The instant we enter into Chobe National Park, we spot a giant herd of blue wildebeest stretching the entire length of the horizon off in the distance. There are hundreds and hundreds, probably thousands of them. With smaller herds of zebra, impala, and giraffes intermixed. One section is a line of hundreds of elephants. It is a crazy sight to behold, that many animals all migrating together. Probably from the waters of the Okavango Delta to the conflux of the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers.
“Ok Chobe. We’ve only been here, like.. thirty seconds.” “This is crazy man. Where the hell else are you gonna see that?”
We spotted a lot of large herds in the flight over the Okavango, but this enormous herd West to East as far as we can see is really something else.
Close by it’s all small pockets of giraffes here and there. Some impala. The road shifts North and East and we lose sight of the herds. The sand gets looser and our velocity drastically decreases as a result. We hit a bump and Mark notices the gas gauge, “Just bumped up to 433 klicks.” “What was it before?” “About a hundred less than that.” “Weird. Well, I hope that’s more accurate, we wouldn’t have to sweat it so much.” “We’d probably reach Kasane just in time.”
The roads are shit. Slightly uphill, bumpy and sandy. We trail behind a truck that’s exactly the same as ours for a while and they’re going even slower. We’re in the 20s and there’s no way around them. Creaking and bumping along. They finally find room to pull over and let us pass. Two girls in the cab give us a wave. Salute. We get back into the 30s. Wow, this sucks.
“Soooo… turns out the Chobe 500 is terrible. If it stays like this there is absolutely no way we’re getting to the North gate by closing time.” “Seriously. Shave an hour off, my ass.” “Shave an hour off your ass?” “Ya ya, you know. Either that gate girl was on crack or this turns into a super highway halfway through the park.” “I’m leaning towards crack.”
Not only are the roads absolute trash, there are no animals anymore. A couple female kudu. An hour later there’s a klipspringer. High walls of brush cut off sightlines into the park. This must be a service road or something just slicing a swath along the outskirts of the actual park. But we won’t have time or gas to do much else. The real magic is going to be up at the river about 5 hours North and we’ve got no place to stay in here. So we just keep trucking, slow as can be. Peter and Jamie are both dead asleep, jostling around in the back, heads bobbing. And Mark is just holding steady on what is, surprisingly, the most boring drive of all time.
The playlist brings some sudden levity. “Dude, what the hell are we listening to?” We’re midway through some house dj shit. “Ahh, ya I don’t know. Some playlist I downloaded last time we had internet I guess.” “This is trippy.” “Ya it’s Lindstrøm haha. That makes sense.” “What’s it called?” The title is so long it’s scrolling slowly across and I read out each word as it goes by. “There’s a drink… in my… bedroom… and I need… a hot lady.” “Hahaha what really?” “K, it’s coming around again. Yeah. There’s a drink in my bedroom and I need a hot lady. I’m turning it up.” “Yes. Please do.”
The truck stereo sucks and I think it’s accentuating the ethereal space sounds. There are lots of long drawn out alien sounding wheeeeeoooooo whoooooos and rushing wind noises. “Are we underwater? Or in space?” “Ya, what the hell is going on? This makes me feel like I’m on shrooms driving through here.” “Let’s just fly up over this bullshit road!” “Wait we can go under the road, into the water.” Mark makes a submarine motion. “And how long is this fucking song?” “Almost eleven minutes lol!” “Wow. Thank you Lindstrøm for this trippy masterpiece.”
“Oh oh my God! Klipspringer.” “Lindstrøm is summoning the animals.” “Could use a klipspringer and coke actually.” “Yeah, this drive sucks hard.”
And that’s it. For hours. After the initial gazillion animals when we entered we’ve barely seen a thing. Including other cars.
About three hours into it we come up on Savuti. There’s a smattering of buildings, a camping area, and an airstrip. We take a break from the miserable drive to stretch out and get some intel. It’s quick as before. Gate Dude tells us this site and the others are all booked and all checked into too. He says we might have more luck if we go out the Ghoha gate. “Not the Ngoma Gate?” “No no. You will not make Ngoma until after nightfall. Have to be out before that. Ghoha Gate.” “Ok, thanks.”
We go back to the truck maybe a touch more informed than before. “Ok, I guess we aim for Ghoha then.” “What was the place he mentioned?” “Toblerone.. or something?” “Are you just saying that because we were listening to Lindstrom?” “Haf no no. I thought he was Da… is he Swedish? Anyways, it’s like, toe bolos or something.” “We’ll ask at the next gate.” “Maybe the girl at the entrance thought we were driving one of these.”
