AFRICA reprise- Botswana/Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) – 2nd Oct 2018 – Day 19

Its been a long day as it mostly is on ‘holiday’. Up at 6, breakfast at 6.30, then out on the terrible thick sand tracks through the low scrub and occasional stately tree copses on slightly higher ground. Savuti is mostly flat especially a large area named the Marshes, now bone dry grassland. Contrast is provided by a few isolated short 80m high hills and the Savuti Channel, an 8m deep 200m wide dry grassed channel which carries the occasional flood to the marshes. This area reminds me of a farm in the Rhodesian midlands Dad took me too a few times, owned by old Gilfillin, ex army friends I think. He had grandsons who would hunt through similar ground. I accompanied one when he shot an impala.

We had time today for a last search for the elusive leopard – but no luck. The elephant carcase has been abandoned by the lions as its very off. The dogs and vultures were feasting though. The hippo has moved from the muddy shallow pool to one that is filled by a pump. A flock of guinea fowl and a kori bustard were searching for seeds on the far side, watched by a lilac-breasted roller. We drove past leopard hill down to the swamp, but it was quiet compared to yesterday. The elephants at a waterhole topped up by a bore kept us entertained, especially the baby which was continually guided by the mother using her trunk. As they moved away, one made a brief threatening stand. We found two of the local lions sleeping (as usual) in the shade of a bush. We spied a large herd of sable antelope, not a common sight, walking in line steadily toward the waterhole we were at yesterday for tea break, led by a large bull. As they neared the lions, they sped up, leaping 200m past, not even stopping at the water. At this the lions heads poked from each side of the bush – but they went back to sleeping. A small herd of rare Roan antelope walked toward the waterhole, joining a few kudu. We left them there, driving past the large baobab at the foot of leopard rock, and then headed back for an early lunch before sadly leaving for our 40min flight to Kasane.

Hunting has not been possible in Botswana since about 2008, and it has paid off. Tourists flock for the amount of game despite the terrible roads and the cost of the camps. All food at the camp is transported 190km by road taking 8 hrs. The logistics are enormous. Jess our lovely Ba Tswana manager places the weekly order on Sunday for delivery Thursday. The cook (chef) has to plan that far ahead. The camp is extremely well run, the staff attentive, friendly – and mostly Christian. Jess is a 1 yr old 7th Day, and talked freely of her faith.

We flew from Savuti in a 14 seater to Kasane near the Botswana/Zambia/Zimbabwe border where a guy met us to drive through to Victoria Falls village.

The Mababe Depression landform was very clear from the plane; a straight north-south fault line separating the dry uplifted eastern area blocking the water from the north-west to create the delta and the Linyanti river. A small stream escapes in a low point flowing in the wet season into the Savuti Channel and marsh.

On arrival I searched  everywhere for my dark glasses on the plane, and later found them on my head under the hat! Customs was fairly easy for us but not the many trucks that may take three days to get through. It was well worth paying for the guide. The Botswana airport and customs are in good shape unlike the Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) side where one stands outside a small window. The Botswana building reminded me of Beit Bridge on the Limpopo Rhodesia/S. Africa border where one entered a passage along one side of several office windows on leaving, while the same occurred the other side for people entering. And that reminded me of that stifling hot night we spent in the hotel, attempting to sleep under damp towels, Karen in a carry cot in Jan 1966.

On leaving Rhodesia for a new job in S Africa, I sold my 1952 red MG for 85 pounds, and rode the 1954 Triumph 500cc motorcycle to the border under a very hot sun, while Hilary and Karen rode the railway bus. On arrival I was told it would take days to process the m/c to exit, time I didn’t have, so I sold it to the customs guy. I often wonder if that was a scam. We had to spend the night in the local hotel in the hot humid conditions – air conditioning was unknown. A most uncomfortable night under wet towels. Karen didn’t seem to find it a problem fortunately.

We arrived in Victoria Falls about 3pm, settled, and set off to see the falls, so David said, from the Viewpoint cafe. We didn’t manage it as a guard warned us that elephants were in the area, and a person was badly injured recently. The town is small but hilly, not too dirty, with many stalls and buildings in a haphazard way. So we returned to see the gorgeous stately Victoria Falls Hotel.

