We had a little bass boat to skim us along the Chobe River after lunch every day. First day out, we were barely past the Lodge grounds before we watched our first drama unfold. Three pied kingfishers took on a monitor lizard trying to steal eggs from their nests (which are actually holes in the side of the riverbank). We watched the lizard dig into the hole while the kingfishers dive-bombed him with their formidable beaks. They fought the good fight, but, unfortunately, the lizard won.
On to the hippos and our second drama. The river was full of them, lazing mid-stream, only eyes and ears above the waterline (remember the Jungle ride at Disneyland?). We passed family groups wading in the shallows and wallowing in the mud to protect their tender skin from sunburn (I kid you not). Occasionally, we would get too close and were warned off their territory with wide-mouth yawns.
One afternoon, on the grassy edge of the river, we found a badly injured hippo with large chunks of flesh hanging from his side. A few hundred yards further up river we caught up with the hoodlum hippos who had “allegedly” done the deed. They must have still been high from the tussle because they chased us – they actually run through the water at an amazing speed. No wonder they kill more people in Africa than any other animal. It gave me great deal of respect for the natives poling along in their mokoros – dug out canoes that that don’t look all that stable.
We pulled alongside an 18-foot crocodile lazing at the edge of the water and as we watched him watching us, our driver mentioned in passing that it was the biggest croc he’d been this close to (were only six feet away). On a return visit, the croc had had his fill of tourists and slid into the water with hardly a ripple. Floating along the surface, eyes and the ridge of his back visible, he looked like a deadly zipper gliding along.
Having seen this silent killer in the water, we weren’t surprised by the skittishness of the impala, lined up at the edge of the river like a very nervous chorus line. Every movement or shadow on the river had them scurring inland, then hesitantly forward again to drink.
The bird life along the river was fantastic. Armed with assorted guidebooks, knowledgeable guide and driver, and telephoto lenses, we photographed an amazing display of plumage from carmine bee-eater with its crimson breast, to eagles by the dozens, cormorants, skimmers, storks, herons, egrets, etc. I checked off 47 species in the little pamphlet we were given the first day out – a drop in the bucket among the 500 living in Botswana.