Author Archives: Judy Runstad

Vumbura


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Our guide Emang making a pointWe arrived at Vumbura around 5 pm and were met by three LandRovers and our guides ST, Ben, and Iman. We left the planes tucked in at the airport and hope the baboons don’t break into them. It’s a calcrete runway with a Caravan parked where we tied down, so we hope for the best. We were all tired and wanted to go to the lodge but they were determined to treat us to a sundowner on the way, and what an elaborate affair it was…tables groaning with goodies, fresh fruit juices and iced coffees in silver pitchers, champagnes, wines and a full bar. On the way, we stopped in one of the beautiful Fields which look like parks…waving grasses in the late afternoon sun…8 or so elephants, including a curious little one, grazed peacefully regardless of how close we got. What a bucolic scene…because we are in the delta, water and food are plentiful and the animals are healthy looking and quite tame. I lose track of how many animals we saw in our three nights and two days at Vumbura Plains, but suffice to say, we have now seen the Big Five, innumerable of the smaller species, even a Honey Badger, which is rare. A leopard came out of the grasses and climbed up on a fallen tree and posed for us for so long we finally left.

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May 18th — Heading to Botswana

Doug Celebrating arrival at Impodimo[A few days after an unintended cliffhanger we have not one, but two updates today! Everyone on the safari is safe and sound, and they have now made their way north into Botswana --with the earlier fuel situation resolved.]

I knew that the 4 am wake up call would not be fun, but still it was hard to sound anything but groggy to the cheerful voice on the other end of the phone telling us the vehicles would be departing  at 4:30-sharp! Our trusty pilots had convened to formulate a plan for this  travel day. It was always going to be a bit challenging, as we would have go through South African customs to depart S.A., refuel, then  land again once inside Botswana to enter through THEIR customs, and then proceed to our destination, Vumbura, in the Okavango Delta. Yesterday we were informed that the  airport where we planned to clear customs to GET OUT of S.A. and refuel, was out of fuel until next week! This meant a back-track for fuel, then 2 more customs stops, before reaching our destination. Ahhhh, the joys of adventure flying…

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Day 1, Part II Cape Town to Tswalu –Robbi’s view


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[Full communication with the safari crew is still spotty --but email is working! While we await further news from the field, here's more on that first day from Robbi DeVries]

_DSC3114I feel my hands grip the armrest a bit tighter and my senses becoming more alert as they always do just before a landing. We have just spent the better part of the day watching the changing patterns of the “ground art” as we have come to call the beautifully intricate and seemingly random colorful patterns of the terrain passing below us. On this leg, we are the lead plane in a flight of 3  and are traversing the Kalahari Dessert (most of us for the first time) from Capetown to our first destination on the Great African Air Safari. I am sitting behind Anne Simpson (acting co-pilot) and my husband, Doug DeVries (pilot), with Anne’s husband Charlie on my left. He has a chart in hand and continually looks from chart to terrain and back trying to correlate the two. Ann is rustling another chart and straining forward looking out the windscreen. “Can you see it? The GPS says it is right here”, queries Doug. “Not yet”, replies Anne. I feel my heart rate increase by a few beats per minute, as Charlie and I keep sitting “taller” in our seats trying to locate the illusive runway…

Maybe 10 seconds go by and it is quiet in the cockpit, as all eyes are trained on the ground. And then…there it is! …this huge paved runway obscured until now by a low rise in an otherwise flat terrain. We make a low pass to frighten off any four-legged interlopers from the runway and a few minutes later we are climbing from our trusty Beavers being greeted by the guides from Tswalu, our home for the next two nights. “Tswalu”, which means “new beginning”, is the perfect “beginning” for the first stop on our safari. As we have arrived a couple hours later than originally planned (late start, long fuel stop), we are given a quick snack and drink, then loaded into the safari vehicles for  the evening game drive.

On Safari - Tswalu game preserve

On Safari – Tswalu game preserve

As we jostle along, Richard, our guide, explains some of the history of Tswalu. After the untimely death of Stephen Boler, who originally created this 225,000 acre preserve, the Oppenheimers, who were offered the parcel at his behest, purchased the preserve and have redoubled his efforts and dedication to returning the Kalahari to “itself”. All existing farms were bought, structures torn down, and the entire property was fenced and cross-fenced allowing certain species to thrive without the threat of predators. As we approach the PREDATOR ZONE, our vehicle stops and the tracker, Ben, dismounts his perch on the front of the Land Rover to unlock and re- lock the gates.

Suddenly the radio crackles-Cheetahs have been spotted and we are on the hunt…

African trackers are tribesmen who have been taught by their fathers and grandfathers, and because of the safari industry, are in high demand. Their skills border on the mystical to us as they signal the guide to turn this way or that, speed up or slow down Just when you think there has been some mistake, Richard stops the vehicle and Ben leaves his perch and joins us INSIDE the vehicle.

Cheetah on the Kalahari

Cheetah on the Kalahari

The Land Rover slows to a crawl, everyone speaks in whispers and the cameras come into position. Within a few seconds…there they are!  20 feet away, looking straight  at us are two 120+ pound magnificent cheetahs!  There is just enough sunlight left  to accentuate their dramatic black marking and chiseled profiles. I take a deep breath and savor the moment. I am here… in Africa… in the presence of these wild amazing creatures. Doug clicks away with his D-800, and while I know these will be fantastic photographs, I know nothing can replace this moment. I am here. I saw them…

Robbi DeVries

Air Safari Update

–A brief update from the field–

Doug and the team are without internet for a couple days, but will be back soon with more updates and photos from the safari. Who knew it was going to get *this* rustic?

In the mean time, here is another photo from their ground-based explorations earlier this week:

Mr Cheetah - reminding us that he is a predator

Mr Cheetah – reminding us that he is a predator

Thanks for joining us on the Great Africa Air Safari!

The Great Africa Air Safari

Flying Beavers in Africa

The Great Africa Air Safari

The Great Africa Air Safari itinerary — May 10-31.

Travelers to Africa speak of stalking the “Big Five,” a term coined by big-game hunters. Among the fiercest animals on the planet, the group is comprised of the lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. Until now.

On May 10, the Big Five will become the Big Six, as the North American Beaver invades the African continent. Museum of Flight trustees Mike Lester, David Wyman, and Doug DeVries will be flying their venerable Beavers through southern Africa, the world’s second-largest continent. Starting in Cape Town, the safari will head north, following a generally clockwise route through South Africa and Botswana, landing at remote airstrips. The flight will take them through the Okavango Delta, known for its wide variety of African wildlife.

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Beaver N67DN over the Australian Outback

Seth Margolis, the Museum’s Director of Education, has organized a youth education initiative using the safari to focus on aviation in Africa. The program will commence with a live Beaver pre-flight inspection on May 11, and over the succeeding weeks will include sessions on flight planning in Africa, the use of aviation to curb poachers, and exploring game reserves via the air. Through the course of the adventure, students will fly actual legs of the safari on the Aviation Learning Center‘s flight simulators.

For Doug’s Beaver, N67DN, this will be the third trip abroad, following exploration of the Canadian Arctic in 2008, and Australia Outback in 2010. For David Wyman’s Beaver, N510PW, this will be a home-coming of sorts – it started life in South Africa, and spent time in Kenya performing, well, locust control. Note to the swarming hoppers of Africa – N510PW, bug-killer-extraordinaire-and-member-of-the-Big Six, is returning to its former hunting grounds.

Please follow us through the Museum of Flight as we embark on our travels.

Doug DeVries

Mike Lester

David Wyman