We’re puttering past a patch of water lilies, water splashing on the sides of the boat, mist spray on our arms. From a small jetty in Kasane, Botswana, we’d sped downstream to Impalila Island for immigration formalities. Now we’re going back upstream to join the Pangolin Voyager for a taste of houseboat life on the Chobe River, photography on our minds.
Pangolin Photo Safaris is registered in Botswana and operates from Kasane on the Chobe River. But their Pangolin Voyager houseboat is registered in Namibia, just over the river that forms the border between the two countries. No houseboats are allowed on the Botswana side, which is a national park. So technically – concentrate, now! – you venture out with a Botswana company whose boat is registered in Namibia, along a river that’s half in Namibia and half in Botswana. OK?
There’s talk about implementing a KAZA uni-visa which would simplify things but when we visited in mid 2016 it was just a rumble.
We settled into our cabin on the lower deck, big enough to hold a queen-sized bed. There was a built-in cupboard, a fan to cool us down and a huge mirror on one wall to make the space seem bigger. It was small, but not cramped, and had mosquito screens so we could leave the windows open to drink in the cooling night air.
Lunch was over by the time we boarded and some of the party of eight we’d be sharing the houseboat with for the night were already hard at work at the 10-seater dining room table.
They were keen photographers who had previously done courses with Pangolin. Now they were reviewing their shots from the morning outing in a specially equipped photo-boat that the Voyager tows wherever it goes, so you can get closer to animals and birds. Each seat swivels in a full circle and has its own camera mount – photographer heaven. (Read my post about our three-hour tutored photo safari with Pangolin to find out more about these amazing boats.)
We helped ourselves to a drink from the bar and went upstairs to explore the top level, where other guests were lounging in the shade or catching some sun on the viewing deck.
Mid-afternoon and high tea was announced – delicious freshly baked quiche. Chefs Sabrina Siboleka and Melody Maiba produced lip-smacking food in a tiny kitchen. Dinner was caramelised onion and cheese puffs for starters, then roast lamb and veg, with a feather-light apple crumble and cream to finish. Breakfast was an omelette about as light and fluffy as I’ve ever tasted.
We spent a glorious afternoon cruising slowly up and down the river watching wildlife. Since we were on board for only a single night, we waved the others off on their afternoon boat trip, cameras cocked and ready to fire.
We woke before dawn for our morning outing in the photo boat, searching for wildlife to photograph. A spiteful little wind froze our ears and made the water very choppy. But if we stopped to photograph something, the boat’s super-stable hull – specially designed for photography – made it possible to get the shot anyway. One of the guests was so keen he was shooting about 10 frames a second for at least eight seconds every time a bird flew overhead.
He was no ordinary guide. Of course he knew lots about the wildlife of the Chobe River, but he also understood what photographers need for a good shot. Where’s the sun? Let’s position ourselves so that it’s behind us. Are those adult elephants obscuring the view of the calves from that angle? Well, let’s pilot the boat to an angle where we can see them. Such calculations were passing automatically through his mind.
But back on the houseboat, damp clothes and freezing ears suddenly didn’t matter anymore. There was a hot meal in our tummies, and the warmth of new friends who only yesterday had been strangers - like Frank and Christa whose photos are also featured in this post.
Need to know
Get more info about the Pangolin Voyager houseboat, including cost.
Note: I was a guest of the Pangolin Voyager for one night, but the opinions are mine.
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Tutored photos safari on the Chobe River, Botswana
Highlights of Chobe, Botswana
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