Because it was the last petrol station before Maun, we filled up our 160litre fuel tank to the brim at the lonely petrol station outside Muchenje Campsite and bought the last few things we thought we would need, including matches. It was early, around 7am, but we thought it best to tackle the thick sand road through the Chobe Forest Reserve before the sand got too warm.
The road was challenging and the going very slow, but the landscape was lush and the trees were full of beautiful birdlife. Once, a duiker came crashing through the brush and ran across the front of our car. Four hours later and we found ourselves in the staff quarters of Linyanti Bush Camp.
Pro tip #1: Don’t rely on the GPS or Google Maps for directions or time to destination. It’s all about using maps and a compass. Of course, you can also ask locals for directions – they know best! After all, navigation is all part of the adventure. Also, always carry plenty of water, fuel and supplies as you’re in as remote a destination as it gets.
BT, our camp manager, was warm and friendly, as were all the staff, especially Esse, our fabulous guide and TH who was our waiter-slash-barman. Our tent,no.6, was the Honeymoon Tent and we had no complaints. It was secluded, comfortable and had everything we needed. It also had a claw footed tub outside on the deck, and a pair of crested barbers lived in a log outside.
On our first game drive, it was kind of quiet, with just elephants, including a breeding herd who got a bit narky with us for being too close. Then, the following day, the pace completely changed when we came across fresh lion tracks. One and a half hours later, we crashed through the bush and came across two handsome males with dark manes, known to the camp staff as relative newcomers to the area.
The Linyanti forms the northwestern edge of Chobe National Park, and its flat landscape of dense forest and sprawling wetlands was the domain of Stumpy the lion and his pride. His three younger brothers – including one named Sunshine – roamed the area and in the last year, the two newcomers we saw had invaded their space, killing one of the trio.
After an exhilarating search and relatively brief sighting, we lost sight of the pair and on our way back to camp, came across a huge ruckus in a thicket of tall trees. Hornbills, rollers and drongos were screaming and flitting about madly up in the canopy. On closer inspection, our guide pointed out a black mamba in the tree. It was this time we learnt that Africa’s deadliest snake isn’t black; rather, it is grey. Oh, and it can climb pretty damn well.
Pro tip #1: We visited Linyanti in May, when the bush is thick and green. If you, like some of the guests we met, are looking for the ‘Big Five’ lying out in the open, go to the zoo. Haha. Or maybe come back in the dry season, August to late October, when visibility is better and waterholes have dried up, so the animals have to gather around whatever little water is left.
After lunch and a quick refreshing dip in the pool, we were off on an awesome scenic flight across the vast and open Linyanti wetlands, looking for hippo, elephant and kudu, all which we saw on our half hour helicopter safari. The tiny chopper had no doors, which allowed for photographs unmarred by reflection from windows.
Then, we enjoyed a very relaxing mokoro cruise through the reeds in the floodplain beneath our lodge. Our gentle, soft-spoken guide Gilbert, who hailed from Reikops down south, fashioned us a water lily necklace and a rakish hat made out of a lily pad and flower.
He poled us through the reeds, close to gorgeous Little Bee Eaters, who were happy to gobble up the clouds of mosquitoes we stirred up, and we saw an amazing number of birds, including Open Billed Storks, Black Crakes and herons. We could also hear hippos grunting and snorting in the lagoon just beyond and at dusk, we hurried out of the water, to beat the hippos onto land.
Pro tip #2: For variety of activities and remoteness of location, Linyanti Bush Camp is hard to beat. This is a region renowned for lions who hunt elephant, and yet, there is everything you need from amazing staff and good food to a helicopter, fleet of mokoro and even a small pool. The only drawback in May: mosquitoes, who are ferocious at dawn and dusk.
That evening, we piled into a vehicle for our final game drive and again, lions had been seen. This time, Sunshine and his brother. So we raced along the sand trails in semi darkness, seeing elephants rush away from the road as we passed, and came upon the two lions walking nonchalantly down the road. Few things can compare to seeing a majestic lion in the wild, except maybe watching elephants.
Pro tip #3: Visit any safari lodge with the right attitude. We met some crazy travellers and heard stories about horror guests from guides who nearly got fired because their guests “missed” seeing a kill or who failed to see all of the big game animals on their list. Seriously, this is raw nature. Go to the zoo if you’re all about checking species off a list.
Would we come back here? With a resounding yes! To me, donating several litres of blood was a small price to pay to be in such a beautiful wilderness and our guides, especially Esse and James 007 were so passionate about their work that it made our entire experience outstanding. The Linyanti is so diverse, I’ve no doubt that it would take on a different character in every season.