‘We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.’
Often the anticipation of something you are looking forward to can build expectations that are near impossible to fulfill. For me, travel has always been the exception.
After my first visit to Africa over 10 years ago, I had promised myself that one day I would return. When the opportunity arose to go on safari in Botswana with Belmond, I was elated. I also wondered whether the second time around would be as thrilling. Safaris conjure images of adventure that books and movies can’t fully explain because it is best ‘felt’ and explored through your own eyes. Once you experience Africa, it never leaves you. I found myself anticipating this trip even more having already experienced a safari in Kenya and was filled with excitement about what was ahead.
My flight into Maun, Botswana was followed by a brief layover before I boarded a light aircraft (with only nine passengers) to the landing strip for Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge. As we were landing, in perfect timing, our guide and vehicle were there to meet us. We were met by a smiling and charming man named Mighty who would be our guide for the next few days. On the short drive to the lodge, I was immediately drawn into the beauty of the moving and captivating landscape, which holds so many wonders. At that point, it really hit me that I was there, in Botswana, on safari. As we approached the lodge, we were greeted by a singing staff and the lodge managers, Lauren and Reinard. Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge was even more beautiful than I expected.
Welcome to Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge.
The exceptional Belmond Savute Staff. Mighty (my guide) to the left and myself, Reinard and Lauren (the lodge managers) to the right.
The tented oasis perfectly blends into the natural surroundings of the bush, with all the luxury and comfort of a 5-star accommodation. The spacious tents are recently renovated. The hand-carved wood bed posts frame the comforting bed, surrounded by fresh linen mosquito netting. A well-appointed bathroom with double sinks in cobalt blue and copper fixtures are a striking compliment to the light colored walls and floor. The showers, both the indoor and outdoor, are large and well lit. There were room to room telephones, USB ports for charging all of your devices, climate control settings and a large private deck ideal for relaxing and witnessing the wildlife outside your door.
My tented room at Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge.
Beautiful copper details in my bathroom.
My safari gear in Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge’s spacious closet.
Overwhelmed with excitement, I settled in for the first night. Safely snug in my tent, I glimpsed outside to the night sky speckled with thousands of stars, so calm and still. In the distance, I heard a sudden but slow roar fade and then fall silent.
6:00 a.m. wake up calls are typically not welcome on vacation, but I found myself up and ready to go well before my guide called out “Good Morning” from outside my tent. Mighty arrived bearing a convenient canvas bag carrying all the makings for hot tea along with a container of rusks, a traditional African biscuit. I quickly suited up in hues of tan and khaki and grabbed my camera, my stomach filled with butterflies like a child on Christmas morning.
From many travels around the world, I know the difference a guide can make to your experience. I felt very fortunate to have Mighty, who is a direct descendant of the Bushmen tribe and has 34 years’ experience with Belmond. As a safari guide, he is a wealth of knowledge, passionate about his work, personable and accommodating. He is everything you could want in a guide!
As we drove from Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge, I detected a pleasant but unfamiliar, subtle fragrance that grew stronger as the morning sun hit the dry earth – wild sage. The crisp blue sky stood out against the golden brown terrain of Savute, scattered with sparse trees that were the remnants of feasting elephants and the sporadic tree, which was not so appealing to their palate. Before too long, we encountered a variety of wildlife – impalas, elephants, giraffes, wild dog and a plethora of birdlife. Even through the camouflaged terrain and from a distance, our expert guide, Mighty, was able to spot the smallest of creatures hidden beneath the trees.
Returning to the lodge, I enjoyed a delicious lunch of freshly grilled tilapia, roasted vegetables and my choice of a variety of fresh salads with locally grown ingredients – all topped off with the most amazing lemon tart. Following lunch, I returned to my tent to relax on my private deck, and to my amazement a parade of elephants passed by me gliding to the watering hole. They were so quiet, had I not looked up from my book, I would have never known they were there. As they passed, cooling themselves with an occasional flap of their ears, their trunks gracefully swished in perfect rhythm as they stopped to graze. I noticed a young calf staying close to its mother, as if it was glued to her hind legs.
These gentle giants are so mesmerizing that guests at Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge gather at the hide (the only one located in Savute) to view the activity at the watering hole. The hide is an enclosed structure which gives you a front row seat to all the activity and allows you to observe the wildlife, mostly elephants at this location, in the evening. Each elephant seemed to have their ‘spot’ at the pool to drink and bathe while others took their turn ‘on guard’ for predators as they faced away from the watering hole and into the bush. The females kept a close watch on their young. It became comical as some of the elder males were territorial and didn’t want to leave the water or allow others to partake. Roars echoed and ears flapped but when the thirsty hyenas approached cautiously, the elephants were once again a team. After some observation it was easy to spot those in control.
This was an enlightening and fascinating day observing these peculiar creatures. I retired to my tent that night reflecting on the nature of these poised and grand creatures, amused at how they all seem to have their own personalities and role in life, which is not so different from humans.
The next morning as we loaded into our jeep and pulled away, Mighty asked us what type of wildlife we would like to see. I immediately blurted out “Lions!” And off we went!
Before I knew it, there he was tucked under the shade of a tree, oblivious to our close proximity with all eyes glued to him – the male lion. Handsomely framed in his gorgeous mane, he was sound asleep and content. I was captivated by his raw beauty, sunlight gently hitting his massive frame, his belly rising and falling. I found myself equally content and could have sat there all day waiting for him to wake. I had officially checked off ‘male lion’ from my safari wish list!
We continued on and drove around Chobe National Park, turning off-path into the bush. I quickly got the feeling we were on to something. We slowed down, and Mighty pointed to two lazily lying cheetahs. He shared with us that they are brothers. The brothers gazed at us and we at them, and after a few photos trying to get that ‘one perfect shot’ the two, as if they discussed it, slowly got up and turned their backs on us.
Mighty was soon on his radio, started up the jeep and headed away, telling us there was something else to see —a leopard! This was a spectacular game drive!
Each evening our game drive ended at a specially chosen spot, each one different and unique. That evening, for sunset, we stopped at a stately and beautiful baobab tree, also known as the Tree of Life.
By the time we were all out of our vehicle taking the first glimpse of the evening sky, Mighty had a linen covered table set with everyone’s favorite sundowner, and we all toasted to a spectacular day. Like a soft, warm blanket, the peaceful aura of dusk draped over me in a comforting wave, and the evening seemed to shift from adventure and excitement to tranquility. I fought back a few tears as I turned to see the fire of the sun setting, red-orange, giving a golden glow on the savannah. All the markings of an artists’ finest masterpiece surrounded me.
“Is this for real? Am I really here? “And I whispered to myself, “I love it here.”
Back at the lodge we were greeted by the gracious Belmond staff with champagne, refreshing towels and excited smiles as we were led to a candlelit boma for dinner. The staff sang traditional African celebration songs and danced for us, as fellow travelers compared tales of the day’s adventure over dinner. As I turned in that night, I was grateful knowing I would wake up and do this all over again! And the sounds of the night outside conjured my imagination.