Final Days in Africa

Life at Vumbura Plains was pretty plush. There were lots of little touches that contributed. When we first arrived, we were asked during our orientation what drinks we preferred for sundowners. We said gin and tonic, please. Then they asked what sort of gin we’d like! Upon returning from each game drive we were greeted with a cool or warm (depending on the weather), moist, scented towel to wipe the dust from our faces and hands. The service was excellent. The kitchen produced delicious food and we enjoyed having some of our dinners and all of our lunches at private tables. Meals were less time structured than at Chitabe, which was relaxing. They had some delicious house roasted nuts at sundowners which we also found in the mini-bar in our room. In an effort to be more sustainable and cut down on the use of disposable plastic water bottles, Wilderness Safaris gives each guest a stainless steel water bottle to use during their stay, and of course to take home as a souvenir. As at Chitabe, all the buildings and walkways were raised off the ground, and the common areas looked out over the watery plain. The guest bathroom near the “lobby” also faced the view, which you could see quite easily from the throne since there was no wall on that side! The wildlife was everywhere. While being escorted after dark back to our room to freshen up for dinner one evening, our flashlights lit up a hippo grazing in the grass just below us. At night the sounds of the bush were everywhere, including right outside our tent.

On a couple of occasions the elephants made an appearance in camp during the day. Elephants are mezmerizing. They exude a sense of peace and a slow and steady rhythm in everything they do. It’s infectious. I was thrilled when one afternoon, as we were lazing about on our deck, I saw some elephants making their way along the camp heading towards us. They were eating and walking at a leisurely pace and soon they were right in front of us. Not only was it a fun photographic opportunity, but it was exciting to be so close to simply observe them.

IMG_1071

P1040794

Michael viewing the elephants from the comfort of our plunge pool!

P1040742 P1040737 P1040760 P1040749 P1040756 P1040773 P1040790 P1040784

IMG_1084

P1040805

Bath time!

Bath time!

The time of year we visited the Okavango Delta was not the wet season despite the fact that the rains were just starting. The wettest time is from June to August when the waters of the Okavango river flood the delta. There is water in parts of the Delta all year long, but when the floods come, it increases dramatically. Even though it was not flood season, we still travelled through water sometimes in the vehicles and you could get an idea of what it would be like with a lot more water.

P1040576 P1040579

Here are some more of the birds we saw.

Ground hornbill

Ground hornbill

African fish eagle

African fish eagle

Hammerkop

Hammerkop

Slaty egret

Slaty egret

Helmeted guinea fowl or "bush chicken"

Helmeted guinea fowl or “bush chicken”

Marabou stork. He was hanging around the lions waiting for his turn at the kill.

Marabou stork. He was hanging around the lions waiting for his turn at the kill.

One afternoon we watched a giraffe take a drink. That may not sound like much but it’s a bit of an ordeal for the giraffe. First, because they are very vulnerable with their heads down low, they are very cautious about where and when they drink. This giraffe was constantly looking around for predators. Also, because of their long necks and the blood pressure that builds up when their heads are down, they can’t stay in that position for long. So giraffes tend to take a drink, stand up, take another drink, stand up, etc. They also don’t lower or raise their heads very quickly because that might wreak havoc with their blood pressure as well. The giraffe doesn’t want to pass out because he stood up too quickly!

P1040694 P1040697

We saw more elephants on our game drives, including a mom and her baby and a big bull elephant who we watched methodically eating the bark off some branches.

Mom, looking to see if the coast is clear.

Mom, looking to see if the coast is clear.

Baby peaks out

Baby peaks out

P1040562

P1040615

Grabbing branches

P1040612

P1040619

P1040629

P1040618

Here are some photos of the sausage tree which I described earlier. Salami anyone?!

P1040652 P1040653

P1040731 P1040732 P1040573 P1040569

On our last visit to see the lion family with their buffalo kill we saw them lounging and playing in a very peaceful scene. The cubs were so playful and tried to engage their uncle, who was really quite patient with them.

P1040710 P1040723 P1040725 P1040850 P1040853

Starting to wake up

Starting to wake up

P1040859

Everyone wants a good relaxing stretch

Everyone wants a good stretch

The cubs can't resist jumping their uncle

The cubs can’t resist jumping on their uncle

P1040861 P1040863

taking a drink

Taking a drink. She did this about 3 ft. from our vehicle.

All that was left of the carcass.

All that was left of the carcass.

