|Photographs courtesy Wilderness Safaris
The Okavango Delta simply exhausts superlatives.
The loud sound of breaking bark wakes me up the next morning and when I open my eyes I’m astonished to find a massive elephant right in front of my tent...
PJ O’Rourke puts it succinctly in his book All the Trouble in the World: "For most of history, mankind has managedkeep a reasonable balance between thinking nature’s adorable and thinking it wants to kill us." As I stood on that termite mound in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, barely three feet off the
ground with my eyes squeezed shut, feeling the elephant’s ears breeze past me and hearinghis grunt closer than an annoying mosquito in my ear, I knew there was no doubt. It wants to
High and dry
We land at Maun Airport in this exquisite part of the world a few days before this episode with an Airlink flight from Johannesburg. Big smiles greet us and after about an hour we are
taken through to where the plane waits to carry us to our first Wilderness Safaris destination.
The temperature on the tarmac is a dusty and dry forty degrees Celsius as the decibels and speed of the six-seater "smartie box" plane rapidly increase. We take off into the blue yonder and I have to keep my mouth shut tight to prevent my maniacally beating heart from escaping. Flying in small planes is a bit like negotiating a
deadline - no matter how many times you do it, it always seems new andterrifying.
Ourpilot takes us to three thousand feet to avoid the winds and below us the magnificent scenery changes shape and color like a chameleon as the arid landscape gradually
transforms into the checkered olive green, grey and black water masses of the Okavango Delta.
But I am shocked at how dry even the Delta is. Our game ranger Ant welcomes us on the
ground about 15 minutes later in the middle of nowhere. It is hot but blue-black clouds are building and stacking up for miles around and the high lone palm trees look spectacular superimposed against this backdrop, with the delicate sound of thunder as the soundtrack. Almost immediately we spot impala, kudu and giraffe. Along the way to the lodge we also encounter warthog, sesabi and a myriad of birds. My friend Peter - and (tor)mentor of all
things avian - has a ball as he spots, names, listens to bird calls on his iPhone and jots down
the objects of his passionate hobby.
Chitabe Ledibe Camp
We are en-route to the Chitabe Lediba Camp, a small tented camp situated on one of the most
beautiful islands in the Delta within the floodplains of the Santantadibe River - and the Chitabe Reserve. The Okavango Delta simply exhausts superlatives. Located amidst ancient ebony, Leadwood and sausage trees in a fairly dry area in the southeast of the Okavango Delta, and surrounded by the Moremi Game Reserve, this Wilderness Safaris Classic Camp welcomes us like a shy chameleon, almost hidden by shrubbery and bush and located on the edge of a flood plain.
It is unassuming, thatched luxury personified and it has staff to match. A more fun, relaxed and hospitable bunch I have yet to find, led by the garrulous and marvelous Maolusi. After a welcome drink and high-tea snack, he shows me to my room, the honeymoon suite no
less, a shortboardwalkwalk away from the main lounge and dining area.
The tented suite is simply gorgeous. It is huge and the view of the plains is unsurpassed with the shower having same said view. This luxury, privacy and exclusivity doesn’t come cheap (about $1,100 per person per night all inclusive) but then again having your soul recharged is priceless.
There is no WiFi or cell phone reception of any kind and I think that is splendid! The lodge has only five spacious and luxuriously-appointed East African style tents complete with private bathrooms and hot showers. The dining area, lounge and pool have a glorious vantage
over the small "lediba" (remnant lagoon that has become a waterhole) after which the camp is
named and where multitudes of wildlife come to drink.I have an afternoon snooze in my beautiful bed with its crisp white linen, reveling in the quite sounds of the wild outside.
The rain makes big plop-plop noises later on the roof of my tent as the African earth is
washed by the blue-black, watery skies. The rain stops and after high-tea we go on a game drive. We spot elephant, buffalo, a myriad of antelope, zebra, a monitor lizard or two, a myriad of birds, giraffe and two hyenas walking towards us in the dark. Anthony is
exceptionally knowledgeable, explaining animal and plant behavior. For dinner we have delicious lamb shank followed by fruit Pavlova, followed by wonderfully
deep slumber. I am awoken a couple of times during the night by animal noises, one of which
is the distinct grunting of a hippo a few feet away. The animals here are all free-roaming and it is not permissible to walk alone at night lest you be eaten or trampled to death or both. The loud sound of breaking bark wakes me up the next morning and when I open my eyesI’m astonished to find a massive elephant right in front of my tent peacefully eating his breakfast. I normally wake up to the sight and sound of my alarm clock so this makes for a
nice change of pace.
