Chobe Savanna Lodge – Your Own Private Eden
This is the first of two posts on a recent stay at Chobe Savanna Lodge in Namibia as part of an Adventures Abroad Namibia & Botswana tour that started in Windhoek, Namibia and will end in the small city of Maun, Botswana. This first post will describe how we ended up staying in Namibia at the start of the Botswana part of the trip (say what?) and why we fell in love with Chobe Savanna Lodge. The second post will feature the absolutely mind blowing wildlife viewing to be found in this seldom visited part of Africa. So won’t you join Alison and me on another true adventure abroad?
We woke up in the country of Zimbabwe where we had spent the previous day on a tour of Victoria Falls by foot and by air that we will never forget. This morning we are to cross over the border to Botswana and spend two days in Chobe National Park which is famous for its large elephant population. There were five of us in total on this portion of the trip and we all piled into guide Wenghaji Nhau’s van and headed west towards the border town of Kasane about an hour away on a decent paved road. At the border crossing we first exited Zimbabwe customs, walked a short distance to the Botswana customs waving goodbye to Wen and his assistant Loma who had been great hosts during our short stay there. After exiting the Botswana customs house there were two vehicles waiting for the five of us. Strange I thought, as either one could accommodate the entire group. Then a lady asked, “Who’s going to Namibia?” Not us, I thought, we just came from there. Nobody said a word.
Then she asked, “Who’s going to Chobe Savanna Lodge?” That sounded familiar and I said I think that’s us. I recalled that when we booked the trip Adventures Abroad told us we would be staying at a different lodge than the others in the group, something that’s not uncommon on these tours. But, what’s this about Namibia? The best way to explain is to look at a map.
This is the Caprivi Strip, a controversial salient that juts 450 kms.( 280 miles) into the heart of Africa severing Angola from Bostwana and is officially part of Namibia. Created entirely for European political purposes in the 1800’s it’s been a source of friction between Angola, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia ever since. As you can see the Chobe River forms the boundary between Botswana and Namibia for the last part of the strip.
So we said goodbye to our other five companions who had been travelling with us from day one and headed off to God knows where. We passed through the small city of Kasane, observing the lineup of trucks that was easily a mile long, all waiting to take the ferry to Kazungula in Zambia. That will end in 2020 as a new bridge we could see under construction eliminates the sometimes days long wait to cross the Zambezi near the spot where the Chobe River joins it. We drove a while longer and our driver pulled into what was a fairly small parking lot on the river with another small customs building. We were now checking out of Botswana on what must be the shortest stay in any country I’ve ever visited – Goodbye Botswana, we hardly knew ye.
There was a rickety dock and this boat waiting for us. Greeting us was Felix Sitengu who would be our personal guide for our entire time at Chobe Savanna Lodge. I’m sorry Felix that the first picture of you does not feature your best side.
By now, I had had my Homer Simpson moment and realized that we were going to a lodge on the Chobe River that was in Namibia. And it was a lodge you can only reach by boat. How cool was that?
As Felix headed out onto the Chobe River I had to give my head a shake. The Namibia we had seen so far was just about the driest place on earth, but here was a huge, wide river with lush vegetation on both sides and there were virtually no signs of human habitation on either side once we pulled away from the small settlement where we had been dropped off.
There were the occasional dugout canoes of Namibian fisherman using a technique that hasn’t changed much in thousands of years.
We also saw our first and only Cape Buffalo on this entire trip. Felix explained that the Caprivi Strip is the only place they are found in Namibia. It turned out to be an exciting sighting as the Cape Buffalo is one of Africa’s Big Five. The others being elephant, lion, rhino and leopard. We had ticked off the first three in Namibia and now wanted only the leopard to complete the African quintfecta.
We also got another life list bird on the way. This is a male southern red bishop.
They are closely related to weaver birds and make their pendulous nests on reeds on the river bank.
Felix then pulled the boat up onto a tiny sand beach and told us this where we would clear Namibian customs. Wow, this was getting to be quite the day for passport stamps. This is Alison heading for the border crossing at Kasika.
And this is the customs post. The official was off doing something, but was very pleasant when he arrived and after looking all over his desk and in the drawers finally found his passport stamp and welcomed us back to Namibia.
