On the Way Home; the Last Day and Reflections

April 20-21, Reflections.

We “sleep in”, not awakening until after 6:30, when we pack and go for breakfast. We do a two and a half hour game drive to the airport. The highlight was locating and following a leopard and her cub. With G on all of our drives is a man named Dish, who is not employed by the camp, but is a representative of the local community, charged with looking out for the environment. Dish has been quiet throughout, but pleasant and helpful to us in many ways.

We take a small plane to Maun, flying over the Delta once again.

In Maun we get a pleasant surprise—we are able to check our bags through from Maun to Joburg to Paris to Atlanta. Frankly, I don’t care that much whether our bags arrive with us or not; I can wait for my dirty laundry, if necessary. Time to say farewell to Africa, though.

Our flight to Joburg is late, but we’re met at the airport by a VIP service arranged for by our travel agents who skips the lines and gets us to the right terminal for our flight to Paris, where we hang out in the Air France Lounge for a while. From Paris we will fly to Atlanta arriving some thirty hours after setting out from our first flight in Botswana. We’ll have lunch in Atlanta with Wendy, Chris and Maxi (Zoe has an all day- rehearsal) nap for a few hours and then have dinner with Robert and Joseph, who live in Atlanta and with whom we traveled to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. After we awake Sunday morning, we’ll catch our flight to Chicago. Five days later, we fly back to Atlanta for the weekend to see Zoe star in “Annie.”

The long flight to Paris seems an appropriate time to reflect on the trip.

First and foremost, this is Phoebe’s trip, so the real test of its success is how Phoebe felt about it. She loved it. And I don’t base this solely on the 106 different species of birds she saw and listed, or on the more than 7200 photos she took. As is my wont, I put a bunch of questions to her, and I want to share some of her answers.

I asked which part of the trip she’d choose to do, if she could do only either Ghana or Botswana. This was tough for her, because she loved both, but she said that she’d choose Ghana, because it was more personal and she learned more about culture. This was consistent with the fact that her initial choice of where to go was Ghana. (By the way, Carol and I both said that we’d have chosen Botswana, because having been to Ghana six times, we had experienced most everything there before. We both said, though, that if we were taking Phoebe, our choice would be Ghana.)

I also asked Phoebe which she would choose if she could do only the mobile tent safari or stay at the much more upscale permanent tent camp we stayed at. She said she’d choose the mobile tent safari, because it was so different and because you really feel a part of the landscape and the experience. (Carol and I both would choose that, too.)

Poor Phoebe had to answer a whole lot of other questions with lists, too (most surprising aspects of the trip, favorite Ghana experiences, favorite Botswana, favorite overall and a list of the reasons why she liked to travel with me). But my favorite answer was to the question of what she thought would change for her because of the trip, and I want to share that answer with you:

5 things that will change for me because of the trip

I think I’ll be a lot braver because of this trip

I’ll be more willing to try new things

I have a better understanding of different cultures and an appreciation for them

I’ll complain about little things less

I’ll probably travel a lot when I’m grown up since you started me so young!

So, you now understand why I say the trip was such a big success. We could not have chosen outcomes we’d like more than the changes Phoebe anticipates.

So, Ghana and Botswana. The trip we’ve taken that I’d most compare this trip to was our trip to the Galapagos and Peru. In both of these trips we really took two distinct trips in one, so the contrasts were very interesting.

For this trip, both Ghana and Botswana change your way of thinking, but in very different ways. Ghana gives you a sense of how people in another culture live, which causes you to reflect on what’s really important in life and on how much of what occupies our day-to-day thoughts really doesn’t matter a damn in the scheme of things.

Botswana, on the other hand, causes you to reflect on where we humans fit into the universe. We’re privileged to share the vast earth we live on with many species of magnificent birds and animals. What sort of arrogance causes us to think we’re so special and have a right to do what we want with the planet? Of course, in Africa, animals do kill one another but they do it to survive and to eat. You don’t see an antelope head mounted on a plaque in a lion’s den. The safari experience provides a new perspective on the brutality of hunting other living things for sport.

One may even wonder whether there might be parallels between predatory animal behavior between species in Africa and our predatory human animal behavior with respect to people different from us. To survive in the wild does not require fear of other animals, but, rather, respect for them. Might we not benefit by trying to convert some of our fears of other peoples into respect for them?

Carol and I have been privileged to go on a half dozen or more safaris. We’ve loved all of them, but I’ve never been quite so impressed with the grandeur and scope of what we witnessed, or the intricate patterns and elements that hold the fragile balance together as I was on this safari. I think that part of this realization, at least, was fostered by the ground level perspective we gained from our six-day tent safari and from talking with Roger.

Maybe there’s something as fabulous as sharing a more than 2 1/2-week trip like this with your granddaughter. But, if there is, we haven’t found it.

