Parc National De La Pendjari

Up and out for 5 am is never normally fun, but today it was, we were going on safari! Our driver met us at the hotel and asked us if we wanted to go and pick up some bread for breakfast. Seemed like a good idea to us and so we drove to the bakery. When we arrived we walked through a door to just see a large tarpaulin on the floor with baguettes just scattered all over the place, we chose a few, paid and hit the road. Pendjari is right on the borders of Burkina Faso and Niger and is said to be West Africa’s premier wildlife reserve so we were expecting big things. We arrived at the park just after sunrise, bought our ticket and drove in, the place was deserted, we knew we were out of season, but it was empty, this was great news, more chance of seeing something good.

We sat in the car driving for a while before we stopped at a watering hole where the elephants often hang out, with it being the wet season though they can often find water elsewhere and so they don’t always come to the watering hole. Today was one of those days.. no elephants. We saw a few crocs and some different birds before we decided to move on. Our guide had a bench seat on the roof of the quatre quatre and so we clambered on top and sat down in the blistering heat as we cruised around seeing hundreds of Kob Antelope, Buffalo, Waterbuck, Topi, Kongoni, Roan, Bafoons and monkeys. It was brilliant and we were having a great time. We then stopped by the side of the river, on the other side of the river was Burkina Faso and on the other side we could see a Hippo, it was quite a way away though so we didn’t hang about, our man was confident he could get us closer. He wasn’t wrong either, a little while later we stop at a watering hole and climb down off the roof to see about 20 hippos all bathing in the water keeping cool, we watched for ages in amazement as they just floated around… and then farted! We were still searching for lions though and then we stopped..

No, we’d not seen a lion, we’d broken down. We’re in the middle of this huge nature reserve, miles from nowhere and the bloody quatre quatre has broken down, typical. Gen and I joked, this was the one moment today where we didn’t want to see a lion! I jumped down off the roof and in the end, ended up running through Pendjari pushing this massive 4×4 trying to bump start it whilst Gen’s sat on top like queen bee. I wish we’d had got that on video as it would’ve been hilarious, it chugged, splurted, there was a grinding noise and then there was a roar, thankfully a mechanical one though and not an animal one. All good, I clambered back on top and we set off again, it was so hot that we must have got through a whole bottle of suncream, you could just feel your skin being baked, you’d think you were burning, but you weren’t you were just getting peppered in red dust.

We stopped for lunch under some shady trees next to a hotel in the park which was closed for the off season, thankfully the fridge was still on though and so we had a cold drink, relaxed for a while before heading off again. Gen felt like she’d had too much sun so she sat in the car, but I stayed up top, It wasn’t too long before I spotted an Elephant in the distance, it looked small because it was in the distance, but when you compared it to the trees next to it, you realised it was much bigger than it looked. Time was ticking on and we were heading back to the park exit so we could head home, the wind had picked up and in a matter of minutes the weather had changed from 40 degree soaring heat to looking like it was about to rain, the sky was dark black so I tapped on the roof, we stopped and I jumped back in the van. We’d just set off moving again when something caught my attention, I asked the driver to stop and there it was, I hadn’t been imagining it, just a few metres away in the trees was a Cheetah sat on a log looking at us. We reversed slowly and in actual fact there were three, two young ones and one older one, probably the mother. They looked at us as interested as we looked at them before they decided they’d had enough of the rain and ran off to find shelter. We couldn’t believe it, it was amazing, our guide explained that it was very very rare to see Cheetahs in the park as they spend their days lazing in trees in the shade and that because it had rained that was maybe why we’d been so lucky to see them. With smiles fixed from ear to ear we left the park and headed back to Nattitingou, what a day, and what a birthday for Gen, on safari in Benin.

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