Monday, April 10, 2017

Safari: Camp Xugana

Now to See the Okavango Delta:

Up, up and away!
We had our last early morning game drive and lunch in Savute before our flight to the Okavango Delta. It was time to head back to the little runway and on to another small bush plane. Once again, the runway was swept of animals so we could have a safe take off.

On this flight, we were headed back to the camp where we had dropped off staff. I recall this was a grass landing strip and a bit bumpy, but I was fine climbing aboard again. We were heading to the Xugana Island Lodge which is located in a lagoon area. It was a totally different environment!

This became our main mode of transportation in the delta.
Upon arrival, we met our ranger, Ken, who took us to Camp Xugana (pronounced like Chee-gana). Here our first mode of transportation was in a small motor boat. We walked from the air strip to a little river inlet and boarded the first of many water vehicles. It was a sunny day and it was nice to be on the water with the cool breeze.

Our "mesasa" on the water's edge
We were greeted by the staff as we approached the landing and welcomed with a fruit drink. After an orientation, we were taken to our “mesasa” built on stilts along the water to unpack and prepare for afternoon tea and game viewing. Never a dull moment in these camps! But great fun!

The setting was stunning: on the banks of the lagoon with a view of both sunrises and sunsets. The water was very tranquil and there was a gentle breeze. Meals were served on an open-air deck overlooking the lagoon. Cocktails were enjoyed around a fire pit with other guests. Although, we had the camp to ourselves for the first two days because it just before Christmas. We couldn't have asked for anything more perfect!

My first view upon waking! Amazingly beautiful.
For our first trip into the Xugana Lagoon, we boarded the boat again. I could see that the boat would become our main mode of transportation in the delta. This lagoon is widely recognized as the most spectacular permanent water site in the entire Okavango Delta, which itself is Africa’s largest and most awesome oasis. The Okavango River rises in the highlands of Angola, but never reaches the sea as most rivers do.

Instead, its immense waters empty over the sands of the Kalahari Desert, where the great thirst of the desert is quenched in a wilderness of freshwater lagoons and islands. The river divides into smaller and smaller streams and virtually disappearing into dry land, creating an enormous island delta. It was an amazing place!

I am in awe of Mother Nature's beauty.
Again, our mesasa was beautifully appointed and comfortable. The staff surprised us each day with a new arrangement and message on the bed just as they had done in Savute. The view from our deck was breath-taking! I have never seen such beautiful sunrises. Nature has an amazing palette here!

Ken guiding our mokoro through the water
in paths created by elephants walking there.
Once again, we had the same daily schedule which we had come to appreciate as it gave us rest time in the heat of the day. Just like the animals, we went into hibernation mode to cool down and catch up on sleep. Meals and tea were served alfresco on a deck overlooking the lagoon. Dinners were beautifully lit by candles and little lanterns as we dined under the stars. The food and drink were 5-star all the way!

Both camps include free laundry service which is nice since packing two weeks of clothing in one 20” duffle bag would not have been possible. That also included camera equipment, iPads, etc.! Just as on our boat, we wore the same few things repeatedly.

The Xugana area is noted for its bird life and we saw so many different species. Our ranger, Ken, would name them as quickly as he could spot them. We traveled by motorboat as well as by mokoro, which is a traditional dugout canoe as we explored the crystal-clear waterways. The mokoro was a peaceful ride through the trails left in the marshes where the elephants and other large animals had passed through.

In fact, the peace and quiet was deafening! What a beautiful experience to hear nothing but birds singing and an occasional splash of Ken's stick entering the water as he poled us along through the pampas grass and reeds. What a great way to relax after a long day of game drives and travel!

Then he took us back to the motor boat and we set off to find a place to enjoy Sundowners and watch the sunset over the lagoon. After that spectacular light show, we were headed back to the lodge for a candlelit dinner on the deck. Talk about being pampered ...

The water was so still that it was nature's mirror,
reflecting the sky and shadows in an artistic way.

We saw a lot of destruction of the environment caused by the elephants. There is a love-hate relationship with elephants due to their destructive ways. They just rip trees and plants out of the ground to eat. They destroy the habitat of other animals in the process.

Ken told us he would show us the world's
biggest frog. What a joker: here it is!
Yet, they are one of Africa’s biggest attractions. And like all of the other big game in Botswana, they are protected so their population growth over time may become a bigger problem than they currently anticipate. We later learned that some of the orphaned elephants are shipped to sanctuaries in other parts of the continent.

Boat trips were treats several times a day as it was both a way to see other areas of the Okavanga Delta and enjoy the cool breeze created by the moving watercraft. There were numerous water trails throughout the area. I don't think I could have found my way back to camp in the midst the the water maze.

We learned the difference between day water lilies and
night water lilies. They both bloom in the day and night!
We saw many birds of all sizes. Some were kind enough to pose for a photo before taking flight. Others spooked and quickly darted away before we could capture them - digitally, of course.

We found a few reptiles in the grasses, encountered a hippo on our path and spotted an elephant destroying a tree on the bank. It was just enjoying its dinner!

The area is teeming with wildlife and flora. The scene is ever-changing with the light moving from east to west. Photos just can't capture the feeling of peacefulness there.

Ken took us on a long and breezy boat ride to find the hippopotamus pond. The boat trips were a refreshing relief from the heat as well as a chance to see more of the lagoon. On the way to the pond we encounter a couple of hippos in the narrow stream and had to carefully maneuver around them least we irritate them. Remember, hippos can move at the speed of 40 kilometers in the water – running, not swimming!

Once we got to the pond, we found three different large pods of hippos, each staking out their territory. Most pods are made up of a couple of males and a lot of females and babies. We spent about an hour just observing them and taking pictures.

That's not a yawn. It means: go away NOW!

He is protecting his pod.

What did you not understand about GO AWAY?

On this beautiful evening, Ken found a perfect anchorage for the most amazing sunset for Sundowners. It was breathtaking! Evening Sundowners were special here. We always took a boat ride to see something special and then anchored in a beautiful spot to watch the sunset with a little libation! And some interesting and traditional snacks. I can see the pounds piling up and we are only a few days into this exciting adventure!

So far, I have been on sensory overload with eight more days of this to come!

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