It was built by the British in 1904 as accommodation for workers on the Cape-to-Cairo railway but today it is a famous luxury brand . Serene lily ponds, arched loggias and broad verandas – offering magnificent vistas – are custom-built for a spot of high tea or a relaxed gin and tonic. Some rooms offer stunning views of the gorges and bridge below. It was built and operated by the railways administration, but in the early 1970s it was leased to the then Southern Sun hotel group, forerunner of today’s African Sun Limited. A significant development in the late 1990s was the involvement in the hotel of another leading Zimbabwean hospitality operation, Meikles Africa Hotels. Today the property itself still belongs to the National Railways of Zimbabwe and there is a shared 50/50 partnership operation between African Sun and Meikles Africa.

Cecil Rhodes had tasked his friend and colleague Sir Charles Metcalfe with overseeing the development of the railway system and Metcalfe took heed of Rhodes’ dreams of the railway line stretching “from Cape to Cairo,” hence he started plans for the first bridge across the mighty Zambezi. Rhodes was insistent that the bridge should be built in a place that the spray from the falls would fall on the passing trains, which is why the site was chosen just a little below the Boiling Pot, at almost right angles and in very close proximity to the falls.

Its a long two story building enclosing a formal courtyard; two wings reach out curving toward the Zambezi like arms reaching out at an angle to protect those on the lawn under two enormous trees looking at the bridge in the distance. I want to have dinner here one night. On the terrace, not in the two formal dining areas where the prices are high and the dress code beyond my gear. The place has many rooms and all are FULL! Walking around its clear who fits here. The view of the bridge and gorge from the broad terrace is excellent.  

Dinner was a very large hamburger at ‘The Three Monkeys’ cafe next to the railway where a very old steamer runs the track to the bridge and back for dinner; it has to take a breather several times from the bridge back to town, affording the opportunity to shoot in the dark!

The N1 hotel is basic; bare rooms over shops and a small reception. But it has a kettle and tea. We discovered we were only booked for 3 nights instead of 4 and cancellations are unlikely but they say a place will be found.

23.40 bed time.

AFRICA reprise- Savuti, Botswana, 1st Oct 2018 – Day 18

Sunrise was a clear sky, not what I hoped for, however I captured the view from my tent and the gully (Savuti channel) which carries the water to the marsh in the south, both dry at this time. The bushes on the other side hide the road from the airport.

The USA lady & her guide that I met at Tuskers were here a day ahead of us. They offered to sit at the back to allow Ailine & I to be on the 1st row seats – a lot better as Ailine was at the back and I in the passenger seat yesterday. Today David sat in the front passenger seat. A cool windy morning that, as usual, warmed up by 11 when we came back for lunch.

First call was the northern lions again – they were still there, one large male near the road that presented us with some great shots in the low early morning light, as he faced into the sun. He roared once, calling his mate, yawned, became bored, gave us an appraising look, and sauntered off. The vultures and dogs were also watching.

We drove into the marsh to a well visited waterhole, also dry but for the pumped water to encourage the animals, and of course, for our viewing! On the way were copses and patches of trees on slightly higher ground. If you have followed me for a while, you will know I love trees. We quickly passed frequent herds of impala and blue wildebeest, small groups of bored giraffe munching on the thorn leaves, a steenbok, and another small herd of tssebe.

We had several fascinating hours watching a large herd of elephant jealously guarding a waterhole from wildebeest and three painted dogs. The older elephants leave the young ones to do most of the shooing. Sandgrouse flocked there too, checking elephant dung for seeds. It’s entertaining to anticipate the elephant (and wildebeest) reaction as the dogs crept nearer to the water. The blue wildebeest are seldom still, unlike elephants, running from no clear enemy – or is it just fun?  From a distance, elephants are just big, but a wildebeest seen against a backdrop of elephant legs shows the massive size of elephants, especially the bulls. Their eyesight is poor, perhaps not surprising as the eye is relatively small. The young are kept close to the herd.

Marabou storks are, I think, the ugliest birds ever. They stand quietly in groups like old men with little to say. Antelope, on the other hand, are always alert, head up, watching for the predators, then bounding away. We watched the skitterish impala against a backdrop of leopard hill, overseen by a perched flock of Cape glossy starling.

Lastly we found the Savuti marsh pride of about 14 lion lying flat in the shade of bushes, from several cubs to a very old (14yr old?) lioness, so thin she looked dead. Apparently the fit eat first so she doesn’t get a lot, and they have not had a kill for some time, unlike the northern pride we saw yesterday.

