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Posts Tagged ‘Wilderness Safaris’

Do it all in two wild weeks…

How often have you dreamt about standing right next to the thundering Victoria Falls, enjoying a sundowner on Cape Town’s stunning Table Mountain, shopping in Johannesburg, gliding in a dugout canoe through the swamps of the Okavango Delta and sleeping in a remote bush tent… but thought it not possible as your budget – and holiday leave – only stretches to two weeks.

Well, it is doable. In January my husband and I explored Southern Africa in 15 days. We spent five days in Cape Town, a weekend in Johannesburg, two days at Victoria Falls and five days in the Okavango Delta, taking in the best of South African, Zimbabwean and Botswanan sights and culture.

 

"Do it all in two wild weeks", by Alannah Eames

Click here to read the full article by Alannah Eames in the travel section of the Sunday Times, Malta, July 24, 2011.

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Daily life in a ‘bush office’

July 4, 2011 2 comments

A few nights in a super-exclusive, eco-friendly tented camp or lodge in the heart of Botswana’s Okavango Delta doesn’t come cheap. But you are guaranteed a once-in-a-lifetime experience and memories you will treasure forever.

Click here to read the full article by Alannah Eames published on July 3, 2011, in The Times of Malta. Sunday edition.

When in the Okavango Delta …

February 27, 2011 4 comments

It's a tough life in the Okavango Delta!

 

Make sure you …

1. Take a flight from Kasane or Maun for a fantastic view of the Delta from above.
2. Hop in a mokoro (dug out canoe ride) ride: Xigera Camp is a great spot for this.
3. Swim in the thermal waters of the Okavango Delta.
4. Enjoy a sundowner on a deserted sandbar, enjoying the fantastic African sunset.
5. Get up close with the leopards around Tubu Tree Camp.
6. “Camp hop” – don’t just stay at one camp. 2-3 nights per camp is perfect. Combine a “grassland” and “water-based” camp for two very different experiences.
7. Spend a night in a hideaway, if you dare.
8. Enjoy a “bush brunch” of bacon and eggs in the middle of the Delta.
9. Talk to the staff and other guests. Part of the fun is sharing your experiences and hearing the “bush” stories, especially around the campfire enjoying the nocturnal bush sounds.
10. Take the chance to explore Southern Africa … you can combine the Okavango Delta with the sand dunes of Namibia, the Victoria Falls of Zimbabwe & Zambia, the teak forests of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, the vast elephant herds of Botswana’s Chobe National Park or the rugged beauty of the Cape area in South Africa. Wilderness Safaris have a great network of around 60 top-class, eco-friendly lodges and camps across Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and the Seychelles. Logistics and coordination can be tricky so it’s often best in Southern Africa to use a safari company to organize accommodation and transport.

“Bye Bye” Okavango Delta!

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Loading up and ready to leave before the next thunderstorm strikes.

If you’re lucky, these guys might show up to wave you off.

It’s hard to say goodbye to the Okavango Delta, and to your favorite camps. Even though we’ve only been there for a week, it feels much longer and we don’t want to leave. The two camps we stayed at – Tubu Tree and Xigera – were extremely homely and well managed; I couldn’t find anything to complain about, even if I tried. 

Spending time in the Delta is a chance to recharge, to reconnect with nature and animals and will leave you reenergized. OK, maybe like me, you had some sleepless nights but you leave injected with a sense of admiration and love for this part of Southern Africa.

But all too soon, it’s off to the airstrip where Joel and our faithful Cessna 208B Grand Caravan are waiting to take us back to Kasane Airport.

Touching down on the tarred runway at Kasane, after a week in the bush (the same airport that we thought was tiny on the way out), feels huge; we haven’t seen a single car or shop, or heard the ringtone of a cellphone, for a week. On one hand, I see “civilization” with fresh eyes, but the other part of me craves the peace and nature of the Delta.  I miss the camps, the animals, the food, the people and our daily game drives. That’s the sign of a true vacation: one you don’t want to end … ever.

Tucked away on an island in the Okavango Delta

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

"Cast away" in the idyllic Xigera Camp.

There's no water shortages around Xigera Camp.

