Duba Plains, Botswana
After a 40 minutes unexpected wait for our aircraft, we finally boarded our very small 4 seater plane for the trip south to the Okavango Delta to Duba Plains camp. The Okavango Delta is the largest delta in the world where the water feeding the delta has its origins in Angola. The water moves through Namibia and fans out in five finger deltas making up the Okavango. The summer rains followed by the winter floods allows the Okavango Delta water system to support some of the most diverse wild life in the planet. I had selected Duba Plains as one of the camps we would attend because of its proliferation of lions and cape buffalo in the area affording opportunities to watch the interaction (and perhaps hunt) between these two natural enemies.
The flight south to the Okavango lasted about 45 minutes and was a bit bumpy in spots. As we flew south, we could see the wild fires burning everywhere. (There is no effort to put out the fires, which eventually burn out after running out of scrub grass. In addition, the summer rains were coming so the fires would be extinguished naturally.) As we flew, I spotted a number of elephants on the ground. Now this was my kind of plane travel.
We landed on a dirt airstrip and were met at the airport by our guide for Duba Plains, James, or 007 as he called himself. Michele was not feeling well after the flight as she gets motion sick easily. When we reached the lodge, (a short two minute drive from the landing strip), Michele had some ginger ale and appeared to be doing better a short time later.
We were shown our cabins overlooking the delta waterway and given some time to unpack and rest. The schedule at this camp was slightly different with wake-up at 5:00 a.m., breakfast at 5:30 a.m., morning game drive from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., lunch at 11:00 a.m., afternoon tea at 4:00 p.m., game drive from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. and dinner at 8:00 a.m. As a result, we had a couple hours to relax.
At 4:00 p.m. we met our jeep mates, Belinda and Mike from England, and headed out with our guide 007 and our spotter Jimmy Junior. (We did not have a spotter at Duma Tau.) I took up my familiar spot at the back of the jeep, Michele and Mom took the middle row and Belinda and Mike took the front row and off we went.
The terrain at Duba Plains was much, much different than Duma Tau. We drove through a very barren sandy road before reaching a large channel of water, which our guide immediately plowed the jeep through to reach …. yep a wooden log bridge, which appeared to be a mile long. This sucker went on forever. (Not a big fan!) Once we reached the other side, we looked out at the expansive plain area. There were not a lot of places to hide here so as a result, there are no impala in the area, few giraffe, no cheetah and only one leopard. This is lion country and we would be scouring the low grasses for the king.
As we drove, we spotted red lechwe, tsessebe (the fastest member of the deer family in the Okavango), baboons and warthogs. We also saw a myriad of bird species including the magnificent wattled cranes. As we crossed the plain and moved towards a thicket of trees, 007 spotted lions. We moved towards the trees and then there they were: a large male lion, a female with three cubs, another female with one cub and another female with one cub. We learned that the last female with the lone cub was a bit of a nut job and was always attacking the cubs. The other two females had huge cuts on their hind quarters and head from fighting off the third female. Yikes. We watched for quite a while as the lions lazed in the late afternoon sun. 007 advised us that we would come back once the sun began to set since the lions would be unlikely to move until it cooled down.
So we moved on to a large herd of elephants that were grazing nearby. The herd turned out to be in a very animated mood. The babies were running around trying to feed while the adults were using their trunks to encircle a mound of grass. They would then shake their trunks while holding grass in order to get rid of any stones, and then the elephants would curl their trunk towards their mouth and feed themselves. This pattern was repeated over and over again. (And for me, watching elephants NEVER gets old as I have said at least once in my blogs. Elephants are always up to something.) As the elephants grazed, some would move close to us, shake their ears and then move away. 007 was very careful not to get too close.
As the sun set, 007 moved the jeep around to the opposite side of the herd so we could watch the setting sun. It was absolutely magnificent as it sunk into the Botswana plains. Finally, all we could see was the red sky. We stopped for our Sun Downer (drinks while the sun sets) before moving back across the plain to the location of the lions. And 007 was right. The lions were just beginning to wake up. We watched as the big boy stretched and yawned and soon the little cubs were jumping around. The two mommas were the last to wake up (the rogue female and her cub were not part of the troupe and were off alone to the side of the hill) and eventually joined the male as they began to make their way across the plain. It was a beautiful sight against the red sky.
007 started up the jeep and we made our way back to camp. As we drove, James Junior put on the red spotlight for the night drive and we scanned the bushes for signs of life. We spotted a warthog, some tsessebe and baboons. As we passed through a water channel, we saw a small croc surface. (Yikes! Get me outta here!) We finally reached camp, had a lovely dinner with our fellow campers and called it a night about 10:00 p.m. As we were getting set to head down the walkway to the cabins, we heard hyenas howling in the distance… maybe a kill….
