The Moremi Game Reserve or Otherworldly Theme Park?
04.21.2008 - 04.24.2008 72 °F
Mombo Camp is in Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve on the northern tip of an Island called “Chiefs Island”. The Island’s name sake, the local tribe’s chief, had been the only person allowed to hunt this sacred place over the past centuries. It’s surrounded by permanent water ways and seasonal flood plains creating an island ~100km long and ~30km wide that has historically proven difficult to reach by poachers or hunters. The animals seem to have genetically encoded this geography and history, taking advantage of this relative safe haven for what many guides consider to be the heaviest concentration of wildlife in the Okavango Delta, and perhaps all of Africa. The wildlife seems undisturbed by the coming and going of vehicles, as if knowing that you aren’t the chief. Mombo Camp’s reputation illicits an envious ooooh or ahhhh from safari goers that have only heard about it, and an acknowledging nod from those that have had the pleasure of staying or working here. This was the only camp on safari we had high expectations even before arriving. On the short trip from the airstrip to camp, we were blown away with the quantity of giraffe and elephant that we saw. Every turn in the road seemed to produce another tower of giraffe or herd of elephants.
When we arrived at Mombo, we were greeted by Izzy and Taps, the managers of the camp, and Kirsty, a high school graduate who was learning the ropes, and taking care of guests like they were family. They walked us through the do’s and don’ts of the camp, and showed us to our tents, which were more like houses, making even Tubu Tree, (which was incredible), seem relatively simple by comparison. The paths to the rooms were elevated as were the two pools, the bar, the dining area, the viewing platforms, and of course your three room house, errr… I mean tent. This “elevated everything” was required to let the deadly cape buffalo migrate through camp every night without crushing the guests. Yes, I’m serious. Our three room tent included a private viewing platform with a comfy couch, an outdoor shower, a long balcony, two full beds, a living room, and a bathroom that had two showers, two sinks and two toilets. Ok, I’m kidding about the toilets, but you get the picture. Our rooms were over 100 yards from each other with an area by the pool only slightly elevated, so we split up in our usual Griffin/Mom and Dad/Parker combos.
Of course, shortly after we arrived and settled in, it was time to eat our “tea time” snack. The food at Mombo is prepared by a chef named Simon, a larger than life South African bloke who is a pleasure to hang out with and share a beer or two. He and his kitchen were amazing producing some of the best food we’ve ever had. Not the best food on the trip. I mean the best food we’ve ever had, period. I had an ostrich filet that was as good as the best beef fillet I’d ever eaten at Morton’s or Daniel’s. We had an eggs benedict brunch one morning, and it was by far the best I’d ever had. The boys wanted burgers one night, and they got burgers that were equally yummy. One evening, shortly after Simon introduced the meal, which he did before each dinner, Griffin made the comment to me “When Simon describes what we’re going to eat, my mouth waters”. So, not only is his food delicious, his descriptions are as well. Griffin found that he had so much fun with the staff at Mombo that he became part of it. Griffin was mixing drinks behind the bar, serving snacks, chasing monkeys and squirrels away from the brunch bar, and on one occasion he was even part of the official greeting team, welcoming new guests to Mombo with a old towel and a special drink that he actually made at the bar.
Mombo Camp “stilts” on the edge of a wide plain which turns to a seasonal marsh flooding as the Okavango Delta rises. The floods were filling the plain as we arrived. Across this broad plain we could watch hippos wading, cape buffalo meandering, crocodiles slinking, and red lechwe grazing – all at once. Just sitting at the bar or chilling at the pool, brought a sense of awe as we gazed over the plain and felt flooded ourselves.
We went on 6 game drives over the course of our three days at Mombo, and all were incredible. I won’t go into the details of each drive, but will highlight a few of our experiences. First, it should be said that we hooked up with a couple from San Francisco, Lucrecia and Wayne, who were on four of our drives with us. They were both funny and interesting and we couldn’t have chosen a better couple to experience this with. They were a hoot. Our guide at Mombo was an affable and fun Botswanan named Emang, who knew the area well, and was always there with a fact, or a quip. Emang had the coolest way of finishing every sentence with an “ayh?” “Look at these prints. These lions walked a long way last night, ayh?” “We’re now going to drive a long way to see the white rhinos, ayh?” The boys and I found ourselves talking like Emang by the time we left, and none of us have been able to stop. We felt a little jaded, having seen so much before Mombo. The large herds of Impala had been so common over the weeks that we didn’t gasp anymore. Emang knew pretty quickly what we had seen and what we hadn’t, so we spent little time viewing animals of which we had seen many. “We’ll move away from the Impalas now, ayh?”
