River Khwai.

The truck starting to head across the bridge.

Crossing the Bridge on the River Khwai

Hmmm. That’s not how I remember it from the movie.

Small bridge going over small river.

Bridge on the River Khwai

Shortly after the bridge, we came to a cut line that was to be our road back to and along the Khwai River. We learned about this cut line from the home owner, and since the Tracks4Africa GPS card arrived, we were confident we were in the right place.

Single-lane sand track.

Our road to the Khwai River.

Hooray for GPSes! I think that’s going to be very handy.

It’s been dry, so there were no puddles on the sand road, and the sand wasn’t deep. It was a lovely, stress-free road. It took us right to the Khwai River and this:

Several hippos submerged in a not-very-big river.

Hippo ‘hood.

HIPPOS! Squeeeeeeee! “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas…” and I got them!

There were maybe twenty of them, all in this pool that appeared to be the river equivalent of a plastic kiddie pool. They sounded like whales and porpoises as they expelled the water from their noses when they surfaced.

Hippo with head cocked looking out from the water.

Hey, baby, what’s a human like you doing in a place like this?

Now, hippos have a bad reputation. They’re said to be grumpy and belligerent. One friend here has a horror story about being in a boat that was capsized, righted, and capsized again by an angry hippo. He actually saw the hippo’s teeth underwater as it threw a mighty chomp his way.

Hippo with mouth open.

Say, “Ahhh.” I know there are more than two teeth in there.

They’re also fast despite their portly shape and impressive size, fast in the water and fast on land.

I confess I felt a little nervous being so close to them—the road took us right by them—but while caution is always wise, in hindsight, I think our vehicle would keep us safe even if one were bonkers enough to attack it. Next time, I’ll try to relax. Of course there will be a next time, right?

Hippo eating grass along the Khwai River

Swamp sausage!

Mostly they were in the water, but a couple were grazing on land. From here on out, hippos on land will be referred to as “swamp sausages.”

At the same time we watched the hippos, we spotted a couple of other animals on the other side of the river.

Female waterbuck along the Khwai River.

Female waterbuck along the Khwai River.

One was a female waterbuck. Yes, a waterbuck. Why it’s not a waterbok is beyond me. Everything’s a bok here: Steenbok, springbok, gemsbok. Waterbok seems like a no-brainer. Did someone just want to buck tradition?

Male waterbuck along Khwai River.

Male waterbuck along Khwai River.

A bit later, we found a couple of males and some more females. I began to notice something besides their fuzzy necks: Their noses are all a distinctive shape.

The waterbuck nose is distinctively heart-shaped.

Waterbuck nose: I heart it!

It’s really not an unusual shape for such noses, but the coloring really makes the heart shape stand out, don’t you think? Cool!

The other animal across the river was this:

Black and white stork with red bill that has a yellow "saddle" at the base.

Saddlebilled Stork

Storks are automatically cool because of their size. This one tops the list with its red and yellow color combo. But wait . . . what’s that? Is the red and yellow just duct tape? Seriously, the yellow flaps above and below the base of the bill look like Post-It notes stuck onto it. Points off for lame workmanship. But they all have it. Did they all call each other this morning? Points added for efforts to coordinate.

Crazy storks.

We wanted to keep going and going on this fantabulous road along the river, but we were on a schedule. We stopped for lunch at a second pool with about six hippos, a kingfisher, and a couple more storks, and then we turned around.

On the way out, we came upon this guy:

Bull elephant spraying himself with water.

Up his nose is a rubber hose. Really.

He bathed in water, and then he bathed in mud.

I was kinda nervous—no, there was no “kinda” about it—because we were only about twenty feet away from him, less than that at the end when he wandered off. The road took us right up beside him. Thankfully, there were some shrubs and a tree between us, and he wasn’t too bothered by our nearness. In fact, he didn’t seem bothered at all. He didn’t glance back as he wandered away or pay us any nevermind. I might have heard him humming the tune from The Jungle Book.

We visited the first hippo pool briefly on our way back. Most of the hippos seemed to be napping: one sausage was snoozing on the bank with just his or her belly and back feet in the water; two others were grazing on shore.

We had one final lovely sighting on the way home.

Warthog with grass in its mouth.

Pretty warthog.

A handsome specimen, no? The Fabio of warthogs.

Besides the truck that led us around the puddle-lake detour, we didn’t see another car all day, except as we neared town. Not one other car. It’s as though we have Africa all to ourselves. How lucky can we get? We are grateful.

Categories: Africa, Africa, Travel

7 replies »

  1. The hippopotamus is strong
    And huge of head and broad of bustle;
    The limbs on which he rolls along
    Are big with hippopotamuscle.

    He does not greatly care for sweets
    Like ice cream, apple pie or custard,
    But takes to flavor what he eats
    A little hippopotamustard.

    The hippopotamus is true
    To all his principles, and just;
    He always tries his best to do
    The things one hippopotamust.

    He never rides in trucks or trams,
    In taxicabs or omnibuses,
    And so keeps out of traffic jams
    And other hippopotamusses.

    Habits of the Hippopotamus
    by Arthur Guiterman

  2. What an adventure! I am soooo enjoying your trips. Both your pictures and your narrative are extremely good; keep up the wonderful work.

  3. Looking at all your pictures of these marvelous animals makes me think that they’re rather fantastical and not quite real. Do you get that feeling as you’re 20 feet…or closer…from them? Or does getting the occasional whiffs of one animal or another render them VERY real, indeed? I wish we could hear them as well. Travel and nature shows are all very nice, but sort of “knowing” someone’s who’s really there and sharing with us their adventures is such a treat!