As a teenager, I would watch a show called Big Cat Diary. Safari master Jonathan Scott would scoot around in his 4×4 safari vehicle and document the lives of lions, leopards, and cheetahs in the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya.
I told myself before I died, I needed to get to Africa on safari. I had no idea I would check it off my bucket list at just 26 years old.
My safari experience started in northwestern Botswana. The Okavango Delta is one of the natural-occurring wonders in the whole world. Every year, rains from Angola flood previously-dry channels and the flow makes its way south. Due to tectonic plate shifts over time, the rainwater pools in present-day Okavango Delta. I went in March, so the Delta was not flooded. This gave me a unique chance to go on many walking, driving, and helicopter safaris.
The first camp I went to was Xigera (Key-Juhr-Uh) in the Moremi Game Reserve. The first thing I noticed upon arrival was the friendliness of the staff. From the manager, Quest, to my safari master, Wise, a sense of community and family could be felt every day. I immediately felt a part of this family and spent time with both Quest and Wise to learn more about their way of life and their past. It was rewarding, indeed.
From Maun – the main airport nearest the Okavango – we took a chartered flight to Xigera and upon landing found a nice little surprise:
A sleepy lioness was waiting for us once as we touched down, and this photo was the first one I snapped on safari. After I got situated in the tent-style accommodations I’d be staying in for the next two nights, we loaded up the Toyota 4×4 and went on our first game drive in the Delta. Today’s star of the show: leopard cub.
This was the second cat I saw and my second favorite of the trip. My favorite was this lovely lady’s brother, who can be seen as the premier photo on this post. Wise told us that the cubs’ mother was spotted nearby two nights back with both cubs. We arrived at the spot to find only the female cub. Wise guessed the mother was out hunting and that the brother was close by. He was right.
An elephant trumpeted a warning call behind us as I was taking the above picture, and I yelled out “Holy shit” pretty loud. I had never seen an elephant in the wild before and it had crept up behind us. The bull wasn’t too pumped that we were there so we gave him space and went to look for other animals.
The Moremi Game Reserve is known for its impalas, kudus, and other species of antelope. Wildebeest readily grazed the planes with zebra, and hundreds of species of birds could be heard every moment. I fell asleep to the sounds of lions and the thoughts of the next day’s impending adventure.
Helicopters, mokoros, and rovers, oh my!
Eagle Island is an upscale lodge in the heart of the Okavango. At one point, a fully grown elephant came within five feet of me while chomping down some brush. I had my own apartment, plunge pool, and bathtub.
But that’s not what made this place special.
Upon disembarking our charter flight from Xigera to Eagle Island, we settled into our accommodations for the night and hopped in the Land Rover in the morning. Our first sighting? A pack of wild dogs.
Our new safari guide, Mo, said he hadn’t seen the pack in over a month. The endangered species was quite an awesome sight to see.
Traveling to the other side of the world transcends you into different cultures, foods, and ideas while dealing with local people and their histories. You throw yourself into a different place and traveling like this forces you to be in the present.
“Worrying about the past is pointless, and worrying about tomorrow takes away from the beauty of today!”
There is just something about seeing the tallest mammal in the world walking past you 20 feet away to make you get goosebumps. I found the giraffe to be the most majestic of all the animals I saw. These friendly creatures could be seen dotted along the plains nibbling on greens at the tops of trees.
A magnificent part of my trip to Africa was the opportunity to go on a helicopter safari. Seeing the delta from up above gave me such a unique perspective of the landscape and geography.
After getting back down to Earth, we hopped back into the rover and backtracked to inspect a single hippo in a single small pond. Mo said it was likely that the hippo was forced out of the pod, and definitely wasn’t too pumped to see us.
We had a wonderful opportunity to visit a local village in the Okavango – one of two left in existence. The people make their houses out of clay and aluminum cans. As the cans were spread about the village grounds, I asked Mo why. He said the children play with the cans in the streets and that they are also used in the construction of walls. The huts were all one room, with no electricity or drinkable water.
All the money the village received was from tourists such as myself coming into the village and buying souvenirs. Of course, I got one.
To see how these people live further opened my eyes to well off I have it in America.
For those of you that aren’t aware, Victoria Falls straddles the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe just northeast of Botswana. The Falls are the largest in the world based on cubic flow. The amount of water that falls from the Zambezi River per second into the Batoka Gorge 364 feet down equals the amount of water New York City uses in one day. Re-read that if you need to.
The first morning I woke up in Zambia, we went to nearby Mosi-o-Tunya National Park in search of the elusive white rhino. What a trek.
After three hours of walking with our guide “Skinny” and Mike the government official with the gun, we still had not seen a rhino. We had seen plenty of bugs and scenery that made me feel like I was in the Vietnam War, but no rhinos. Finally, a guide on the other side of the park radioed Skinny and told us there had been a sighting. We blazed down the road and found this mom/daughter combo:
With this sighting, I was able to accomplish the rare feat of seeing the “Big 5” on my first safari. The Big 5 includes Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Cape Buffalo and Rhino.
When I was approached with the opportunity of bungee jumping Victoria Falls, it intrigued me. It also terrified me. Fear is one of the greatest deterrents to personal growth. If I am to complete my goal of traveling around the world, I need to get over the fear of the unknown. I decided that if it was my time to go, I’d rather hang out in the Zambezi River than in a bed when I’m 80 anyway. I took the leap.
And I’m so glad I did.
The feeling of freefall wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. It was the initial anticipation of putting my feet over the ledge 364 feet above crocodile-infested waters in the middle of Africa. After a nice 5-4-3-2-1- BUNGEE countdown, I flung myself off the bridge into the Batoka Gorge. What a rush.
I knew that I would regret not jumping the whole way 44 hours back to the USA, so I took a deep breath and just went for it. I recommend bungee jumping for anyone that feels hindered by mental restrictions. Calculated risk can be a great growth tool.
I was on a natural high for days afterward, and the view of the Batoka Gorge on the way back up was something I will not soon forget.
Traveling makes the soul full
At the end of the day, we are all humans. Politics, agendas, wars, and society like to strip us of that basic fact. When I travel, I love to meet and learn from other people. This trip was to the other side of the world, and I fully immersed myself into it.
You are forced to live in the present when you travel. If you don’t why bother? Turn off your email, Facebook messenger, and just let go a little bit. There’s more to this life than your cubicle. Go find it.
Next stop, Iceland.