Author Archives: Doug DeVries

Boating in Botswana

Okavango Water Reflections

Okavango Water Reflections

Vumbura Plains Camp, stop number 3 for our lodge of flying beavers would have worked even if our trusty aircraft were wearing their water feet (floats).   The Okavango Delta is an ever changing plain of water.   In the rainy season, November and December, thousands of waterholes fill to over flowing but in the dry season beginning in May, the entire delta floods.  The flooding is caused by water that has traveled for 5 months all the way from Angola!

Water Lilly 2

Okavango Water Lilly

Guide Johanes poling our makoro

Guide Johanes poling our makoro

At Vumbura we had the opportunity to do some water activities in addition to game drives.  The makoro boats are similar to dugout canoes but just like our modern canoes, contemporary Delta makoro’s are fiberglass.  Our boatman, Johaness, poled us along in the shallow water where the beautiful water lilies had just opened in the morning sun. It was very quiet and peaceful especially when compared to the diesel engines of our Land Rovers crashing through the scrub of the savannah.  No big game here just the tiny little reed frogs hanging onto thin reeds swaying gently in the breeze.  The males are a gorgeous pattern of red and the females a not so pretty frogish green.  It seems humans are the only exception to the beautiful gender rule here in Africa!

Our Guide Emang

Our guide Emang, making a point

Our next water adventure was on outboard motor boats in deeper waters for an evening ride.  We sped along in big open areas where the water was so perfectly still many of us suggested that waterskiing should be added to their list of activities.  The open areas gave way to narrow water ways surrounded by tall grasses and papyrus, the plant used  by Egyptians to make paper.   When we stop for our “sun setter” drinks, Emanng, our guide, explained the three keystone species of the Okavango Delta.  The termites for constructing huge mounds that eventually become the land when the Delta floods.  The hippo who creates underwater “highways” so the flood can flow easily in and out of the Delta and the Elephants who change the ecosystem as they clear large areas of trees to allow for the cycle of life to begin again.

So now we have traveled in Africa by air, by land and by water.

Day 6 — Impodimo to Vumbura

On the ramp at Tswalu

On the ramp some days earlier at Tswalu.

“NOVEMBER FIVE ONE ZERO PAPA WISKEY, ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?” the big thickly accented but good-natured African voice booms through our headsets. We all share a chuckle, as this transmission from Gaborone Control nicely sums up our ongoing challenges with radio communications in Africa.

A glance at the GPS indicates that we are at latitude south 24°, longitude east 26°, which places our three-plane air safari about 30 nautical miles northeast of Gaborone, Botswana.  Radio communications continue to be a challenge for the Safari pilots, and based on the number of times the controllers ask us to repeat our transmissions, we are just as difficult for them to understand.  When planning this adventure, we did not think that the radio would be one of our biggest challenges; funny how the need for effective communication becomes the dominant factor for so many human endeavors.

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Day 1 Cape Town to Tswalu

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DSC_1271Today you get to hear from me (Kay Lester) now that all of the airplane stuff is well taken care of. Yes, we made it successfully to our first destination despite the sometimes unpredictable landings aboard our Beavers. Those wind gusts tend to make us passengers count how many bounces we make before we finally get stopped.

On our first stop we have managed to find one of the most beautiful spots in the world known as Tswalu Private Desert Game Reserve. Oh my,

The Cheetah brothers, they do everything together - hunting, playing, and sleeping

there are not enough words in the English vocabulary to describe the beauty of this camp. (Maybe in Afrikaans but not in English.) Unfortunately, all are complaining politely that we should have stayed here for more than two nights.

The advantage to going on a safari in the winter months in Africa is that you don’t have to get up at some awful hour to see animals. The temperature – a little chilly at the beginning of the 8 a.m. game drive – is a bit shocking, but by noon you’re shedding layers of clothing. In just four hours we were able to see some of the most rare of God’s creation, namely the black rhinoceros, sable, and the red hartebeest, not to forget those beautiful cheetahs we saw last evening as we were coming from the airport.

Mike asked our guide how many black rhinos were on the reserve, but it was clear that they were not sharing that information. As sad as it sounds, poachers are still a problem and one black rhino horn can go for as much $120,000. I would be remiss if I did not mention those meerkats. Just

On Safari - bouncing through the Kalahari Desert

remember the next time you see them on the Discovery Channel they are half their size in real life. I guess the camera lens has a way of making even animals look larger than life. The lodging, food, and animal sightings have more than met our expectations as we look forward to viewing the Aardvark. I’ll let you know in the next blog if we were successful. Mike and I are having a great time.