Xigera Camp, pronounced Keejera (or with a funny-sounding click like the locals say it), is in the heart of the Okavango Delta’s Moremi Game Reserve, nestled in a riverine island criss-crossed by a network of deep channels. It’s a “real” water camp and the minute you land at its small airstrip, you feel pleasantly cast away from the outside world.

If you come to Xigera expecting to see prides of lions and abundant wildlife, don’t. Yes, they are out there somewhere but as it’s a water camp, you’re not going to see them as easily as at other “grassier” camps like Tubu Tree. It’s not rocket science: there is less game here as there is more water and less grass; if there’s less game, there’s less predators. But, if you’re lucky, you might see them swimming as this is the main way for the animals to “island hop” around Xigera. And, of course, being surrounded by water, means you’ll see water-lovers like elephants, hippos and crocodiles.

On the prowl. Two brothers hang out on Chief's Island.

If you’re hell bent on seeing other wildlife, the staff can arrange a trip for you to neighboring Chief’s Island which has a healthy lion population. We did a record six-hour game drive across and were treated to a pair of male lions lounging under a tree, less than 100 meters from the spot where we’d hopped out of our jeep for our coffee break under a baobab tree.

South African husband and wife team Mike and Anne Marchington have been running Xigera Camp for just over a year. They are veterans on Southern Africa having spent four years in the Delta and over 20 years traveling around Southern Africa. Mike tells us that he even used to jog in the bush, one time trekking right past a pride of lions, “I was so focused on the prints on the ground that I forgot to look out for the lions,” he laughs.

 

Home away from home. The cosy lounge area at Xigera.

The camp is intimate and cosy, just like in the brochures except even better in real life. It’s got ten tented rooms all kitted out with en-suite and an outdoor shower. Think camping, but upmarket camping. It’s down-to-earth enough to blend in with the nature and to satisfy those with a more outdoorsy rustic taste, but comfortable enough to keep those who don’t like roughing it happy. There is always someone to talk to in the open bar-restaurant-cum living room area which feels like being in your own living room as you can help yourself to drinks and snacks whenever you want. The service is great – attentive enough to make you feel special but not too much to make you feel stifled.

Elevated walkways lead to the camp's 10 quaint tents.

There’s also a sandpit where the “newspaper” is read every morning – that means checking the paw prints. Most of them belong to the “resident” hyena who regularly visits at night but who is very “shy”. It amuses me that everyone in Botswana considers hyenas “shy”, while in other parts of Africa they are highly feared. We spot her one evening, wallowing in the shadows less than 70 meters away, while we sit around the camp fire. I’m curious what she wants: is she enjoying our company, is she looking for a free meal, or is she just being nosy? Our two camp managers aren’t bothered at all by her, in fact quite the opposite. They almost get worried if they don’t see her for a few nights in a row. “Knowledge is power so if you know how the animals react, you will be ok,” says Mike.

So, if we happen to come face to face with this hyena on the narrow entrance into the camp, we should basically step back, treat her as a lady and let her go first. She’s alone, maybe that makes a difference. “They’re masters of chaos; once they’re in a pack, they create chaos. Hyenas are very successful hunters; they’re not just the scavengers that people think they are. And they are an important part of the ecosystem as they clean up a lot of the carcasses of animals that have died of natural causes,” explains Mike. I’m starting to feel like I know these huge scary-looking animals personally, and even beginning to admire them.

Wilderness Camps give a new meaning to the word "safari" - besides abundant wildlife, the great homemade food keeps flowing too.

Fully owned by Wilderness Safaris, which has managed (through its dedication to sustainable tourism and good reputation in Southern Africa) to buy some of the best sites and camps in the Delta, Xigera Camp is built on elevated walkways so you don’t need to walk on the ground and reduce the risk of stepping on a snake. After a week in Okavango and Zimbabwe, I haven’t yet seen a single snake. “There are plenty of snakes, but sadly we never see them. We all think a snake will bite us and kill us but we just have little knowledge about them,” says Mike. All too often, we freak out if we see a cobra but it is quite predictable despite the rumors. The black mambo is considered one of the most unpredictable and aggressive snakes in Southern Africa.

