There are many reasons why my husband, Steve Kleppe, and I, Shirley Kleppe continue to go on African safaris. The top reason is to experience the African bush and its wildlife. The second most important is the safari wildlife photography. After visiting many African countries and camps across the continent, in 2019 we decided to go to the two countries we liked the best, Botswana and South Africa.
Our first camp in Botswana was Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero safari lodge. This is a well-maintained camp on a hill overlooking the Chobe River, not far from Kasane. As per our choice, we travel privately, and never with a group. In our first introduction to African safari, we did group tours. We soon found we wanted to do our planning and decisions based on our own needs and desires. We did this for the purpose of not having to share our vehicle and overall experience with other tourists. We are very serious about what we want to see and photograph without the endless talking and moving around of other people in the truck. The real benefit of this arrangement is to be able to individually communicate with our professional guide. In a usual group situation at any camp, all the people in the truck are first timers. They are along for the ride and viewing. Some have simple cameras, but mostly cell phones. Some people just watch or sleep in the truck. Oh well, we will not be a part of that group. Moving on…
Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero safari lodge grounds are immaculate, as well as the main lodge area, where the restaurant and lobby are located. As soon as we had our camp introduction and paperwork, we went directly to our lodge and unpacked.
Our lodge this trip was the “Honeymoon Suite” which was very private and the farthest away. It had a nice plunge pool and a patio area complete with a huge group of baboons! These primates were totally habituated and unafraid of us. They ignored our harassment of getting them to depart by doing the backstroke across the pool. They made horrible noises, pooped on the deck and water, and just would not leave. They jumped on our roof and made life miserable. They eventually left. TIA, This Is Africa! Deal with it.
Our private pool suite was huge with a large living area and king bed. The bathroom was spacious with a dressing table and mirror, a large closet space and safe, an indoor shower and a huge footed bathtub. There were many electrical and cell phone outlets. It was extremely comfortable at Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero!
Our guide for the trip was Leonard. His wife and children lived in Kasane, so he went home every night. Leonard had been guiding on Chobe River for years, so he knew it like the backs of his hands. After getting settled into our lodge, we were back down to reception to get on the truck with Leonard to do an evening cruise on the Chobe River. What a surprise! We had our own huge, private double-decker pontoon boat! There was enough room to have a party! I loved it, because there was plenty of room to move around on all sides with no problems. We had a great time gliding along in the afternoon light. The animals were coming down to the river to drink and cool off. All was beautiful. We left as soon as the sun was going down to get back to camp.
The best part of the evening for me is to take a shower and dress for dinner. OK, this is what I do. 99% of safari travelers are in the same clothes from morning to bed. I am just different, but I enjoy what I do.
As with all camps, everything is inclusive; including beer, wine and spirits. Meals can vary from great to horrible. Camps hire local service personnel and chefs. Dry provisions, vegetables and meats are sourced locally. Depending on the camp location, supplies only arrive once or twice a week. Meals in Africa are very different from American or British food. Local game is used and has a different flavor, or bad flavor, from what we are accustomed to eat. Some people really like the food. I personally find what I can eat or not eat – is spotty at best. I ate a lot of bread and butter, some vegetable and salad, and very little meat. The desserts were wonderful everywhere! Over the course of four weeks, I lost two dress sizes! I actually found I could eat as a vegetarian!
At Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero, we only did one day drive into the Chobe National Park. Since it is a national park, every vehicle has to pay a fee to enter and stay only during park hours, being sunup to sundown. This park is a dump. Even though we had the whole safari truck to ourselves, there were convoys of trucks from every camp in a twenty-mile radius area. The trucks were back-to-back, tailgating each other, round and round the dirt, and dusty roads with 15 people in a truck including the driver! That was insanity! We saw a few elephants trying to stay out of the way of the traffic! All in all, we decided not to go back to the park. Although the trees and bushes were leafed out, there were only a few elephants there. Forget the bathrooms there, since there are very few, as every toilet was full of waste and stinking. Bleh!
The rest of the trip was spent on the pontoon boat. We loved the smooth ride and the comfort of our seats. It was easy to set up our cameras for photography. We never had to worry about the safety of our equipment or other people. It was easy to set up our Lense On to photograph the herds of elephants, even with our big lenses. When we arrived at a good viewing position, Leonard would guide to boat into the reeds and turn the motor off so there were no vibrations. Even with my 300mm lens, the shots were perfectly sharp with no out-of-focus shaking!
The best thing about having a private guide and boat, we tell them what time we are getting up in the morning. In a group situation, they tell you when to get up, and it is very early! Breakfast is served before safari with eggs to order, bacon, potatoes, sausage, fresh fruit, breads, juices and coffee or tea. We left for the river from there.
The best part of the boat trip was Bloody Mary tomato drinks at 9:30am, followed by a white tablecloth and napkins lunch on the boat! Everything was specially prepared for us and brought by boat by the wonderful restaurant servers at the lodge. We had wine, salads, cheese, meats, snacks, and desserts, served with the grace and charm of any first class restaurant! We felt wonderful that they cared so much. What a great treat and experience! Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero evening meals start off in the main lodge area with appetizers and drinks. There are different dinner selections every evening with your own private table dining. Lunches are always enjoyable, especially when they have “Make Your Own Pizza Lunch”. This is an amazing treat with several dozen toppings, meats, sauces and cheeses. Your personal pizza is baked on the spot in a brick oven right on the patio. Delicious!
The game sighting on the Chobe River is mainly elephant action. There are thousands of elephants there because of all the water and food. The animal population can vary, however, from week to week, month to month, and year to year, depending on the rainfall. Because of the Chobe River, there is always game there eating, swimming, playing and mating. Some years we have seen hundreds of Cape buffalo moving through the area in a huge, miles-long line. One year we saw the biggest group of sable that we have ever seen. There are always rhinos, many birds of every description, lions, impala, baboons and sometimes leopards. We even saw a pack of wild dogs. No matter where you go in the African bush, everyday is an “ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN DAY!” Even on seemingly ordinary nothing-days, something unexpected can and will happen. Just be prepared and keep your camera ready!