The topography is interesting; very flat with a few 500m high, bushy, stone (felsic schist) hills where leopards hide, and 5m deep grass channels that carry the flood waters when they arrive in December. They afford easy track access, but one can’t see beyond the bush top edge. The marsh area is entirely grass; elsewhere it is open savannah, tall thorn and acacias, low green bushes. We ended the morning with coffee under a lone tree at a small waterhole. In the distance a large herd of topi galloped over the yellow grass past the smell of the lion pride, then stopped to graze still within sight of the lion – but not the smell!.

Jessica mentioned yesterday that she has a 15 min prayer time with the staff when we are out, but that we could meet after lunch. The USA lady, Ailine and I met with her for 30 mins sharing and encouraging her in her 1 yr old faith (7th Day). It was good to do – my emotions seem to surface rather too easily lately, and she also was affected.

It must be so difficult to manage the camp in such a remote, sandy, hot place. The water was off this morning (pump failure), then the power went off, yet the chef, a large black woman, produces meals worthy of a French chef.

The people remind me so often of the movies (and book) ‘The gods must be crazy’ and ‘The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency’. A great country that manages to live in peace, unlike most on this continent.

I took the lunch time opportunity to shoot a few images of the dining, lounge, and bar, as well as a ‘parade’ of the presidents. Sir Seretsi Khama in the middle is largely responsible for establishing the peace in this country, supported by his UK wife.

After ‘high tea’ at 4 (cake, tea, coffee, cold or hot), we set off again in the hope of seeing the leopard. First off, a tawny eagle and, of course, elephants, followed by the north lion pride; we could smell the elephant kill, so the lions were missing now, replaced by three types of feasting vultures (lappet face, small hooded, and white-back) and a pair of black-backed jackals; a kite sat in a tree waiting for an opportunity.

We continued looking for the leopard, passing leopard rock hill, through and along the channel but still no leopard. Passing many impala, warthogs and a fork-tail drongo, we came to the hyena den, over antbear (aardvark) holes. Our ranger, P-man took us a hundred meters away to a lookout over the channel, here 7m deep and 200m wide, where we watched the sun set in a red ball. Returning to the den we found 10 young hyena lying around in the dusk. Mother was pacing through the bush 300m away, looking for a meal. She must have smelled the rotting elephant several km away because she set off on a direct route to it at a pace we only just managed in the jeep travelling on the sand. We lost her as we approached the camp at last light, as a pink and violet sky rose above the camp dining area.

We had just 30min to shower before the usual amazing dinner, tonight a half avocado with a mushroom filling, lamb chops in a gravy, cous-cous, and vegetables, followed by a half pear baked in a filo pastry. All this is planned 10 days ahead, ordered on Sunday, delivered on Thursday by truck from Maun, an 8 hr trip on these roads, truly a massive operation. And this is not the only camp.

Self-drive campers are parked outside this camp, under trees, An ablution block is available. Since we are escorted to and from dinner by P-man scanning the bush with a large bright lamp, I wondered if the campers were in danger. He said yes if they did not adhere to the rules – whatever they are. I guess staying close to the car and tent, with a fire.

This is my last night in Botswana. We are being serenaded by loud trumpeting and occasionally a lion roar, probably yet another kill is in motion. Nature red in tooth and claw – Tennyson. I hope I can sleep.

AFRICA reprise- Botswana – 30th Sept 2018 – Day 17

I best start with the trip from Xobega to Camp Savuti. We had to leave by 6 to avoid the heat and also see animals on the way to the airstrip 30mins past 3rd Bridge, a total of 2hrs if we didnt delay. Our plane was at 10.45.

The boat trip with Sam was fast, though we did stop briefly for elephants. Then onto a jeep for the rough ‘Botswana massage’ on the sandy track, passing numerous herds of impala, elephant, zebra, wildebeest, the rare tssebe, giraffe, warthog (their knees are allow them to kneel as their necks are too large to bend), two very large hyena, hippo, and lechwe. Some silverback jackals were harassing the hyena, but we didnt see any kill to defend. Many birds including the ubiquitous yellow bill hornbill, and yellow-billed kite.

Who could not love Africa? Memories forgotten fill my mind and heart – times lost. The baking soil, bush, and animal scent, mixed with wood smoke.

We were fortunate to find a mother and young leopard in the shade of a big tree, next to a full size lechwe several metres up on a branch, an answer to prayer – just hope I did it justice as we had a plane to catch and still many km to go on the sand horrible road. I think leopards are much more photogenic than lion, though not as ‘regal’. Before leaving Perth, I had a list of animals to shoot – a leopard in a tree was one, so I was grateful to find these two. We had driven past some 100m away, 20mins before, and returned on being told by another driver. The images were taken at a distance of about 20m using a 100-400mm lens.