Here is an elephant that came into camp one morning just as we were getting ready to go out on our game drive. We are in the vehicle waiting until it is safe to drive off. It’s amazing that the elephants don’t do more damage to the structures, but they’re pretty good at avoiding them.

P1040706

On our last game drive we saw a lovely herd of elephants with young in tow.

Notice the baby you can see through her legs.

Notice the baby you can see through her legs.

P1040885 P1040888 P1040882 P1040883 P1040890

I really loved the elephants and could have watched them for hours. Particularly pleasing were the low rumbling noises they made to communicate with each other. It was an incredible sound.

The view from our deck.

The view from our deck.

On our very last morning we opted not to get up at 5:30am and go out on a game drive. We had seen so much already and had a very long journey ahead. So instead, we slept in and packed our things, had brunch and said our farewells. We were driven to the airstrip around 11am to catch our plane to Maun. Here is the pane that took us there. It was the largest of the three we took around the Delta.

P1040905

On the way to Maun, we stopped off at another camp to exchange a few passengers. Here are a few photos of the flight as well as one of Maun as we were coming in.

P1040907 P1040909 P1040912

Maun

Maun

The tiny airport in Maun was crowded and hot as we waited for our flight to Johannesburg. We had retrieved the extra luggage left with Wilderness Safaris without incident and finally boarded the plane for an uneventful flight back to South Africa. During our layover  in Jo’burg we managed to change into some clean clothes for our transatlantic flight and re-packed our bags a bit. We found our gate and boarded the plane for the 16+ hour trip to Atlanta. It was a long flight and a bit of a blur. We watched some movies, tried to sleep, and simply endured. In Atlanta we had plenty of time to catch our flight to Albuquerque, so there was no stress getting through customs, re-checking our bags onwards, and finding a proper breakfast. I think we slept some more on the flight to New Mexico and arrived in early afternoon after about 33 hours of travel. At that point we had to decide if we were going to make the 3 1/2 hour car journey to Durango or get a hotel room and rest up first. We decided to go for it and used our last burst of energy to drive home. Our dog was very happy to see us and our house sitter had kindly left a pot of soup on the stove. Whew! It was a relief to take a hot shower and relax after our travel marathon.

Long journeys by plane are always a bit surreal. Your body is confused about what time it is and you have the sense of being in limbo when you’re on the plane. It is always a bit of a miracle to arrive someplace knowing you woke up that morning somewhere else, very far away. The long journey to Africa was well worth it. What a fantastic time we had. I think about it all the time and try to remember the details and nuances of what we experienced. I’m so glad I have the photos to look over as a reminder, but they are not the whole of it. The sounds and smells and tastes and people are there too in my memory. Thanks for following along as I chronicled our journey. Your encouragement and support has been a real help. I’m not sure what’s on the horizon for my next adventure, but I’ll be sure to let you know.

Cheers!

Sarah

Chitabe In Pictures

At Chitabe camp in the Okavango Delta of Botswana we saw so much wonderful wildlife it’s hard to pick only a few photographs to post. There was a huge diversity of animals and birds and it seemed that new and exciting things were around every corner. One morning we came to a water hole where quite a few marabou storks had gathered along with egrets, white pelicans, herons, and other water loving fowl. There was a hippopotamus carcass nearby which probably accounted for the storks as they are scavengers. We also saw many living hippos at the water holes.

P1030124

Marabou stork

P1030125

P1030132

P1030140 P1030183 P1030167 P1030169 P1030188

It was the beginning of baby season in the bush and we saw beautiful wee creatures wobbling around after their mamas. In fact, we happened upon a wildebeest with her newborn calf mere seconds after she had given birth. We watched for about ten minutes as the baby struggled to stand up and take its first steps. That’s all the time it took before they were making their way back to the herd.

P1030200 P1030209

P1030218 P1030224

Piglets!

Piglets!

The whiskers on this young warthog are to fool predators into thinking he has big tusks!

The whiskers on this young warthog are to fool predators into thinking he has big tusks!

Tsessebes with youngsters

Tsessebes with youngsters

P1030119

Giraffes get darker as they age. This young one is quite light colored.

Giraffes get darker as they age. This young one is quite light colored.

P1030316

On the way back to camp one morning we heard a ruckus in the bushes next to the road. When we went to investigate it turned out there was a python moving about under a tree. A very brave dove was keeping an eye on things! When there is a snake nearby, birds and squirrels will make a lot of noise to let the others (and the snake) know it’s been spotted.