Part 4 – Rounding the Cape of Good Hope

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We elected to do our shakedown flight around the Cape of Good Hope – never imagined  making that statement. I grew up reading stories of the ancient mariners rounding the Cape of Good Hope on their way to the spice islands and other points east. The first european to round the Cape was the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias 1488, who named it the “Cape of Storms.”  Evidently this name proved to be a poor choice from a marketing perspective, so Pope John II later renamed it The Cape of Good Hope.

Saturday morning dawned clear and sunny, with gale force winds of, well, 2 knots. We managed to escape the Cape Town airspace while only mildly annoying the air traffic controllers, and had a glorious flight around Cape Point.

The Beavers are assembled and running, and we are all set to start the Safari tomorrow morning.

Behind the Scenes – Part III Getting There

It is a long way from Seattle to Cape Town. Fellow Safari adventurer and Delta Captain Anne Simpson shares her experience….

As an airline pilot it pains me greatly to pay for a ticket when traveling.  So my husband Charlie and I decided, as we always do, to take the “pass rider’s challenge.” In short, this entails flying standby, or as I like to call it, “Last Class.”

Tuesday morning May 7th 4:45 am, we are packed, ready to go, and standing at the door waiting for our good friend, Greg. No Greg.  We call. We text. No reply. I check my message and oh —–! I have confirmed pick up at 5:45.  Call a cab, walk to the end of the street, and miraculously he shows up and gets us to SeaTac only a few minutes later then planned!

Not too much hand wringing at the gate. There are a comfortable number of seats available for a cheap pilot and her husband.   We enjoy an uneventful ride to ATL.  Leg two is 5 hours away so my boss invited us to come for a visit at Delta World Headquarters.  There had even been talk of giving Charlie a little simulator time (the same offer was made to me but that’s too much like work and I am on vacation).  Turns out I confirmed that offer for Monday not Tuesday.  Good thing I am on vacation as I seem to be having time/date issues.

After catching up with O.C., it’s back to the airport and this time there is some hand wringing.   Up until then, there had been 8 business class seats open and we were one and two on the list.  By the time we got to the gate there were still seats in coach but none in business :-( .  Oh well.  Just as we were boarding, I was called to the podium – one biz seat open.  What would you do?  I love Charlie, he is the greatest, most generous person, but they are my benefits, right?  I felt guilty for next 14 hours while I dined well, and slept for 8 hours in my cozy lie flat bed.  If there’s only one going home he gets it – I sure hope there are two!

We arrive in Johannesburg with enough time to make an earlier connection on South African Airways.  But because we are still flying “last class” they won’t load our bags (which we were required to check on this lag) until we are assigned seats and guess what? Our bags don’t make it.  This was actually no big deal.  After about 30 hours of successful pass riding half way around the world an hour wait on our bags was nothing.  It gave us a chance to scope out the Cape Town airport for a little more “risky business” on June 1st when we try to non rev home!

Behind the Scenes, Part II

Pilots are taught to aviate, navigate, and communicate, in that order.  In other words, keep the plane in the air, find your way, and, well, chat.  This advice is well taken if you’re flying in Timbuktu, but if your flight takes you through heavily congested areas such as Cape Town International Airspace – communication is a necessity.

Fortunately for us mono-lingual Safari pilots, english is the international language of air traffic control. On the other hand, not all english is created equal, which prompted George Bernard Shaw to quip ” America and England are two countries separated by a common language.” As it turns out, the english spoken in South Africa adds a third degree of separation.

The following audio clip is of ATC communications at Lanseria, Johannesburg, South Africa. Lanseria Air Traffic Communications

Here’s a test: If you can correctly interpret at least 75% of the communications, you’ll get a special shout-out on the blog.  

Safari pilots Doug, Mike, and David have been listening to tapes of South African ATC communications, in hopes of preventing an international incident with our communications.  :-)


Behind the Scenes – Part I

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Most pilots fly their planes to the destination, but when your destination is Africa, and your de Havilland Beaver rumbles along at Mach 0.1, it’s faster and cheaper to ship it by cargo ship.  And so it was that three Beavers were disassembled and packed into 40′ containers for the long journey half way around the world. Here’s a video of the process.

The Great Africa Air Safari Part 1

The great africa air safari lesson1