After two nights at Baines Camp we hopped aboard our second bush plane for a short fifteen minute flight to Sanctuary Retreat’s Chiefs Camp. Our pilot let us choose whether we wanted to fly higher above the clouds in smooth air, or fly low below the clouds with a chance of turbulence – and animal sightings. Of course we chose the view! As we soared over the painted landscape, the sights filled me with emotion again, and we felt so blessed to be in this special area of the world, landing safely on the airstrip near Chiefs Camp.
As we put our feet on the tarmac our guide, Sky, walked over, greeting us with a huge smile: “Welcome to my office!” (Meet him in my Instagram here.) It was apparent that Sky took enormous pride in the delta (his “office”), and the magic that it contained. As we approached camp, we were greeted once more with a lovely chorus of the staff singing to welcome us to our home for the next two days. Chiefs Camp was recently renovated, and I loved the decor’s contemporary take on classic campaign furniture. We had time for lunch and tea before setting off on the afternoon game and chose a table looking out over the watering hole. During lunch we were joined by elephants, wildebeest, and the cutest family of warthogs who decided it was time for a mud bath.
Storm clouds rolled in as we headed out into the delta on our first afternoon game drive. We dawned ponchos and did our best to cover our cameras, as our rover swished through the sandy tracks. The rain was sporadic, but we didn’t mind it. The region was drier than usual this year, and both animals and plants needed the showers. We quickly came across a few elephants under a tree outside of camp. Sky asked us to use hushed voices as we passed by within feet of the giant. Sky explained- the elephant was sleeping. Elephant don’t spend much time asleep, but when they do, it’s only for a few minutes here and there – while standing. A few minutes later, Sky discovered a young leopard crouching in a tree. He taught us to always pay attention to what the animals are doing — “They will tell you things you can’t see yourself.” This time, the leopard seemed intent on something in the near distance. Sky surmised that it was watching a threat, and that we should go take a look from the other side. Sure enough, when we rounded a bush, there on the ground was a large python! Later on, as the sun started to fall in the sky, we came across a pride of 9 lions. We watched as the lionesses returned to their cubs after an unsuccessful hunt, with the cubs tumbling out of their hiding place in the bushes to great their mothers. The rains picked up and — just like house cats — the lions seemed annoyed they were wet and sought cover in the bushes. Sky explained that in addition to not liking being wet, lions know that the wetness carries their smell to other animals, who can more readily avoid them in turn. The rains subsided for an evening sundowner gin and tonic, and we were gifted with a stunning painted sky. It’s always an incredible day in Sky’s office.
On the second day we found the lions again, and this time joined by two adult males. One of the males split off into the dense forest and we followed it. Before long Sky was calling the action before it happened again. “Look! The Lion is sniffing the air, I bet it smells a leopard’s kill on a branch. It may try to climb the tree and get it.” We were flabbergasted when, getting closer and rounding a bush, there was indeed exactly as Sky predicted, a Kudu hanging from a tree branch. As if on cue, the lion put his large front paws on the trunk and started eyeing his approach. He leaped up onto the main fork in the tree, and spent a good 20 seconds pondering where to go on. As we watched, the Lion became a bit visibly distressed that he’d bitten off more than he could chew and couldn’t find either a way up or down! After trying a few different positions he lost his footing, and we could see in his eyes the moment he knew he’d fall. Yet, the story ends well— after all, cats always land on their feet, and this lion stuck the landing, visibly embarrassed we had seen it. Sky gave us a completely new appreciation for each animal we encountered, and I’d highly recommend planning a visit around his schedule he is that incredible! (Most safari staff have a 6 weeks on, two weeks off work schedule.)
That evening, we were treated to a special sundowner in the bush— the staff had prepared a special fondue spread and Sixpence prepared a signature cocktail. We were joined by another couple, and got to share stories from our drives, and also learn more from Grant, the head chef at Chiefs Camp, before returning to camp and discovering a beautiful table for a romantic dinner on our porch. (They thought of everything, including a bottle of pink bubbles by the bath!) I didn’t have many expectations for the food while on safari given how challenging sourcing quality ingredients can be in these remote areas but at Chief’s Camp I was blown away by every dish Executive Chef Grant Parker prepared, even sourcing edible flowers to adorn this impala fillet. (FYI – impala is delicious.) David and I had to start a strict regimen of burpees twice a day to counter Grant’s talent for impossible-to-resist dishes, and if you’re a foodie considering a safari a visit to Chief’s Camp is a must!
I cannot what until we have a house again, and I can print many of David’s wildlife photos for our walls as a reminder of our amazing time on safari in the Okavango Delta. An enormous thank you to Sky, Grant, and the entire team at Sanctuary Retreats Chiefs Camp for giving us the experience of a lifetime and so many cherished memories!
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com