Dust blew on the airstrip on this cool windy day as we watched an elephant cross it. We were in a very small 7 seat Quest Kodiak plane, a tight fit for the 30min flight to Savuti. The bags were no problem though – glad I didnt buy new ones.

The drive to the Savuti camp is fairly long, once again on those corrugated roads, relieved a little by three lions next to their kill, a small elephant, watched by vultures and a kite. And we saw our first Blue wildebeest, a strange dark colour. A lonely hippo lay in a muddy pool surrounded by, at times, wild dogs and impala.

Savuti camp (near the gate) is shown near the top of the map image. Our drives will be to the south into the low elevation green area, the Savuti Marsh, which is fed in the wet months by water channelled from the north (the blue line). The surrounding yellow area is slightly higher, the Mababe Depression.

Savuti gate has an ‘armchair’ with horns attached. I sat on it and asked a ranger to take the image. The camp is luxury after the last two. A very large tent with an enormous high king bed, full power (solar), hot and cold in a separate section with a bath – but the shower is in the open again, shielded only by thin heavily varnished poles leaving small gaps! My tent is the furthest from the dining tent, hard walking in the deep soft sand ‘path’.

The first afternoon drive at Savuti was fairly tame. The lions were still being watched by the vultures. Across the road, a giraffe was looking for a meal of acacia, another with a pair of lechwe were drinking from the diminishing waterhole, in which the hippo still hoped for a water covering. The drive ended with a stop at the large baobab, and then we watched the sunset from the ridge on the west of the depression nearby. No sign of the promised leopard hiding in the rocky hill bush.

Ring-neck doves are common, reminding me of my life in Rhodesia. The acacia trees often produce convoluted branches, thickened in parts. The pretty lilac-breasted rollers are here too, as are the Kori bustard, the largest bird of flight. The Red crested korhaan was looking for its mate, and a Yellow-billed kite perched amongst the twisted branches hoping for a feed.

As dusk fell quickly, we were able to stop next to an unconcerned meerkat on the way back.

Tonight, we discovered, is Independence Day. Before dinner we were entertained by the entire camp team with several songs and dance to celebrate their Independence Day. They are very proud of their history of continued non-aggressive behaviour – the flag is white, black, and blue (white & black for people, blue for sky and water). I found the evening very touching, especially the short speech by the manageress, Jessica. The dinner was amazing – with just a touch of the local ie stiff maize meal (pap)! (The two images are from the iPhone, the ‘best’ available camera.) The Ba Tswana are growing on me; they really are as described in the book by Alexander McCall-Smith, The No 1 Detective Agency. Even better, so many, and I’m told 90%, are Christian, though some are probably a mix with their old beliefs, but tonight has touched my soul.

AFRICA reprise-Xobega, Botswana – 29th Sept 2018 – Day 16

I was awoken suddenly at 1am by Santos the elephant visiting my tent. He has followed the same path for years, grazing the bushes along the way. I thought he would push the tent over as he brushed against it, lifting he roof! I am told he comes most nights.

No rush today, so I explored this small camp before we had a short mokoro (dugout) experience. The marshland is serenely beautiful. We took a slow ride downstream to the boat station, passing marabou storks (I was told it means old & ugly), pied kingfisher, reed cormorant, pretty African jacana walking on water, long toes and long claws enable them to walk on floating vegetation.  A small crocodile, lechwe, hippo, the tiny Angolan reed (painted) frog clinging to a reed, elephant, white fronted bee-eaters, African Fish Eagle and a yellow-billed stork. At the station we had a 30 minute ride on a fibre mokoro poled by guys who live at the station. A very tame thing compared to my trip in 1988 when I spent two nights with one polar on a small island. Sitting back as the mokoro is poled, watching the reeds pass by to the sound of the rippling water and bird calls, makes for a very quiet peaceful ride. Ailine’s smile shows the delight of even the short mokoro ride On the way back to camp, Sam made a garland of the delicate water lilies; the almost translucent yellow, white and blue shades of the water lilies are breathtaking. We stopped a meter from a grinning, large, unconcerned crocodile basking in the sun.

