2 – 15 July 2001
I think this was one of the trips of a lifetime – a two-week odyssey through some of Africa’s prime wildlife areas, a blend of luxury and adventure. Remarkably, the logistics of it went flawlessly, considering that the itinerary included:
- 6 scheduled flights
- 3 air charters
- 11 transfers
- 4 lodges/camps
- 4 hotels
- 1 canoe safari.
Also remarkable was the realisation that Zimbabwe, despite the current insanity, is a wonderful country to visit, a country of extreme beauty and warm, friendly people.
Shinde Camp, Okavango Delta
The first destination for Marion and me was Shinde Camp, a Ker & Downey property located on an island west of Xakanaxa. Managed by Mark and Ethel, a South African couple living their dream I think, it is an idyllic tented camp situated alongside a quiet lagoon and papyrus channels. We flew in from Maun on a light aircraft charter, via Xakanaxa. (These charters were an unexpected highlight for me as we hopped around the Delta from bush strip to bush strip like a flea, spotting elephants and buffalo, and underwater hippo paths).
Game drives are not emphasised here, and its easy to see why. Shinde is a delta camp where the tranquillity of the experience and wilderness of the delta is paramount. A highlight is a morning in a mokoro, gliding soundlessly, only hearing birds and the hiss of the breeze in the papyrus. Twice a creak and crash as a great, smouldering tree finally succumbed to the bush fire of two days before, shattered the silence. This part of the delta is a birder’s paradise.
On the afternoon of the 3rd we boarded one of the aluminium motorboats, piloted by our guide Willie, bound for Xobega lagoon. Our mission was to spot the rare sitatunga – which Marion did, barely 15 minutes into the journey. Mission accomplished. She has a remarkable gift for spotting game that I have noticed on many game drives and walks.
Sunset at Xobega is a spiritual thing. The experience was unfortunately marred by the sight of a fellow traveller carelessly flicking a cigarette butt into the lagoon. That this person was once a renowned wildlife veterinarian made it more incomprehensible…
Willie then treated us to a high-speed slalom up the channel, in the twilight, back to camp. I have my misgivings about the impact of motorboats on these waterways – but it was fun.
Evenings were spent around the dining table under the vaulted roof of the dining deck, suspended high in the trees. Fine wine is served with every dinner, and allied to the fine conversation, makes for stimulating evenings. On one such occasion a fellow traveller was telling us about her positive experience of booking this safari on the Internet, only for it to transpire that she booked it via ecoAfrica, the company that I partly own. Gratifying, needless to say…
On the morning of the 4th, Mark took us on a quick boat trip to intercept a coalition of bull elephants on their way to the lagoon. And at midday we flew out of Shinde to Ntswi Island to pick up some passengers, and then headed north-east to Xakanaxa for another transfer, before finally pointing east-north-east to Machaba Camp on the Khwai River.