We bounce Belinda along more deep sand bullshit roads and the terrain actually starts to shift a bit. Instead of the flat, non-descript nothing there are hills now. With the sun on its way down the colors on them are nice too.
We’re scanning around the new environs and suddenly there are water buffalo right beside us. Whoa, they are huge. Meat fridges with menacing horns. One look towards us and they scatter into the trees and bushes.
Peter has his camera out, “Didn’t get a great pic but we can check off the big five up close and personal now.” “Oh right. That was the last one we’d only seen from a distance.”
The road continues through slightly more colorful foliage for another hour.
We get to Ghoha Gate and the sun is getting ready to drop. This is as far as we can go in the park today. We’ll need to find a place to call home for the night or just pull off somewhere safe-ish looking to make camp. We can beeline it to the Chobe River in the morning where it should be animal wonderland time.
We go into the Gate House and sign out of the park. The girl at the desk again suggests the toe bolos place. “New place with camping. People say it is nice. Twenty Five kilometers outside the gate.” “Ok, we’ll see if we can find it. Thanks.”
Roll out and my phone buzzes with a message that there’s no service in Namibia. “Must be close to the five borders now.” “Oh really? So we did make it pretty far North today.”
The five borders is a small strip of land, owned by Namibia, that skirts along the Chobe river and is bordered by Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. We’d started into that strip when we were at the Popa Game Park and Falls areaof Namibia. That’s probably only five or six hours from here which means we basically spent our entire time in Botswana circumnavigating the entire Okavango Delta.
The African sunsets are hard to top. We’re cruising now. Outside the park on a somewhat better road and looking for a turn off to this toe bolos place here in the next 25 klicks.
The sun drops out of view and our anxiety over finding anything out here in the dark shoots up a few notches. We’re creeping up on any semblance of a sign we see off the road and blinding it with the brights to read what it says. A few fails and we’re losing hope. But then we see a sign that’s basically black marker on white bristle board nailed to a tree that says Thobolos Lodge. There’s an arrow pointing to a side ‘road’.
“Alright, I think we’re in business here.” Mark cuts it towards the sand road. “Hope no one’s coming our way on this tiny road though.”
It’s slow going down the narrow sandy road. Even so, feels like we should have found it by now. The lights suddenly glint off of eyes in the road. A flurry of large dark wings start flapping. Four or five vultures take off to a nearby tree. There’s a shape in the road where they were. “What the fuck is that?” “Looks like… a dead giraffe?”
Yep. Dead giraffe. Laying across the road. Poor duffer must have gotten taken down by a leopard or something. We creep Belinda forward to take a look and see what our options are. We all get hit in the nostrils in unison and shirts go up around everyone’s noses. “You smelling that?! Holy shit!” Wow does it reek. Entrails out. The head’s been picked apart. Vacant, empty eyes and skin torn off it’s skull around the sockets and mouth. This is nasty.
We’ll have to put it in 4 low and go through some bushes off the side of the road. It’s steeper than it looks on the sides. With the water tank on the roof we are way too top heavy for this shit.
Half way around and we’re leaning super bad. Jamie is grabbing the holy fuck bars, “Whooooa shit! This is precarious.” “Mark, if we flip the truck onto a dead giraffe I will lose my fucking mind!”
We creep around the carcass and get back on the road on the other side. “Well, that was unexpected. Dead giraffe, perfectly framing the road.” “Wonder what got it?”
We get moving again and not far down the road there are headlights coming towards us. “Great.” We pull over as best we can to make room for it to get by.
It’s a safari truck with a handful of middle-aged folks in it. They stop beside us and there’s a burly driver in front who excitedly leans over to talk. “Did you see the lions?” “Lions? No, but there was a dead giraffe.” “Yes, the lions are probably still there. It’s a fresh kill.” “There were vultures…” “Ok, we’re going to take a look. Where are you going?” “Thobolos?” “I’m from there. I’ll see you later.”
He starts to take off and then immediately stops again and looks back. “Be careful, there’s a herd of water buffalo crossing about a kilometer up.” “Ok thanks.” “Ok, see you later!” And he takes off towards the fresh lion kill.
Not much further and we spot signs for the lodge. Thobolos. We pull in. Oh yeah, this does look nice. There’s a beautiful wooden lodge in the middle and it looks like spots where we can make camp off to the side. Perfect. Long day of driving but we did it. We can post up here and make a killer camp meal again. Get some drinks going. Try not to get mauled by lions or trampled by water buffalo herds. It’s turning into an interesting night.