Our vegan safari trip to southern Africa
In March Sally and I went to South Africa and Botswana for a safari adventure. It was a great trip in many ways, though the air traveling was grueling. I wanted to share some of the photographs I made, and an overview of the experience.
The trip was organized by World Vegan Travel (WVT), which puts together novel and elegant trips with vegan dining. For years, we’ve struggled to match our plant-based eating preferences with our adventure travels. It was wonderful to find that problem was solved: the vegan meals ranged from very good to amazing. Our fellow travelers were mostly vegans who had interesting life stories. Seb and Brighde of WVT were excellent leaders — thoughtful, cheerful, well organized, and resourceful. The trip photographer was Jennifer Hadley, a friend from Raleigh, who shared a lot of good ideas on how to make better images, and was generous in helping solve equipment and other problems.
Our trip involved two segments: 1. the Garden Route of South Africa, which runs along the coast east from Cape Town, and 2. safaris at two camps in Botswana. We found Cape Town lively and beautiful, and enjoyed exploring the Garden Route to the east of it by bus. One of the highlights was a two-day safari at the Gondwana Reserve, where we saw a cheetah and a two-week-old rhinoceros. The baby rhino was about the size of a pig, and frisked about like a new puppy.
After returning to Cape Town, we flew to Botswana and stayed at a camp in the Savuti area of Chobe National Park. We traveled in Toyota Land Cruisers and saw all the iconic species – lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, zebras, buffalo, impalas – and quite a few others. We had our own spacious and pleasant cabin with all the modern conveniences (shower, toilet, electricity) except internet. It turned out to be therapeutic to get off the net for a while.
After Chobe, we flew in a small plane to the Okavango Delta, where we walked from the grass airfield on a raised boardwalk through the forest to our camp. Here, too, we had a pleasant cabin, and nice common areas for dining and relaxing. As in Chobe, we were strongly encouraged not to walk by ourselves in the camp at night, but instead to get a staff member to escort us, in case of animal encounters. Also as in Chobe, the hospitality of the staff was outstanding. In addition to great service, they shared with us singing and dancing.
The highlight at Okavango were boat trips in the channels, where there were a lot of hippopotami. These huge and strange animals can be aggressive, and kill more humans than any other large animal in Africa. We kept a respectful distance, and drew back a few times when they approached us.
We also did walking safaris on a couple of the islands, where we saw elephants, buffalo, impalas, and beautiful birds. One morning on a walk our guide saw fresh lion tracks. We were in tall grass, sometimes as high as our necks, and the guide began carrying his rifle with more purpose. I realized the lion could be a few feet away and invisible to us. We didn’t locate the lion, though it was the most exciting non-sighting ever.
On this trip, I became more conscious of grass. There were vast grassy areas, with many grass species. I finally understood why there were so many animals, like impalas, springboks, waterbucks, kudus, wildebeests, zebras, and buffalo, that subsist mainly on grass: there’s a lot of it! We saw most of those species in sizable herds. Grazing is a successful survival strategy. (By contrast, there are only a few species that eat other animals, and there aren’t very many of those.)
Of course, it’s exciting to see the rare animals, like leopards and cheetahs; they’re beautiful. But a lot of the joy I got from our safari experiences was watching the more common grazing animals living their lives. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to be an impala or a zebra, eating some grass when hungry and hanging with the herd.
I particularly loved the elephants, who are also plant eaters, and who generally live with family members. The herds we saw always included little ones, who were very cute. I realized that a lot of what gives the elephants purpose is taking care of the young. That’s true of many species, including us.
Being with so many remarkable animals can be a life-changing experience. It gives a different perspective on what life is for and about. It is more varied and vibrant than we usually see.
I’m planning to share a few more pictures from the trip soon, along with some stories of our air travel challenges. But first, I’m heading to St. Augustine for Florida’s Bird and Photo Fest. I’m hoping to get some good photographs of the big birds at the rookery there.