Category Archives: Field Report

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.


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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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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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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

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.