Variety at Vumbura Plains

Here is what I wrote while at Vumbura:

“Chitabe was lovely, but Vumbura Plains is a step up in luxury and comfort. Our room is huge, with a large deck, plunge pool, indoor and outdoor showers, as well as lounge areas. It’s all done in a somewhat rustic but tasteful manner, with tall screen doors and sweeping views of the waterways.

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The view

The view from our deck.

You definitely feel you are out in the middle of it all as the hippos and elephants graze just outside your room at night. There are LOTS of bush sounds and a constant chorus of birds chirping, or frogs croaking, or insects etc. You often hear the elephants calling to one another or the hippos making their grunting noises right from your room. Warthogs parade through camp and the mongoose are everywhere. Chitabe had very concentrated game and Vumbura is a bit less so, but there have been some pretty dramatic sightings–lots of lions, leopard, cheetahs, large herds of buffalo, many hippos, and plenty of antelope, zebra, giraffe and elephant. The roads are a bit smoother, which is nice as it means less bouncing around in the Land Rover. Lovely trees abound and there is more water here but strangely, we’ve seen fewer birds, or perhaps fewer at one time. I think it’s a matter of concentration. This feels more spread out than Chitabe was.

The food at Vumbura Plains is terrific. The service is excellent and they go out of their way to make you feel pampered. It is truly amazing to be this far out in the wilderness and have this level of luxury. Camping this is not, although you do feel cut off from the rest of the world.

This frog is real. He was perched atop a bottle stopper and I had to look closely to see if he was breathing!

This frog is real. He was perched atop a bottle stopper and I had to look closely to see if he was breathing!

Our guide here is Ben. He is a lovely, gentle giant who has done a nice job of showing us the area. We’ve had various companions including Germans, Brits, and Americans who live in Botswana. I have to say we’ve seen far more Americans in Botswana than we ever did in South Africa. I’m not sure how I feel about that as I didn’t really come all the way to Africa to spend my time with Americans. We’ve really enjoyed meeting people from other countries.

One interesting adventure here at Vumbura involved going out in a mokoro on the water instead of doing the usual game drive. A mokoro is a type of dugout canoe. Traditionally they were made of wood from the local trees, but Wilderness Safaris uses fiberglass ones because it’s more sustainable. They are quite narrow and propelled by a poler. So Michael and I both sat in the mokoro while Johannes stood at the back and used a pole to push us around through shallow waterways filled with reeds and lily pads. It was lovely to have everything so quiet– no engine noise. We enjoyed seeing a herd of elephants crossing the water in the distance ahead of us.

The view from our mokoro

The view from our mokoro

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Tiny frogs at eye level on the reeds. Look closely!

A tiny frog at eye level on the reeds. Look closely!

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Little green frog

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The view at sundowners that evening.

We also were treated to some entertainment before having a traditional dinner in the Boma one night. The entertainment consisted of singing and dancing and drumming performed by the staff and it was really fun. They are such good singers with nice harmonies. The staff at Vumbura are delightful, friendly, and welcoming. Our first evening here happened to be Michael’s birthday and they brought out a cake to him and sang for him which was all a surprise.

Another fascinating adventure was a walking safari. We were taken out into the bush by a guide to walk around on foot instead of riding in a Land Rover. This allows you to see the small things you don’t see from the vehicle and learn more about the plants, and ecosystem. Lazarus was our guide. He is very experienced and knowledgeable and usually does private guiding for Wilderness Safaris. In between those trips, he fills in at various camps where he is needed. At thirty-two, he is the youngest to qualify for this level of experience and knowledge. Since he works at many different camps around Botswana, he must know the labyrinthine road systems at all of those places, which in itself seems a huge feat. But he also knows all the nuances of the various habitats and the animals that share them. We had a wonderful 3 hour walk in the bush, enjoyed the quiet, and learned a tremendous amount. And we even saw some animals too, such as zebra, impala, giraffe, tsessebe, wildebeest, kudu and water buck. It was a totally different perspective to be on the ground. The animals in this area are mostly accustomed to the shape and sound of the Land Rover and know it is not a threat. However, humans are a different story. They are quite skittish of anyone on foot, so it was gratifying to have the opportunity to quietly observe some of them on their own terms, so to speak.

Heading out with Lazarus leading the way.

Heading out with Lazarus leading the way.

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The weather in Botswana has not been nearly as hot as we expected. We had a bit of sun and heat at Chitabe and beautiful sunsets, but also some rain. And here at Vumbura, it’s been cloudy most of the time with a few showers and good breezes. It’s been cool and easy, not sweltering as we expected. The high cloud cover makes all the difference in the temperature, but it also makes the lighting a bit tough for photography.”

One of the first things we encountered on our first game drive at Vumbura was a pride of lions. We discovered a male lion looking very full and panting with a bloody muzzle. Clearly he had eaten very recently.

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Look at that fat belly!

While we were looking at him, we heard a loud growl from somewhere in the bushes nearby. When we went to investigate, we discovered the rest of the pride just the other side of some bushes. They were just tucking into a cape buffalo that must have been killed very recently.

