Thursday, 1 March 2012

Out of Africa

Thursday, 1st March 2012

After just two nights at Vumbura Plains, it was time to leave - this time not for another Safari Camp but for the long journey home. Because of the Night Drive the previous night, I decided to miss the morning Game Drive and relax a little prior to the long journey. Sensible, but I missed a cheetah sighting.

The Land Rover was full at 10.50 a.m. when we left the Camp for the airstrip. Ona driving, me beside him in the front, a member of the management team going on leave with a member of staff to help out at the airstrip and the two French guests who were just travelling as far as Maun that day. We had a few sightings on the way, including three ostriches near the airstrip.

Three ostriches near the airstrip.

This time, it was the Cessna 'Grand Caravan' that swooped in to pick us up. This aircraft carries 12 passengers with their luggage in a 'pod' under the fuselage. For quick turnaround, the engine is kept running as the passengers leave and board the aircraft.

Cessna A2-EGL about to board passengers at Vumbura Plains airstrip.

The member of Camp Staff who travelled to the airstrip is responsible for positioning a barrier on the left side of the aircraft to keep passengers away from the danger area near the rotating propellor. He also places the landing steps next to the large rear door on the Port side. Of course, he also helps with luggage. We clamber aboard, the aircraft is closed up and the steps and barrier are wheeled away. The Pilot welcomes the 'Joiners' and explains that he will first call at Xigera airstrip before continuing to our destination Maun.

The Pilot welcomes 'Joiners' at Vumbura Plains.

Within a few minutes, the aircraft is airborne. After a flight of just over ten minutes, we land at Xigera where we take on, I think, five more passengers. We're only on the ground for about five minutes before taking-off again for our 20 minute flight to Maun.

Maun (usually said 'Ma-Oon', rather than 'Morn') has seen rapid growth and merits an entry in Wikipedia. After a few days in the Bush, the sight of so many buildings (mainly modern and prefabricated) was quite startling and the tarmac road with white line markings incredible. The runway at the airport had been extended and, of course, it was tarmac. We landed and it took us about five minutes to taxi to our stand, in amongst a number of other small aircraft.

Maun International Airport seen from our arriving Cessna.

The disembarking passengers either boarded a 'Golf Buggy' or walked about 200 yards in the hot sun to reach the modern terminal building. Baggage handlers followed with our bags in a truck. In the terminal building, I was re-united with my modest luggage and one of the baggage handlers pointed out the check-in counter for my flight to Johannesburg. Soon I was in possession of my boarding card and, retaining my bag with my computer, I started to wonder whether I'd get internet, as I had at Kasane airport. At that moment, a representative from Wilderness Safaris appeared. He said that there had formerly been a free Wi-Fi at the airport but it had been removed. He offered the use of the Wi-Fi at the Wilderness Safaris office, just a few minutes walk away.

Apparently, the town of Maun dates from 1915 when it was the centre of ranching and hunting operations with a 'Wild West Frontier Town' reputation. It's supposed to have lost that reputation but, despite the modern, low-rise buildings, I still thought it had that sort of feel. Wilderness Safaris had quite a large single-storey office complex, heavily air-conditioned. I didn't have a lot of time but, having connected to their Wi-Fi, I desperately tried to upload the text I'd pre-prepared since I'd been 'off the air' after leaving Kasane what seemed like months earlier. Then, saying 'Thank you' for the assistance, I hurried back to the airport to pass through immigration and security for the Air Botswana international flight to Johannesburg. This was operated by the BAe 146 - a small, 4-engined jet intended for fairly short 'legs' with short runways.

At O. R. Tambo, there was time to check in with Emirates and do some e-mails in the Emirates lounge before facing the seven and a half hour flight to Dubai in a B 777 - 300. I'd come full-circle - I looked out of the window of the Emirates Lounge and there, just a few hundred yards away, was the Protea Hotel I'd stopped at right at the beginning of my epic journey.

The Protea Hotel, O . R. Tambo, seen from the Emirates Lounge.


Leaving Vumbura Plains.
Flight to Maun.
O. R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg.