Dispatch: That's Xugana with a Click
Photos by David Cogswell
I stayed at three lodges during my South African Airways Vacations exploration of Botswana and the most memorable wildlife viewing moments were at Savute Lodge in Chobe National Park, the second of three that I visited. The most unusual camp of all was Xugana Island Lodge.
Already at Leroo La Tau, the first lodge I stayed in, I had had many enchanting encounters with lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras, buffaloes and wildebeests. But Savute offered up one very rare treat that took the prize, a close-up viewing of a leopard, a very elusive animal and truly awe inspiring to see.
It was a mother leopard who had two young ones with her in a cave or crevice in the side of a cliff that towered over us. When she appeared on a high point on the jutting formation of rocks and soil she was so beautiful she might have been posing. Apparently she was spotting something in the distance. Then she walked gracefully and sure-footedly down the steep incline and passed within a few feet of our parked vehicle as we sat gazing.
It’s hard to explain why that is so exciting to see. It’s rare to see a leopard at all. It’s much more common to see lions. And when you see them they tend to be in larger groups. Leopards are more solitary. And they shy away from people, so it’s rare to catch sight of one.
And when you do, it’s riveting. The leopards are amazingly beautiful with their elegant shape and the striking colors and spotted patterns of their coats. When you see one in motion it is a magnificent sight.
The leopard we saw perched on the rock above climbed down a nearly vertical incline to our left, carefully stepping, balancing and gripping to steady herself as she went, and then walked past us with every step sending ripples through the muscular body.
We didn’t know what she was going toward, but she was intently focused on something and was moving toward it with great concentration, grace and stealth. Then she disappeared into the brush.
There were many other amazing encounters with nature at Savute, far too many to chronicle. We came upon a large pride of lions at one point and watched them a while, cameras clicking incessantly as the lions relaxed.
Savute Safari Lodge is in Chobe National Park. It was an hour’s ride in a small aircraft from Leroo La Tau in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and another 20 minutes from the air strip to the lodge.
Like Leroo La Tau, Savute is comprised of cabins along a river built along a river and a central lodge. At Savute the river is the Savute River. There was sage growing almost everywhere, and there was a powerful scent of sage in the air whenever we were driving around the bush.
Xugana Island Lodge
The final of the three lodges was Xugana Island Lodge. It was the most strikingly different from the other two, and one of the must unusual safari lodges I have seen. The main reason for that is that the terrain is unlike anything else in the world. It has features in common with many other places, but the combination is unique.
Xugana (pronounced with a click in the first letter) is built on an island among the channels of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. It’s a huge network of large and small branches of water that gushes out of the mountains of Angola to the north and spreads out onto the desert sands of Botswana.
The water system creates a marshy area that becomes like a wonderland when you are cruising through the channels in a small aluminum motorboat. Along the sides of the channels are papyrus plants with fringy tops that tower over you as you ride by. Their reflections mirrored in the water below create a kaleidoscopic effect.
The wildlife in the waters include hippos and big crocs, as well as tiny frogs that are smaller than many insects. The water is adorned with lilies, which are fascinating and elegant plants that have perfectly adapted to the water ecosystem with pretty flowers that bloom on the surface and stems that go down to the channel’s floor.
At Xugana our daytime activities were different from most safari lodges. Instead of going out in four-wheel drive vehicles, we went out in boats, and we did walking safaris on some of the islands, where the larger wildlife, such as lions, and elephants and zebra appear.
We were instructed to walk in single file and to “minimize our voices.” Walking in single file would make us appear as one large creature to predators. And the quieter we were, the less disturbance we would create and the more chance we would have of observing nature.
Endless, innumerable wonders, unfolding moment by moment, were far too many to list. They arrived in layers of fascination, with many things happening simultaneously, so you have to choose what to pay attention to.
One of the greatest things that you don’t necessarily think about when you plan to go on safari is just the pleasure of being around people who love what they do. That in itself is of great value. And no one works in a safari lodge with a lackluster attitude about life and what they are doing. These are people who are really into what they do, what they are representing and what they are sharing with you, the visitor.
More by David Cogswell
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