After leaving Wilderness, it was onto the Ngoma lodge, nestled within the Chobe National Park – another vast expanse of protected bush, this time bordering the Chobe River.
What made this leg of Botswana so memorable, though, was not the animals but the people.
Because off-roading is forbidden here, you can’t drive up to a pride of lions, turn off the engine, and stare at them as they flounce under the shade of a tree – which is how all my other game drives have been thus far.
No, you have to either be lucky enough that the lions happened to pitch up right by the track, or use binoculars to see them from afar.
I shared my drives with a quiet mid-50s Belgian couple. The husband sells silicone, and appears to be very earnest about it.
When they quizzed me about my existence and I told them I was earning practically nothing but travelling for free because I’m a journalist, they asked, “but then you will never have savings, no?” and I said, “no”.
They told me they thought this was a very peculiar way to live, and seemed concerned.
Back at camp though, I met a different couple who thought my predicament was wonderful. Probably because I think they are very rich indeed, so they don’t have to worry about savings.
Chal and Lurinda are from Texas, and I think they are in their late 50s or maybe 60s. Chal works in oil, he doesn’t believe in global warming, can’t stand Obama or Hilary Clinton but very much approves of George Bush.
Chal and Lurinda were best friends in high school, and Chal was secretly in love with Lurinda the whole time (I’m not surprised, she is astonishingly beautiful).
In his late teens, Chal got into a horrid car accident and ended up losing his little finger and his leg. Lurinda came to visit him in hospital every day for many months as he recovered.
They both ended up marrying other people and lost touch, but later in life both their spouses died. Chal got wind of Lurinda’s loss and tracked her down after years and years of silence. They met again, fell in love, and the rest is history.
I loved this couple. Their story (the longer version) rivals The Notebook.
Ngoma’s owner is called Judy (blonde hair, bright blue eyes, very maternal), and she’s just lovely. Plus she makes sure your wine glass is never empty, which I judge to be a very good quality indeed when it comes to a host.
Speaking of wine, good grief I’ve been getting through a lot of it. Here is a list of my excuses as to why this is, aside from the fact that the wine is just so good in Africa (and always free).
You have to get up at 5am every morning when you’re on safari, therefore lunch is served at about 11am, always with wine. So you start getting gently sloshed before noon every day. And it’s not just me, I’ve checked. Everyone does it, even the really responsible adults.
Then you have a rest, then you head out for your second drive, during which you have ‘sundowners’ at around 5pm (wine, while watching the sun go down), and then you get back for dinner at around 8.30pm, where obviously you drink even more wine, so you go to bed pretty hammered.
Not hammered like when you are at university and you were ‘binge drinking’, as they like to call it, but the sort of hammered where you turn around at the end of the day and realize you’ve been at least a little bit drunk for the entire duration.
This results in a hangover every morning at 5am. I’m lucky in that my hangovers aren’t that bad really. I don’t get headaches or puke, I just feel mildly to moderately poisoned, but mainly just tired.
And, spoken like a true raging alco, the ONLY thing that truly gets rid of this feeling (a hangover) is hair of the dog.
So when lunch rolls round at 11am, you’re not going to say no to that glass of free, delicious medicine that makes you feel normal again, are you now?
And then of course there’s my rule about never, ever getting onto a plane sober, which can you read about here.
So anyway, in summary, Judy’s lodge was brilliant.
Sometimes thirsty elephants trudge through and suck all the water out of the plunge pool outside my room. Most locals can’t stand elephants because they are so destructive and also dangerous (my guide Bevan’s grandfather was killed by one in April).
But Judy lets them drink freely from the plunge pool and then just fills it up again.
Also, there is the most beautiful and exotic-looking baby Genet cat who sneaks into the bar area every evening.
This ravishing wild baby Genet cat sneaks into the bar every evening, and the owner Judy greets her with little morsels of chicken, which she nabs when she thinks no-one is looking and then scurries off
Again, usually, people shoo these away, but to my delight when I spotted it, Judy didn’t. She left some chicken on the floor for it instead, which the Genet cat tiptoed over and snagged as soon as our backs were turned.
At night, you eat overlooking a water hole, which Judy has illuminated with a warm yellow spotlight, so you can watch as the giraffes lope over, widen their wobbly legs and gingerly poke their necks down to drink.
Next stop, the Chobe Princess for two nights – which is a houseboat from which you do the ‘river safari’.