On Mombo Island, off the northwest tip of Chief's Island, this legendary camp is surrounded by wall-to-wall game. Although there is plenty of surface water in the area (marshes and floodplains), it's strictly a land-activity camp. The camp has exclusive use of a large area of Moremi, so privacy is assured. Its great wildlife, including all of the large predators, has made this area one of Botswana's top wildlife documentary locations—National Geographic and the BBC have both filmed here. The stunning camp has identical guest rooms divided into two distinct camps: Mombo has nine rooms, Little Mombo only three. These camps are among the best known, most expensive, and most sought after in Botswana, so be sure to book months in advance. Each spacious room is built on a raised wooden platform with wonderful views over the open plains (you're almost guaranteed to see game as you sit there), and although the en-suite rooms have a tented feel, they are ultraluxurious. The dining room, lounge, and bar are also built on big wooden decks overlooking the magnificent animal-dotted savanna. The atmosphere is friendly, and the personal attention, food, and guides all excellent.
Chief's Island, Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
27–11-807–1800-in South Africa
May 14, 2013
As I was departing from Chitabe, it seemed far fetched to believe that anything could follow in it’s beauty and splendor. The people, animals and service were amazing, and I remember thinking, how can it get any better than this? Well, after my 30 minute ride in a plane that seats six, I landed at another dirt airstrip and stepped back into the African sun, I remember thinking it’s only been 30 minutes, but I miss the soothing feeling of the Sun’s
rays reflecting off of my skin. I spotted a Land Rover driving towards me as I stepped onto the runway. It parked a few meters away and out hoped a shorter, slightly rotund dark skinned man. He proclaimed with enthusiasm, “you must be Tim!” I answered, “I am indeed…who are you?” He introduced himself to me as Tsile, Mombo camp’s head guide. I responded, “it’s a pleasure to meet you Tsile.” His laugh was like the sound of thunder and a lion roaring all at once, he announced, “Tim the pleasure is truly all mine.” Several things immediately stood out to me about Tsile, his overwhelmingly inviting personality was the first and most noticeable, followed by his incredibly large smile and a laugh that would make an elephant stop in his tracks. We hopped into the Land Rover and started heading towards the camp, I asked Tsile how long he had been guiding, he replied, 14 years. I was astonished, I replied, “that is a long time my friend, does it ever get old taking people to see the same animals you have seen for 14 years?” He casually replied, “Never. Everyday I get to guide people on their dream vacation and see animals they’ve only seen on television or in books. I make people happy everyday and that is very rewarding for me.” His answer was more than enough to convince me that he truly loves what he does. We drove for 20 minutes, the whole time spotting animal after animal. Mombo camp is on the north end of Chiefs Island, located in the Moremi reserve, and is arguably the best wildlife viewing area in all of Africa. Spend several hours there and you will see that it holds true to its reputation. On the way back to camp we spot several herds of elephants eating and hanging out at the watering holes. We spot droves of impala and kudu, several warthogs, lots of giraffes grooming the tall trees in the area. As we come around a bend I notice a very long and narrow bridge leading over a shallow body of water. We Cross the bridge and arrive shortly at Mombo. As we near the roundabout at the front of the camp we are greeted by Jemima the camp manager and several other of the camps staff that break out into song as we arrive. I got out of the rover and Jemima instantly introduced herself as one of the camps managers and hands me a cold wet washcloth to wipe the sweat and dust from my face. After refreshing myself with the washcloth I then am handed a drink made up of several local juices and I meet all the other staff members. I am again astonished at the fact that from the moment I arrive everyone calls me by name, instantly making me feel a part of the camp. I walk with Jemima down the boardwalk and into the main part of the open aired lodge. I quickly noted how luxurious the lodge is, huge comfortable couches and chairs everywhere, coffee tables that look like they had artisans flown in to make especially for the camp. I spot a long deck with several smaller tables, all with views looking out into the wetland beyond the camp. To the left I notice a campfire area surrounded by comfortable chairs looking out at the wet grassy land known as Chiefs Island. Further to the left I notice an inviting plunge pool with several chairs around it and a woman trying to read a book but instead of reading she is simply staring off into the wilderness admiring it’s beauty. After going through a short list of rules, very similar to ones I had already heard at Chitabe, I go through the familiar motions of signing the indemnity waiver. Jemima then took me to along the boardwalk towards my room. I notice the large sweeping grasslands to the right of the boardwalk, and I ask Jemima how often do you get animals in camp? She took a deep breath and answered, quite frequently Tim. She elaborates, this morning there were elephants in the area right around your room, I grin and reply