P1030288

Another morning we spent some time trying to find some lions that had been spotted in a certain area. Having been unsuccessful in finding them and having nearly gotten stuck in the mud in the process, we were headed back to camp for breakfast when we just happened upon two leopards lying in the shade on a termite mound by the side of the road. How convenient! It was a mother and her son. They were panting from the heat and posed very obligingly for us.

P1030245 P1030252 P1030257

We also saw more wild dogs at Chitabe. On the first occasion they were relaxing in the evening before rousing themselves and setting off on a hunt.

P1030354

Play time

Play time

Setting off into the bush

Setting off into the bush

The second time we saw them they had just gone for a cooling dunk in the mud at a waterhole and were settling in for a late morning nap. They looked very strange with the mud plastered over parts of their bodies!

P1030492 P1030503 P1030508 P1030505 P1030512

There were many beautiful birds and we were able to see many of them enough times to start to learn their names.

Lilac breasted roller

Lilac breasted roller

One of my favorite birds

One of my favorite birds. So colorful!

Ground hornbills

Ground hornbills

Grey louries, also called the go away bird because it makes a sound like someone saying "Go Away!"

Grey Go-Away-Birds so called because they make a sound like someone saying “Go Away!”

P1030608

Crested barbet

P1030640

Hammerkop

Hammerkop

African fish eagle

African fish eagle

Here are some pictures of our first Baobab tree. They are enormous, but not immune to the damage that elephants can do.

P1030519 P1030526

We also saw more leopards including a female lounging in a tree who decided to come down, and a young male cub also in a tree who was hanging out waiting for his family to come back.

P1030540 P1030541 P1030551 P1030552

When I first spotted this young guy he was watching us from the crook of a tree.

When I first spotted this young guy he was watching us from the crook of a tree.

P1030576 P1030579

There were plenty of cape buffalo as well as elephants to provide us with exciting encounters.

P1030457 P1030460 P1030474

P1030616 P1030637 P1030621 P1030951

I will leave you here with the spectacular sunrise we saw one morning. Next up will be lions and traveling to our next camp.

P1030652

The Teaming Wildlife of Chitabe

As I mentioned before, there was no WiFi or internet access at Chitabe. However I did take some time to write about our experience in the moment. Here is what I wrote along with more photographs.

“Our time at Chitabe has been quite peaceful. We have fallen into the rhythm of safari again and appreciate the slight changes in the schedule that Wilderness Safaris uses as opposed to the lodges in South Africa. Wake up is 5am again, with gathering at 5:30. Then we have some coffee and a bite to eat before going out at 6am. Brunch is at 11am and so far we have not come back from morning game drive much before that. We like having brunch and not both breakfast and lunch as you really can’t comfortably eat that often anyway. I have found I have been looking forward to some food or a snack at every opportunity instead of feeling always full. Tea is at 4pm which leaves a nice chunk of time after brunch in which to relax, nap, shower, or do whatever appeals. We depart at 4:30pm for evening game drive, are back around 7:30 or 7:45pm, and dinner is at 8pm. Meals are taken communally at one big table with the other guests. The tradition of morning coffee and evening sundowners while out on game drive continues. The food has been fresh and good and the quantities sufficient without being overwhelming. All this is quite a feat as we are out in the middle of the bush with only weekly and monthly food deliveries.”

Here are some photos of Chitabe camp. All the buildings are raised up off the ground and connected by wooden walkways.

The communal lounge area.

The communal lounge area.

P1030599

Firepit gathering place

Firepit gathering place

Michael at the gorgeous wooden bar.

Michael at the gorgeous wooden bar.

“Our tented room is certainly bush luxury– two sinks in the bathroom, indoor and outdoor showers, a huge mosquito netted bed, wood floors with rugs, and nice artsy touches. We latch the doors to keep the baboons from ransacking our room while we’re out and there is no AC, only a fan. We do have a view of the savanna woodland in front of our lodge and pretty good privacy. All in all it’s a treat.

P1020934

P1020936

P1030020

P1020937

The view from our deck.

Our guide is Gordon. At Wilderness Safaris you have a guide only, no tracker. Gordon is Batswana, meaning he is from Botswana, the country. He has been doing this for twenty-five years and seems relaxed and patient. He knows a lot and has a good sense of humor. Since we arrived later than expected we were driven out to join the game drive already in progress on our first afternoon. Our companions are an American couple from Baltimore, Robert and Arlynn.

