Botswana Trip Report – Part 3

 

En route to a fishing spot on the waterways around Vumbura Camp. Tigerfish and Nembwe, a type of bream, as well as African Pike, may be caught with conventional rod and reel, supplied by the camp. Fly-fishermen must bring their own rods – and expertise.

Saturday May 30, 1998
So what does one do on a Botswana safari other than game drives, walks, mokoro outings, birding, boating trips and the like? Eat of course! Brunch at Jedibe this morning was typical of the wholesome, delicious food we enjoyed at all the camps: eggs to order (I prefer mine scrambled but you can have yours pretty much any way other than cholesterol-free), bacon, toast, freshly baked herb bread, vegetable quiche, vegetable breyani, yellow rice, fresh fruit, yoghurt and more. Brunch items at some of the other camps included potato salad, a squash-based ratatouille, fruit salad, muffins and even bobotie, a spicy baked ground lamb dish of Malay origin.

Our afternoon flight to Vumbura Camp was just a short hop by air, but by now we had practically reached the end of the line. The Okavango Delta is remote, and in a camp such as Vumbura the sense of being away from it all, really hits home. This is about as far as you can go, and it shows: few roads, no other vehicles, no permanent structures of any kind. The Vumbura area, which is close to the Okavango’s outermost dry sandveld, consists of open floodplain with ribbons of riverine vegetation, patched with woodland-covered islands. From the air, we could see that there were quite a few elephant around, and our afternoon game drive with Quinton took us very close to a beautiful herd of Sable antelope. As antelopes go, Sable is probably the handsomest of them all, with Gemsbok (Oryx) a close second, I would think. There was one male in the herd which had a simply magnificent pair of horns, swept back almost to the point of absurdity. A bit later in the afternoon, just as the sun was setting, we came across a good-sized herd of buffalo, partially obscured in their own dust-cloud. Surely there could not have been a better setting for sundowners: just us and the buffalo, dust and silence until a few pesky elephants crashed the party and moved across our line of sight, passing right in front of the setting sun. There was also a report of a sighting of two cheetah, but we weren’t close enough to pursue them.

Vumbura Camp has lots of character, with a cosy dining room and pub area under thatch in a stand of large trees. We were shown to our well appointed tent, which had the best set-up of any of the camps, with the beds facing towards the entrance of the tent, complete with his and her basins, a large mirror, discreetly placed toilet and shower en suite.

On foot in the Duba Plains area. One of the advantages of staying at a camp which is located in a private concession is that walking and night drives are allowed.

Something which we had first noticed in Jedibe, and was to experience at all the other camps in the floodplains, was the sense of excitement which grips the Okavango Delta every year in early winter. It is a refrain which can be heard at every camp: ‘The flood is coming, the flood is coming!’ No conversation was complete without at least one reference to the water: “Wow, it’s really pumping now”; or “By tomorrow/next week/next month we won’t be able to use that road”, or “There will be water in front of camp right up to here ” and so on. We were treated to stories of floods anticipated, floods remembered, embellished and forgotten. Great floods, average floods, late, early or just in time. All very entertaining and stimulating. If you’re just thinking about your first trip to the Okavango Delta, by all means plan it to coincide with the annual flood. One guest at Vumbura got so into the whole thing that he was seen with video-camera in hand, recording a close-up view of the slow trickle of clean water pushing into the dusty grassy plain in front of camp. Not exactly spell-binding footage, if you ask me . . .

Sunday May 31
This morning I had to be persuaded to go fishing. Given the choice, I would rather have gone after some more buffalo on a game drive… As it turned out, the one time that I was reluctant to do something turned into one of the most vivid memories of all. On the drive out to the boat launch area we enjoyed good sightings of Honey Badger, numerous Red Lechwe, some Tsessebe and also Wildebeest. Making ourselves comfortable in an aluminum skiff with a shallow draft outboard motor, we chugged and churned through some narrow channels and reed-lined backwaters, feeling very much the explorer as we ducked under overhanging reeds and brushed off spiderwebs. Soon enough, we found ourselves in a small, picturesque lagoon where we tied up the boat and started fishing. The first strike came within seconds of an artificial lure hitting the surface of the cool, crystal clear water, and it was non-stop action from then on. Over the next hour or so the four of us caught and released what must have been 40 or more African Pike and a few Nembwe. Not many were keeper-size but they were not shy to go after our spinners. Great fun.

Enjoying a surprise ‘bush dinner’ at Duba Plains.