concisely….awesome! We finally arrive at my room, which from the outside looks similar to the room I had at Chitabe, a large elevated tented room with a scenic backdrop. We open the large wooden doors to the room and I peer inside, I will always remember my first glance into my room at Mombo, I was astonished at the elegance of the room and I asked are all the rooms like this? Jemima laughed and replied, that question never gets old, and in short yes all the rooms are this elegant with minor changes making them somewhat unique. As I took my first step into the room I notice to my left a large couch and a fridge stocked with beverages of all kinds, including; soda, water, beer, wine and liquor. Directly in front of me as I walk in is a large desk with a recharge station perfect for charging all my frivolous technology I had packed with me. Immediately to the right is an enormous and exceptionally comfortable bed that had been decorated with flowers, and hundreds of little black and brown beans that were in the shape of two local birds. I looked at the design on the bed and then back at Jemima with disbelief, I commented how long does it take to make the design on the bed, she laughed gingerly and replied, the housekeepers have it down to an art. As I walked to the far right of the spacious room I passed several chests for unpacking my clothes and a large Armoire stocked with a safe, bug spray, a robe, and an air horn in case of an emergency. I continued on into the bathroom area spotted a counter with large, elegant his and hers sinks. The counter was also adorned with several lavish soaps and lotions perfect for rehydrating the skin after a long day out on Safari. Immediately behind the sinks was a huge wooden wall with two large, stationary showerheads and two large detachable showerheads, at the floor was two large wooden grates for water drainage. I remember thinking, wow that is one of the nicest shower setups I have ever seen. I continued on to find a separate room with a toilet that looks through a window out at the sweeping grasslands. I walked out to the deck to find several chairs, perfect for sitting and watching the sun go down. On the far right side of the deck is a large outdoor shower facing out towards the north side of Chiefs Island. On the far left side of the deck sits a mattress, tucked under a canopy, later in the day I took full advantage of this as sprawled out read a book as the sun set and the animals came out for my viewing pleasure. Jemima looks at me and asks is the room up to your expectations, I chuckle and reply “Jemima this has far exceeded my expectations.” She then left me to my thoughts, and I immediately stripped down and hopped into the outdoor shower. There is truly nothing that beats showering outside in the hot African sun while looking out at Impalas and Kudu frolicking in grass, this is truly a memorable experience. After showering I walked back to the main lodge to find a gigantic spread of food, tea, and coffee. I looked at one of the camps staff and they said are you interested in light meal before your game drive? I scoffed and said “I don’t know how you define light, but this is basically a full meal in between lunch and dinner”. Needless to say, I indulged until I was completely full and well caffeinated. As I was finishing my meal I heard the roar of a lion, no wait, that was Tsile laughing at something one of the other guests had said. He proceeded towards me and proclaimed “ Tim my friend are you ready to see all the animals that Chitabe could not show you?” I replied, “Tsile, I would like nothing more than that.” We hoped into the Land Rover and proceeded back over the bridge and onto another dirt road. Tsile looked back at me and said, “Tim what do you want to see today?” I replied emphatically, “Tsile I haven’t seen a lion yet, do you know where they hangout?” He roared with laughter and replied “I will find you a lion before the end of the day.” Not once thorough out the day did I doubt that he would find me my lion. We continued onward passing hundreds of impalas, kudu, tsessebes, and warthogs. We came across numerous zebras, baboons, and herds upon herds of elephants. We come a round a bend, and I notice something large laying in a watering hole underneath a tree, I shout “Tsile what on earth is that under the tree?’ He looks through his binoculars and proclaims “that is a Hyena my friend”. We drive closer and notice he has a dead impala in the water with him. We pull right up to the edge of the watering hole and I remember saying something like “wow he is absolutely massive”. For some reason I carried with me the idea of the hyenas from the Lion King, I thought of them as a small dog like creature. My thoughts were proven wrong; as I stared at the hyena I realized that I would be just as scared of coming across one of these in the wild, as I would be running into a lion or leopard. Tsile looks at me and claims, “When they are in a pack they can deal with lions no problem”. We watched the hyena for a while as he slept with his head down so that just his mouth and nose were above the water. We continued down a dirt road for about 30 minutes before Tsile stopped and got out of the Rover to examine some tracks. He looked sharply at me, and all he said was “lion”. I felt a sense of shear excitement wash over me. We followed the tracks out into the bush for quite a while before he stopped and pointed to a thick clump of grass, where I got the pleasure to see my first Lion in the wild. I was so excited I had to keep reminding