After Tubu Tree, where the cats can wander in and out of the camp, Xigera seems very tame. Mike’s comment makes me laugh: “What can an animal do to you – it won’t hop into your tent and eat you.” This seems to be the general consensus in the Delta by the chilled-out staff who live there year-round. It’s us visitors who think that we will be eaten by man-eating lions, attacked by crocodiles or trampled on by an elephant … the minute we spot one!

When in the Okavango Delta … do a mokoro ride!

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Scary and relaxing ... glide through the waters of the Okavango Delta in a local dug-out canoe or mokoro.

Before going to the Okavango Delta, I was asked what kind of activities I wanted to do. I saw a picture of two people sitting in a dug-out canoe, less than 20 centimeters above the waters of the crocodile- and hippo-infested waters of the Okavango Delta, 100 meters away from a massive male elephant, with an unarmed oarsman balancing precariously at the back of the canoe and said “Wow, look at that. Scary. There’s no way I would ever get into one of those things.”

Fast forward two months and I am gliding along a tranquil reed-lined waterway, passing crocodiles sleeping with one eye open on the banks, watching birds glide overhead with no sound apart from the swish-swish of the pole as our guide expertly navigates the shallow waters of the Delta.

Just in front of us, his colleague is on the look-out for “danger” – meaning wide awake crocodiles, hippos, elephants, anything we shouldn’t get too close to. After the initial minutes of being too scared to move in case I unbalanced this wobbly looking boat, I relax and start to enjoy the ride.

The mokoro (also confusingly spelt makoro or mekoro) is a common type of canoe used to get around in the shallow waters of the Okavango Delta. The oarsman stands in the stern and pushes it with the pole. Traditional mokoros are made from the trunk of a large straight tree, like ebony, but today, they are more commonly made from fiber-glass. They’re popular at the water camps like Xigerato get tourists around, but they’re also, easily overturned by hippos. To an inexperienced tourist, this might seem like a death sentence, but Barobi, our guide, assures us that the waterways used for the mokoro rides are too shallow for hippos to bathe comfortably in and for crocodiles to hide in. “Hippos are highly territorial so just don’t go into their territory,” says Bairobi, our guide confidently.

A guide goes 150 meters ahead to make sure we don't disturb any sleeping beauties.

The idyllic wetlands Xigera Camp, where we spent two nights, is probably one of the best places to do a mokoro ride. Located in the heart of the exclusive Moremi Game Reserve, there are hidden waterways, deep lagoons, sandbars and deserted islands within a one-hour radius of the camp.

A mokoro ride in the Delta is an absolute “must do” even if it at first seems terrifying. Our guide, like many of the others, learned to handle a mokoro at the tender age of seven. It’s a careful balancing act – the simplest sudden turn or twist could land the passengers in the water.

... and the odd hiding or sleeping crocodile.

Was the mokoro ride scary? Yes, in the beginning. Am I glad I did it? Definitely. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. Drifting along the tucked-away waterways of the Okavango Delta, past the large round water lilies, seeing the reflection of the clouds on the mirror-like water, watching colorful kingfishers, cranes and egrets, and topping it off with a sun-downer on the banks of a small sandy islet, it was one of the most relaxing, and memorable, experiences in my life.

Behind the scenes at a luxury bush camp

February 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Every little detail is taken care of at these camps, even the 11.00 coffee break during the morning game drive.

You’ve most likely paid a hefty sum of money to stay at a super-exclusive, eco-friendly and unforgettable lodge in the middle of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. On the surface everything may seem to run like clockwork, but, behind the scenes, the staff work hard to make sure the guests’ stay is as pleasant as possible.

The hyenas favorite area: the kitchen.

All the staff at Tubu Tree Camp, like the other camps in the Okavango Delta, work a seven-day shift, doing three months on, one month off. Most of the staff are Botswanans, coming from the local communities around the Delta, but there are expats here and there, like Canadian-born Justin and South African Jacky at Tubu Tree, who have spent two years at the camp, pretty long by camp manager standards. Like in many camps in the Delta they are a couple. Many camps in the delta prefer to hire couples as it means the managers will find it less lonely, and, hopefully, stay longer.

