Safari Camps

Posted August 25th, 2010 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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PHOTOS: Okavango Delta

The highlight of our African adventure was undoubtedly the stay in the safari camps and the game drives at these camps.  We spent three days (and three nights) at the Pom Pom Camp at the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Seejo & I splurged for another three days at the Inyati Game Reserve at the Sabi Sands Reserve (part of Kruger National Park)  in South Africa at the tail end of the trip. In addition we also went for an early morning game drive at Chobe National Park.   Wildlife was abundant in all three places and we were lucky enough to get to see an amazing variety of species.  I found that there was a world of difference in observing an animal in its natural habitat as opposed to the zoo.  It was fascinating to see how each and every creature has adapted to its surroundings and utilizes them as best as it can to either get its food or avoid being food.

The safari lodges at Pom Pom and Inyati were very organized and almost all of them followed a similar schedule for their guests.  Wake up call was quite early between 5:30 and 6: 00 am—one of the staff would knock on the door till we answered.  Bleary-eyed and shivering, we would then assemble in the main camp area where we were served coffee/tea and a light breakfast. Between 6:30 and 7 am, we were off for our morning drive.  The game drive is conducted in an open Land Rover that can accommodate about 8 guests (+ driver and tracker) comfortably.  Since it is open, there is nothing to impede our view of the wildlife and the surrounding area.  We generally returned to the camp at around 11: 00 am where we were greeted with a sumptuous DSC_0797brunch.  Since this was the main meal of the day, there was always a lavish spread with several different types of dishes.  Most of the food was European/Continental cuisine.   From noon to 4pm was siesta time—where we could relax, snooze , read  or socialize in the common camp area.   At 4pm, after tea & snacks we were sent off on our evening drive.  We would take a differentDSC_6825-1 route in the evening drive compared to the morning one. We generally stopped at sunset to have our sundowners (wine/beer and some munchies) and then got back into the vehicles for an hour or two of night drive.  We were back at the camp at around 7pm where a three course dinner awaited us. After dinner, we would sit by the campfire for some time till we were escorted back to our tents. We were not allowed to roam on our own after sunset because the camps were not fenced and wild animals moved freely within the camp area and between the tents.

Although we followed the same routine for 3 days at Pom Pom and Inyati each, every single safari drive turned out to be radically different because there wasn’t a way to predict which animals we could spot at any point of time. Even when we did spot them, depending on the time of the day, the mood of the animal and the effect of the surroundings they would be exhibiting a different behavior.  One thing became extremely clear to us: animal viewing is absolutely a matter of pure luck.

On our second day at Inyati, our tracker Soli had spotted fresh leopard tracks near the camp ; he and George (our ranger) planned to follow the tracks hoping to catch up to the leopard.   After about 2 hours of bouncing along in the Land Rover through the uneven forest terrain and circling the whole camp about three times, there DSC_3034_Framedwas still no trace of the leopard.  It was a frustrating morning for animal watching.  Finally, exhausted from being jostled in the vehicle, we came back to the camp for our brunch. I had just sat down at the table and picked up my fork , when our  server exclaimed loudly and pointed at something. A leopard was sedately walking across the front lawn of the main house.  No doubt, this was the leopard we had tried ,unsuccessfully, to track all morning.  It felt as though he was taunting us “Were you looking for me? Here I was all this time!” As I was saying, it is all a matter of luck.DSC_3045_Framed

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Of course it helps if you have a skilled guide or ranger with you.  Our rangers at Pom Pom (Shaku and Peter) and at Inyati (George and Soli) were complete professionals.  In fact, George was such an accomplished tracker that he was featured on the cover of the National GeographicDSC_3077_Framed Magazine.  Not only did he know tracking, he hadbeen doing this for so long he practically knew the life stories of most of the bigger animals in the area.  At Pom Pom, I was impressed by the ranger’s ability to use the natural signposts (trees, termite hills etc) to identify their location and map their direction.  Shaku confessed quite candidly that he would be lost in Johannesburg downtown but in this vast landscape with nothing but grass & swamps, he knew his way about.

Not only did the camps have excellent guides, they also had a wonderful support staff.  We were really pampered at both the camps. Pom Pom actually had a staff of 32 personnel to take care of the 20 guests that they could accommodate.  Meals were made to our specifications –especially for my mother and sister who are vegetarians. This was actually incredible because the camp was in the middle of the delta and all the supplies had to be transported by air.  Pom Pom was comparatively less luxurious than Inyati – we stayed in tents (although they wereDSC_7293_4_5_6_7_Framedluxury tents), had limited use of electricity. But given the fact that the camp was literally in the middle of nowhere and was inaccessible by roads, the comforts were unbelievable.   Inyati on the other hand was not this remote – we had pretty good roads leading right up to the camp, we stayed in a charming little cottage & enjoyed all the comforts of civilization within the camp.

The safari experience at Pom Pom was all the more special due to its isolation.  We had no neighboring camps and had the wilderness all to ourselves. The landscape was different too: Pom Pom was a delta so the surroundings were more marshy, alternating between tall fields of grass and swamps.  Inyati had a lot more trees and woodlands, and it was interesting to see the contrast between both.  During the game drive, we could get quite close to the animals , sometime less than 2-3 feet.  The animals blithely went about their business ignoring us. According to our guides, the considered the Land Rover + all its passengers as one entity and they knew that this was not a threat to them and nor could they eat it.  So we got a superb opportunity to watch them very closely and take several photographs.

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The evenings after the dinner were also peaceful.   At Pom Pom we sat by a campfire and admired the night sky.  Most nights were clear and perfect for stargazing.   I can safely say that I have never ever seen so many stars in the sky.  In fact we could clearly see the Milky Way Galaxy.  Some of the amateur astronomers pointed out several constellations such as the southern cross , the Big Dipper and the Orion the Hunter. In fact the sky was so clear we could actually see a satellite move across the sky.

At Inyati, George shared wonderful anecdotes about the other guests he had led over the last decade. One night at dinner, we asked him about some of his unforgettable guests and he regaled us with a few stories especially about a tracker who was fond of quipping that the “the lions are sleeping so peacefully, that you can pet them”. Unfortunately, one of the guests took that comment literally and jumped out of the land rover and headed towards the lion.   From what George said next, there was utter pandemonium, the ranger was rattled and yelled at the man to jump back, the other guests were screaming with terror, the lions were even more confused and luckily they could pull the man back in the vehicle before the lions pounced on him. However my favourite story featuring idiotic guests was when George was following a leopard and trying to get it to face the jeep so that the group of tourists sitting in the vehicle could get a nice DSC_5939photograph.  He had just pushed through a thicket to get in front of the leopard when it suddenly turned and looked straight at the vehicle.  George was expecting to hear the clickety click of the cameras but instead there was absolute silence.   . He turned to ask his guests to start taking pictures when he saw that the jeep was empty and all his guests had apparently vanished.  Panicked he grabbed his gun and then jumped out of the vehicle to run in search of his guests. What he didn’t realize is that when he was pushing through the thicket, a harmless green snake was disturbed and it fell into the vehicle. His guests were more scared of the snake than of the leopard in front of him and all of them jumped out of the vehicle.   When George finally managed to calm his guests and get him back to the car, he found his tracker missing.  The tracker seeing George run off and the vehicle empty decided something must be really wrong and had climbed up the nearest tree.  We were rolling with laughter as George told us about his efforts of getting his tracker down from the tree and coaxing the guests to re-enter the vehicle and then assuring them that he had disposed of the snake.

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