By early afternoon we were 500 feet up in the air, looking down upon the amazing sight of the flood pushing its silvery fingers further and further into the Delta. We were on our way to Duba Plains, a scant 7 minutes or so by air from Vumbura, but an arduous trip by vehicle, I am told. Duba Plains Camp, which was closed at the end of 1997 and completely rebuilt, is now one of the most stunning camps in the entire Okavango Delta. This small camp, which sleeps only ten guests, has tons of charm and offers guests the complete Okavango Delta experience, with day and night game-drives, walking and mokoro outings. We loved the design of the dining area and bar, which was truly integrated into the natural environment, with existing tree stumps being used very creatively. We were accompanied to our tent by a semi-tame African wild cat, who took an instant liking to Kathleen. We didn’t mind, in fact we were thrilled to have an opportunity to get such a close-up look at a rarely seen small cat. The resident tree squirrels did mind. They were practically falling out of the trees, chattering and screeching in an attempt to alert each other to the danger posed by the cat, semi-tame or not. If I didn’t know any better, I would have sworn I saw them pointing.

Our afternoon drive started on a promising note when we spotted what would turn out to be our only Wattled Cranes of the trip. Striking and unmistakeable as ever, they strutted around the edge of the incoming water, keeping a wary eye on us. Wattled Crane are extemely sensitive to any disturbance while nesting, which has resulted in these birds practically disappearing from much of their former range in Southern Africa, the Okavango Delta being a notable exception. I had told our guide, Graham, that I wanted to take some photographs of buffalo, so he drove in the direction of a herd of more than a thousand buffalo which had been seen and photographed from the air the previous day. Somehow – the terrain is very flat – we missed the herd of buffalo, finding instead a thousand mosquitoes and for a while there, things looked a bit grim. The sighting of a Denham’s Bustard, a bird rarely seen in these parts, brightened the mood somewhat. Almost immediately after our stop for sundowners, the tenor of the drive changed completely and within a couple of hours it had turned into one of the best night-drives we had ever experienced. One after the other we started seeing some of the most elusive nocturnal animals, including Bateared Fox, Side-striped Jackal, Aardwolf, Civet, Porcupine, and African wild cat. We could not believe our luck, and it more than made up for the disappointment with the buffalo. At one stage a couple of very vocal Hyenas ambled past us and Graham did not hesitate for a second, swinging the Land Rover around and bouncing off after the fast disappearing animals. When we finally caught up with them, they had disappeared into a thicket, and all we could do was to sit and wait on its edge, trying to imagine what was happening in there. The unearthly whoops, growls, giggles and yells emanating from the bush were fodder for the imagination. The loud alarm snorts and distress calls of a buffalo completed the picture. A solitary buffalo must have been fighting off several hungry hyenas and we expected the bloodied animal to come crashing out of the undergrowth at any moment. Unfortunately, the encounter would remain an imaginary one for us as we had to leave the animals in the bush. Pangs of hunger affect not only hyenas – we had our own dinner appointment!

Fittingly, the day was capped with a surprise bush dinner, the first one we had ever experienced. In a clearing in the bush camp manager Britt and her team, ably assisted by Diana, had set an elegant table under the stars, lanterns adoring the scene. There was a chill in the air but a hearty beef stew and a shovel-full of glowing coals under the seats of our canvas chairs warmed us up nicely. It was a superb conclusion to a perfect day in Botswana.

Monday June 1
Our morning drive was a classic and probably the best single game drive any of us had ever experienced. Right off the bat we found the herd of several hundred buffalo which which had eluded us the previous afternoon. In a cloud of dust we saw them, bunched up in defensive posture. Around a corner we came across a lioness, then more lions, a total of three adult females, two young juveniles and two youngsters. A few older buffalo bulls broke off from the herd, wheeled around and approached the lions, challenging them with heads raised high, shiny noses reflecting the light. The lions retreated, clearly extremely wary of the massive horns. In turn, the greater part of the buffalo herd also decamped, thrashing noisily through the water. As we came closer, a lioness clambered onto a stump and looked back at us, making for one of the best photo opportunities of the entire trip. A couple of the younger lions then started ‘playing with their food’, to use Graham’s expression. They were making repeated mock charges, running after the retreating buffalo, only to scamper away as the buffalo swung around and came after them with tails arched, tossing their heads as if to draw attention to the threat posed by their horns. Just when we thought it was all over, two old buffalo bulls approached from the other direction, and the lions immediately turned their attention toward the isolated animals, which presented an easier target than the tightly bunched herd. The lions started stalking their quarry and we were anticipating a full-blown ambush when one of the younger lions showed itself prematurely. The cantering buffalo broke into a full speed run, showing their awesome strength by literally blasting through some shallow water, and charging off into the distance. The lions quickly broke off their half- hearted pursuit. The show was over, at least for the day.


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