Anyway,, Mom was already in bed when our guide escorted me and Michele back to our adjacent cabins (she was in #3 and Mom and I were in #4). I got ready for bed and could hear the grunting/bleating of the hypos outside my cabin. (Hypos leave the water and come ashore in the evenings.) I really enjoy the sound of hypos at night… it is somehow very soothing. Shortly after falling asleep, I was awakened by the sound of munching outside the mesh window beside my bed and rocks hitting the tent. WTF?! I got up and carefully peered out the window and there were a couple elephants walking around outside my cabin feeding on the leaves and tree branches. The elephants were grabbing the grass, shaking it and the rocks were hitting our tent. OMG. Classic.
I got back into bed and for the next hour or so I listened to the elephants outside my room. Rip, rip, rip. Bang, bang, bang. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Gulp. It was so funny, I started giggling and couldn’t stop. What an amazing couple of hours.
Next morning we got up and it was freeeeezing outside. Apparently some cold air had passed into Botswana from Cape Town and it was very chilly. (Up until this point, we had been baking in the very hot Botswana weather which often reached 90. As a result, temperatures in the 40s was ffffricken ffffreeeezzzzing!) Fortunately, Mom brought an extra hoody – thanks Mom (I didn’t think we would need them so did not bring one in an effort to fit everything into my very small bag I took to Botswana. The rest of my luggage was at the hotel in Jo’berg.) Despite the cold, we were all talking about the elephants (which fortunately did not scare Michele). We learned that the elephants love to hang out between cabins #3 and #4. Me, Mom and Michele just looked at each other. We figured we’d be in for another fun night.
We all piled in the jeep with 007, bundled up and set off through the early morning light. As we left camp, we encountered a herd of elephants (most likely the elephants wandering around our camp last night). As we passed by, a loan elephant let out a huge bellow. “Well good morning to you too big fella!” We continued past the herd of elephants across the delta, through the waterway, over the log bridge and to the plains. We encountered tsessebe and more of the wattled cranes before heading miles across the plains to see the cape buffalo. We drove through the herd and watched the little ones scatter. We got a few angry looks from the mommas, but nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, we did not see a lion in sight! Crap! We moved on and Michele spotted a bat eared fox lying on the ground. (Michele is pretty good at spotting animals. I on the other hand, with my horrible eyes, am great at spotting dead trees and grass swaying in the breeze.)
As we moved back across the plain and over water ways, 007 spotted lions in the distance. No cape buffalo nearby, but we would go and check it out. It turned out to be the male lion from the day before along with the female lion and one cub on the opposite side of the water channel. We watched as the female and her cub made their way to the water for a drink and then wandered around the water towards the male lion. Then the female and male lions made this low pitched noise and the two of them did the lion equivalent of an embrace. It was spectacular. As the female moved passed us and back towards her cub, the little one came bounding over and jumped on momma. The cub and mother played for a bit before the cub decided to venture off on its own.
At this point, a call came in that more lions had been spotted with a kill so 007 put the jeep in gear and we headed off towards the kill. As the jeep passed between the female lion and her cub (which had wandered off to the other side of the jeep), the female sat straight up and stared at us. We all stayed still in the jeep as it moved past the female so she could once again see her cub. It was a stunning reminder that these animals are on high alert when it comes to their young.
007 gunned it, and we reached the kill area in about 10 minutes. And… crap. It was a large cape buffalo, likely killed over night. It was enough to feed a number of the lions in the pride. Oh well. We watched in fascination as the two female lions (including one called Silver Eye, which has a clear blue eye and no pupil) and three cubs fed on the carcass. Then 007 told us to look to our left and we spotted what he had been looking at: a female lions with newborn cubs. Oh my! These little darlings were only about a month old and had not been seen by the guides in the area. We watched as three newborn cubs stuck close to momma while they ventured out of the den. It was a really beautiful sight.
Then we turned our attention back to the feeding frenzy in front of us. As the two females took a break, the three cubs set about gnawing at the remains of the cape buffalo. The bellies of the lions bulged as they gorged themselves. We all couldn’t help but laugh as one of the cubs waddled away with its belly dragging on the ground.
007 then put the jeep in gear and began the drive back to camp. It was time for birds on parade as we headed back. We saw a greater kestrel hawk, more wattled cranes, a magpie shrike, a number of herons and ducks as we bumped along. Then Mike spotted an animal in the distance and as we approached we realized it was a side striped jackel. Cool! A new animal we had not seen before. We passed multiple herds of elephant before reaching the waterway. Just before we entered the water, we spotted a croc! Ugh! Please leave me alone!
We finally reached camp and sat down for lunch. Lou ( a gal from Australia) and I started drinking Sauvignon Blanc. It was only 11:00 a.m., but we reasoned that we had been up since 5:00 a.m., so in reality it was mid afternoon….. don’t try to follow the logic. Two bottles of wine later and we were ready for a nap. We didn’t have to be ready to go until 4:30 p.m. so that gave me about 2 hours for a nap. I wandered back to my cabin, watching the baboons playing around me as I walked. When I reached my cabin, I jumped into the fabulous outdoor shower and then fell asleep on my bed for a bit.