Thanks again, for following us, and especially to those who take the time to comment on the blog. Those comments are an inspiration to keep writing.

Next blogging trip will probably be an October photography trip to tribal areas in Eastern India. Carol has decided not to go on this one, so it’ll be just you and me, okay?

Lion Cubs and Their Mommies

April 19. Up, once again, at 5:30, breakfast and set off again on our morning safari, on this, our final full day in Botswana. This is the second consecutive morning on which wearing a light jacket for the first couple hours is welcome because of the morning chill.

Our target, cheetahs, eludes us once again. After much searching, though, we do find the two lionesses we spotted yesterday, who are hidden in bushes with their four cubs, with two former impalas that they’ve killed. Their position in the bushes, together with three other vehicles who have learned via radio of our location makes photography pretty impossible. So, a very good sighting, but not one of our best of the trip.

After driving around for a couple more hours, with good, but not extraordinary sightings, G tells us that we’re going to have lunch out in the bush. I picture a box lunch under a tree, but, in fact, a very nice buffet and bar have been set up for us and another group of eight who are on a photography trip. We have a pleasant travel-related conversation with Karen and Stev(e) from California, who love the trip we’re doing with Phoebe. Stev has done a lot of travel with his kids, including bike and horseback adventures.

After lunch, we enjoy our siesta time before regrouping at 3:30 for our last game drive, with G sporting his new Cubs hat. Several sightings, including a new bird for Phoebe’s list and a new antelope, but things really got to be fun when I suggested we go back to check on the lion cubs who has been hidden in the bushes in the morning. First, we see the two lionesses lying asleep by themselves, then we locate and watch the cubs for whom it is clearly play time. After some time, we notice the the lionesses are making their way back to the cubs, who greet their moms with great excitement and affection.

We head back to the camp, where Phoebe and I have drinks by the fire with the managers under the stars, while Carol goes back to shower. Dinner is very good, again, and we engage in conversation with a California couple, more in sync with the wife, Julie, than her highly opinionated husband, Richard, with whom I disagree strongly on topics of conversation ranging from photography to civil liberties. He says that I’m more of a humanitarian like his wife, contrasting that with his passion for hunting (yet strong interest in birding). He’s bright, and, given half a chance, I could get into a lot of heated arguments with him, I’m sure.

Lions, Sable, Mokoros, and More

April 18. Up at 5:30, breakfast, then boat across to our jeep with G. As the sun rises, we head out on our game drive—target cheetahs, and then, lions. As with the leopards on the mobile safari, we strike out on finding cheetahs, but do encounter other interesting game.

Kudus are not very unusual, but we found some in lovely early morning light, which made for good photo ops.

Sable are spectacular antelopes, and we find a large group that we stick with and drive around to photograph from various perspectives.

Jackals are quite rare, and we get great looks at a pair of them, as they set out to try to find some breakfast.

With the help of radio contacts, we are able to find a female lion and her cub, and follow them for more than half an hour, as they prepare to hunt. A saddle-billed stork also gets into the picture.

Finally, on our way back to the camp for lunch, we encounter two beautiful wattled cranes.

Back at the camp, we have a delicious buffet lunch, joined by G and Antoine, a South African, who along with his girlfriend, Laura, manage Little Vumbura. Back to the tent for siesta time, before our afternoon activity, mokoros.

Mokoros are dugout canoes and ours are poled along by local villagers employed by the camp for that purpose. It’s exceedingly quiet and peaceful. We see tiny frogs and little bee eaters at eye level. Phoebe and I share one mokoro and Carol is poled in the other. We stop at an island for drinks, then continue back to camp, completing our two-hour trip.

Back at the camp, Carol and I enjoy drinks by the fire under an incredible, starry sky, chatting with Laura and Antoine, We move to a delicious buffet dinner, talking with Bonnie and Ginny again, as well as their guide, Lettie. Phoebz learns how to make bracelets, which she makes for Maxi and friends.

We retire for showers, blogging, reading or whatever.

On to Little Vumbura

April 17.

After breakfast this morning, we take a 3-hour game drive to the airstrip. We locate our THIRD group of wild dogs and spend time watching them. We also spot a range of other game, including hippos, crocodiles and elephants, as well as many birds. All of this is still terrific, but becoming somewhat second nature to us by now. We’ve failed in our six-day quest to find a leopard, but that, too, seems like part of the experience.

Roger dons his new Cubs hat for our final drive. Before arriving at the air strip, though, we run into a traffic problem, as a herd of water buffalo block the road. Making it through the buffalo, we go into the VIP lounge until our plane arrives for our half hour flight to the final stop on our trip.

Our short flight affords great views of the Ocavango Delta. We ride about half an hour from the airport with G, who will be our guide, then have to take a short motor boat ride to reach the camp, which is located on an island.

