Saturday, April 28, 2012

Vumbara Bound!

Day 7- April 20 We woke bright and early, looking forward to our trip to Vumbara. We checked in on our two overnighters at the clinic- both were doing well and were to be discharged later in the day. Richard picked us up promptly at 8:30 and we made it to the Wilderness Safari HQ well ahead of our departure time. Tana gave us our tickets and took us to the airport to drop off our bags, then left us at Bon Arrive to grab a coffee and kill some time until our flight left. It turned out we were on the milk run- not a direct flight to Vumbara. Not a problem- the delta is breathtakingly beautiful, and flying over it gives you a true sense of its size. We stopped at Chitabe and Tubu Camp prior to landing at the Vumbara airstrip, each strip littered with the poop of various species from impala to elephant. There were random wildlife sitings from the plane- elephants, giraffes, zebra, but nothing that prepared us for the drive to our lodge. We were greeted warmly by our guides for the weekend, Go and Zee, who informed us we might see some animals between here and the lodge. Less than 5 minutes into the drive, Eagle-eyes Richard spotted an elephant several hundred yards away. Zee maneuvered the truck into the best viewing position, which turned out to be unnecessary- while we were watching elephant number one, a mother elephant and her calf walked out of the brush behind us, not 20 metres away. They passed slowly within 10 metres of the vehicle. She seemed unfazed by our presence- her baby separated itself from her several times, and she waited patiently for it to catch up, but always keeping a watchful eye on us.Once they'd crossed the road, we moved on. The wildlife came fast and furious over the course of the 30 minute drive to the lodge. We saw a few giraffes, two herds of zebra, several more elephants, as well as kudu, impala, wildebeest, and wart hogs. Wow! Upon arrival at the lodge, we were greeted warmly by Cara (a Toronto ex-pat) and Tizzar, a Motswana being trained for a management role at the lodge (I learned from the map on the flight in that Botswana is the country, Setswana is the language, Batswana are the people as a whole, but each individual is a Motswana). The rest of the staff came and introduced themselves- Ruby, Gladys, Kenny, and Owner. We had a quick lunch while getting an orientation and a rundown on the rules of the lodge. While there are lions in the vicinity, when walking after dark it's the hippos and elephants that are the real danger. The lodge is built on the shores of a large wetland, so over the next 48 hours we'll have the option of seeing wildlife from both a land cruiser and at water level in a mokoro- a traditional dugout canoe. Our choice. We feel so incredibly lucky to be given this opportunity. Our rooms are massive- larger than many a Vancouver apartment. There are seven in total, separated by enough tress and brush that you truly feel like you're in your own private home. Each looks out onto the wetland. As hard as it was to tear ourselves away, we gathered in the lobby area at 4, as instructed, for tea (very civilized). Then we piled into our Land Cruiser for an evening game drive with Zee and Go. One objective was to return to an area where lions had been seen earlier in the day. While there were none to be found, we did manage to see kudu, impalas (of course), zebra, more elephants, and a bull giraffe with 2 cows nearby. The sun was setting, so we made our way back to the lodge, only to get very effectively stuck in a stream bed. Zee is a wise man who knows better than to try more than once or twice to dislodge the truck, so he and Go went towards a nearby thicket to grab some wood to use as traction under the tires. The thicket also contained several elephants. They scratched that plan and called for the assistance of a tractor to come pull us out- apparently this has happened once or twice before. We had our sundowner (an evening cocktail consumed whilst watching the sun set) sitting in the truck, watching the light fade and the mosquito count escalate. Eventually we heard the growl of the tractor and directed the driver our way with flashlights- these guys truly have an amazing knowledge of the area and an uncanny ability to locate the lost and stranded. They truck was chained to the tractor and we were pulled free. The driver then towed us another several hundred meters down the stream/road until we were on dryer land. We made out way back to the lodge in total darkness, much of the route under water ranging from 4 inches to 3 feet deep. Fireflies flashed off to our sides. We made it back to the lodge within minutes of dinner, and were invited to have a seat at the bar while the table was set- our choice of beef or bream. Cara recommended the beef- Botswana beef apparently ranking among the best in the world. I'm not much of a red meat eater, and that dinner made me seriously question why not. It was amazing! Our dining companions were an entertaining quartet from Santa Barbara touring SA and Botswana for a few weeks. Dinner and dessert were finished by 9. We were escorted back to our rooms by Tizzar, and in bed by 9:30, so as to get 8 hours of sleep before the 5:30 wake up call for the morning game drive. Days 8 & 9- April 21 & 22 Suffice it to say, the next day and a half were incredible. 5:30 wake up calls to make sure we were ready for 6:30 game drives. An incredible wealth of wildlife in a relatively small area, our guides did all they could to ensure we saw as much as possible. Their skills and mother nature combined to give us a weekend we'll not soon forget. It was very hard to leave on Sunday afternoon- we'd seen so much and been made to feel so welcome. We found ourselves hoping that Zee wouldn't make it through the next stream, or that we'd be stopped by a herd of rogue water buffalo. Alas it was not meant to be. We arrived back in Maun around 4, and returned to the cottage to prepare for work tomorrow. For a full detailed report of the weekend, visit my blog on the Yaletown Pet Hospital web site, but then please return here.

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