Celebrating your birthday in Botswana

Sunset at Mashatu
Hyena with Zebra kill
Hyena at zebra kill in camp. Image: Simon Bevan

Back in 2012 I celebrated my birthday in Africa for the first (but hopefully not the last) time. Funnily enough it was only a week or so after I first met Van, but I had left South Africa and was in Tanzania all by myself (OK technically I was on a tour with a bunch of people, but none of whom I had previously known). I remember arriving at our campsite that day and our tour guide told us that at this particular camp site we did not have to worry about lions and could go to the bathrooms with gay abandon (without being mauled or eaten). Looking forward to this sort of night freedom, we then rocked up to find a zebra kill INSIDE the camp. The lions had apparently killed said zebra the evening before. Nice one guide.

Cara birthday
Celebrating my birthday in Tanzania 2012

That night there were rangers with guns walking around the camp perimeter, and they had dragged the zebra carcass into the bushes. I convinced one of the other tour-goers to come down and check it out, telling them there was only hyenas around (we had seen them earlier at the carcass). We get down to the bushes and all of a sudden this lion lets loose an almighty roar, which sends one of the girls on the tour running up into a random person’s nearby car tent (tent above a car – I don’t know the technical name… if there is one). She didn’t even know the people who were in the tent, but she wasn’t taking any chances! I have the feeling she may have stayed there the whole night, she was that petrified.


Van disappointment koppie
Atop disappointment koppie

In typical Cara “I stupidly have zero fear of animals” style, I stayed put until a ranger came and told me I need to get back to our campsite before I got eaten. I think I was the only person left trying to get a glimpse of the lion. Pretty stupid, but definitely a memorable birthday!


Unfortunately though this particular blog isn’t about me (well it wasn’t originally meant to be) – my birthday is in October and so sadly I still have over half a year to wait. Van, however, had his birthday last week in Mashatu (Botswana) at the EcoTraining camp – as part of our recent EcoTraining adventures (more blogs to come soon). And what a birthday it was! The day started with a drive to central Mashatu. Van told me not to tell anyone it was his birthday, which meant of course I told everyone. sunset mamugwaBut I told them all not to say anything, until we were atop ‘disappointment koppie’ (apt name?) having coffee, where all of a sudden we all burst into ‘happy birthday to you’ in unison. It was a sight to be seen. On our drive we spent some time with elephants and various other wonderful animals before heading back to camp. At breakfast the table erupted once again into another impromptu happy birthday song – never waste an opportunity to embarrass someone who is trying to enjoy their birthday. RIGHT? Exactly.


That afternoon we all went on a short drive around EcoTraining’s concession and enjoyed watching the prolific plains game that have flooded to the area after the recent rains. We dropped most people off and only a few of us decided to get a couple of sundowners and climb up nearby Mamagwa to watch the sunset. I have a feeling you could do that every day of your life and it would never, ever get old. It is truly spectacular up there, looking out over the plains and marsh. Beer atop mamugwaThe lone baobab adds to the majesty. While we were up there we spotted a hyena but then I noticed a wildebeest running, stopping looking back, running again, stopping, looking back etc. Using my newfound amazing bush skills I scanned in the direction the wildebeest was looking and WHAT DO YOU KNOW? There was a lioness stalking around. I think she was hunting but clearly not doing a great job of it, as the zebra then started alarming and also running – so clearly her cover was blown in all directions. At this point the sun was getting extremely low, so we had to leave and make our trip down the koppie before it got too dark. Back at the car, we went for a short drive to try and relocate the lioness but unfortunately had no luck.

Van Birthday
Definitely a happy birthday boy.

Back at camp we had a fire and braai in the riverbed (very appropriate for Van’s birthday) and most people enjoyed quite a few beers (including Van of course). I had arranged for some cake as I don’t believe a birthday is a proper birthday without cake (also I just really LOVE cake). The ladies at camp had made the most delicious cupcakes and we served them in the river bed to yet another rendition of happy birthday! As good as the cakes were (I had two), the most special part for me was when most people had stumbled to their tents and there were only about 6 of us left by the fire in the river bed (now just a few embers). As it had quietened down, a huge herd of elephants came out of the bushes and crossed the river, a couple hundred metres away. It was so amazing to sit quietly and watch (and listen to) them in the moonlight. So peaceful and a special moment I won’t ever forget. Oh Africa! This is what it’s all about.


I’m not quite sure that Van’s Africa birthday had quite the adrenalin of mine those few years ago, but I have to admit I was still left pretty jealous. What an amazing birthday at Mashatu.



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