January 2014

There have been some amazing specials as incentive to travel in Botswana ’s Green Season: November thru mid-April. This is the Wet season when there is more daily rain, and afternoon and overnight thunderstorms are to be expected. Ironically, this is also the low flooding season as the waters have not made it to the Delta from Angola yet. Yet, these amazing rates have lured wildlife enthusiasts in their non-Peak season. I was going for a firsthand look during this time period.

I flew via London to arrive into Johannesburg early enough to connect with the flight into Maun, Botswana and onwards to my first safari camp. A preferred method for many travelers from the US is to go directly into Johannesburg, spend the night and then continue the following day. This routing allowed me to also see first hand some rest areas in London and Johannesburg.

In Johannesburg I had a pass to one of the many club lounge areas, in particular the Bidvest Premier Lounge.  This is a great place to kill a few hours with access to showers, appetizers and snacks, and wide range of drinks (alcoholic and non).

Onwards to Maun…

I arrived in Maun and was surprised to find out that there was free Wifi available (for 10 minutes) so it was my last bit of communication before connecting with my flight to spend six days in the Okavango Delta and Linyanti areas of Botswana. In this time I would stay at a different camp each night in Wilderness Safaris’ portfolio of Classic and Premier level camps.

    

My trip included a night at each of the following camps: Vumbura Plains North, Little Tubu, Xigera, Chitabe Lediba, Mombo Main and Kings Pool. I was also to get a look at Little Vumburra, Tubu Camp, Chitabe and Duma Tau. They are all in the Okavango Delta except for Kings Pool and Duma Tau, which are located in the Linyanti.

My introduction into both Botswana and the Okavango couldn’t have been better than my first camp, Vumbura Plains (North) Camp! This is a premier level camp in which the rooms are not so much a tent as it is a compound! As you enter your private area you immediately see un-obstructed views of the Delta. On further investigation one will notice outdoors sala with an L-shaped couch, private plunge pool and small breakfast table. Oh year, there’s also an oversized tent. As you enter there is another sunken lounge area with minibar stocked with your preferred beverages, king-sized bed, open shower (with optional drapes for privacy), bathroom, desk and dressing area as well as bathroom. If that isn’t enough you also have a second outdoors shower. This is a Premier Camp for good reason.

 
 

The staff was attentive and my guide, Moronga (aka Mork) has been guiding for over 10 years. The game viewing was very productive and we found a pride of 4 lions on a zebra kill on our first afternoon game drive. Mork spun a tale about a larger pride of 8 that was split up the week before, presumably by a buffalo. In any case, two sister lionesses each with two offspring (1 boy and 1 girl each) had been split up and each lioness ended up with her sister’s youngsters. According to Mork, if they don’t meet up again soon they could end up as their own prides in their respective right, in which case they could be confrontational. It’s these dramas that unfold in the heart of the Delta that are only made known to you by your guide.

After my morning game drive the following day and finding the lost sister and two other cubs on a kill of their own, I was off to my next camp… Little Tubu!

 
 

Little Tubu Camp is a brand new tent that only opened June 2013! Just like Vumbura the two different camps are connected by a single boardwalk, but that’s about it. Little Tubu only has three tents and is great for small groups or a larger family. The bar is made of an old tree and fits beautifully into the camp making it a natural congregational area. The tents are large for the Classic Level standard and includes all the usual details you find in the type of rooms – writing desk, outside chairs with great views, en suite and double basin vanity, and of course, an outdoor shower.

The camps are located on Hunda Island which renowned for their population of leopards (if this is on your game wish list). This is also where we had our Boma night! This is a festive occasion that happens at all the Wilderness Camps every Monday night! There is lots of singing and joy in the air as you enjoy your evening cocktails before your special dinner. This is an experience that will put a smile on any face.

I continued by charter flight again to my first of two camps in the Moremi Game Reserve, Xigera Camp. This is a great camp to begin or end with if you are on a small circuit of camps around Botswana . Xigera is a water-based camp that offers lots of great water experiences including game viewing by boat and makoro rides. The camp has a very relaxed atmosphere that I think is partly due to the management team I met – Neuman and Rauve. There are a lot of trees that offer ample shade and the breezes that come through camp make it a nice place to miss a game drive and read a book or sleep in. This camp is run on an advanced system of solar panels, purpose-built batteries and generators (just like Mombo, Duma Tau and soon Vumbura Plains).

 

I said farewell to my new friends and continued to the eastern part of the Delta at Chitabe Lediba.

The camp is a beautiful and open with what is now the “standard” sweeping views of the Okavango Delta. The camp is shady and just like all the other camps I’d visited I was given an introduction with safety briefing. Part of this is the relaxed philosophy to help yourself to a drink behind the bar if there isn’t anyone around. This kind of attitude makes you feel like you are at a friend’s house and feels inviting. This is something conveyed by the staff as well.

