Botswana: Chobe on Water

After an early morning game drive through Chobe National Park, with a heart-stopping lion encounter, spirits were high at our campsite. We enjoyed what was left of our breakfast after a raid by a group of mongooses and took the afternoon to relax. Or relax as much as you can when there is a spitting cobra in your bathroom.

I had been at the bar having a couple of morning drinks (I thought it was mid afternoon, the early start had thrown off my sense of time) and going through some photos from the morning when I decided to head back to our camp. As I headed down the path away from the bar, I noticed a small group of people, all wielding sticks, standing outside the ladies toilet. One girl from my trip was already standing back from the crowd, unable to get past. Wen I asked her what was going on I was answered by a serious of bangs and shouts as the group danced around the toilet, hitting their sticks on the concrete floor. It was a snake. Not just any snake though. It was a dreaded spitting cobra.

The Mozambique spitting cobra is considered one of the most dangerous in Africa. It can spray its venom up to three metres away, so it’s best to keep a clear distance. A bit of that spay in your eye and you could go blind. Needless to say, I stayed a good distance back, but still close enough to watch the action.

After a few more minutes of hollering and dancing around the bar tender managed to strike the cobra with a stick, killing it. The snake was removed from the tiny bathroom and we were advised to stay back from the blood spot until it had been cleaned up. Apparently their blood is venomous too, even after death. For the rest of the trip I was extremely cautious when going into any bathroom, a bite from one of those snakes and you could be in some serious trouble.

When evening arrived we grabbed our camera bags and headed back to the parking lot where we had been picked up for our game drive not twelve hours earlier. We piled into a jeep and were driven down to the boat dock where we boarded, ready for our first game cruise. The Captain introduced himself and began by saying that our sailing wouldn’t be the two hours that we had signed up for, but three hours, so we could see the sunset from the water. This got everyone pumped.

We had heard a lot of great things about the game cruise from others staying at the campground who had done it before. We were told the elephants and giraffes and buffalo all come down to the water to drink and that it’s a spectacular sight. We had high hopes after the incredible morning drive we had been on.

The cruise started out slow. There was the odd hippo resting at the surface of the water popping his head out from time to time. We saw a crocodile slither from the bank into the water. Buffalo were scattered among the grassy islands that the speckled the river. Things were starting to get exciting when two hippos began to fight. Then the rain started.

At first it was just a sprinkle, I photographed through it, hoping it would just last a moment. As the rain came down harder by the second I stashed my DSLR camera back in it’s bag and threw the rain cover on. Luckily, I still had my GoPro with a waterproof case.

Within minutes the rain had become a torrential downpour. Everyone huddled in the middle of the boat like a group of penguins during a storm, trying to keep warm. The folding chairs that we had abandoned were being blown around the boat by the howling wind. We had to break up our huddle briefly to fold all the chairs up and pile them in a corner so we wouldn’t lose any to the hippo infested river.

The captain pulled rocking watercraft alongside one of the little islands in an attempt to stabilize it. Not far from where we were stopped was another boat that had capsized weeks earlier. This was not the least bit reassuring.

Four girls managed to cram inside the tiny toilet cubicle, staying much drier than the rest of us. Camera bags were stashed in the first aid cupboard. Two Korean ladies wore a single poncho. One Australian bloke did as Australian blokes do and sat with his back up against the rails of the boat, sipping a beer as if nothing was happening. The majority of people shivered and squealed as the rain whipped in sideways, lashing us so hard every exposed part of skin felt like it was being stabbed by a million not so little needles.

When the rain passed, the whiskey was passed around. One of the boat crew jumped from the boat to the island to rescue shoes that had been blown onto shore. We all cheered him on as we kept watch for angry hippos, luckily, none came.

The captain started the boat up again and went to take us back out on our cruise. The boat groaned and the engine spluttered. We tried again with another splutter. On the third try the boat came to life but we still could not move. We were stuck.

As the captain tried to steer us off the muddy outcrop we were trapped on, we came up with a plan.

“Left side!” An English passenger shouted. We all rushed to the left edge of the boat.

“Right side!” We all ran across to the right.

We continued racing back and fourth, rocking the boat. Slowly, we started to come loose and before long we were back to sailing the Chobe River. Everyone cheered.

Dripping wet and freezing cold we ended up not cruising until sunset. We didn’t see any elephants coming down to drink either. With all the rain most of the wildlife stayed in the forest where they could find water in puddles and sloughs.

Although we didn’t have game sightings near as exciting as our morning drive, the boat ride itself was exciting enough. I had had all the adrenaline I could handle for one day and sure enough, I slept soundly that night.

Chobe would not be forgotten.


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