Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ignorance is Bliss

Christmas 2004 is usually remembered for the Boxing Day Tsunami which killed over 230,0000 people around the Indian Ocean rim. I remember it for a much more pleasant reason. My wife and I had booked a week's stay at Muchenje Lodge in Botswana's Chobe National Park. We flew from Sydney on Christmas Eve and having spent a night in a Johannesburg airport hotel we continued on up to Victoria Falls on Christmas Day. From Victoria Falls it's a couple of hours drive to Muchenje and there's often plenty of wildlife to see on the way. So it was around lunchtime that we finally pulled up at the lodge and were led to the reception area by our driver.

We were utterly stunned to be met by the lodge manager - our former next door neighbour Sandy. We were speechless. We'd lived next door to Sandy in Perth, Western Australia for several years. When we left there in 1997 we lost touch with Sandy who was working for an African safari company in those days. She knew we were coming because we she had the guest list of course, but we had no clue about the impending reunion.

She'd married Peter - a white Zimbabwean game ranger and now here they were running this lovely little lodge near Chobe National Park. What an incredibly small world. It was our first visit to Chobe and I have to tell you that it is a truly magnificent place. The bird life is incredible and you can barely turn around without tripping over an elephant. The most popular and accessible part of the national park is based around the Chobe River floodplain not far from the town of Kasane.  The Chobe River is wide and slow-flowing here as it winds it's way to join the mighty Zambezi at Kazungula.  The northern bank of the river is the Caprivi Strip, a pan-handle shaped part of Namibia.  It is possible to see Chobe on a day trip from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe or Livingstone in Zambia.  However, I don't recommend that unless you are really short of time.  Try to spend at least two - preferably three nights in one of the lodges in or close to the park.  That is the only way to get a really good look at the place.  Many of the lodges offer extended boat trips on the river - half a day or even a full day.  These are well worth doing as you not only get a good look at the many waterbirds, hippos and crocs, but you also get a totally different point of view of many of the land based animals too.  It was on a boat cruise that we saw a lion catch his lunch in the form of a warthog at the river's edge.

Muchenje Lodge is wonderfully located just outside the National Park on a ridge overlooking the floodplain.
From the comfort of the bar you can watch the sun setting over the river while sipping your Amarula Cream on ice and admiring the elephants as they gather by the waterhole for their sundowner drink.  The lodge is small - only 11 rooms.  The food is excellent, the ambiance is relaxed and the service is perfection.

One of the rare treats you can expect in Chobe National Park is a sighting of the endangered sable antelope of which Chobe has one of Africa's few remaining large herds. Visitors can also expect to see lions, buffaloes, giraffes and spotted hyenas, and if you are lucky leopards and wild dogs too, not to mention elephants by the truck load.  And so we had a happy and memorable Christmas and the Muchenje residents remained blissfully unaware of the death and devastation wreaked by the tsunami until New Year's Eve when a British couple arrived from Victoria Falls where they have TV, radio and newspapers.  Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss.

For more information on Muchenje Lodge or Chobe National Park please call me - Peter Emery on 0419 689 447 or email me at  Alternatively call Ucango Travel on 1300 822 646.

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