Little Vumbura Lodge
Peter returns from the morning game drive with tales of animal spotting over breakfast. They saw cheetah and two hippos fighting. Damn...But no time for regrets for we have a flight to catch, driving an hour or so to the air strip in the cloying 35 degree heat. Senior ranger Russel and manager KD meet us after a scorching half an hour flight and about 10 minutes into the drive to Little Vumbura Lodge, the rain sets in. It comes in droves with its trusted companions fierce lightning and thunder and driving wind, echoing over the flood plains and shaking the earth. Half an hour’s drive and a 5-minute boat ride later with not a dry
patch on our bodies but elated at this gift from the heavens, we are greeted at the jetty with very welcome hot cocoa.
Little Vumbura is as luxuriously rustic as Chitabe but the location is very different. It sits
between the marshes deep in the Delta on its own island. No WiFi, mini-bars, spas, butlers, air conditioning or private splash pools here either - just good, old-fashioned hospitality and wonderful staff. Make no mistake, the tented chalets are superb with all amenities and positioned for the ultimate vista of the river and flood plains.
The afternoon game drive with our guide Savaru delivers a few antelope, zebra, elephants and
birds which of course interests Peter. Then, about an hour and a half into the game drive, Savaru literally follows the fixed, watchful gaze of a giraffe and lo and behold, we come upon a pack of 12 wild dogs. What a sight... These are the second most endangered dog species on the planet and to spend time with them is a rare privilege. Savaru explains their habits in fascinating detail.
Dinner is a feast of pesto and tomato soup with parmesan, followed by delectable beef fillet. Again, the service here is world-class as well.
Much mirth and merriment follows as fellow English guests regale us with their own memories of shock and awe in the bush. Sleep comes instantly when I collapse into bed later. A wisp of a pink cloud becomes visible as the dawn slowly breaks in front of me in this amazing place the next morning. Witnessing the start of the day in the African bush is like being invited to partake in a daily miracle. A dawn chorus of birdsong and the haunting callsof fish eagles, the air rich with the night flowers’ perfume and delightfully cool. By 7:30, that is all gone, the magic hours have flown and soon the animals will sink into the torpor brought on by the midday heat.
As the others are away on a game drive I have the luxury of the bush waking up all to myself.
I luxuriate in the enormous dome of the sky gently changing color and viscerally feel the
solemnity of perfect solitude, as Joseph Conrad puts it so aptly.
I spend the hot day lazing by the pool after breakfast and simply indulging in my surrounds. Instead of a gam drive, we opt for a traditional "mokoro" (or dug-out canoe) ride later. We spot all sorts of water lilies, the tiniest tree frogs you’ve ever seen and various antelope as we float gently along one of the canals of the Delta. Stopping on a tiny island for sundowners and this exactly where said elephant encounter happens as is described in not all enough frightening detail in paragraph one of this article...
After dinner Russel induces sore necks all around as he shows us the constellations and thefascinatingtales and legends surrounding the millions of stars in this pure firmament.
As we sadly take our leave the next morning, I am consoled by the fact that I have a magical
muse for all time. She goes by the Okavango Delta...
Jo Kromberg was flown to Maun by Airlink and to the Wilderness Camps by Wilderness Air
Botswana. Airlink offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa and operates as a franchisee to South African Airways (SAA).
Information: Direct scheduled flights between Johannesburg and Maun,Botswana.
Connectivity: Through their alliance with SAA, travelers can connect conveniently withSAA, their partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.
Frequent Flyer Program: Airlink is a member of South African Airways (SAA) Loyaltyprogram -Voyager.
Flight Bookings:Online, booking agent or SAA Central Reservations +27 11 978 1111.