The most amazing sight was of a elephant crossing a wide deep water channel. I have a MOV file but instead I have added a sequence of 15 images – make sure to see the last one! These images are not cropped – we got very close at times so we backed off when he showed his displeasure.   trunk just above the surface. As it became deeper, he dived and bounced up many times in the crossing. As it then became shallower, he trumpeted at us, ears up, so we backed off!

I love the yellow and green shades of the reeds fringing the streams. the way the heads bend away from the breeze. They provide a habitat and shelter for birds and frogs, as well as the crocs. Vervet monkeys are quick and agile in the big trees surrounding the camp so tents must be closed to avoid losing gear!

The White-fronted Bee-eater is not only a feast for the eyes; the birds are skilled in flight and excellent hunters. They hunt down insects, especially bees in flight and consume them unaffected by its sting. The Bee-eaters shape, size and form compliment its ability as a skilled hunter. In comparison to other Bee-eaters, the shape of their wings is unlike most others as they are sedentary birds; their wings are broadsquared off at the edges, whereas the migratory species have more slender and pointed wings which assist them in long flights during migration.

Yellow-billed storks have a fishing technique of using one foot to stir up the water to flush out prey in the mud, stepping forward to do so again. One was building a nest in the shrubs on the bank.

The Pied Kingfisher is estimated to be the world’s third commonest kingfisher, found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia from Turkey to China. It is a specialist fish-eater, although it will take crustaceans and large aquatic insects. It has two unique strategies, shared by no other kingfishers; it usually hunts by hovering stationarily over the water and dives down bill first directly below to catch fish. It can then deal with prey without returning to a perch, and even catch a second fish, or eat small prey in flight. This means that this kingfisher can hunt over the sea or in estuaries that lack the perches required by other kingfishers.

I love eagles and the African fish eagle is one of my favourites ever since I first heard one in 1998 in the Kruger Park. We had four days in a group of 8, plus two wardens and a cook. We were taken from the main camp of Skukuza to a set of A-frame huts in the bush. And as usual, we had morning and afternoon trips into the bush away from the crowds. One morning we drove a few km in the dark, then walked one or two, a great way to really be immersed in it – the wardens had guns though! We had a light breakfast on the edge of a vast wide valley as the sun rose in the quiet. Then the eagle called, soaring high in the sky. Unforgettable.

The beautiful tiny Angolan painted reed frogs clinging to a reed are difficult to see even when pointed out. They are about 35 mm in length, the most brightly coloured of all the frogs in the Delta.
Hippos look so calm, but are very dangerous. Known to charge, especially on land at night, they are also quick in the water and will tip a boat over if provoked.

We were back for lunch when the first couple (from Albany, Western Australia) arrived. I tried to load two MOV files in the posts without success, clearly not the right file type to load.

In the afternoon leaving the camp, I was initially distracted by an approaching boat from another camp.  The first indication of what we were about to see was an Open bill stork flying low over the water, carrying a large clump of grass or reed. Following it’s flight, we then saw the reed island inhabited by those thousands of large nesting birds. I seldom become excited by birds, but the shear mass of birds was overwhelming. As we motored up close to the reed island my attention focused on a pair of Marabou storks (black & white, red head and wattle) nesting at the high point of the bush. Below them were many Yellow-billed storks, one flying past, all overseen on the right by a bored Great White Pelican wondering what the fuss was about. The birds were often facing away – not the best view of the marabou! Down the ‘slope’ of the bush, the yellow bills added to the noise, but I guess they knew what they were calling. Sacred Ibis (white with a black head & tail), a Great White Pelican, Open bill storks (bronze/black), and a Grey Heron were perched nearby. The sun was low, we were facing east, so the warm light lit the birds up beautifully in a breathtaking yellow sunset. It could not have been better, and I regard it as one of the highlights of the trip. The Yellow- billed storks were nesting, some building, and some already had chicks. Then suddenly a yellow bill flew in just a few meters away in front the other side, dangling it’s long legs in preparation for landing. It was amazing to watch these big birds flying west across the channel behind us, returning in front to bring back a suitable reed for the nest right in front of us. Ailine and I went nuts with the fast 7D’s rattling like machine guns, I didn’t want to stop!

