Night 6 – Savute Elephant Camp

Savute Elephant Camp

Their view

” In the heart of the Chobe National Park, sometimes referred to as the elephant capital of the world, is Savute Elephant Camp. Perched on the former banks of the now dry Savute Channel, the camp offers a spectacular birds eye view of elephant in their natural habitat, with an adjacent water hole just metres away from the camps main building. The area is also renowned for high concentration of predators such as the endangered wild dog, lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena. Find yourself in harmony with a unique timeless place as you witness a play that has no script, by actors who have no lines, in an environment that needs no set*.The area is known for its exciting game viewing and birding. …Situated in the arid Savute area, Savute Elephant Camp offers an oasis type setting in complete luxury. All luxury tents are housed on raised wooden platforms, offering great views, and shaded by a traditional African thatch roof. The large private decks are furnished with easy chairs and a hammock, ideal for viewing wildlife, or for enjoying a private dinner in complete privacy. The tent interiors are luxuriously appointed with such comforts as an en suite bathroom, private fully stocked mini bar, four poster bed complete with mosquito netting, as well as a discreet air conditioning. The 12 twin-bedded luxury canvas tents, recently placed under thatch, that are perfectly suited to the desert air feature lavishly appointed ensuite bathrooms and dressing areas. They also have private viewing decks and comfortable outdoor lounges overlooking the Channel. For your convenience, in-room safes are now provided for the safekeeping of all cash, travel documents and other such articles.”

My View

* OK you can put the sick bag away now. Not put off by the terrible hackneyed copy in their sales brochure, we chose to stay at Savuti Elephant Camp, previously known as Savuti South Camp. We were attracted by the elephants, and the Elephant Camp exceeded all expectations in proving why it claims to be the elephant capital of the world.

This lodge is NOT TO BE CONFUSED with Savuti Camp which is a very small and exclusive camp situated up on the Linyati River. I think it sounds better but it is not open to self-driving visitors because it is situated in a private concession which doesn’t allow self-drivers. You have to fly in and out which immediately makes staying there something near £1000 for one night. Mark and his family who I had met at Xakanaxa Camp had visited Savuti Camp and had absolutely loved it, even more than Xakanaxa, so if I were to go back or could recommend where to go, I would recommend the Savuti Camp in the Linyati if your budget can go that far. Also we heard from the guides at this camp that the lions which the BBC had made famous here had moved on to the Linyati region.

However my budget and vehicle couldn’t go as far as the Linyati, so I was very happy with my choice at the Elephant Camp.

I arrived at 11am having survived the Sandridge Road. Given I’d been driving since 6am I was still hot, dusty, and looking forward to the comfort of the lodge. However our arrival was odd, for some reason it felt like we were interrupting things. The electric fence was pinned across the gate opening and the place was surrounded by impenetrable fencing. I had to shout to get some attention. I was allowed in, but it seemed to take some persuasion that I was actually a booked and paid-up guest with a reservation here. I got the impression they weren’t used to having self-drivers visit, mine was the only self-drive vehicle there, the other guests all arrived by plane.

After some initial confusion finally a young sweet looking and smiley South African woman came and greeted me, introduced herself as our Hostess and commented on how early I was. I wondered when people normally turned up. She was quickly joined by her khaki-wearing husband, and I was welcomed in to Brunch. I had déjà vu. This time the Host and Hostess looked very young, younger than me, and I was impressed that these kids could run a place like this, because again I’m under no illusion that its an easy job.

Brunch was served in a large open eating place, a pleasant buffet, served by the Host and Hostess, overlooking the swimming pool which in turn overlooked the elephants at the watering hole, which was a sensational view. I sat back in the cool shade and sipped my coffee and munched my brunch and drank in the view.

This lodge overlooks a permanent watering hole which had at least ten elephants drinking at it at any one time for the entire time we were there. The thing I found the most amazing about this whole place was the elephants, listening to them rumble and jostle, their amazing sub-wuffa sounds vibrating through the ground, watching the males play out their roles and hierarchy, establishing who were dominant and who were not. They are amazing animals, they are so impossibly huge for such a harsh environment, they need to eat and drink so much, but look around and there’s nothing but sand. From the moment we arrived I was gripped by their shenanigans. How can such huge animals walk so silently, it is as if they walk around on tip-toe. It is also humbling how close they come to you, smelling and inspecting. What staggered me was the complete lack of interest in these creatures from our fellow guests at the lodge.

After brunch we went and sat by the pool and dangled our legs over the other side of the pool deck overlooking the watering hole to get as close to the elephants as possible.

