I spent 12 magical days in Botswana exploring four camps in various regions of the Okavango Delta, each with its own personality and extraordinary wildlife adventure. I've written about Chitabe, Vumbura Plains, Abu and now, for my final piece in the series, I bring you Mombo.
What do an elephant, a hippo, a troop of baboons, a crocodile, a herd of lechwe, impalas and buffalo have in common? The answer: my very first day at Mombo camp. Not on a game drive mind you, I mean in camp. The elephant, baboons, lechwes and croc were within the first 15 minutes of my arrival. This is the essence of Mombo: You'll see amazing wildlife on game drives, but you're just as likely to find them outside your tent.
Mombo is located in a beautifully shaded area of the flood plains on the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta, and a 10-minute plane ride (think smart car with wings) from Abu, my last camp. Its nine stilted, luxury tents sit two meters above the high grass and in its khakis and greens exude a rustic elegance. There was a sitting room, a changing area, and an extraordinary bamboo-backed open-air shower. The beauty of the Delta was on display through screens that ran the entire length of the tent. A private deck faced a tiny stream, and when I arrived the crocodile was on one side and the lechwes on the other. Adjacent to the deck, under a thatched roof, a bed beckoned me to stretch out and take a nap. Each tent was connected by raised walkways, and during my stay we often shared them with a family of baboons that strolled around as if they owned the place.
During my 12-day journey, wildlife sightings of various kinds defined my stay at each camp. At Mombo, there were many great moments, but it was the leopards and hyena, with a little lion porn and a hippo confrontation thrown in for good measure, that I remember most.
Leopards and an opportunistic hyena
One beautiful morning, we were waiting for a very sated male leopard named Cub Killer to come down from a tree, where he was sleeping. Below him was a hyena the size of a Great Dane, with a head bigger than a dinner plate. A scavenger, the hyena was counting on Cub Killer's food falling out of the tree. Suddenly, out of a patch of high grass appeared Legadema, a gorgeous female leopard made famous by the 2006 release of Eye of the Leopard by National Geographic, which was shot by the international renowned husband-and-wife team, Dereck and Beverly Joubert. She'd not been seen for a while, and I later learned that the guides were concerned that she'd been killed. Legadema eyed us and then walked past our jeep nonchalantly, inches from me. Her attention was clearly on the male and his kill -- or her kill, as it turned out. Our guide, Moss, believed that Cub Killer had ousted Legadema from the tree and now reaped her reward. She was not pleased. They growled at each other. She growled at the hyena. The hyena didn't care. This went on for quite a while, until Legadema realized that her opponent wasn't moving and sat down in some nearby grass to clean herself.
I'm not a fan of hyenas. I find them a bit creepy. If a hyena were a character in a movie, it would be Igor the hunchback of Notre Dame. Hyena cubs, on the other hand, are pretty darn cute. They have big eyes and ears, a lanky body and sweet little spots. We watched a whole passel of different-aged cubs playing and snoozing outside their den while the adults were off hunting. They were fascinated by our jeep and often came close to investigate, nipping at the tires and wrestling each other only a few feet from where we sat. Near the end of our visit to the den, an adult female returned and began briskly licking one of the cubs under a bush. The cub let out a prolonged nasal whine that suggested he was being flayed, but in fact he was enjoying it. Soon after, we were forced to leave: The little tire nippers were becoming obsessed with the jeep, and in an effort not to encourage such close proximity to humans, we went on our way.
Lions making whoopee is serious business. They get it on every 20 minutes for days. And when I say every 20 minutes, I mean like clockwork. We came upon a pride with one male and three females, and one lucky lady was in heat. When her internal clock struck, she sauntered over to the male and nuzzled his face. Within seconds, he mounted her, and after a neck nip and a few growls, the deed was done. Moments later, they were lying back in the grass enjoying a lovely afterglow. This went on a few more times and then, out of sync, the female started to nuzzle the male only 8 minutes after the last round. He was not having it. There was swatting of paws and fierce growls and big teeth all at once. Begrudgingly, she acquiesced. But 12 minutes later...
Angry, angry hippo
On my last night at Mombo, we came upon a lone bull hippo wading in a river, the last of many hippos I encountered during my stay. Hippos can be very cranky souls, and he didn't like us encroaching upon his territory. He began thrashing around, smacking his big head into the river, shooting water high into the air, and fiercely grunting. He threatened an attack by lifting his bulbous body out of the water and opening his mouth so wide that I thought the tip of his nose would reach his back. The display was a good one -- very dramatic indeed -- but more bark than bite. As Moss explained, a hippo would never leave the safety of the water to tackle a jeep. Now if we were on foot, that would be another story. All in all, it was very exciting and a great way to end the evening.
• Camp activities: Game drives (no night drives here); according to Mombo's website, "the best game viewing in Botswana," and I probably wouldn't argue; private vehicle upon request.
• My guide: Moss, a low-key guide and a photography fan. He really knew how to angle the jeep so that I could get the best shots.
• Room amenities: In-room safe; laundry; Carolyn Rhys toiletries; hair dryer; large cooler packed with various beverages; separate sitting area; open-air shower inside and out; large deck with adjacent thatched roof.
• Meals: Guests seated at separate tables. Food was generally quite good.
• Animals in camp: Elephant, buffalo, baboons, hippo, lechwes, Impala and crocodile.
I recommend Mombo for...
• Anyone who wants the excitement of having a lot of wildlife in camp.
• Honeymooners who want to mix adventure with luxe accommodations.
• First-time safarigoers who want a high-powered experience right out of the gate.
For a general understanding of what to expect on a safari, please read my overview here.