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There were four lionesses and some young cubs. It was a bit gruesome, but fascinating to watch them beginning the process of devouring the buffalo. Everyone got in on the act, including the cubs. Over the course of the next four days, we were to see the various stages of destruction of the carcass and get a chance to see the pride resting and playing between feedings.

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These lions became a familiar sight. They didn’t move far from the carcass the entire time we were at Vumbura, so it was easy to find them. The cubs, in particular, were adorable and fun to watch. There were six of them from two litters and they nursed at the two lactating females indiscriminately. That’s how it works in lion society. The large male was not their father, but rather more like an uncle. The dominant male of the pride was not with them at that time.

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Sorry if this seems gruesome.

Sorry if this seems gruesome.

nap time for everyone!

nap time for everyone!

Another thing we enjoyed seeing at Vumbura were the baboons. We had not seen as many before and found them fascinating. There was a troop of baboons near the camp that we saw several times, including their baby. Here are some photos of the baboon family.

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With four days and abundant wildlife to view, I have many more photos to share from our time at Vumbura Plains, as you can imagine. Next time I’ll chronicle some of the more memorable sightings and share some more photos.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Botswana Here We Come!

Dear gentle and patient readers,

Sorry for the hiatus in posting. The holidays, winter illness, and life in general have slowed me down. However, I do promise to finish the tale of our journey in Africa.

The day we left Cape Town bound for Botswana we rose early and collected a packed box breakfast from our hotel since we were too early for the served breakfast. The drive to the airport was easy and fast, and the car rental return was both close by and quick. Cape Town’s airport was refurbished and updated when South Africa hosted the World Cup soccer championship in 2010. It is of a good size and modern without being too big. Because we had rather a lot of luggage, a porter helped us into the terminal from the car rental return which is in the parking garage adjacent. He was quite a character! He was the #2 porter at the Cape Town airport and had been working there for at least fifteen years. I am sorry that I did not write down his name. The porters have numbers that are given to them when they start work, so there was only one other porter who had been there longer. With his assistance we found the VAT Refund desk, took care of our business and located the check in counter for our Air Botswana direct flight to Maun, Botswana. The re-packing of our luggage after showing purchases to the VAT desk was a bit comical! I quickly determined that it wasn’t all going to fit in our suitcases. So we found a luggage shop and bought a cheap duffle bag. This solved the space problem but we still spent some time on the floor of the airport with all our bags open rearranging things to protect the fragile stuff. A rather bemused ticket agent looked on. Sometimes when you find yourself in an embarrassing situation when you travel you just have to suck it up and accept it.

Fortunately we had allowed plenty of time to accomplish all this and had no trouble checking in for our flight and finding the gate area. Unfortunately our flight was delayed. They never told us why or for how long. We just sat there until they finally called us for boarding. It turned out they had decided to switch equipment and use a smaller plane. Even so, it wasn’t totally full. The bad part was that after a delay to board the flight, the smaller plane took at least an hour longer to make the journey (prop vs. jet). So in the end, we arrived in Maun, Botswana quite late. Maun is a small town with a tiny airport that serves as a gateway to the Okavango Delta and its safari lodges. The lodges in the Delta are mostly accessed by small plane so Maun is where you pick those up. After clearing customs in Maun we were met by the staff of Wilderness Safaris. They were quick to take our extra luggage for storage, give us bottles of water, and stand in line for us to check in for their flight to Chitabe, one of their lodges in the Delta and our first destination. They hurried us along through security and out to the waiting plane with one other couple. The weather was looking a bit iffy with a thunder shower headed our way and clearly they had been anxious to get us out of there. I sat in the co-pilot’s seat with Michael and the other gentleman behind in two seats and the other woman in the back seat. You couldn’t have fit any others the plane was so small! We taxied and took off just as the rain started. Lightning flashed occasionally and I wondered if little planes ever got struck. To his credit, our pilot did a masterful job and we flew away from the storm and over the flat landscape about 20 minutes to the landing strip near Chitabe.

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Do I look nervous?

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Tiny plane! We made it!

The landing was smooth, the sun was out, and there was a Land Cruiser waiting to take us to camp. Jonas, a guide in training, welcomed us, handed us the personal, chilled, reusable, stainless steel water bottles we would use during our stay, and drove us to camp. Along the way we had our first taste of safari in Botswana – open plains, savanna woodland, water, and lots of animals! Just on the drive to the camp we saw zebra, giraffe, impala, elephant, and baboons.

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Still some clouds nearby.

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When we arrived at camp we were greeted with singing and warm hospitality. We were a good deal later than they had planned, but they still had tea waiting for us and we sat down with one of the camp managers to get oriented and learn the schedule. Then we were shown to our tented “room” to freshen up and urged to return soon to go out and join the afternoon game drive which was already in progress.

Since there was no WiFi or any access to the internet at Chitabe, I was unable to do any posting while there. However I did write a passage about our time and will share that along with more photos in my next post.