The gurglings, rumblings and growls of these enormous creatures was incredible. They were all Bulls, and everything about what was happening around that watering hole was about them establishing who was their Head Honcho, who ranked where in their society, and who would get to mate with which females. He who got to drink the longest and the deepest was the Main Man. He spent all day either fending off all the others or condescending to allow them to drink when he felt like it. The elephants, as enormous as they were, danced around the watering hole, swapping places, moving in circles around each other, moving in, moving out. There was an inner ring drinking from the hole itself, then an outer ring who was either trying to get in closer to the water, or trying not to be pushed out any further. And then beyond that there were individuals who stood and waited to make a move in. Others still stood in the distance under trees trying to find shade and cool. The elephants came and went, like a grey tide, eddies and currents moving in and out. But the main focus of this, like water in a bathtub running down the plug hole, was on the centre, on the watering hole, and on the dominant male who stood over it allowing the others to drink at his discretion. There was real aggression, charges, heads clashing, but there was also tenderness including trunk-tips touching as they greeted each other and identified each other.

I was gripped.

This was the most expensive lodge of our holiday, which surprised me given the superior luxury and location of the previous night’s lodge, the Savute Elephant Camp is not the best value lodge. It was much bigger so felt less personal and somehow because of the dust bowl environment didn’t somehow blend in as well as the previous lodge had into the woodland and lagoon, and it was nothing like some of the lodges (like the Mowani Mountain Camp) we had stayed in Namibia. It would have taken more architectural imagination than ‘tent, thatch and wood’ to make the lodge blend with the desert environment. It also had massive fences everywhere, to keep the elephants out.

Around 1pm I was taken to my luxury tent with shower facilities via a fountain in the gardens. The Hostess made a big deal out of how they rake the sand every night around the fountain so they can see the footprints of the animals who had come through that night to drink from the fountain water. A leopard footprint was pointed out to us as having come through just the night before.

Unfortunately the same footprint was there in the sand the next day and I watched it being pointed out again to the next day’s new arrivals – all Americans – as fresh prints from the night before.

The room was lovely, although it felt much more like a very smartly decorated boy scout hut than a tent, it even had air conditioning and wooden front doors. But it was stunning, with lots of crisp white linen and zebra skins. It had a very impressive outdoor monsoon shower, which I went to make the most of almost immediately, and a lovely hammock on a private veranda looking out at the elephants at the watering hole.

That afternoon I sat by the swimming pool, and I enjoyed a swim, while the elephants squabbled and jostled around the watering hole. I took enormous delight in watching the elephants who came up very close and stood within my arm’s reach. I had the pool and the elephants to myself, no one else seemed interested.

Reviews and books had suggested that as I lay there watching the elephants fight over precious water when I am in the swimming pool I may feel guilty or uncomfortable. Not a subscriber to sanctimonious guilt-tripping I decided I felt fine about the entire set-up, especially given the watering hole was man-made and providing pumped water which the elephants wouldn’t have had without the tourist lodge next to it. Overall I just felt very lucky to witness such an amazing scene and be in such a unique place.

The familiar Lodge tea bell went at 3pm, which I chose to ignore this time, and then we all piled into the game drive vehicles at 4pm.

Everyone tells you not to be disappointed if you go on a game drive and don’t see anything, these are after all wild animals, this isn’t a zoo or Longleat Safari Park, so the whole point is that you do come across them in their wild state as wild, free creatures. However, the Savute lions had been made famous by the BBC’s Planet Earth and one reads about this area’s wildlife as: “staggering” and “teeming”, “overwhelming” with “vast herds” and “Super Prides”, so my expectations were on the high side. However clearly we had made too much noise when we were clattering over the roads into Savute and the animals all heard us coming a mile away because when we turned up they decided to play hide and seek.

However we did see a herd of elephants at a watering hole, the top of a cheetah’s head in the distance before it ran off, and we did get very close to a single male lion, who was utterly magnificent.

I could tell that things on the Big Game front were on the ‘quiet’ side when our guide stopped the Game Drive Vehicle twice and even reversed once to study the seed pods of a particular type of tree. I didn’t want to have to say to the guide we were meant to be on a Game Drive, with emphasis on the Game, but I just couldn’t get as excited about seed pods as I could about the male lion. The guide was clearly an Expert in his Field and knew a lot about every aspect of flora and fauna in the area. He told us that the Savute lion super prides (made famous by the BBC series Planet Earth for hunting elephants) have disbanded into smaller prides and have moved up to the Linyati river region. And so it goes.

We went on our game drive with a very lovely family from South Africa, a farmer and his wife and two daughters. They were definitely not ‘Jarpies’, they were all very lovely and charming, but again the father had that ‘don’t mess me about’ thing about him. This time I managed to narrow down what this was. He was utterly lovely, had a big smile, and very politely introduced himself by saying: “My daughter will be five minutes late.” It was a statement of fact rather than an apology or an excuse. It could so easily have been horribly arrogant coming from anyone else, but this man had such gentle manners that it just came across as a fact not an affront.