A documentary covering the life of a female leopard called “Eye of the Leopard” was filmed in the Mombo area. The documentary is shown on BBC, Animal Planet, and National Geographic. We had the pleasure of seeing this leopard, (named Legadima), one morning with her two new cubs, as they played shortly after dawn. They were precious, and so utterly comfortable with people, that they played without fear or caring as we watched the cubs beat up on their mom for a half hour or so as. That same day we saw our first and only cheetah of the safari, as she hung in the shade after a hunt, avoiding the midday sun. We rushed from the cheetah to catch up to some white Rhino that were a few kilometers away. We were in a Land Rover again and we found ourselves in door deep water, for 100s of meters as we made our way to the Rhinos. When we arrived we found the other camp Land Rovers there ahead of us viewing a Bull, a mother and two baby rhinos. These Rhinos are new to the area and rather shy, so it was heard to follow and get a good view, but these animals are incredible. They are huge, made of muscle, and they are unbelievably quick. We saw all of these things, plus our usual sightings of lions in one single day. Absolutely incredible.
Lions were plentiful here, and we had many encounters with prides of up to 22 at once. Each night, we could hear the lions, and one night, a couple of males were so loud, apparently in a fight, that Parker arose from a sleep and woke me as well, we listened to males make more noise than you can imagine. They sounded like they were just outside the tent, yet they were likely over a km away. The guides joke that a male Lion’s roar sounds like a deep bellowing “Whoooooselandisthis…” “It’s mine”, “It’s mine”, “Mine” and you can almost hear them say it as they patrol their area. The next morning on our game drive, we ran into the two male lions, both of whom appeared injured and tired from their fight. Later that morning, we ran into a large pride of females. While we were parked next to the pride, my glasses fell to the ground as I was working with the camera. Remember that lions think you’re part of the vehicle when you’re in it? It’s true. Well, I got out of the Land Rover within 20 feet of the lions, (on the other side of the vehicle) to retrieve my glasses. I asked and Emang said no problem but be quick. Every lion lifted their napping heads abruptly and turned toward my foot the moment it contacted the ground. I was back in the Land Rover within approximately one nano second. Chilling.
We tended to lose track of dates and days of the week while we were on Safari. We didn’t really care which day was Sunday or Monday, or the 20th or the 31st or whatever. On this particular day, we had completed a morning game drive and we were headed toward the camp, but we sensed that we were heading to a different camp than usual. All of the vehicles seemed to be converging at the same time at the same place which is very odd. We arrived at an elevated tree house, sitting atop a beautiful hippo pool and an exquisite brunch. It was Sunday brunch. It was Easter Sunday brunch. A Simon prepared Easter Sunday brunch. We had all completely forgotten what day it was, and it never occurred to us until we showed up at hippo pool. Chocolate eggs and all. Brunch was wonderful as was every meal at Mombo…. and so were the hippos. Hippos, had been difficult to spot before Mombo camp, because they tend to be pretty shy and unfortunately we tended to get glimpses of hippo heads or hippo backs, but never a whole hippopotamus. That changed at this hippo pool. We didn’t get enough on Easter however, and we returned the next day to take all the hippos in.
frontCape Buffalo had been elusive for the entire trip. We’d been close, but the buffalo would simply disappear after our first glimpse. Not at Mombo. They slept in the camp, and under your tents. They would migrate into the camp from the plain at night, and back out in the morning. We could hear them breathing, and we could feel them rub against the stilts of our tent. In the morning, we would have to be careful not get in the way of these huge creatures as they moved out into the open plain again. These guys are incredibly fast and pretty nasty if you rub them the wrong way, so you have to be careful. A couple of the bulls stood near our vehicle as we took off for our morning game drive, and we were “encouraged” to move quickly. After we were in the Land Rover, the buffalo took off in a sprint and shocked all of us with their power and quickness. Yowza.
We were lucky to be treated to a full moon at Mombo which shared the sky with a setting or rising sun on a few occasions, providing us with some great photo opportunities. The night sky was beautiful and we could see Cape Buffalos move through camp in the moonlight. On one occasion Carol and Griffin saw a hippo and a Nile Crocodile square off right in of their room under moon light.
We saw more baby animals at Mombo than anywhere we had been. We saw baby giraffes, baby elephants, baby leopards, baby hippos, and baby rhinos all within 10km of the camp. Each sighting of animal babies produced ooohs and awwwws and we usually hung out with the little ones until they meandered out of sight. We also saw the other side of life, running into an elephant skeleton that even Emang had never seen before. He explained how the bones of the elephants are spread around the grave site by the herd, everytime they return to “visit”.
Mombo was an otherworldly conclusion to our safari. Our little Cessna landed in Maun, which is the “safari city” of Botswana, readying to transfer out to Capetown. After two weeks, we were all sad that our safari had come to a close, not just because of all the incredible wildlife we had seen, or the beautiful landscapes or sunsets, but because of the remarkable people we had met. The very special people who have decided to make wildlife the key ingredient in their own life are forever etched in our hearts and minds, and we couldn’t help take just a little piece of their spirit with us.
Without any question, we’ll be back to renew that spirit, over and over again.