Little Vumbura is located in a 60,000 hectare private concession in the northern Okavango Delta. Set on a wooded island under the canopy of an ancient forest, the camp blends into pristine surroundings: diverse habitats of permanent swamp, small palm islands, seasonal floodplains and acacia woodlands. The six elevated tents each feature private decks from which to watch the wildlife. Open-plan main areas include a lounge, bar and dining room and guests can savor delicious meals under star-studded skies in the boma (traditionally a livestock enclosure).

Carol and I remember Little Vumbura well and fondly, because we stayed there on our very first trip to Africa in 2003, with our friends Judd and Linda Miner, Bob Bennett and Harriet Trop. It was in no small part due to the success of that first trip that we have now been to Africa a dozen more times. This tented camp is luxurious, a far cry from our mobile safari digs. Our “family tent” is a very nicely appointed two-bedroom, two bath suite. Two red lechwes rest in the grass outside our room and behind them lies the Delta. This place is not shabby.

We have a delicious buffet lunch on the central deck, where we are joined by Bonnie and Ginny, two women from Cleveland, with whom we have a very pleasant conversation. We go to get settled in our room and rest a couple hours, sit outside for a while on our deck, with eight red lechwes now strolling beyond, before high tea, at 3:30. After tea, we take the boat across with G to set out on our afternoon game drive.

Our main objective is to locate a leopard, which guests at a sister camp have spotted in the morning. Our jeep makes it through high water and intercom radios connecting vehicles from our camp and sister camps feed information between one another. While, obviously, there’s a purpose to this communication, it’s rather off-putting coming off of the mobile tent safari experience. We locate the leopard, surrounded by tall grass and three other vehicles. Well, it IS a leopard, though, so we watch for quite some time, while nothing really happens.

Eventually, the three other vehicles leave, but we decide to stick it out for at least a while. Another twenty or so minutes pass and G asks us whether we want to stay or move on. We decide to stay. Another fifteen minutes passes, the leopard slowly rises walks over to a log, then climbs up to gain a better view. Our patience is rewarded by some incredible leopard shots. Her cub peeks out, too. A while later, the leopard leaves his perch and sets out in search of dinner. We follow her for a while, until she disappears, then, with the help of a vehicle from a sister camp, pick up the trail again, eventually losing it for good.

G does not rush us back, but borrows a night search light and drives us around. We spot another giant eagle owl, elephants, a crocodile and several other birds. Eventually, we make it back through the high water on the roads and have an excellent buffet dinner, with G, on the deck of the camp. We return to our comfortable rooms to shower and blog/read before retiring. Turns out to be a fabulous first day at Little Vumbura.

ONLY FOR THOSE WHO WANT IT, a refresher on the Okavango Delta. A journey to the Okavango Delta – deep into Africa’s untouched interior, is like no other.  It is the 1,000th UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its extraordinary wetland system and rare wildlife. Moving from wetland to dryland – traversing the meandering palm and papyrus fringed waterways, passing palm-fringed islands, and thick woodland, resplendent with lush vegetation, and rich in wildlife – reveals the many facets of this unique ecosystem which is the largest intact inland delta in the world.

The Okavango Delta is situated deep within the Kalahari Basin, and is often referred to as the ‘jewel’ of the Kalahari.  That the Okavango exists at all seems remarkable. Shaped like a fan, the Delta is fed by the Okavango River, the third largest in southern Africa. It has been steadily developed over the millennia by millions of tons of sand carried down the river from Angola.

As old as time, the seasonal flood from the Angola Highlands is the heartbeat of Botswana. Seeping along the panhandle and into the largest inland delta system in the world, the water creates a uniquely beautiful site, the incoming tide of life bringing with it birth, transformation and replenishment. These ancient, cyclical changes provide an exceptional safari experience and the area supports vast herds of elephant, buffalo and hippo, as well as numerous antelope, giraffe, zebra and the ever present predators

From March the waters spread outwards, reaching the inner delta by June and peaking in July and August.  The inbound flow creates a buzz of energy as it spans out towards Maun, the country as a whole conscious of the gift the waters bring, and caught up in the primordial movement.

Depending on nature’s temperamental dictates, the flood levels vary each year, never under the control of man. This makes it difficult to assess what will happen in the upcoming season: the Delta may swell up to 3 times its size. Under natural forces, the face of the earth renews itself, the landscape of channels, grasslands, reed islands and lagoons burst with life and vitality. As the levels recede in October, the earth starts to dry altering the scenery and game viewing. The summer months bring life from a new angle, and the November/December rains come, announcing the green season, and a land lush and verdant. Whether flood or rain, water, the very essence of life, plays a vital role in the Okavango Delta.

Last Four Days of Tent Safari, Additional Photos

For some reason, I could not add these additional photos to my other post, so here they are.