Too many times in my life I have let myself wish that I were somewhere else – somewhere wilder, somewhere rougher, somewhere simpler, somewhere more beautiful. As I write this I’m looking over the wide plains in front of Mombo Camp and there is nothing left to wish for.
I feel like the luckiest girl in Africa, or the world! Who would have ever thought that I would be invited to spend three months in Botswana writing about all the things that make my heart leap? Wilderness Safaris’ camps are all situated in pristine private wilderness concessions built and run with a conservation and community-minded ethic that has remained steadfast for more than 30 years. I feel incredibly proud to be able to write for a company that contributes and commits so meaningfully to sustaining the remaining wildlife Edens of Africa.
Out of all Wilderness Safari’s camps and concessions, the most famous is Mombo on Chiefs Island in the Okavango Delta. Mombo is also known as “The Place of Plenty” (or the “the place of plenty of work” joked Reuben, Mombo’s head-of-maintenance in the plane to me yesterday!). Hard work has most certainly played a role in Mombo’s reputation as Botswana’s ultimate safari camp – and the animals have cooperated nicely too I’d say! Mombo’s local name, Mokobadinama means “the acacias hanging with meat”, which symbolizes the area’s abundance.
When I arrived at camp, I felt especially warmly welcomed (not only by smiling and singing camp staff and Mombo’s manager Hamish) but by a big-trunked fellow crashing his way nonchalantly into camp like he owned the place. It’s lucky Reuben and his team is close at hand to mend the walkways that bear the brunt of these strong tusks and body! Wildlife roams freely all over camp, from leopards strolling wooden walkways to shy bushbuck and noisy baboons caught lounging by the poolside as soon as staff members turn their heads.
Once I had been shown around my beautiful room and explored its cosy private nook on the deck, I got ready for my first afternoon game drive in the capable hands of guide Doctor Malinga or ’Doc’. Oh but first – I can’t believe I almost left this part out! – was high tea.
Mombo Camp is located amongst a group of islands at the north-western tip of Chiefs Island in the Moremi Game reserve. The main Okavango channel splits just upriver from Mombo Camp and there is usually plenty of water to go around. In the wet season, animals depend on rain instead of the river that originates from the highlands of Angola. The rains have come unusually late this year and according to Doc it’s been one of the hottest, driest years for a long time. This has tough on the animals because it’s meant they have had to walk much further to find water. There has still been plenty to see though!
I was surprised to find out that Mombo actually used to be famous for its wild dogs. Although there is still a pack of about 11 dogs that move through the area regularly, it’s the big cats that take centre stage now. Life at Mombo is rather precarious for plains game like impala, giraffe, wildebeest and zebra that have to be on constant guard for predators. When we saw this young zebra foal and its mother, I couldn’t help feeling a pang in my stomach, please may you stay safe and live a happy long life little one, I silently wished, just as the sun was beginning to turn everything gold.
“Ok, let’s go and find those lions before it gets dark”, said Doc, “they should start moving soon.” One of the kitchen staff had radioed us after seeing four females and three cubs walking in front of the camp. Suddenly they were just metres from us and looking as lazy as ever, except for a wide-eyed cub who stole all my attention (and most of the space on my camera card!)
We left the lions when it was almost dark, watching them turn from lazy slouching pussycats to regal muscle-flexing huntresses or “killing machines” as Doc calls them.
It had been an incredible first drive! And then, just outside of camp, three of the lovely Mombo ladies had set up a table with lanterns and mojitos…. yes you heard right!! Mojitos!! To a hot and dusty-faced bush girl, these minty cocktails were delightfully refreshing! What a great surprise, and what an amazing way to end a game drive! I was, however, a little concerned that three ladies were standing out in the bush all alone without a vehicle but felt very relieved when I heard later that they had hidden their Land Rover somewhere nearby.
That night I fell asleep to a hyena whooping, a scops owl brrrrr –ing and some mysterious shuffling amongst the dried leaves below my tent. I couldn’t help wondering where our lions were, I knew that the cubs would be following and watching the adults closely while they hunted, but they were not yet old enough to join in on making the kill. I listened for any sign of them until my eyes grew heavy and my I fell fast asleep.