There are at least three derivations of the marabou name: derived from the Arabic word murābit meaning quiet or hermit-like, or from the French marabout term of Haitian origin denoting multiracial admixture, or French for an ugly old man, which David likes! The marabou stork is a massive bird: large specimens are thought to reach a height of 152 cm (60 in), a weight of 9 kg (20 lb), and a wingspan of 3.7 m (12 ft) ranked as having the largest wing-spread of any living bird. Even higher measurements of up to 4.06 m (13.3 ft) have been reported, although no measurement over 3.20 m (10.5 ft) has been verified. It even rivals the Andean condor; more typically, however, these storks measure 225–287 cm (7–9 ft) across the wings, which is about a foot less than the average Andean condor wingspan and nearly two feet less than the average of the largest albatrosses and pelicans.

A short distance away the yellow-billed kites were in trees, here for summer till March.. A medium-sized bird of prey, reaching an average length of 55 cm (22 in) and a wingspan between 160-180 cm (5ft 3 in – 5ft 11 in). It is an all brown bird often with a lighter grey-brown head. It has a forked tail, as is often synonymous with kites although not always the rule. The all yellow-beak is the bird’s most telltale feature, and makes it easy to identify in the field. https://wildlifevagabond.com

The wifi was strangely better here in this water world, but still no good for phone calls.
Vervet monkeys swing in the massive sausage trees shading us on this island, so the tents must be zipped. The sausage tree features 3-24″ long sausage shaped fruits growing at the ends of long stems. The tree’s flowers, about 10 cm (4 inches) wide, are purplish green in colour and are slightly irregular in shape or bent to one side. They are produced on old wood and hang so that they can be easily visited by bats, the principal pollinators. The flowers do not bloom until nightfall, when they emit a mouselike odour, and bats visit them for nectar and pollen. By morning the flowers have fallen. The fruit, while not palatable for humans, is popular with hippos, baboons, and giraffes. A full house tonight with nine Germans who kept to themselves. Tomorrow we leave for Savuti in the Chobe reserve.

AFRICA reprise- Tuskers, Moremi, Xobega, Botswana – 28th Sept 2018 – Day 15

I left Tuskers at 6 with Brian. We only saw three elephants at the fence before the main gate. We turned left for Moremi Reserve soon after, passing a few stalls of goods for sale, and later stopping to help a car towing a heavy trailer. Brian produced a pump, but the front tyre was spiked and the spare was also useless – Africa. We saw them later in the day, so someone fixed them up.

Along the roadside I recognised another item that reminds me of the past – a small yellow berry growing on a low shrub, which I believe is poisonous.

The lovely big thorn trees here are set in a grassland savannah that evokes memories of my bush walks on Rhodesian farms as a boy. A slow walk to the Hunyani River through the open savannah of bushes, sparse grass, and huge Msasa trees, accompanied by Bonzo, my fox terrier who would dash around sniffing the air, digging for fun. And then I would hear “go-way”, “go-way”, the loud, nasal call of the common grey go-away-bird.

Not far from the south gate of Moremi Reserve is a waterhole; there we found a delightful small herd of elephant in the mottled shade of large Mopani trees, watching and occasionally chasing a pack of painted dogs also in shade.

Also known as the painted wolf, African Wild Dog and Cape Hunting Dog, the African Painted Dog is the most endangered large carnivore in Africa, They hunt large prey like wildebeest, zebra and impala as a pack of 30 or more, and give the young and frail first crack at their kill. When they become old or sick they are taken care of by the pack rather than being abandoned or killed by other pack members. Only the dominant male and female breed, however, the whole pack takes care of the young. Adults regurgitate their food for the pups to eat until their hunting skills develop by about 12 months.

We sat here for longer than we should have, captivated by the actions of the elephants chasing the dogs, and the kudu pair and warthog cooling in the waterhole. It was hot, the light glaring creating deep dark shadows and bright reflections. African nature is beautiful, but also raw.

We reluctantly left this dog pack, the elephant family, and an uncertain kudu, for the most beautiful area in the Moremi, in my opinion, Xakanaxa, a swampy landscape of huge trees, green grass, and clear water – and the animals also love it!

The transition took me by surprise. One minute we were still in the hot dry woodland when Brian turned a corner and the next I was suddenly aroused from my heated stupor to be confronted by this beautiful parkland. The area is inhabited by lion, elephant, vervet monkeys, long tail starlings, geese, African rail, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Black Coucal, Red-chested Flufftail, African Crake, Black Crake, Chirping Cisticola, Luapula Cisticola, Purple Swamphen, and Allen’s Gallinule to name but a few. Not that we saw all these. A paradise but for the predators!

L echwe were feeding on the lush grass; a vervet monkey ran past, while an elephant stood dreaming.

