Trip report continued . . .
On March 27, we set off for Botswana to begin the real safari portion of our adventure. We were going from Livingstone to Little Vumbura camp, run by Wilderness Safaris.
First, a word about the transfers. Both my husband and I found them to be mildly frightening and somewhat disorganized. We were scheduled to leave Livingstone at 12:30, stop down in Kasane (a 20 minute flight) for immigration/customs, and then head out to Little Vumbura (a 90 minute flight) in time for an afternoon game drive.
Wilderness Safaris exclusively uses Sefofane as the company that handles all air transfers. If you are ever transfering on Sefofane via Livingstone, you should know in advance that the Livingstone airport has no Sefofane sign or check-in counter or even any representatives that tell you where to go or where to wait. You basically go through security and wait in the international departure lounge until you see a pilot dressed in khaki shorts and khaki top wander in looking for people. The only people to ask about procedures or possible delays or anything at all are fairly uninformed security staff. It would be nice if Wilderness gave you more information in advance about the check-in procedure. But this would be my only complaint about Wilderness for the entire trip.
So we waited in the departure lounge for our khaki-clad pilot to arrive. And waited. And waited. Unfortunately, we had to share the lounge with a 737 loadful of South Africans who were ending a convention at the Falls by getting increasingly drunk and louder by the minute.
Then the thunder and rain began. Now mind you, my husband and I feared these small flights more than anything else about the trip. Our anxiety was rising and rising. We were starting to wonder if the pilot was ever going to arrive, if we would have to stay another night at Livingstone and miss out on a day at Little Vumbura, or if were were going to be hit by lightning mid-air. I had taken a Dramamine, which relaxes me slightly, but why hadn't I brought Valium?? Why oh why, had I not brought narcotics??
Just when we though we couldn't get any more worried, in walks the pilot. WHO LOOKS 19!!!!! I am not kidding. The boy looked like he hadn't even started shaving yet. We gulped. He apologized for the 2 hour delay (he got held up at Kasane for some reason) and hurried us out to the plane. By this time the thunder had stopped and the rain had abated somewhat, but the skies were far from clear. I told him we were bad fliers and were concerned about the weather. He assured us it would fine. So we boarded. What choice did we have at this point? He also told us that we would not be able to fly over the Falls due to the low cloud cover. This was disappointing, though understandable.
And we were off. The first flight to Kasane was not fun -- it was somewhat bumpy but it was really just my nerves that made the flight miserable. Every flight after that first one on Sefofane was much much better. I even slept on some. If you're a nervous flier, the first is the worst. After that it gets better.
Regarding the Sefofane pilots: We later learned that the pilot was not 19 -- he was 21. We also learned that ALL of the pilots are very young. Apparently, young pilots who need to log hours to advance up the pilot ladder flock to Botswana because it is an easy way to log lots and lots of hours. I experienced 2 Sefofane pilots. My husband and I agreed on the following: Both were under 25; both were competent (although, really, how are we to know if they weren't? We didn't crash or near-crash); and both were cocky as hell. I think they are probably very good, but don't expect a reassuring presence or even any pleasant conversation. Of course, our sample size of 2 is extraordinarily small. So we could have gotten the 2 most arrogant in a sea of nice guys. Who knows.
We also got what may be the smallest plane of the fleet. It's called a "bug" -- which is I think a Cessna 206. It's not called a bug for no reason. The interior is just a tad larger than the interior of a Volkswagon Bug. If you aren't neurotic, like me, the flights are actually quite fun. The scenery was breathtaking. Unless you're on one of the long, hour-plus flights, they fly quite low -- around 1500 feet. So you can see elephants and giraffes from the air.
Despite my anxiety, flying into the Delta was a wonderful experience. When do you ever get the opportunity to fly into a water and animal wonderland -- without a roof or electric light in sight -- and land on a dirt strip that has to be cleared of animals first (ours had an impala on it just as we were landing -- the pilot aborted the landing at the last minute)?
Boy, is the Delta full of water. It's just gorgeous. We could barely contain our excitement as we stepped of the plane. First, to be out of the plane. But more importantly, we were finally in real Africa. An Africa that looks exactly as it did hundreds of years ago. An Africa largely untouched by modernity. An Africa that had the biggest sky I had ever seen in my life. It was thrilling.
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