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.

Elephant joining us for afternoon teaVumbura Plains is a lovely luxurious lodge built on the edge of one of the thousands of marshes that separate the islands in the vast Okavango Delta. The fresh water floods down a few months after the rainy season in Angola, when the rivers feed the vast delta.  How can a landlocked country have a huge Delta? Because once the river reaches the vast plains of Botswana, it fans out into these marshes for hundreds of miles and eventually most of the water evaporates in the African sun…hence a river without a mouth…this is the most beautiful part of Botswana. Our lodge is completely open air, as are the individual “huts” which are anything but. Huge rooms, facing onto the marshes which are alive with exotic water fowl, frogs, and yes, hippos, which proceed to mate in front of our room every night! What a ruckus they make. The main lodge, our rooms, and the walks are all built on stilts, as the waters will continue to rise for another few weeks. For all this water, there are almost no mosquitoes and no malaria. We are here during their equivalent of late fall or early winter, so that helps. The days are pleasantly warm, but not too hot, which is surprising, given we are only 18 degrees from the equator. The evening and mornings are quite chilly so the trick is to layer and then shed during the day.

This lodge is run by Wilderness Safaris, which owns 18 lodges in Botswana alone, from more econo- to high end. The company is quite dedicated to sustainability, so waste-water is recycled, no plastic water bottles, some solar power to supplement generators, etc. –quite an impressive story.  Our hosts are Milly and Hamish who live part of the year in Zimbabwe. They inform us that the dysfunction of the government in Zimbabwe doesn’t really affect them, and that it is beautiful.  There are a number of Wilderness Safari lodges in Zimbabwe, to our surprise. In any event, Millie and Hamish run a very well oiled establishment. There are only 7 rooms in South Vumbura Plains and 7 in North which is adjacent but run independently. So our group of 14 has taken over this lodge and safaris, boat trips, mokoro (canoe) trips through the wetlands are all tailored to each member of the group, so that we can do any of those we want or none of them if we want to laze around.

Breakfast is early before the first safari drive but the table is always set for latecomers, lunch/brunch is at noon, high tea at  3:30, sundowners with full bar somewhere on the drives, dinner at 8. Excellent food and too much of it! We have learned to pace ourselves, skipping high tea and the copious amounts of bacon and eggs served at brunch every day. It takes 24 to 36 hours for the provisioning trucks to make it here to this remote location, and fresh produce is flown in once a week. It is hard to believe, given the difficult logistics, they can put on this kind of feast all day every day. But there is a staff of 50 for the 14 of us! The economics of this only work because the wages in Africa are quite low. Most of the staff come from tiny subsistence villages. They go back to their villages for a month every three months, and I am sure what they take back is a comparative fortune.

Botswana’s population is only 2 million and their government is stable and relatively progressive.  The housing is even different from that of South Africa, as the poorer areas of the towns have new small dwellings, solar panels and catchments for water. They seem like a happier population generally. Granted, they have diamonds, but you get the feeling that they are preparing for the dwindling supply by adopting conservation and ecotourism as their next great industry. Quite a story.

In any event, the delta is exquisitely beautiful, the animal population apparently abundant and unstressed, and due to the logistics of getting in and out of the delta, poaching is far less prevalent. A paradise for animals and for the visitors, too

Our last night we enjoyed the staff singing concert…wonderful harmony. We are told they start singing when they are 5 and it is a way of life in their villages. We tried reciprocating with “We’ll be returning to Vumbura when we can,” to the tune of She’ll be coming round the mountain, composed by Anne Simpson. We need to practice, but the staff were polite and appreciative. Our peaceful sleep was interrupted by a rogue elephant knocking over trees and branches outside our room and then swishing his trunk against our deck as he finally ambled off an hour later. At least he didn’t try to drink out of the small pool on our deck.

3 thoughts on “Vumbura

  1. Jackie Mansfield

    It is great to hear about your adventures and so happy there are blogs with which we can follow your escapades ( of which there seem to be quite a few! ) Please give our love to the Wymans and Hansons and keep writing!

    Jackie

    Reply

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