Sunday, March 26, 2017

Safari: A World Away!

Our view of Cape Town's Waterfront at night
From Cape Town to the Savanna:

We had been looking forward to a safari experience for several years. Our plan was to land on the east coast of Africa with the World ARC and take the first weather window(s) available to sail around the Cape to Cape Town. This is not an easy sail to plan as the weather demands that you go on Mother Nature's schedule. After a long wait for a chance to head west, we took it.

Barb and Joe enjoying a taste of South Africa vino
We then spent two weeks making the passage and having work done on the boat in Cape Town so S/V Trillium would be ready for crossing the South Atlantic Ocean to Brazil. We had heard that their summer and Christmas break starts around December 15th, so we wanted to get things taken care of before everyone shut down. And they did stop working from about December 16 through January 7!

One of the biggest challenges we have had on this adventure has been the number of holidays the rest of the world celebrates! Somehow, we seem to have hit every official holiday in every country we have visited. There are holidays for everything and they are usually 2-4 days in length. Frustrating when you are trying to get people to work on the boat or you need to do some banking, etc.

Our "chariot" awaits! OMG!
The plan was to head to Botswana first and Dennis' brother, Joe and sister-in-law, Barb, were joining us on the safari. They were coming to Cape Town for a couple of days before flying to Botswana with us. We gave them a quick look-see around the Waterfront area and had dinner out under a view of Table Mountain. We would have a very early start the following day.

Botswana was our country of choice because they do not allow hunting of the animals. The only “animal” that is legally hunted is the human poacher! And they will shoot them on site. They are very serious about stopping the maiming and killing of wild animals for their tusks, horns, etc.

Our pilot was a young gal.
The first day of our adventure into the wild animal kingdom started with an early morning plane ride to Maun, Botswana. Once we landed in Maun with its small airport we were greeted by the Desert & Delta Safari representative.

Since we had to wait for Barb and Joe to arrive, the Meet & Greet gal suggested that we go to the local craft shops and "Peek and Pay!" I wasn’t ready to drop my dollars so early in the trip, but we looked at things. That was a mistake as there was a cute tee shirt I wanted, but thought I would see it again later. NOT! I should have paid! Delta, Alpha, Mike, November.

Once we were finally all together, it was time to board our first bush plane. OMG! I don't like the idea of these little 4-6 passenger planes. But it is the only way to get to the safari camps in a reasonable amount of time. So, I had to gather up my nerves and climb aboard. We were only allowed to have one soft-sided 20” duffle bag and a small backpack due to the size of the plane.

What a pleasant surprise when a gal hoped into the pilot seat! She was very young, too. I was fascinated just watching her as she checked out everything and began our approach to the small runway. Although a bit noisy, the flight was comfortable and interesting as we flew close to the ground (relative to larger planes) and around rain squalls. We can see squalls coming toward us on the ocean and can do some maneuvering to avoid the heaviest areas, but this time we were at eye level with the black clouds and could see clear spaces between the rain showers. It was interesting.

Look who is crossing the runway in front of our bush plane!
We had to stop at one of the closer camps to drop off some workers and pick up two guests who were moving to their next camp. I had been sitting next to a young lady who was in an administrative program to work at the camps while finishing her college degree in management. She would then spend three-month rotations at a camp with a two week break to go back home. This was to be her job after she graduated. This is how they staff the camps year-round.

Yah, right! International? Terminal? Passport Control? FUN!
Landing on a dirt runway and then taxiing over grass was a new experience. I was impressed with our gal pilot. When the new passengers boarded the plane, I was asked to move forward into the co-pilot seat! Yikes, now I could really see the ground and everything! At first, I was a little uncomfortable, but finally relaxed and settled in for the flight. The pilot reminded me not to touch anything with my hands or feet. I enjoyed watching her during the flight. And I had the best seat in the plane for taking photographs!

We finally reached the landing strip of our first camp. I was really excited that we were finally going to see the African Big Five: elephants, leopards, rhinoceroses, buffalos and lions. And I was looking forward to seeing the various camps our travel agent had booked for us.

This beautiful creature was the welcoming committee!
But first we had to land! I noticed there was a safari vehicle sitting along the runway. I later learned that anytime a plane is coming in or going out, they drive the length of the runway to chase off any wild animals that may be ready to cross in front of a plane.

Our first wild animal sighting was on the runway! After we had landed and were taxiing back to the waiting vehicle, a huge elephant sauntered across the runway! There is a good reason they check the runway before the planes arrive or take off! So, then we were off the first bush plane and into our first safari vehicle! We had arrived to begin an adventure of a lifetime!

A reality of life: the weak, old or ill do not survive.
Everyone is someone's meal!
The first two nights of the safari were at the Desert & Delta Savute Safari Lodge. What a lovely setting in the bush along the watering hole. We would spend our time here in very nice open vehicle with only six passengers, although most of the time it was just the four of us.

Our ranger, Qwist, maneuvered the vehicle in the most ideal position for us to see and photograph the animals. We were up close and personal with the most amazing creatures! Why do people want to kill these beautiful beasts?

The al fresco dining area and swimming pool
overlooking the watering hole of the Stolen River.
We stopped to see several animals on our way to the lodge! Our safari had begun and we hadn’t even arrived at the camp! This first camp was located in the Savute region of the Chobe National Park, which covers 4500 square miles and encompasses floodplains, swamps and woodland. It is a dynamic wilderness of sweeping savannah dotted with rocky outcrops surrounded by marshes and the Savute Channel. The Savute Channel is one of the greatest natural mysteries in Botswana as it alternates between flowing freely and lying dormant.

White linen dining in the bush!
Along with Big Game, Savute boasts the second-largest Zebra migration in Africa. The zebras move from the north to the south when the rains in November and December make the grasslands most inviting. We were lucky to be there in December and we saw hundreds of zebras. Of course, when the zebras move south, their predators follow so that increased our chances of seeing other animals such as lions.
The view from our private deck. Animals in the watering hole.
When we finally arrived at the lodge, I was amazed at the setting. We had our own private chalet with a viewing deck overlooking The Stolen River, which was mostly a watering hole at the time we were there. With only twelve chalets, the camp felt very personal. We were escorted by our ranger to and from our chalet when it was dark, as a safety measure for guests. You just don't know who or what you might come up against in the wild - especially in the dark!

The accommodations were beautiful. Each day the housekeeping staff made little designs on the bed as an extra touch. We had our own individual butler and maid. This was going to be very special!

There was cozy lounge with a cocktail bar, library and large fireplace in the main building. The dining building glowed with candlelight during later dinners.

And this was waiting for us after a very long day!

We were in good hands with Gwist.

At the river’s edge, there was a viewing deck where meals were served on nice days and there was a swimming pool. Unfortunately, we were there during the rainy season so most of our meals with in the dining building which was lovely as well. There are pluses and minuses to each season, so the rain was a plus as it brought the animals to the watering holes which had been very dry.

And this was our vehicle.
And this was just our first day! And we still have an afternoon game drive before dinner, and a night game drive before bed. More to come…

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