They took a keen interest in me, and the fact I was doing the self-drive camping trip around Botswana. They had done many family holidays doing just the same trip, it seems to be an Antipodean rite of passage, and for South Africans its just the regular annual family holiday, so with his father and the girls when they were small and growing up. And the older daughter was going to do the same trip later that year with her boyfriend for 5 weeks. It turned out it was Mother’s birthday so this was something of a special treat, and they only get together as a family once or twice a year, because one daughter was a doctor in Australia and the other was a business woman in New York City. I think the daughters were called Caroline and Jennifer, or it could have been Victoria. They were a credit to their parents and all of them to each other. I liked them all very much.

I liked them even more when the Dad got more excited about the seed pods we spotted on our Game Drive than anything else, apparently because his wife loves growing indigenous trees as a hobby.

We told them about the couple who had got stuck in Moremi and they were shocked as we were about how they had been treated before the intervention.

That night the guests all met at the fire on the patio and went to look at the elephants again who were still at the watering hole, now floodlit.

We ate dinner in the lodge Doma that night. A Doma is a special traditional meeting place. It is open to the sky, and this one had tall fencing around it. There is a fire-pit in the middle, the only lighting came from the fire and lots of candles and everyone was sitting at tables. We were greeted with drinks and once we had sat down we were welcomed with a special welcome and the menu was read out for us. It was a lovey evening and I loved the food and atmosphere, it was wonderful, very special indeed. Dinner was a braai, served by the staff and again by the Host and Hostess.

The only shame of things was they had arranged for the guides to sit on some tables to eat with the guests, which is a great idea, but there weren’t enough to go around. Unfortunately I didn’t have one, and I’d have liked to so that I could have asked them about the animals and places to go to when I would be doing my own self-drive trips the next day. The guides seemed to just be on the tables with the Americans, but I may have been wrong. I eavesdropped on the table next door, whose guide seemed to be more interested in trying to talk to me when I could get his attention, and we were appalled to hear the American couple trying to engage the poor guy in a discussion about politics. The wife actually said: “So, this Mugabe guy, is he good or bad” and actually went on to say: “Well if he’s been in power for 30 years surely that means he’s got to be OK?” And then they went on to bend the poor chap’s ear about Iraq and why the Americans HAD to invade Iraq because: “someone had to pay for all those people dying in New York.” Ignorant cretins.

The next day was the day when (according to one of the South African daughters) back in Blighty, Prince William came into his £25 million inheritance. I wanted to make the most of the lodge facilities until the absolute last moment before I had to leave to go to the dustbowl campsite around the corner. I’d been left a note in our room to say I could leave the camp at my own convenience at any time. However when I double-checked this with the Hostess she apparently wasn’t feeling quite so flexible and wanted to know what time I was leaving. “Between 2pm and 3pm, will that be OK?” I asked. “Yes, it should be” wasn’t exactly the warm and emphatic thumbs up I’d expected.

I made the most of the lodge helping myself to cold drinks and beers from their fridge and sitting by the lovely pool and watching the elephants. I watched a new arrival being served a glass of champagne and being given a welcome brief. I had not been given any free welcome drink or any kind of a welcome brief. The interesting thing about this whole briefing process was that it appeared to be to get the guest to sign something. I later found out this was an indemnity form which got the lodge out of any responsibility for any of its guests. I wondered where that would have left me if something had happened to me during our stay, because as they’d skipped the entire welcome party they’d also skipped on getting me to sign anything.

As I was leaving I was treated to a little show. For a brief moment I thought they’d gathered on the lodge steps to wave me goodbye. The Host, Hostess and some of the staff were lined up, and they started clapping and singing a traditional song. As I was reversing and I was waving I realized they were not singing goodbye to me, they were instead welcoming in a group of new arrivals who had been picked up from the airstrip. There was a momentary bit of confusion because the vehicle with the new arrivals was wanting to pull into the car parking space I was vacating, so there was a moment of pure comedy when the welcome-committee stopped singing, waited for me to move out of the way, and then started up again to give the new arrivals the full glorious show.

I don’t know what you had to do to qualify for the welcome committee or the free welcome champagne, but I’d chosen to stay there because of the elephants, and I had been treated to the enormous and humbling privilege of spending 24 hours in their intimate and majestic presence and had witnessed one of the most amazing shows of wildlife on earth. The Elephant Camp was beautiful and lovely and would be better if it just allowed people to drink in the majesty of the elephants without feeling the need for the human shows. But maybe their American clientele would disagree with me.

 

One Response to “Night 6 – Savute Elephant Camp”

  1. Megan London Says:

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