The Bush Trek

We reached Maun, Botswana, a town known as the perfect jumping off point to explore the Okavango Delta. Botswana and its neighbors Angola, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe did something radical in 2011. They removed all of the fences so wild animals can migrate across thousands of kilometers again. KAZA (Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area) encompasses 106 million acres, the size of France! This is thrilling and unnerving. It’s thrilling because most of the time we had the roads to ourselves – and needed to stop the rental car every day for zebras or springboks that were crossing the road in herds.

And it’s unnerving, because wild animals are, well, wild, and that definition includes lions and the aggressive African buffalo*.

From a distance African buffalo look harmless, don’t they?

But I was telling you about Maun. One night at the lodge we sat next to a table occupied by a rowdy group. We could tell from the accent that they were from Eastern Germany. They were noisy as they enjoyed their beers. When the Botswana man sitting at the head of the table began to speak, they quieted down a little so a fellow German could translate from English for them.

“Everyone needs to to be ready at 5:00 tomorrow morning to leave for our bush trek,” the guide stated. A few groans from the table; he ignored them and went on talking. “Bring only the items you will need in the bush. Leave everything else in your suitcases. Those will remain on the tour bus. You need to wear good walking shoes or hiking boots! Do not forget the sun screen and insect repellent. We are in malaria territory! And make sure to bring enough water to last for the next few days. There are no stores where we’re going. When you don’t carry sufficient provisions for yourself, you compromise the safety of the entire group.”

The table got quieter, with only the voices of the guide and his translator admonishing them.

“You stay with me at all times. We were forced to cancel the last trek because there were too many lions in the area. It was far too dangerous.” He scrutinized each of them in turn. “You will follow my instructions. Never leave the trail or go off by yourself. You would easily get lost in the delta and never find your way back out.”

At this point Uwe and I were shamelessly eavesdropping. Everyone had stopped eating and the next table had gone completely silent. The guide pointed at himself and raised his voice. “In the bush, I am your father!” he thundered. The translator repeated the words in German with all the right emphases. “And, you see this man sitting next to me?” The guide pointed at his translator. “While we are in the bush, he is your mother! We will be your parents! You will do exactly what we tell you!” He informed the utterly still Germans that at the end of the road a private helicopter service would be waiting to carry them in small groups deep in the Okavango Delta. Once they were all flown in, they’d be met by local bushmen who had been hired to take them trekking. And, he promised, they’d have the adventure of their lives.

Uwe and I think they got way more adventure than they’d planned on!

NOTE: * More people are killed by African buffalo every year than by any other wild animal. © 2023 Jadi Campbell. Photos ©2023 Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photography and his photos of our trips can be viewed at

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys,  Grounded and The Trail Back Out.

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories). The Trail Back Out was the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival Winner for General Fiction, American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

Remind Me Again: What Are We Doing Here?

“A brave heart and a courteous tongue,” said he. “They shall carry thee far through the jungle, manling.” —The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)

We’re in India for a few weeks and currently we’re riding in the back of an open jeep. We spent the better part of 5 hours each day on really bad roads to get here. D31_9982_DxO8Now we’re layered in the few long-sleeved clothes we brought along. How cold can it be if you’re not way up north trekking in the Himalyas?

How cold? Man, it’s effing freezing.

It’s shortly after 6 a.m. in the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve and we’ve been up since 5. “Remind me,” I beg. “What are we doing here?” I wrap the blanket the tiger lodge lent us tighter around my body. (What I really want is a sub zero temperatures sleeping bag.) “Remind me,” I ask again. “Why are we doing this?”

“You wanted to come back to India,” Uwe prompts.

“Oh, yeah. Now I remember.” And it’s true: I was really excited to return. I fell in love with the subcontinent when we visited a decade ago. In Goa we walked miles of pristine beaches. In Karnataka we attended an astonishing Nandi Purnima, the full moon festival, and Hampi was a bare landscape filled with gigantic boulders and ancient temples.

In a country this exotic and large, surely we’d experience something new when we came back. What I did not expect was that I’d be freezing my ass off.


Entrance to Bandhavgahr National Park

We’re doing a mix of culture and nature. India is one of the two most populated countries on the planet, and we thought it would be smart to schedule some time in quieter areas too. I’m glad we did. The north central region of Madya Pradesh is green and varied and home to some of the few remaining wild Bengal tiger populations.

So for two days at Bandhavgarh and a day at Kanha National Park*, we haul our sorry butts out of bed at the crack of dawn, pull on all our clothes and drape ourselves in borrowed blankets. 6 a.m.-1 p.m. for the early safari; 3-6 p.m. for the afternoon attempt. If we’re lucky, we’ll spot a big cat.

We’re not lucky. We’re cold.


Later we shed layers as the day warms up. The parks contain barking and spotted deer, D32_0066_DxO8gaurs, nilgai, D31_9870_DxO8

lemurs and langurs, D31_9944_DxO8

D31_9854_DxO8wild peacocks and other birdlife, D31_9997_DxO8

Green bee-eater
Green bee-eater


Crested hawk-eagle
Crested hawk-eagle

wild boar, D32_0649_DxO8and a landscape filled with watering holes and high grasses, forest and farmers’ villages. On the second day at Bandhavgarh our jeep carries a park ranger to inspect a water buffalo kill from the night before. It occurred just outside the official boundary of the preserve and the farmer will be reimbursed for the animal the tiger took down.

One dead water buffalo
One dead water buffalo

We aren’t allowed to leave the jeep – ever – and the ranger approaches the carcass very slowly.

Park Ranger inspecting water buffalo carcass
Be sure you notice that the ranger’s got on lots of clothes too.

Where there’s a fresh kill, the big cat can’t be far.

I mean it: it's really cold out.
I mean it: it’s really cold out.

By the third day I’ve perfected what I name the mummy wrap. I have myself wrapped so tight that I literally can’t move, but this way the blanket doesn’t unwind in the cold wind.


And, suddenly, a tiger leaps from the forest, followed by his mate. He moves into the reeds and returns dragging a dead spotted deer by the neck.




D32_0402_DxO8 We see them for less than a minute and those seconds are absolutely worth the days of waiting. My God, they’re magnificent! During the afternoon safari we get lucky again: 10 seconds of spotting a shyer, rarer leopard.

The leopard moved unconcerned in the back through the high grass

Uwe captures the group of spotted deer nervously fleeing the leopard. He’s in Photographer Heaven.

Naturally we’re already dreaming about an African safari (… and I’ll pack a wool jacket, just in case…).

NOTES: *Kanha National Park provided the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. Go to my earlier post Travel Karma to read about our first visit to India. More pictures from India and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at

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