myself I need to breathe. As we neared the Lion I notice several of them all sprawled out, trying to conserve energy probably after a long morning hunt. I counted 6 of them, it was a sight I will never forget. As one awoke and stared right at me I was reminded of my house Cat back home, and I thought to myself I wonder if people that have cats get more enjoyment on a lion sighting because the way they act is reminiscent of our household pets. The thought quickly vanished, as I was enthralled with the sleeping, lazy lions. We observed them for about an hour as the slept, only getting up for short periods of time to clean themselves before drifting back into slumber. We were parked no more that 5 meters from these amazing beasts, and when they did get up I thought to myself …this animal could literally reach up and rip me right out of this vehicle if he chose to. However, we pose no threats to the animals here, and they pose no threats to us, as long as we stay in our vehicles. We continued to observe the Lions as they would eventually get up, walk 30 yards and then lay down again and drift back into sleep. I notice movement off in the distance and spot a hyena, Tsile fires up the Land Rover and we head towards the massive dog. Tsile exclaims “Ahh it would be a bad day for this hyena if the lion were to spot him, cats and Hyenas just don’t mix”. I laugh and agree with Tsile’s statement. We continue to observe the Hyena until we I get bored and we head back towards the Lions, much to my chagrin they are still sprawled out in the grass, taking advantage of a mid day nap. After watching them get up several times and move gingerly before going back to sleep, I look at Tsile and say how about we go find something else, they seem content with sleeping all day. He responds, “do you want a great a photo of these Lions?” I reply, “of course, but what are you thinking?” Tsile roars with laughter, loud enough that all the Lions get up and look in our direction. He fires up the engine and we drive over a hill to a small watering hole. He drives to the far side of the watering hole and parks up on a bank. He looks at me and says “turn the ISO on your camera up just a bit and the exposure down just a bit and in 30 minutes the lions will be here drinking and you will have an excellent shot of them and their reflection on the water.” I didn’t doubt him in anyway. I remember also thinking, “does every guide in Africa know how to use my camera better than me?” True to his word within 30 minutes we spy the Lions coming up over the hill. They make their way down to the water and sure enough I must have taken 400 pictures of this event, and I was so pleased with both my pictures and with my guide and friend Tsile. I look at Tsile and proclaim “you are truly a master of your profession, how you knew they would come to the watering hole, I will never know, but I’m so glad you made me wait.” His thunderous laughter could be heard all the way back at camp as looks at me and says “I’ve been doing this for a long time”. We headed back to camp in time to catch an amazing sunset from off of the deck behind the main lodge. As I sipped on a drink made of local fruits, I thank Tsile for an amazing day out on Safari. He replies “well you had better be ready for tomorrow morning then”. I head back to my room and change into some jeans and a proper shirt for dinner. Moments later a knock at the door, I peer out and there is a woman named Liz, one of the other managers of the camp. She looks at me and asks me “are you ready to have dinner”? I reply emphatically “Yes”. I follow Liz back to the main lodge where I sit down at a table. She looks at me and says, “well, since you’re by yourself, would you like some company for dinner?” I reply “Liz that sounds great”. The style of dining at Mombo that night, was much different than at Chitabe. At Chitabe, everyone sat together at one table and the food is set up buffet style, where you go and dish it up yourself. That night at Mombo, it was a private dining experience where you pick a table and order 1 of 2 starters, 1 of 3 main courses, and 1 of 2 desserts. I thought the food at Chitabe was excellent, but I thought the food at Mombo was stellar. The chef came out to introduce himself and went over the menu for the nights dining, the food was similar to what you find at a 5 star restaurant back in the America. I remember ordering a filet mignon, and asking, “Liz how is the beef here?” She replied, “Botswana beef is some of the best in the world”. She did not lie, it was absolutely amazing! When I was in college I worked at several steak houses, and I know a good steak, Botswana beef truly is some of the best in the world. After eating a marvelous tasting and filling dinner, I laughed and joked with Liz late into the night. Liz was an exceptional host, she was from the UK and had worked in the hospitality industry for a while before coming to manage Mombo Camp. She walked me back to my room, and minutes after laying down I was out like a light. The short sleep I had at Mombo was one of the best nights of sleep I have ever had. I was full from a great meal, I was high off of the excitement I had on my game drive, and falling asleep to gentle sound of tree frogs was amazing. I awoke at 5am to the sound of an Elephant trumpeting in camp, it was as though he was signaling me, trying to tell me that more adventure awaited me here. Shortly after getting dressed Tsile showed up at my door bearing gifts of coffee and tea. I looked at the tray and noticed brown sugar