A few more of the elephant were resting in the mid-day heat, and the vervet monkey displayed his human expressions. Is he pondering the state of the world, while assessing the action below? They form complex but stable social groups (troops) of 10 to 50 individuals mainly consisting of adult females and their immature offspring. Males move freely in and out of these groups. Within the troop, each adult female is the centre of a small family network. Females who have reached puberty generally stay in the troop. Grooming is important in a monkey’s life. Vervets (as well as most other primates) spend several hours a day removing parasites, dirt or other material from one another’s fur. In the primates’ hierarchy, dominant individuals get the most grooming. The hierarchical system also controls feeding, mating, fighting, friendships and even survival.

We still had a long way to go, so we were about to reluctantly leave when another guide told us about lion nearby. They were lazing around and could hardly be seen from the track. Brian did the naughty, driving off-track to them. As usual, they were unconcerned and continued to laze after a brief stare. The lechwe were only about 300m away.

The Jackal Berry is one of the largest and most majestic species to be found in the Okavango Delta. It’s dark, sombre look is attributable to its dense, dark-green crown and the dark uniform sectioned stem. The stem typically forks into two main branches. The characteristically undulating leaves are dark green in summer, but turn bright yellow in autumn, making the tree very conspicuous. Animals, birds and humans relish the sweet yellow-green berry it bears. There are two explanations for the name ‘Jackal berry’, the one being that the seeds of the fruit have been found in jackal droppings and the other that the berries are not very visible, and thus are as elusive as a jackal. The tree can reach up to 25m in height with a stem diameter of 1.5 metres, but when unlimited water is available, it can grow even taller. The Jackal berry is a common component of island communities and is mostly associated with permanent watercourses but it grows on all soil types, especially on termitaria (ant hills). It is most common at Third Bridge and Xakanaxa.

We were lucky to see Sable as they are endangered.

We ate lunch at an old airstrip 10km from the 3rd (pole) bridge check-in gate and camp ground. I hoped it was the one we were at in 1988, but it isn’t. Nor is 4th bridge which we crossed earlier. We saw several animals on the way to Xobega camp; long tailed glossy starling, Egyptian geese, elephant, ostrich, lechwe, zebra and warthogs up close. The road from 3rd bridge is terrible. The 4WD had to wade and lurch through deep sand for two hours at about 10kph; I was continuously thrown side to side, the Botswana massage; reaching the boat station was a great relief. The new guide, Sam, was serene, possibly due to the calming effect of the new environment. The 30 minute motor boat ride took me through the reeds to the island camp, passing lechwe just meters away, and lots of birds.

The camp is minimalistic. A small tent, the bucket shower and chemical toilet in an open top behind, 12v power so lights are dim, and it’s hot, even under the massive sausage trees.

Ailine & David arrived an hour after me, having also travelled the bad road from 3rd bridge. We were the only guests tonight. Sam took us a short distance from the camp where we had a drink to watch the red ball sun sink into cloud.  All staff are Ba Tswana and the food is amazing, especially the bread. The trees are imposing around the large dining tent, but set for our small group tonight. Near it is the evening fire for the sundowners.

AFRICA reprise- Tuskers, Botswana – 27th Sept 2018 – Day 14

After a quick breakfast (sadly no coffee wake up call), and then I was off with a different guide/driver, Brian. The Chinese left, and the others had a different driver. We drove back 40 mins to the gate, then north into the edge of Moremi. Not as much damage by elephant here; the broad sweeps of grass with large thorny acacia and mopani trees are lovely, more to my taste.

Wild life is skittish, perhaps they don’t see enough traffic? And I am slow to shoot. We saw: elephant, giraffe, impala, kudu, the buzzard, a tawny eagle, and several hornbills. And I was told a lot about the area eg the guinea fowl feathers weigh more than the bird, the termite mounds are used as rubbing posts by elephant, the double leaf of the Mopani closes in heat so provides little shade, the bones of animals are a source of calcium for others, the long flexible stems of the knobby bush are used as springs for bird traps. We were back at 11 for lunch and now a rest time. I have had enough of bumpy drives, so this afternoon better be good!

As I wrote this a dust devil came past with a roar and in a rush, lifting the leaves. The heat beats down and reflects off the hot sand. I sit outside my tent to get the slightest breeze. The Mopani form a pattern of black and grey, the sparse yellow grass and a few green thorn bushes the only colour. Beyond is the edge of the pan; somewhere just out of sight the elephants continue to harass the warthogs. A cold shower may be in order though the saline water makes for an oily feel.

