Africa — On Safari — Second Stop, Shinde Lodge, Okavango Delta
After leaving the Kalahari Desert we headed north for the Shinde Camp in the Okavango Delta. The runway there was our first experience at a “bush” airstrip.
Just a bit over 1,200 meters long and 18 wide, the runway surface was soil calcrete. Peter, our escort, said it can be very slippery when wet. Fortunately for us it hadn’t rained in a while and except for a few humps and bumps no problem at all. The Shinde Rangers had checked the strip for animals and were waiting for us at the clearing near the close end.
The Okavango River begins in Angola, Africa, as the Cubango River. I was surprised to discover that, unlike conventional deltas such as the Mississippi or Nile, the fourth-longest river in southern Africa, the Okavango runs almost one-thousand miles before emptying onto an alluvial fan and forming a land-locked delta the size of Connecticut. From the diminutive Wild Dog to the enormous Bush Elephant and tiny humming birds to vultures with nine-foot wingspans, the delta becomes winter home for African Wildlife with the migrations beginning in June on the southern hemisphere.
Let’s go back to the beginning. With baggage loaded we headed for the lodge and before we were out of sight of the airstrip, came across our first of many giraffe browsing in the trees.
While our cameras whirred and clicked, Bonomo, one of our two ranger guides gave us a comprehensive talk about the animal. According to him, you can tell the sex of an adult giraffe by noting whether their stubby horns have hair on them or not. The females do but the males rub theirs off beating up on each other for dominance.
Just before we arrived at the Shinde Lodge I took this picture of what I think is a tsessebe antelope according to a photo on an African wildlife guide site on the Internet.
By now, herds of impala antelope seemed commonplace… but that didn’t stop me from adding them to the growing inventory of photos in my camera.
After stashing our gear we listened to a safety talk by a ranger, had a bite to eat for lunch, and clambered aboard a pair of Range Rovers for a drive in the bush.
At one point Bonomo pointed out elephant tracks on the trail we were following and remarked on a tree with its bark stripped down. Our guide said that was one way bull elephants mark their territory.
In the middle-right of the next pboto the light colored thing is the lower part of a tree that one of the animals snapped off at about its shoulder height. The elephant herd then strips and eats the bark from the tree.
Within minutes we came across our first elephant. This one grazing on tree branches near the trail. I don’t know about the others in our vehicle, but my pulse rate increased when the huge animal took note of us and started in our direction waving his ears back and forth. In a quiet voice, Bonomo said the ears were a clue that the elephant wasn’t being aggressive. He said that if the elephant pinned his ears back and held them there, it was time to leave… in a hurry. Stopping less than ten yards away, the elephant gave us a blast from his built in trumpet before turning away and ambling off to continue his snacking.
Cruising in a Land Rover headed cross-country in Africa is an experience that even Disney won’t want to match. Shortly after leaving the elephant and a short two-way radio conversation with the ranger in the other vehicle, Bonomno kicked our pace up a notch and left what almost passed for a vehicle trail to go bashing through the bush, dodging branches whipping at our faces. Hanging onto the grab rail in front of my seat with one hand I held my Canon in mid-air to keep it from slamming into the frameworks.
The object of our dash through the bush was our first leopard sighting. Look close in the background and you’ll see part of the herd of elephants that left the dung piles in the right foreground. From my viewpoint about a hundred feet away, it was apparent that neither the elephants nor the leopard shared my excitement over the event.
Seeing the female leopard turned out to be just an appitizer. Less than 100 meters away we came across two younger leopards in the trees, a brother and sister that, according to Bonomo were her progeny. Focused on the younger pair we lost track of mama and never saw her again.
After several minutes the young male fixed his gaze on something behind us. Looking around, I could see a herd of impala grazing across an open space. Soon the cat decided it might be time for dinner and jumped down from the tree leaving his sister. His path brought him with just a couple meters of our vehicle but not once did he make any contact or, for that matter, acknowledge our presence in any way.
Bonomo told us the chances of witnessing a stalk or kill were slim and would probably take hours. So we went off to see what else was to be seen.
By the way, the elapsed time since leaving the lodge for this drive to this point was about an hour and a quarter.
On the way to a rendevous with the other half of our group we came across our first lions. This pair of males had been snoozing in the shade all day, moving only when the sun encroached on their resting spot. Lions hunt at night and generally the males, like this alliance of two, have little or no contact with the pride unless a kill is made.
Bonomo promised more lions tomorrow, so after ten or so photos in as many minutes we headed off for our “Sundowner.” The tradition at all the camps is to stop and celebrate the end of another great day with a stretch and a drink.
For some inexplicable reason, the preferred drink of choice was G&T, or gin and tonic, at every sundowner.
The cool perfectly still air and a sky not polluted by city lights produced a magnificent night sky saturated by stars. At eleven PM, the Milky Way blazed an arc from the southern to northern horizon. I took this photo of a small section of our galaxy from the balcony of my room.
The next morning, with the sun just breaking out over the trees, we loaded into the vehicles and set out.
Barely out of sight of the camp we drove past the antelope and giraffe looking for more to see. Five minutes later, as we bounced around a bend in the trail we happened on our first zebra.
We watched for several minutes as they grazed on grasses turned golden by the magic hour right after sunrise.
Only a few minutes later we discovered a tribe of baboons — some feeding on the ground, others plucking leaves and fruit from the trees, more just cavorting among the branches, defying death by leaping from branch to branch. Unlike their cousins, the blue faced Mandrills with long red noses, these are Chacma baboons with rather plain features. No less fierce, they roam about in large tribes.
Next up was a herd of hippos lazing about, occasionally dipping down to munch on grasses at the bottom of this pond.
After more antelope, a few giraffe, and a family of warthogs grubbing in the dirt, we were treated to a stripe-sided jackal. We followed him for a while hoping he was on the hunt for a rodent snack.
We finally gave up and headed back to the lodge and lunch.
Later, towards evening, we set out to explore our tiny part of the delta in a boat. Mostly the waterways were ten or so meters wide but in some places we wended our way through much more narrow channels cleaved through papyrus growing as much as three meters tall and brushing the canvas canopy over our heads. Open areas were dotted with water lilies, some pink but mostly white with yellow petal tips. Now and then we passed trampled down paths leading to and away from the water’s edge giving evidence of elephants and hippos in the area.
In one wide spot we noted a herd of hippos near the far bank. As we motored cautiously by on our side a tremendous boil of water erupted in front of us rocking the boat. I’m not sure we weren’t more startled than the animal below. Our ranger gunned the engine and drove rapidly away in case the [suspected] hippo decided to come back for revenge at being disturbed.
We stopped for our customary sundowner G&T at what I think was is shown on the maps as the Shinde Lagoon. Had I thought about it, I should have cranked up my GPS tracker — 20:20 will win every time. After the ripples from our motion settled out, the surface turned the proverbial glass allowing some great reflection photos on the water.