and a cup of milk, I stated “this is exactly how I like my coffee in the morning”. He replied, “Chitabe radioed us and told us that this is how you like it”. I was astonished, what an amazing level of service they kept here, they actually radio the camp you’re going to next and tell them all of the things they learned about you. I thought to myself “what a wonderful practice, I truly fell at home at the wilderness camps”. After having some coffee and chatting with Tsile for a bit, we headed towards the main lodge. Once again, there on the tables was a spread of food for a “light breakfast”. I indulged until I was full and we headed back out into the bush. That morning Tsile asked me again “Tim is there anything in particular that you want to see?” This time I answered back “No Tsile, you just show me what I need to see.” He belted out in his unmistakable laughter and proclaimed “Good man”. We drove for several minutes before coming across a huge herd of elephant rolling around in the mud, Tsile explained to me that they roll in the mud to cool off and to also suffocate ticks and parasites that bother them. We continued on in our journey to find hyena, giraffe, zebra, impala and lots of Kudu. We kept driving and spotting animal after animal. I thought the game at Chitabe was great, but the game at Mombo blows Chitabe out of the water. We ventured further and came across a watering hole stocked with about a dozen Hippos, I looked at the gigantic animals as they rose out of the water and opened their gaping mouths, and I thought to myself these animals could eat me in one bite. Movies, pictures, and television does absolutely no justice to the mass of a Hippo, you cannot truly appreciate how big they are until you see on come out of the water and start heading straight towards you. We continued onwards to find a giant crocodile sunning himself on the banks above a large body of water, I admired the predator knowing that he’s the only predator on earth that actively hunts man. An animal to be admired from a distance, but feared up close. We continued down a dirt road and around a bend we found a huge heard of Cape buffalo. I thought to myself, “ahh another one of the Big 5”. So far, in 2 days I had seen every species of the Big 5 except for a black Rhino. The Big 5 are the 5 animals that hunters deem the most dangerous in Africa, it includes; black rhino, Cape buffalo, lion, leopard and elephant. We admired the Buffalo and watched them take care of a newborn, it was quite the spectacle. I noticed birds hanging out all over the buffalo and so I asked Tsile “what are the birds doing on the buffalo?” Tsile responded quietly “The birds live in a symbiotic relationship with the buffalo, the birds eat the bugs and parasites off the buffalo, in turn keeping themselves fed and the Buffalo pest free.” We continued to observe the Buffalo until we heard movement behind us, we turned to see a wild dog, Tsile shrieked with excitement “do you know what that is?’ I replied, “yeah that’s a wild dog, I saw a pack of them take down an impala at Chitabe.” He looked at me and asked me if I knew how many wild dogs lived in the concession around Mombo. I replied, “No I have no idea”. He turns to me with a somber look on his face and explains “there is only one, all the other ones have been killed off and this particular sighting is one of the rarest things at Mombo.” He goes on further to explain, “this wild dog actually has teamed up with the jackals in the area to hunt, because he’s not big enough to take down something on his own.” I was saddened and amazed at the fact that this animal has had to learn how to hunt with another species in order to survive, I thought….this is truly remarkable. We followed the wild dog through the bush for a while, as though he was trying to lead us to something, trying desperately to show us something we needed to see. We followed him through some bush, this is where we lost sight of him. We continued to scour the bush for him before coming to a clearing where we found what he was trying to lead us to. In the middle of the clearing we spy movement, we drive closer and closer until we see that it is pride of 16 lions. I couldn’t believe my eyes as we pulled near to them. We parked 20 yards from the first Lion and one by one they all walked right past us, close enough that someone very brave or stupid could have reached out and touched them. I remember thinking I am so fortunate to be at this place, at this point in time, surrounded by animals most people never get see outside of a zoo or television. We admired the swift movements of the Lions as they Frolicked and played with each other, like children on a playground during recess. We watched them until my time at Mombo had run out, we headed back towards camp so I could pack my stuff and hop on a plane to my next camp. We got back to camp and I packed in a hurry, I said my good byes to all the staff members at camp and the guests I had met there along the way. As I hoped in the Rover and headed towards the Airstrip I remember thinking, “What a wonderful place; the service was so amazing, the people were so amazing, and everyone was so happy to be there. I remember thinking “I felt truly at home amongst the staff and guests at Mombo.” It was really hard for me when I arrived at the airstrip, and had to say goodbye to my guide, and now my close friend, Tsile. I’ve noticed through traveling that a good way to measure an experience is how sad you are when you have to leave; when I left Mombo I was devastated.