Back on the river we saw more wildlife including these quite uncommon pukus that fled the moment I took my camera out. We never saw any again.
By now I had time to appreciate what an amazing job of co-ordination Adventures Abroad had done to pull this day off. They needed reps in three countries, two in the case of Botswana, and in each case they had been there on time with a smile on their faces and ready, willing and able to do their jobs. Don’t let anyone ever convince you that things won’t run as smoothly in Africa as they do in ‘The First World’. Sure, screw ups do occur, but I was damned impressed with what I saw today.
Back to the river. Here’s a video that will give you some idea of how wide the Chobe River is and it’s the only way to get to Chobe Savanna Lodge.
Next up on the animal hit parade were a pod of hippopotami or less correctly a herd of hippos. These were the first, but certainly not the last of these ungainly, ugly tempered and dangerous creatures we saw on this trip. We weren’t even at the lodge yet and we were seeing tons of interesting sights.
Felix slowed the boat and told us we were quite close now when suddenly, there it was on a great bend in the river, surrounded by water on three sides, Chobe Savanna Lodge with a mother and baby elephant just in front of it. I almost did a double take. Is this for real?, I asked myself. Nobody could have staged a better introduction to this place if they tried and I’m pretty sure the elephants were not a stage prop. The old saw about getting there being half the fun really applied in our case.
Chobe Savanna Lodge
This is an aerial view of Chobe Savanna Lodge showing just how well situated it is on the Chobe River, an oasis of greenery amidst a sea of grass and water.
The lodge is one of eight lodges owned by Desert & Delta Safaris, seven in Botswana and this one just across the river in Namibia. I later learned that our other three friends were staying at a sister property, the Chobe Game Lodge on the Botswana side of the river and accessible by road. It holds up to 96 guests in 47 rooms and the reason we weren’t staying there was because it was full. So our fellow Canadians would be sharing their Chobe safari with 93 others. Guess how many other guests there were at Chobe Savanna Lodge? Nada. No one. Not a single other person. We have the place entirely to ourselves. Talk about lucking out!
We were greeted in the main lodge by Anne Marie Melgaard who along with her husband, retired physician Andre Birkenstock, have been running the place for years. This is when we learned we were the only guests and that Anne Marie had given us what she considered to be the best chalet on the property, #4.
This is a photo I took from the river showing how close it is the riverbank with a great patio for wild life watching and star gazing. For some reason it reminded me of a Hobbit house which conjures up thoughts of tidy comfort in a small setting.
However, inside Chalet 4 was anything but Hobbit like, with hardwood floors and a huge bed.
Since we were the only guests we were free to set our own agenda with Felix available to take us out in a boat whenever we liked. One of the things I requested was to go fishing and that was set for the next morning. We did go out for an afternoon wildlife viewing boat ride, which I will describe in the next post, but I will mention this. Felix had asked us what we liked to drink and I off handedly replied, “Gin & tonic.”, not thinking anything further about it. But, when we got on the boat Felix had a cooler with water, beer, juice and you guessed it, gin and tonic water. Here I am mixing up a late afternoon cocktail while cruising the Chobe River with just Alison and Felix.
Ah, life is tough, but someone’s got to endure it.
The meals at Chobe Savanna Lodge were excellent. Not complicated or fancy, but just tasty and filling. Each meal was accompanied by a small butter dish which had a different saying engraved on it every day. This was our final breakfast – We wish you a Safe Journey.
The best thing about the meals was the view from the dining room. Can you believe this?
On the first night two elephants literally came right up to the side of the lodge to dine on some shrubs that were growing against the wall and were not more than a few feet away from where we were seated.
On the second night Anne Marie and Andre invited us for cocktails around a fire beside the river. This is the type of place that Chobe Savanna Lodge is – the hospitality is genuine and heartfelt.
On this entire trip we never stayed in any accommodations that I would not class as excellent, but the Chobe Savanna Lodge exceeded even that high bar. If you book this trip in the future, and you’re crazy if you don’t, plead, cajole, beg, wheedle and ultimately insist on staying at this wonderful place.