Sunday, May 31, 2009

Savuti - A Story Unfolds

Being on Safari is like reading a suspenseful, page-turner novel. Our guides/drivers are the narrators; the animals are the main characters; and the environment containing us all offers the clues that make each turn in the road exciting.

Thursday, May 21st was an exciting day in the bush. It started with one small clue:

Our guide, Goodman, made note of a lone vulture sitting in a tree. The vulture was not showing interest in anything in particular and seemed quite relaxed. We stopped to try a couple shots of the spooky creature and then continued on our way. Within 5 minutes, we came upon this sight:

This was a fresh kill. Goodman told us that this wildebeast had most likely been killed within an hour of our finding this carcass. Lions work quickly, taking only the meatiest limbs of a kill. They do not immediately eviscerate their prey, as the smell of open bowel and intestines attracts other predators. The adults eat first, giving the cubs the remainder. This makes it possible for the adults to stand watch while the cubs eat. Goodman hopped out of our rover to show us that a cub must have been part of the meal - they are not as efficient as an adult at cleaning a bone...

We continued on our way, knowing that whatever animal had feasted on the wildebeast had to be close by. Lo and behold, not long after, we came upon this group:

These lions were part of a 5 member group: Two adult males, one female and two male cubs. One of the older males had been blinded, presumably in a fight:

The other members of the group were obviously resting, having full bellies and plenty of time until dark - when they would begin to hunt again. Hard to believe that this crew was a bunch of killers:

We stalked the lions for about 45 minutes, never facing them - always parallel so as not to influence or inhibit their movements. Once our heart rates returned to normal, we continued on at a leisurely pace. Here are some other sights we saw on that exciting morning...

This had all taken place before 10AM. The anticipation for the evening drive was unbearable as we headed back to camp. But first, brunch and siesta...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Mokoro Ride at Little Vumbura

The Okavango Delta, which is an inland delta, covers over six thousand square miles of waterways, palm filled islands and lagoons. It is the greatest natural sanctuary left in Africa- providing a home to the greatest number of animal, bird and plant species in the Southern Hemisphere. Our mokoro traversed the flood plains under the guidance of our poler Mos, a member of the BaYei tribe. The people of the BaYei tribe have been using the mokoro as their main form of transportation for hundreds of years.

Here are a few of the things we saw from our mokoro as we made our way out to a small island...

One term that we heard a lot when we were on safari was "Boys Choir". This term basically describes a bachelor group of animals who are all hanging out together, waiting for their turn to face a dominant male and a chance to mate. Usually, we heard the term associated with the large groups of male Impala we saw. Here is a photo of our 'Boys Choir' taken once we reached the island during our mokoro adventure:

left to right: Oliver, Ed, James, Mos, James and Lazarus

And here is our group as we returned to camp:

It was now Wednesday, May 20th and we were scheduled to depart in the afternoon for our next camp, Savuti. Here's a shot of the back deck area of our tent at Little Vumbura Camp:

We were surrounded by water and at night we would hear the hippos sloshing around - elephants visited us also. The staff at Vumbura was fantastic and we especially enjoyed our host/manager Boyson. Here James says goodbye:

Here's the walkway to the boat launch area:

We made our way to the runway, with plenty of time to spare... that was until we ran into a problem. A BIG PROBLEM. We found a cranky bull elephant had decided to have his lunch right on the runway. Lazarus decided we needed to push him back, before there was an 'elephant vs. airplane' confrontation!

The funniest part was that Lazarus kept yelling to the elephant, "Go Away, the Plane is Coming!!" That big boy was having none of it! He stomped his feet and made all kinds of noise while slowing backing off. But, he let us know that he was NOT happy about it!!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chitabe, New Friends & Little Vumbura

We spotted these handsome lion brothers on our first full day at Chitabe.

I guess before I go into a description of another day on Safari, I should give a basic outline of what a day in camp consists of… So, here’s how it usually goes:

5:30 AM – Wake up call (a personal knock on the door of our tent)

6:00 AM - Escort comes and we are taken by flashlight to the lounge area. We grab a cup of coffee, some yoghurt or a muffin and then head out for the game drive.

6:30AM – Game drive starts.

11:30 AM- 1:00PM – Return to camp and grab some brunch.

2:00 PM- 4:00 PM – Siesta

4:00PM – Tea is served in the lounge area. Light snacks, beers, wine and tea are served.

4:30 PM – Evening game drive begins

6:30 PM - About this time, we pull off to a safe spot and enjoy a ‘Sundowner’. Light snack and drinks as we all enjoy the sunset.

8:00PM – After returning to camp, we are given about 30 minutes to shower, change and join the group for dinner. Dinner is shared with our guide, members of the staff and hosts/managers.

9:00 PM - After dinner drinks, conversation around the campfire.

9:45 – 10:00 – Lights out

The atmosphere at Chitabe camp was just fabulous. There were just 6 guests in total: James & me; Ed and Marty; and Tom and Leigh. Tom & Leigh, from Cleveland, Ohio, married last Fall and were on a belated honeymoon. We all enjoyed an instant camaraderie, and the six of us had such incredible moments together… so many discoveries, so many laughs and truly joyful times.

We were having so much fun on our first morning game drive that the 6 of us decided to continue on, without returning to camp for brunch. We had so many incredible game sightings, that we didn’t want to miss a thing. Imagine our surprise when we came to a clearing and found the following scene:

We even had a ‘loo with a view’ !!

We enjoyed our brunch in the bush and had a fantastic afternoon. We enjoyed the setting sun that day with such excitement - the things we had seen were awesome!!

We returned to the camp around 7:30 PM having spent 13 hours with our guide Oates. It was a long day, but we were so happy that we did it because the following morning drive (Monday) was our last at Chitabe. Our flight into the Okavango Delta and the Little Vumbura Camp was to leave at 11:30AM. It was only a 20 minute flight, but it could have just as well been a world away - so different was the environment in the Delta.

The Game viewing at Little Vumbura took a back seat to exploring the channels of the Delta. There was, however, plenty to see. On our evening sunset cruise, I located what I thought was just a really pretty owl. Turned out to be a Pell's Fishing Owl - an owl revered by birdwatchers and apparently quite elusive. Marty was calling it 'Michele's Owl' and we ended up chasing it from tree to tree for a good hour, capturing incredible photographs of this stunning creature.

Check out the talons on that big boy!!

Our guide Lazarus, and his game warden observer, James, pulled ashore on a small island in the channels. Lazarus gave us an incredible lesson on the Delta, the movements of flood waters and the deposits of salt left behind. He also pointed out hippo tracks which were all over the area. Those guys are fast (yes, really fast!) and we heard them snorting in the distance.

Here's a few photos of the SAME sunset as it progressed during our ride home:

Upon our return to camp that evening, we were treated to a 'Traditional' dinner. The staff sang celebration songs and danced with serious enthusiasm. I finally began to understand the phrase " A Joyful Noise"... that was what popped into my head as I listened to the harmonies of the male and female voices and the pure, uninhibited beauty of the dance.

I'm going to close for the evening and hopefully I will have some quiet time in the morning to share the rest of our time at Little Vumbura. It was at this camp where we took a mokoro (dug-out canoe) safari...Very cool.