29 May 2015

Lions and Equines

Friday, 20 April 2015

Today was one of those early ones. I was up at 0515 and at work by 0615. For a 0800 take-off – a freight run to Nxabega. They always tend to bring the freight while you’re in the middle of your pre-flight, so I like to get there extra early to make sure I get all of my things done undisturbed.
At the last minute, one of the guys from the office asked if he could come with on the flight so that he could see how far the water was.

It’s quite amazing to see rivers flowing where, just last month, there were only dry riverbeds. While we didn’t get a lot of rain this season, the water from Angola has transformed the Delta. I’ve spent over 300hrs looking at the Okavango Delta, and it still takes me breath away every time I see it.

After touching down at Nxabega I looked to the right and saw a game vehicle. Curious as to why they were there, I slowed down as I rolled past them, and saw that they were looking at two huge male lions lying in the grass about 10m from the runway.

After shutting the aircraft down, I left the offloading of freight to my “loadmaster” and one of the camp staff, and asked the other staff member to drive me over to where the lions were.  I had never seen a fully grown male lion before. Typical cats, shortly after we got there, the one flopped over and fell asleep. The other one, a couple of metres away, was a bit more alert, so we drove closer to him. I was quite surprised to find myself not 2m from him (I wasn’t expecting the guy to drive so close).  So there I was, looking at this lion, and he was looking right back at me.

I read somewhere that when a lion looks at you, it can see into your soul. That is how I felt. I was mesmerized. This massive creature could easily leap up and take a swipe at me. But he didn’t. He got up in a bit of a huff, wandered over to another spot of shade, and settled down. It was a humbling experience.

That afternoon I tied my aircraft down in Motswiri, finally done with a long day of flying (11 stops, and just under 5hrs of flying). RAW Motswiri offers walking and riding safari’s, along with the usual game drives, and when the Selinda Spillway is flowing, boat trips. A very friendly, relaxed, and slightly more rustic camp.

The last time I stayed there, the spillway was as dry as a bone. But now it is flowing freely, completely transforming the area. This meant the guests could go on a boat trip instead of an evening game drive, and lucky for me, there was an open seat!

We chugged along the river, and while there wasn’t a lot of game to be seen, we were treated to an amazing sunset, with drinks and snacks laid out at the bow of the boat. Game drives are always good and fun, but the boat just adds a new perspective, and is so much more peaceful and serene.
Female kudu in the foreground, with a male in the background

 -- I find myself reflecting on life a lot lately --

That evening we had a braai and gazed at the stars. I was asleep by 2230, only to be woken up an hour later by the calls of lion. My first time hearing them (I normally sleep through everything), I listened for a while before rolling over and passing out with a grin on my face. They woke me up again around 0100.
A fish eagle takes flight

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Normally I like to sleep in on night-stops, but today I was at breakfast by 0630. A hot cup of coffee in hand, we sat around the fire and ate porridge. Such a simple affair, it felt perfect. The guests were going to go on a riding safari, and I walked with them to the stables to see the horses.

I’m not really a horse-y person, so I was a bit unsure about walking amongst a stable full of horses. But after about 20 minutes of walking around and greeting all of the horses, I relaxed and felt comfortable that I could judge their mood, and took a liking to two of them; the aptly-named “Amigo”, who was very patient. And Blitz, who decided to try and eat my jacket, but only succeeded in gobbing all over it.

I could have spent all day with them. The sounds they make, looking into their big brown eyes, feeling their muscles quiver as you rub their neck or shoulder, it’s calming. I think every day should begin with spending time with an animal.

One of the stable hands eventually managed to tear me away with the promise of finding some lion tracks. And there they were, not much more than 30m from the stable. Spectacular.

With the guests out and the staff busying themselves with setting up brunch, I had the lounge to myself. Hornbills calling, and starlings were flitting around, a cool breeze came off of the river, a mug of coffee in one hand, pen in the other. Today will be a good day...

And it was. Good flying, finished off with a scenic flight for 6 Australians. There were a lot of zebra grazing alongside wildebeest on the floodplains, and the Gomoti River was teeming was lechwe and waterbuck. As we turned back to Maun, I just happened to look down and spot a lion. Some of the guests snapped some decent photos. What a great way to end the day!

Kings Pool

Kings Pool
Linyanti, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Wilderness Safaris

I have stayed in two Wilderness camps so far; Vumbura North, and Kings Pool. At Vumbura I stayed in the pilot room, but at Kings Pool I was fortunate enough to stay in a guest room, and I was blown away. But my favourite thing about the camp wasn’t the room (which is kitted out with a massive shower, small pool, and outside bed), but the hide...

View of the camp from the hide

A crocodile silently slips into the water and makes its way across to the opposite bank, barely causing a ripple.
Birds sing their tune and lizards rustle in the reeds. 
Clouds and blue skies are reflected in the still water.

The peace is broken by hippos waking up on the far side of the river, their call, somewhat reminiscent of a laugh, carrying over the water. I can't see them from the hide, but I can hear them surfacing and spraying water everywhere.

Cumulonimbus clouds build in the distance towards Kasane. Great fluffy towers of cloud rising into a crisp blue sky.
Fish eagles call from nearby trees, and insects dance on the water.
With the slow descent of the setting of the sun comes cooler temperatures, and animals of all shapes and sizes start to wake.

And here I sit, in a hide about 200m from the main camp, sipping on coffee, camera beside me, taking it all in. And I wonder what I did to deserve the opportunity to gaze upon this phenomenal world, and witness nature at its best.

Later that evening I lay on my outside bed and watched the hippos. It was the closest I have ever been to hippo, and I lost track of time as I watched them in the water, sinking down and bobbing up for air, running along the riverbed, and interacting with one another.

Here I am, where I'm supposed to be.