The alarm clocks for the managers go off at 4.20 every day. They need to get up and make sure all is in order before the guests get up at 5.30 for their morning game drives. Some of us reading this blog probably moan every morning about rush hour traffic or an overflowing email inbox, but, for the staff at Tubu, they’re getting up during the predators’ “hunting time” and it’s not uncommon for them to have hyenas sniffing at their door or elephants trying to stick their trunk into the shower, at this time of morning.

South African Jacky admits it was a bit nerve-wracking in the beginning and took a bit of getting used to. Justin, who grew up in Canada and was used to seeing grizzly bears rummaging through the thrash in backyards, takes it a bit lighter. Before being hired, they were put through an intensive one-week test period at the camp. Of course, as per Murphy’s Law, they said they didn’t see a single animal come into the camp during this time.

“Our families don’t really understand what we are doing. They think we see leopards at camp every day,” say Jacky and Justin, “but we don’t really. It can happen, but it doesn’t happen every day.”

The biggest challenges of working in the bush, according to the two managers, are the logistics, and not knowing what’s going to happen each day. “But that’s also part of the fun,” says Jacky. “There’s never a dull moment. For example, you never know what the guests are going to be like, who to pair with who on the vehicles. We have to think about all these things.”

Besides looking after the guests’ best interests, the local wildlife occasionally adds some challenges. “One time last year, at 4 a.m. some elephants burst our water pipes, we have had hyenas breaking into our kitchen …there are lots of challenges every day,” she adds.

The camp’s kitchen is a favorite hang-out spot for the local hyenas. If they are really hungry and there is nobody in the kitchen, they might try to break in. Hence the large steel locks on the door and the teeth marks on the side of the chest freezer which bear witness to this.  The baboons also visit the kitchen daily but, unlike the hyenas who are less subtle, they try to “sneak” in.

Garbage is separated and stowed safely away.

With wild animals loitering in the neighborhood, the staff have to be very careful not to leave any food or garbage lying around. “This would encourage the animals to start ‘begging’ or scavenging for food leftovers,” explains Justin, something that the camps want to avoid at all costs to preserve the natural habitat.

Garbage is also carefully handled. It is separated – for example, food waste is burned – and then taken out of the camp, either by plane or truck. Every effort is made to keep the camps as natural and environmentally friendly as possible so as not to interfere with the natural ecosystem and to spoil the animals.

Oil and gas supplies ... not part of the elephants' tree and shrub eating plan, luckily.

Every Friday, the camp gets fresh supplies; the provisions are ordered in advance. The staff try to keep stocks up and never let a plane come or leave empty handed, as, it’s good to stock up on supplies before the rainy season, just in case… The camp also has a supply of gas and oil drums for petrol which luckily the elephants don’t touch. “It’s not wood and they can’t eat it,” we are told.

Far away from towns and other camps, Tubu Tree is self-sufficient in water and energy supplies. It uses water from its own springs and runs its own generator eight hours a day which provides enough electricity to power the camp. Great care is taken to use resources efficiently and guests are encouraged to avoid recharging batteries and leaving lights on which gobbles up the energy supply.

Laundry is done by hand in the camp’s two-basin laundry room and hung out in the sun to dry (or indoors during rainy season). A small hut with metal gauze around it and a cold tap flowing over it, is used as a natural “cold room”.

Jacky checks out the camp's "refrigerator".

Each staff member has his/her own tent and they share a communal kitchen and bathroom area. Guides, however, have an ensuite toilet and shower. The tents are quite basic – a bed and place to store your stuff but many staff bring some personal belongings to make it more homely. In the evenings, they hang out together, huddle around the fire in the winter, or weave the colorful baskets which are sold in the camp’s shop. There are no TVs or internet so the only news they get from the outside world, during their three-month work stint, comes from the guests or through the radio contact with the Delta’s “capital” Maun, a 30-minute flight away.

All in all, it’s not a bad life. True it must be hard to be away from family and friends for three months, but on the other hand, they get perks from working for larger travel companies like Wilderness Safaris. For every month they work, they earn a bed night which they can use for family and friends to visit them or they can use it themselves to visit another camp. There also seem to be a lot of opportunities to grow up the ranks and to transfer between camps, making it an interesting career path. It’s a funny lifestyle and setup but in one way, those of us sitting at a desk 9-5, five days a week, must in some way we tempted by it!

Only the best for the guests: great service, food and a smile.

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