To make my clinical visit to Maun worth the flight cost – I had Garrett join and we spent the weekend in the Delta. August is at the end of the high water season so we were hoping to catch the delta in a different season than we had seen it before. We got some last minute discounts to be able to afford to stay at Wilderness Safari’s Tubu Tree Camp and Abu Camp. Short weekend trips like this are what make living in Botswana amazing. In two days you can do what some people save their whole life to experience, and trust me the incredibleness of this is not lost on us! We know we are insanely lucky to have these opportunities!
Our first stop was Tubu. This is one of Wilderness’s midrange camps located on the Jao concession, an area which we have visited before. It is a partial water camp but the waters had already receded back so there was only a small pond out in from of the camp. The style of the camp was more rustic African – simple but beautiful. Our rooms was at the edge of the camp with a balcony looking out to an open flood plain (that was now just short grass). We did get some elephant visitors, antelopes and of course baboons into our front lawn.
Highlights of our game drives included lots of lion encounters. We saw a whole pride sitting on a bridge looking like they were just posing for pictures. We also found the pride out hunting at night but unfortunately they were not successful. We saw lots of birds, the usual elephants and a variety of antelopes.
Unfortunately, we didn’t quite get along with the other couple in our vehicle which made game drives not as enjoyable. They didn’t want to wake up early and didn’t want to stay out late. The wife was very skittish around the animals making our guide more likely to hold back on animal encounters. This can be a very frustrating part of going on safari and traveling in general! You are at the mercy of whoever you get paired with and like it or not you have to make a compromise on how things are done. We have been lucky that often times we get guides to ourselves because we tend to travel in low season when the guest density is lower.
We spent two nights at Tubu and on the third night we switched to Abu. This was a last minute decision which we had debated because of how pricey this camp is. Although we got a last minute deal this camp is still one of the most expensive in the delta and we just weren’t sure it was worth it……but we made the right decision. It was!
In my opinion, Abu camp is one of the most unique wildlife experiences you can have in the world. It is home to the “Abu herd” of elephants which are a mix of elephants which were rescued and/or rehabilitated for various reasons. Some elephants have been rescued as calves after their parents were killed, some were rescued from zoos or movie productions and others would have been killed in elephant culls. When injured elephants are brought in they are nursed back to health and then given a choice between going back out into the wild and staying at Abu. There are currently 7 elephants in the Abu herd, including one baby and one pregnant female. Instead of just going on game drives, at Abu camp you have the opportunity to interact with the elephants. You can walk with them or do a mokoro boat ride alongside them in the water. You also get to feed them twice a day. We were lucky enough to get to do all of the activities! We also spent the night in their “star bed” which is situated over the elephants den so you can basically sleep with them!
Our first activity was the boat ride at sunset. Before you do anything with the elephants there is a meet and greet where the guide tell you about the history of each elephant – how they came to be at the camp and what their personality is like. The star of the Abu herd is Naledi. She is the baby – about 3 years old now and strong enough to fully knock you off your feet! She is a typical naughty toddler. Loves to bumble around and get into trouble. Our other favorite was Cathy. She is the oldest of the group and acts like the matron of the family. She is slow and always stays at the rear of the group. When you look in her eyes you can see so much history and wisdom.
In the past Abu was famous for elephant back safaris but these were banned by the government about a year ago. It was thought to be too stressful and oppressive for the elephants. We were shocked when the activity commenced and a guide proceeded to mount each elephant. We though the elephant riding had been totally banned but it was just the for the tourists. The guides said that riding the elephants was the only was they could be controlled to do walks or interact with people. It made us a little sad to see them ridden but it was also clear that it was part of their daily routine and they really seemed to enjoy the walks. They do one morning walk and one sunset walk, then in between the elephants are free to roam about the concession as they please. Also they are free to leave the herd and go into the wild if they wish. This does happen sometimes and the elephants are not forced to do anything they do not want to do.
Training happens gently and is governed by the elephant. Naledi, the baby learns slowly by example of her elders and by gentle teaching. I was amazed that she actually seemed to respond to voice commands. The experience of mokoro-ing through the delta in the company of these gentle giants was incredible. You don’t often get to even see elephants in water so to get to watch them glide through the reeds and splash in the water was so special. The mokoro sits so low that you are in a permanent position of awe floating beneath with them towering above.
After the mokoro ride, we got to feed the elephants dinner. They all line up and sit like puppies awaiting treats. It is strange to see them so wild and free in the water and then switching to looking like domesticated pets. It was not sad though! It was clear they knew how to get their own food but this was just an extra treat. It was exhilarating to stand in between their powerful tusks and get to feel how fragile my life could be in their hands. They could easily gore me with a tusk but they happily treated me as a friend.
The star bed was a great experience. I loved getting to see what elephants do at night. I had no idea they slept on their sides lying on the ground! It was such a funny sight to see. They also do not sleep very much. They were up pacing around a lot of the night. Some of their wild friends also came in to say hello. A female who used to be in the Abu herd came by with her new baby. She wanted to show her baby off to her old friends! Incredible right? Animal social structures are so much more advanced than we can even imagine. If you spend any time with elephants, it is quickly clear that they are supremely intelligent and caring creatures…. which makes it all the more devastating that people have been slaughtering them throughout history.
Obviously the elephants are the main draw of Abu, but holy toledo the rest of the camp is incredible. Our room was by far the nicest we have ever stayed in on any safari. It is a different style than most camps. It has sort of a colonial mixed with some beachy Nantucket flare. The whole camp sits on a lagoon so each cabin has a porch on the water. It is an awesomely beautiful view. There is an outdoor tub, plunge pool and lounge area in each porch. You can also open the walls of the room so that the whole cabin is open to the balcony. My favorite part was the art station they had in each room. An easel, canvas, brushes, watercolors, pastels and oils were provided. This is something I had never seen at a camp before. And it is an amazing idea! I wish I could have had a whole afternoon to sit and paint…but alas I had to make due with 45 minutes because our time at Abu was very short.
The service at the camp was superb. We loved our guide and everyone we interacted with. The meals were excellent and the drink options were so much above and beyond what was available at most delta camps.
We found out that Paul Allen was the owner of the camp which made us quickly realize why this was the only camp in the delta that had fully functional wifi across the whole camp! The concession was also very good. Just in one abbreviated game drive we saw as much as we saw in two days in Tubu. We are very grateful for the opportunity to have this special wildlife experience and are plotting ways we can try to go back. Especially because there is soon to be another new baby joining the herd! The surprising part is that they have no idea when the baby will be born! Elephants have one of the longest gestation periods of 22 months and since they cannot pinpoint the conception date, the due date just becomes an exercise in guessing as soon as it is confirmed that an elephant is pregnant.