The game here is plentiful, more abundant than we’ve seen anywhere else, and very concentrated. The landscape is much more open than South Africa was, with sweeping views of the palm studded grassy floodplains, marshy areas, acacia woodland and lovely trees. You can look out and see giraffe, zebra, and impala all at the same time, dotting the landscape. I especially like the trees. We’ve seen Marula, African Ebony or Jackelberry, Baobab, and the aptly named Sausage tree, which has large fibrous pods hanging from it that look, for all the world, like great big whole salamis!

P1020949 P1020947 P1020963 P1020964 P1020940

We’ve seen a laundry list of game, birds, and predators, including a cheetah. Since we hadn’t seen a cheetah yet, I really wanted to tick that off. There are lots of hippos, large herds of buffalo, and elephants. The birding has been extraordinary with storks and cranes and other water birds adding to the raptors, seed eaters, and bug eaters. I’ve been learning to identify many of them and it’s great fun. Another fun thing is that it’s baby season. The rains are just starting and the impala have begun giving birth. Baby impala are adorably cute as are the warthog piglets. We even saw a newborn wildebeest take its first steps. I will tell a few of the game drive stories as I add the pictures.”

P1020966

A very muddy bull elephant.

P1020969

P1020972

Impala

P1030008 P1030026

One thing that amazed me about our time on safari in both South Africa and Botswana was the ability of the guides to deliver what we wanted. Perhaps we were just lucky or maybe we have good karma. At any rate, we saw a tremendous amount of wildlife with many spectacular and dramatic sightings. When we got to Chitabe Gordon asked what we wanted to see. I mentioned a cheetah as I hadn’t seen one in South Africa. Cheetah can be a hit or miss proposition but Gordon pulled it off. In fact, in Botswana we saw several over the course of our time there. The lightest of the big cats, they are long and lean and build for speed. They are the only ones whose claws do not retract in order to give them better traction while maneuvering in the chase. Here are some photos of our first encounter.

First spotted in the distance under the tree.

First spotted in the distance under the tree. Look closely!

P1030034

The termite mound he’s lying on gives him a better view of his surroundings.

P1030039

P1030043

Marking his territory by spraying a bush.

P1030056

He decided to move to another termite mound and we followed.

P1030044 P1030048

P1030082 P1030072

P1030076

The claws.

The claws.

P1030111

Nap time!

Nap time!

You can see the cheetah on his mound in the background.

You can see the cheetah on his mound in the background.

In my next post I will continue with more photographs and a few stories from our game drives. Thanks for reading!

Onwards to Ngala

After our final game drive at Londolozi we had one more scrumptious breakfast, packed our bags, and said our goodbyes. Amos from Sable Tours picked us up and drove us the 3 and 1/4 hours to Ngala Private Game Reserve in the Timbavati region.

 

It took us an hour on dirt roads to get to the tarmac. Along the way we continued to see animals in the bush. As we left the Sabi Sand region behind we began to pass what felt like “real” Africa to us, the real world. Flying straight into Londolozi was magical, but it's a bit like being in Neverland. We saw square homes built of grey brick the size of cinderblocks. Many yards were fenced with wire to keep animals out. People were walking along the roads. One village we drove through showed signs of damage. We presumed it was from the recent hail storm. The corrugated tin roof of a church had been peeled back like a tin of sardines. I noticed a lot of laundry hanging on lines to dry. What stood out was the color coordination. There was a lot of pink and red clothing, however, uniformly, colors were grouped. You would see all the pinks together, all the whites, all the reds, blues etc. I found this color organization quite pleasing to my inner sense of order. After a couple of hours we entered the Krueger National Park through the Timbavati gate. All of a sudden there were giraffe and elephant appearing near the road. Ngala is a private reserve with unfenced borders to the rest of the Kruger National Park.

An hour or so later we arrived at Ngala Safari Lodge. We were greeted by the soft spoken Ruth with a cool towel to wipe the dust from our faces and a glass of juice. Given, a man with a ready and winning smile, showed us to our cottage– he was to be our waiter and butler for the remainder of our stay. We decided that we didn't need lunch since we'd had such a good breakfast, and it really wasn't that long until tea. We settled into #17 and a bit later, headed over to the main deck area to have tea and meet our Ranger. We discovered that the thatch roof of the cottage protruded rather dangerously into the walkway leading up to the entrance. It was all a matter of angles, but since Michael is 6'3″, we felt this would inevitably lead to a bleeding wound on his head. At tea we spoke with Stephen, the camp manager, who also happened to be at least that tall, and he agreed to move us to #16, which had an easier entrance. We did this in the morning.

