Monday, June 1, 2015

Epic Air Safari: Okavango Delta to Mana Pools

24th May

There are 452 miles to be flown today from Botswana to Zimbabwe.  We are leaving the Okavango for the beautiful and unique Mana Pools on the lower Zambezi River.  The flight is spectacular: over the Delta, then along the Chobe River, the Zambezi, Victoria Falls, and finally Lake Kariba, which was artificially created about sixty years ago.  Zimbabwean authorities clear us at Kariba Airport --  very efficient and friendly.  Another twenty-minute flight, amazingly scenic, and we land at Mana Pools.

Milo is waiting for us with Gary and Bob, our guides for the next two days.  Milo is married to the daughter of John Stevens, the legendary warden who made Mana Pools the National Park it is today.  The mobile camp is fantastic: classic, comfortable, and practical but stylish.  Our guests are mesmerized, feeling that they are in the real bush and living the real safari experience with authentic professional guides.  An elephant decides to make it all the more dramatic and walks next to Michael’s tent while Michael is on the veranda just five yards away!  We watch the scene from the dining tent fifteen meters away, and then the elephant pays us a visit also.  Magical.

The afternoon is spent doing what we came here for: walking.  We walk near elephants, impala, zebras, then next to hippos and among baboons.  At our sundowner, we stop under beautiful, majestic trees, and the gin and tonic tastes even better when we see a lioness walking one hundred meters away from us.  She is trotting away and we wonder why.  Back at camp, while showering, we hear a few quick roars just fifty meters away from my tent.  Gary calls me as he thinks the lions got an impala.  We take a spotlight, and, with no lack of adrenaline, we walk toward the kill.  We see two lionesses and a lion walking away.  We approach the kill, but it is no impala.  Just fifteen meters away, we realize that the downed animal is a lioness....  She is very still....  Is she dead?   Hard to tell and suicidal to find out.  We retreat to camp, deciding to explore the scene the next morning.

Dinner next to the Zambezi under stars and a glowing moon is something I will personally remember forever, with hippos, lions, and buffalo making the sound of the night an orchestral chorus.




25th May

The night was full of sounds, but no hyenas were heard near camp.  I still hope the lioness is alive.  At the crack of dawn, having taken tea and porridge, we move toward the lioness scene.  We go on foot carrying rocks, which we plan to throw to check if she is alive.  No need to do that -- she is clearly dead, laying in a pool of blood.  It is my first time to witness a lioness killed by other lionesses.  I have seen male lions killing another lion, but never lionesses.  The scene is sad.  She is not that old.  I wonder why this drama unfolded next to camp, but I have no explanation to offer besides a hierarchical/territorial matter taken care of brutally.  (Warning: There is a graphic photo below.)

We move on and go for a fantastic three-hour walk.  The landscape is absolutely beautiful, full of Acacia albida and natal mahogany trees, all defined by a clear browsing line (caused by elephants on the acacias and by impala and eland on the mahogany).  Hippos, saddle-billed storks, herons, egrets, rollers, flocks of hornbills, herds of impala, troops of baboons, elephants, zebras....  This is Eden....  And we enjoy all of this on foot.  This is the real safari, and I am thrilled to be here.

We get back to camp at around 11:00 and enjoy a chat with Bob, who competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in skeet shooting.  After lunch, we enjoy a great siesta as we watch hippos sunbathing on the river bank.

We have not tired of walking yet and decide to go for an afternoon walk.  An elephant mother and her calf walk into camp just before we are heading off.  We stay with them for ten minutes and then track lions, hippos, and elephants, spending another marvelous afternoon on foot.  A sundowner on the Zambezi and a dinner under the stars are the perfect completion of what has been the highlight of our entire air safari.





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