Table For One (A Night With Nine Lions)

May 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve watched the Discovery Channel, flipped through National Geographic, strolled through my local Zoo, and listened to Oprah narrate Planet Earth, more times than I can count. I’m fascinated by the world and everything that resides within it. Long gone are the days of squealing at spiders, skipping my veggies, and falling asleep in history class. I have an insatiable curiosity and appetite for learning. While books, documentaries, and another’s account, are great; nothing compares to first-hand experience.

I can’t say enough about our time in the Delta. The staff at Kwara waited on us hand and foot; making sure our every need was met. Our first day was enjoyable, with fantastic views on our flight in, long game drives, and a relaxing evening spent swapping stories with fellow travelers over a lovely meal.

The next morning we arose with the sun for an early drive, followed by an afternoon in Makoros on the lagoon, gliding through Lilly’s, spotting various frogs and hippos. We had planned to spend our evening cruising up and down the Delta by boat, but opted for another game drive instead – a last-minute decision that proved to be one of our best, as everything quickly went from good to great with a single call.

 We were halfway through our drive when we stopped to take in the sunset with a quick drink. Within a few minutes, a call came over the radio from another vehicle. A pride of lions were in the area and on the move. They didn’t have to tell us twice. We tossed our drinks, jumped back inside, and drove as fast as we could.

 When we arrived on the scene, I could hardly contain myself. I was expecting two, maybe three, but there we were with a pride of nine: One lion, three lionesses, and five cubs. The females had just taken down a baby zebra and it was time to feed… at least for one. The male asserted his authority and began to feast, while the rest of the family watched and waited.

We sat there under the cover of starlight completely exposed, only a few feet away from the family affair. Minutes turned into hours, but we couldn’t turn away. It was almost as if the world stood still. We were awestruck – completely mesmerized by the display before us. Sitting in silence, my heart beating out of my chest, I could hear the tiny baby’s bones being crushed, as the flesh was stripped away. Not a drop of blood wasted or a scrap left behind.

The pride grew antsy and rightfully so. They all took turns, attempting to sneak up behind the male, only to be chased off by his intimidating snarl. Observing the females and cubs interact with each other was just as fascinating as watching the male devour his dinner. Some might think its gruesome, but only one word comes to my mind: Awesome – with a capital A. (Bleeping) awesome.

We sat there silently, attempting to take it all in, when a lioness came by to say hello. She rubbed up against our vehicle, while Rich was peaking over the edge, just a few feet away, looking him straight in the eye. Nothing gets your adrenaline pumping like having your guide whisper softly, ‘shhh…don’t move’. Luckily, for our sake, she just had an itch that needed a scratch – phew!

As it turns out, we weren’t in much danger. They see a vehicle with passengers as a single unit. If you stay seated, talk softly, and make no sudden movements, you won’t be perceived as a threat. Stand up, start hooting and hollering, and you’re likely to be mauled. Not a nice way to go. They were kind enough to calm our nerves with a story of guy who stood up in the presence of a leopard, causing the entire vehicle to be attacked. Everyone was severely injured, but made it out alive. Not a risk worth taking.

Thinking back to that night, I can remember every sight, sound, and smell, vividly. It was, is, and always will be, one of the most fascinating experiences of my life. I feel so lucky to have spent an evening up close and personal with one of the most powerful predators. It’s heartbreaking to think that poaching is such a problem for all of Africa’s wildlife, and it’s hard to say if these magical creatures will be around much longer. It’s quite possible that our children’s children won’t have the chance to do so, outside of captivity. One can hope…

After a few hours of sleep, we were up and at it again. We were lucky enough to run into the pride once more, which made for another fantastic morning. We’re not sure what we did to deserve such a treat, but we couldn’t ask for a better way to conclude our time in the Delta. It was, indeed, worth every pretty penny.

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Lelly Goes On Safari (Kwara Camp, Botswana)

May 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

I am, for the most part, a well behaved law abiding citizen. In fact, on many occasions, I have been called a ‘goodie-two-shoes’. Personally, I don’t agree with that, but everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. I suppose there are worse things to be called. In fact, I know there are, because I’ve been on the receiving end of that too. You can’t please everyone, nor should you want to.

Let’s pretend for a moment that my moral compass was off – way off. If that were the case and I wanted to dabble in, let’s say, drug-trafficking, the border between Namibia and Botswana would be the perfect place to do it. We could have easily strolled through both checkpoints without anyone ever noticing. From the looks of it, both posts have seen better days. Rundown, barely staffed, and little to no traffic, make it seem like a smuggler’s paradise. Business partners, anyone? (Don’t’ worry, Mom & Dad; I’m only kidding. I’m not that desperate… yet.)

When we crossed into Botswana, we met an older gentleman sporting a suit, cowboy hat, and the most weathered face I’ve ever seen. I can only imagine the stories he’d tell, if only we could listen. He was in need of a ride, but our backseat was piled high and the trunk was full. We thought it obvious to onlookers, but apparently that wasn’t the case. Perhaps you see what you want to see? In any case, this adorable old man wasn’t taking no for an answer.

When we exited the building, he grabbed his suitcase and followed us to the car. We opened the doors, pointed to our junk, and tried to explain that we wanted to help, but didn’t know how, with so much baggage. He just stood there, waiting for us to come up with a solution. I suppose one could say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Like a game of Tetris, we managed to move things around and squeeze him in. In the end, we both felt bad for our initial response… and for all of the others we’d passed previously.

Instantly, we noticed Botswana had a different feel compared to that of its neighbors. Sea, sand, and shopping malls, were swapped for trees, villages, and livestock. The road conditions were fairly decent, but stray animals and children, along with a slow speed of 60kh and occasional potholes, kept us moving at a snail’s pace.

After a long day of driving, we eventually landed in Maun: the gateway to the Delta and beyond. It’s pretty much what you expect any hub to be – congested and pricey. After all, Botswana is the wildlife destination, with the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park, covering most of the northern half. You have to pay to play, though. It tends to cater to safari goers with never-ending pockets, offering swanky camps, luxury lodges, and charter flights to anywhere you’d want to go. We tossed around our options and agreed that if we wanted to splurge, this was definitely the place to do it.

With a little research and a nudge from a local operator, we set our sights on Kwando Safari’s Kwara Camp, deep within the Delta. The only way to get there is by plane, so the next morning we boarded a small Cessna, and enjoyed the views from above. Kwara is an intimate camp with only eight tents, overlooking a lovely lagoon. It’s situated on a private concession, meaning no hassle, crowds, and free roam.

The airstrip closest to camp had recently flooded, so we landed at another, about an hour and a half away. We were greeted by our guide and tracker, Kenny and Mopani, who would haul us around for the next few days. This actually worked in our favor, as the ride to camp was like an extra game drive – no complaints on our end. Lucky for us, we arrived during the slow season, so we only had to share the facility with a handful of other guests.

Upon arrival, I knew the experience would be special; what I didn’t expect was for the next night to become one of the highlights of my trip, let alone my life…

Perhaps I should rethink investing in khaki after all?

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