Jenss Family Travels: Lessons from the Road II

Rainer Jenss and his family are currently on an around-the-world journey, and they’re blogging about their experiences for us at Intelligent Travel. Keep up with the Jensses by bookmarking their posts, and follow the boys’ Global Bros blog at National Geographic Kids. This is the second of a three-part blog post. You can catch the first installment here.

Almost two weeks after saying our farewells to the Coates and Lorenz families in Zimbabwe, we found ourselves on the eve of joining up with some more friends from back home who had children around our sons’ ages. We had just arrived in Tanzania after having completely immersed ourselves in African wildlife during our visits to Botswana and Namibia, so at this point, the boys were getting quite proficient in their knowledge of the bush and understanding of the animals found in it. Because this had become the center of their universes over the last few weeks, I was curious to see how they would carry on with their friends who were coming from a world of homework, organized sports and American Idol.

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It’s certainly not difficult to get caught up with all the amazing wildlife found in southern and eastern Africa. For Tyler and Stefan, the bush became their classroom, the guides and trackers their teachers. And just like going to school, their days started early – 5 a.m. to be exact! Granted, all they had to do was get themselves out of bed and into a jeep, but still, it would be a full day of immersion in zoology, biology, geology, and photography – with a little bit of sociology and sex ed thrown in for good measure. That’s right, because Stefan (age 9) kept hearing about (and in some cases witnessing) animals mating, I thought it was an opportune time for our father-son chat about the birds and the bees, which actually seemed to resonate in this environment. Now we just needed to come across some mating lions.

In addition to learning that lions mate about every fifteen minutes for two to three straight days, our designated ranger Charles, who guided us around Botswana’s Linyanti swamps and Okavango Delta, kept the boys engaged during the eight or so hours we spent bouncing around in the jeep each day.  Because he knew we were home-schooling the boys for the year, we took full advantage and allowed him to substitute for us to his heart’s content.  Besides just observing the likes of lion, cheetah, hyena, baboons and a plethora of other mammals, birds and reptiles, Charles taught us all how to recognize certain behaviors and what they meant. He also made it entertaining by injecting some fun facts like baby elephants having milk tusks which fall out when they are about one year old or that a group of zebra is called a “dazzle,” while a herd of rhinos is referred to as a “crash.”

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The third area we visited in Botswana was in Nxai Pan National Park near the Kalahari. Like the two previous locations, we stayed at another Kwando Camp (our more serious down-and-dirty camping would follow in Tanzania), which happened to be newly opened (we were the second group of guests). But unlike the camps to the north, the environment here was much more sparse and fragile, which prevented the jeeps from driving off the designated tracks. This hit most of the guests pretty hard since all our preceding game drives allowed for off-roading. Although a “dazzle” of literally hundreds of zebras was a spectacular sight to hold, it was a bit frustrating not to be able to follow lions as they stalked a small group off in the distance.

My overall impression of Botswana, particularly when compared to our safari in South Africa, was that this was much more “quintessential” Africa. The game in this country probably far exceeds the human population of 1.5 million, and it certainly has ample spaces in which to roam. When we flew from one camp to the next via prop plane, all the eye could see was wide open spaces. There’s little sign of human habitation anywhere, so when you’re on safari out here, you really feel like, and are, in the middle of nowhere, which is just the way it should be. That said, we learned that the best time to visit would be during the dry season of May through September when the large herds gather around the region’s permanent water supply. The Lebala Camp we stayed at in Linyanti, for example, had a group of 100-200 resident elephants, which was still amazing to see even when compared to the thousands that would assemble later in the year.

One of the advantages of being in this part of Africa during the rainy season is that the landscape becomes more colorful and vibrant. The resulting thick bush and higher grasses, besides attracting all kinds of birdlife, makes seeing predators like lion and leopard more difficult, although they are there. They are also fewer in number since they tend to follow their prey which is still mostly in the woodlands this time of year. So to spot them, it’s critical to have experienced guides and trackers, which Charles and his crew certainly were. The friendly staff and excellent service at the Kwando Camps really made for an authentic experience, which we’ll remember for what I’m sure will be a return visit.

After eight days in Botswana and trips to Sabi Sabi and the Zambezi, we logged in quite a bit of safari time, which never seems to get boring, even for the kids. To take a little reprieve from game drives, however, our visit to Namibia would not include any safaris. Instead, we dedicated our time to visit the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF)

outside the small city of Otjiwarongo, where the boys would take learning about wildlife to a whole new level, which I will cover in the last installment of this three-part post.

Photos: Giraffe photo, Tyler Jenss; Right and below, Rainer Jenss