 
  

My guide here, Gordon, was stellar. He is another cool character that is relaxed in his manner and elaborates and enunciates perfectly. However, if a guide is well-spoken but can’t find any game, then it’s not enough. However, this was not the case with Gordon. As we did our afternoon game drive we explored the area finding playful hippos in the water, herds of elephant drinking and foraging as well as reading animal tracks and listening for tell tale signs of predators in the area – animal alarm calls.

We were enjoying sundowners as we noticed a tower of giraffe slowly meandering our way out of the bush. Oh, I almost forgot to mention each and every place had the most stunning and spectacular sunsets that literally changed in color from moment to moment. Purples and oranges blazing in the sky as you start making your way back to camp for pre dinner drinks and dinner. Dinner at all the camps was communal and very jovial. I did not have a bad meal at any of the camps.

The next day we found a beautiful leopard resting in a tree after a long and unsuccessful night of hunting. You see a leopard it feels like you have won some sort of karmic prize. These elusive cats are elegant and seductive. Spending time here was one of my highlights. From here it was off to find a pride of lion, lots and lots of elephant, hippo, and more.

I next flew to the famed Mombo camp. Of all the places I was visiting this is the one that I was holding the highest expectations for from all the feedback I’ve heard over the years from clients and colleagues. All I can say is… Believe the Hype!

 
 

From the moment we got off our plane our guide told us to be quiet and quickly get in the vehicle as there was a pride of lion right by the runway… are you kidding me?!?! Awesome! We got in and made our way to spy on these relaxed beasts. In fact every moment spent in that game vehicle was amazing.

Our specialist guide, OB, who is now based out of Mombo, has 17 years of experience. The two most used phrases he used were, “Oh my god” and “Wow!” Here is someone who has been doing this for a long time and yet he gets as excited as a first time safarier. He embodies passion for his job and gets you excited.

There were so many highlights here but the other one that stands out was finding and following a male lion completely in his prime and oozing the confidence that only a male lion can. He was roaring and letting it be known to those unwanted intruders that this was his home, and they’d better leave or come and talk to him about it. I’ve never experienced hearing a lion roar so close to me. It vibrates in your chest and in the floorboard of the vehicle. It is equally impressive and unnerving and reminds you of your own vulnerability and still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.

Game viewing aside the rooms here are very long and comfortable. There is an outdoors day bed, indoor and outdoor showers, comfortable bed and everything else you could hope for. The rooms are elevated so the game viewing doesn’t just have to happen in a vehicle, it happens out your back door.

The camp is number one when it comes to details from the coffee beans on your bed that spell out, “Welcome to Mombo” to the little mason jars of snacks you can bring with you on your game drives. The staff is genuinely friendly. They are proud to be there and it shows. However, accommodations and service aside, you go to Mombo or Little Mombo for the unparalleled game viewing.

My last stop on this whirlwind tour was Kings Pool. This was the final leg on my stop and apart from Vumbura and Mombo the only other Premier Camp. Kings Pool definitely had the biggest “wow” view as you enter into the camp after getting out of your vehicle. You arrive into camp and walk up two or three steps only to see this beautiful river. As your eyes wander down closer you can see this very big and inviting semi-circular couch that could sit around 20 people with a fire pit in the middle and a hippo filled river just in front.

 
 

These rooms were also large and my second favorite after Vumbura. Instead of it being long like Mombo it was like a large square with two shower heads, bathroom area, lounge area and outdoor private plunge pool and day bed. From here you can hear and see the hippos playing hide-n-seek in the river. It’s a great water and land camp. For my evening activity we went out on a two tier barge where we had our sundowners and cruised amongst the tall grasses and pods of hippos.

The following day on my way to inspect Duma Tau we found a pack of 18 wild dogs! This was another one of my highlights. They are much more active than lions and leopard from a game viewing point of view. They are forever moving, adjusting, scratching, getting up and laying down in a different spot. If you made a noise they would look to see what that was. Other activities you can do from Kings Pool are fishing, viewing elephant from a hide and nature walks.

 
 

This was the perfect way to end such a short and sweet trip. Botswana in the Green Season is awesome.

The other amazing thing was all the babies we saw. Baby warthogs, hyenas, elephants, lions, hippos, tons and tons of baby impala and more. There were more types of birds than I could count. If I lived around here I could easily become a birder.

The last thing I learned on this trip was to never say goodbye. It’s not because of cultural differences or anything like that. It’s simply because you don’t know when you will run into these people you meet on safari again. On six of my seven charter flights I had the same pilot whom I sat next to. She was a great Australian girl who had been on the reality show Bush Pilots. We had great conversation and shared a few laughs. Another was a couple on their honeymoon, whom I ran into on four separate occasions. I learned that in Botswana it’s never about goodbyes, but what’s next.

On top of everything else I mentioned, a huge incentive for many people is that traveling this time of year can potentially save you thousands of dollars per person. If you want a premier level safari trip at a fraction of the price with world class game viewing, then there is no question about doing this, but when.

Go… you’ll thank me later.