Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Okavango Delta, Botswana - Stanley's Camp

DSC07340 Southern Giraffe
Southern Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis)

When an airplane seats only eight, everyone has a window. It was the perfect size for our family of four, a mother and daughter, our guide Poniso, and the pilot. We all craned our necks to view the breathtaking terrain below us during our twenty minute flight from Maun, Botswana to the southern tip of Chiefs Island of the Okavango Delta.


We all snapped photos; every frame perfectly composed by nature. The colors were so vivid and the textures so varied, it reminded me of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s beautiful aerial photographs.The colors were so vivid and the textures so varied, it reminded me of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s beautiful aerial photographs.

The Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta in the world, formed as gravity guides the water down the gentle slope of the terrain.

It takes six to nine months for the flood waters of Angola to meander 450 kilometers, dropping a mere 60 meters along the way before it evaporates into the Kalahari Desert.

As we descended my son exclaimed: “Elephants!” No big surprise that my son was the first to spot wildlife. Then my husband nudged me to take this photo:

DSC07285 Stanley Camp airstrip

This short strip of dirt served as our landing runway. Before I could fully assess the risks that our family was taking, we landed without incidence.

After our trip to Galapagos Islands, we decided to go on another wildlife adventure. We hoped to witness other wilderness creatures, up close. Poniso took the wheel of our Jeep-style Toyota Landcruiser. Our first encounter with wildlife was when we helped Poniso shoo away warthogs from the airstrip making way for our airplane's take off for its flight back to Maun.

DSC07291 warthogs on the airstrip

My son and I sat in the back seat giggling when we caught air, bumping along on the dirt roads. We squealed with delight when the rugged Landcruiser waded effortlessly through the water.

DSC07311 Landcruiser wading

We thought of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland and its rough ride. Parts of the terrain even look like Hollywood:

DSC07309 Real Fan Palms
Real Fan Palms (Hyphaene petersiana) also known as the Makalani Palm or the Vegetable Ivory Palm.

Poniso stopped and waited until we noticed some strange fruits scattered on the ground.

DSC07300 sausage tree fruits

He got out of the car and held up the fruit from the sausage tree (Kigelia Africana). It is eaten by many of the mammals and birds nearby while elephants and an antelope called the Greater Kudu feast on its foliage.

DSC07298 Poniso with sausage tree fruit

Further along, we stopped to enjoy the antics of a troop of Chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) climbing down from a tree.

DSC07308 chacma baboon in tree

My daughter's quick shutter finger captured this mother and baby:

Only moments later, we passed Red Lechwe antelopes and Saddle-billed Storks as the Landcruiser waded through more marshes.

This photo does injustice to the storks, but it does show the marshy terrain.

DSC07318 Saddle-billed Storks

We were overjoyed that so many animals wandered free, yet this private game concession has no electric fences.

Everything went swimmingly until we heard the wheels roar without moving an inch in this patch of mud:
DSC07325 Landcruiser stuck in the mud

Even the mighty Landcruiser was stuck. Poniso told us that the annual floods from Angola were exceptionally high and “roads” were bogged down well beyond their season. He radioed for help and another Landcruiser came to pull us out.

Back on the road again, we suddenly saw this beauty:

DSC07339 Southern Giraffe

She did casually look over her shoulder but then resumed her meal of juicy acacia leaves.
Minutes later, we heard voices in the distance singing a glorious African folk song. Soon we realized that this was our personal greeting from the Stanley’s Camp staff:

DSC07344 Stanley Camp greeting

High tea was waiting for us as we stepped into this tent:

DSC07491 Stanley Camp main tent

I love how the roof of the tent was built around the trees. After eating the world’s best scones served with rooibos tea, we were shown to our own tent:

DSC07348 Stanley Camp guest tent

DSC07356 Stanley Camp tent

DSC07353-Stanley Camp hammock

Life is grand.
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