We had drinks on the deck at 4:00 p.m. and then we were off and running again. Our jeep partners, Belinda and Mike had left for a new camp so we had the jeep to ourselves. We spent the better part of the afternoon roaming around looking at birds (not my favorite part of a safari, but the birds are really different and brilliantly colored in the delta) as there was a scarcity of game out and about. As we meandered back and forth, 007 spotted lions in the distance. We made a beeline for the lions and found the female lion we had seen the day before with her three cubs, who are about 6 months old. The cubs were hidden in the brush so we waited as the sun began to set. Finally, one by one the little ones trundled out from under the bush and approached momma and began to feed. It was a beautiful sight. The biggest of the litter finished and began to entertain us by wandering around, rolling over, and just generally being cute. The cub was adorable.
By now it was dusk and we set out for a spot to have our Sun Downer. As we headed across the plain, we saw two jeeps in the distance, a table set up and coleman lanterns. Awesome. We were having happy hour in the delta with the other campers. We reached the group and found out it was Lou and Mike’s 16th wedding anniversary so champagne was chilling on ice and appetizers were spread out over the table. As the sun set we stood out on the plains and toasted Lou and Mike. It was a wonderful way to end the afternoon game drive.
We arrived back in camp, ate another lovely meal and then headed off to bed. I was exhausted from the lack of sleep the night before and was hoping for a nice peaceful sleep. Uh think again. As I dozed off I heard a lion roar in the distance and two hypos outside my door bleating back and forth. I woke in the middle of the night and all of a sudden I heard this tremendous trumpet from in back of our cabin. Uh oh. Their baaaaaaack. And then the parade began. I got up and counted at least 9 elephants wandering around and in front of our cabin. Yikes! I watched in silent fascination as they moved about in their now familiar ritual… Rip, rip, rip. Bang, bang, bang. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Gulp. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Then all of a sudden in come two hypos wandering around. By now mom was awake and I was giving her a play by play. She dozed back to sleep while I continued to watch. I ended up staying up for about 2 hours watching in fascination. It was an amazing sight.
Next morning came way too early and it was our last morning in Duba Plains. I was rather disappointed I had not seen any interaction between the lions and the buffalo. The camp bills itself as the premier camp for such interaction, but from my perspective it was overhyped. There is really only one pride of lions in the area and once they’ve eaten, the chances go down drastically that you will see any action. This was rather surprising to me since the literature about the camp talks about multiple prides. Huh?? We had certainly not seen multiple prides and had been told their was only one pride that splits up and roams the terrain. The folks who set up the safari would be hearing from me about this.
At this point, the hightlight for me of this camp had been the night invasion of the elephants. It was a wonderful experience so the final game drive did not leave me with many expectations. (As I said before, this camp has far less wildlife, so it was likely to be a lot of the same viewing… birds, tsessebe, baboons, red lechwe and elephants. 007 advised us that we would be heading over to the wetter area of the delta to see the hypos. We bounced along through the waterway, over the log bridge and across the plains and immediately ran into … elephants. We sat for a few minutes watching a momma and baby feed on the leaves of some trees … because what boys and girls … watching elephants NEVER gets old.
Anyway, after watching the elephants and passing by more wattled cranes and a myriad of bird life, we headed across the plains. As we drove, we passed by a huge skeleton of a cape buffalo. It had been there for a while, but it was still fascinating to see.
We finally reached a huge watering hole after about an hour in the jeep. As we approached, it was apparent that there were literally dozens of hippos in the water. We approached the water’s edge and the hippos started to get anxious and started splashing about. Then came the display of power. One by one each of the hippos raised up out of the water, opened its jaws in the classic hippo pose and crashed back into the water. Michele and I got some fantastic shots of they hippos in action.
After the hippo display, we headed back across the plains. It was another cold morning so we were bundled up in the jeep. (Although the past two mornings had been unusually cold for Botswana, the days warmed up to the 80s.) As we drove, we encountered warthogs and a huge group of baboons with babies running all over the place. Although baboons can be a pain the butt with the mess they make in the camps, they are like elephants.. always up to something.
As we headed back over the waterway, we encountered warthogs playing in the mud and some baboons fishing. Apparently, this is quite unusual since crocs will go after baboons, so the baboons were taking a risk. In watching them you could tell they were a little skitish and certainly treading lightly as they ventured into the water. We drove across the log bridge for the last time (I was not sorry about that) and headed for camp. Once at camp, we packed up, and got ready for our 12:30 flight to Little Vumbura, a camp about 10 minutes flying time away.
We had a final lunch with the other guests and the staff. As we were eating, we asked about the size of the aircraft we would be taking since Michele had troubles with the tiny plane we had flown in on. The staff exchanged glances and were hesitant to tell us … and then finally the surprise was revealed. We would be taking a helicopter to Little Vumbura. Holy ****! I was beyond excited. I had never flown in a helicopter and could not wait. In addition, the opportunity to fly in one over the Okavango Delta was beyond anything I had every expected! Goodbye Duba Plains hello Little Vumbura.