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We 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.
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.
[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…