Our Ranger was Bernard. He offered us some refreshment and gave us an overview of the reserve asking if there was anything in particular we wanted to see. We rather sheepishly explained that we'd had incredible luck at Londolozi and had already seen the Big Five, but I admitted I'd like to see a big male lion. We were joined by a family group of Germans, father with son and daughter, who had just arrived from their international flights. Another couple had not made it there yet, so it was just the 5 of us on the vehicle that first night. Our Tracker was a local Shangaan man named Jimmy. We set out in the late afternoon sunlight for our first Ngala safari.

 

Lions!

The remainder of our time at Londolozi continued to awe and amaze. We were treated to sightings of two lion prides, two more leopards, countless antelope of varying types, rhino, hippo, buffalo, giraffe, birds galore and even some reptiles. The food and service were equally amazing. I will really miss those breakfasts! I particularly enjoyed the huge variety of birds. It was such a luxury to have a guide to point them out, describe their habits, and one who knew all the names and calls so well. Some of my favorites include the Lilac-breasted roller, the Goliath heron– largest in the world, and the various eagles. After the storms of the night before, the bush seemed refreshed, clean, and sparkly. It really is beautiful to be out just after sunrise to see everything just waking up. And a little bit of rain immediately makes everything spring to life. As the summer rains are about to start up in earnest, soon the bush will be lush and green with new growth everywhere. The weather improved and we had some sunshine mixed with clouds. In general it has been much cooler here than I expected. It's preferable to being scorching hot, but I never expected to be chilly! Still, the clothing I brought seems to have worked out just fine.

Kate and Life in the morning- see where he sits?

Wildebeest

Red-billed Hornbill

Marshall eagle

Life

The first lions we saw were from the Sparta pride. Quite a lot of time was spent tracking them down, narrowing down their location by searching for tracks along the roads, and eventually searching on foot in the bush. We knew they were close by but still hadn't found them when, along came a Land Rover full of Tracker trainees. The Tracker training program at Londolozi is quite well known and very comprehensive. It is led by a man named Rennius about whom we'd heard from Kate. She had called in The A-Team as they called themselves! Life went off with them into the bush and we drove off to find a suitable spot for tea and rusks. Not three minutes down the road we got the call the lions had been found! Life and Kate had tracked them to right under our noses it seemed. We turned around and raced back, bid adieu to the A-Team, and drove into the bush to see our first lions. We found 4 or 5 lionesses and one young male. You could see his mane was not fully developed but he looked distinctly different from the females. They were doing what lions do most of the time– lying around napping. It was a bit hard to photograph them through the tall grass but you get the idea.

The young male

 

 

Chasing Wild Dogs in the Rain – part 1

I'm sitting in the lounge at Pioneer Camp in Londolozi having a drink and chatting with our very pleasant camp mates, Allan and Loraine. We've had quite an adventure this afternoon which has us sitting here instead of still being out on safari, but more on that later. So far we are having a wonderful time. I've barely had a chance to write and so now I must play a bit of catch up.

Our flight to Londolozi was easy but I found myself feeling impatient and just wanting to be there and have the journey done. We had one stop before Londolozi to drop some others at a different reserve……Well I got distracted by wonderful conversation and a scrumptious dinner…. So now we are back in our room after dinner. It's raining with lots of thunder and lightning going on. However our cottage is snug and dry so we are happy. Before I move on, here are a couple of pictures from our flight to Londolozi.

When we landed at the Londolozi airstrip we were met by our Ranger and Tracker team in a Land Rover. Our ranger is Kate Imrie who happens to be the head ranger. It's an honor to have her as our guide. She has been here ten years together with her husband, and in that time has had a couple of children and made this place her home. Our tracker is a quiet man named Life. He grew up in a local community nearby. They will be our team for the duration of our stay. There were two others on our plane who were also destined for Londolozi. Allan and Loraine hail from Perth, Australia and, as experienced safari goers, have proven to be wonderful companions. Kate and Life took us to camp where we were greeted by Graeme, the camp manager. He offered us a drink and gave us an orientation. A herd of elephants also greeted us as they meandered down the river in front of the lodge.