Brian drove me alone again through the dry forest, brown Mopani leaves litter the ground. Many trees are broken due to the elephants. He stopped at an aardvark hole, telling me it is often taken over by warthogs that back down, and also snakes. We saw the kori bustard, sand grouse, and the nests of white buffalo weaver.

The greenest trees are the shepherd trees (Boscia albitrunca) a common tree of the Kalahari. A specimen found in the central Kalahari in 1974 had roots extending to 68 m (223 ft) deep, making it the plant with the deepest known root. The crown is often browsed by grazers, so it is also an important source of food.

The waterholes (pans) are deepened over time as mud is removed by elephants feet.

A grey lourie called it’s well known loud and nasal “kweh” or “go-way” call, with the last syllable typically a descending drawl.Known as the go-away bird or kwêvoël, it is a common bold bird of southern Africa. They are present in arid to moist open woodlands and thorn savannah, especially near surface water, forming groups as large as 30, that forage in tree tops, or dust-bathe on the ground. Though their flight is rather slow and laboured, they can cover long distances. Once in the open tree tops they display agility as they run along tree limbs and jump from branch to branch in search of fruit and insects near the tree tops.

We had sunset drinks round the camp fire (cool at night), watching the light fade on the pan. Some had night vision gear where we could vaguely see the animals in the dark.

The owner of the camp arrived with his family, but kept to themselves. Also a young S American guide (who met David Loyd in London) with an older USA client, and a USA couple from my next camp, Xobega. I set up the tripod later to shoot the moon through the trees, not easy, and then packed in low light run off solar power batteries, to leave early.

AFRICA reprise- Maun, Botswana – 26th Sept 2018 – Day 13

Ailine & David departed for Motswiri by light plane. I wonder how they went with the bag limits – I’m also concerned, but we have paid extra.

Ailine & David departed for Motswiri by light plane. I wonder how they went with the bag limits – I’m also concerned, but we have paid extra.

I waited till 10.30 for the Tuskers 4×4 to arrive, having also asked the agent in Cape Town to contact them to ensure they were coming. The drive is tar for about 30 mins, but is then a wide, bumpy sand road. The driver kept asking if I was OK! We crossed the buffalo fence after another 30 mins, turned right to follow it for the last 30 along a track. The camp is remote, in the dry Mopani ‘forest’. Only eight tents, the dining, lounge, and drinks tents placed strategically for the view. Water is scarce, so animals are sparse at this time, however the camp feeds saline bore water into a water hole 150m from the camp, from which I watched a large herd of elephant in the afternoon heat. I was offered lunch but refused as it was so hot. I asked if there were other guests, but had an equivocal reply from the manager who briefed me. It seems there is a couple coming from the Xobega camp (where I go next), as well as some on an all day trip – whew!

My tent is similar to that in the Mara; I also have to be escorted to it at night. It has saline cold water for a shower and toilet, and a bucket is filled at night with hot water for a shower. 12v power so lights are dim. And its hot.

I spent 4hrs alone at the tents watching the animals come and go to the waterhole, so I had 700 images, reduced now to 20.The smallest elephant has taken exception to the warthogs that circle the muddy pan several times. He chases them continually, but they did eventually get to drink and wade in the mud to cool off. They then scrape the mud off on low stumps. A few kudu arrived and left, and a pair of ostriches, and the tiny steenbok. Impala are common. Many birds are located here: a yellow bill hornbill, and several beautiful crimson breasted bulbul have taken residence. On the way here we saw the largest flying bird – the kori bustard and sand grouse that spend most time on the ground, but they fly to water in the morning, so is a way for humans to find water too.

Yellow-billed hornbills, a common and widespread resident of dry thorn veldt and broad-leafed woodlands feed mainly on the ground, where they forage for seeds, small insects, spiders and scorpions. The hornbill name is derived from the shape of the bill, “buceros” being “cow horn” in Greek. The eyes are protected by large eyelashes which may act as a sunshade.

Tuskers is named for an obvious reason – elephant abounds here. The area is dry sclerophyll forest dominated by Mopani scrub, with occasional larger trees. Elephant damage is huge, perhaps too much, but this does lead to opening the forest to allow grass to flourish (as can be seen between the two buffalo fence lines) which brings the browsers, followed by the cats.

Close by the camp is the elephant grave yard; a large area of many skulls of those hunted in days past from this hunting camp. Not a pretty site. Also the horns of antelope which have been bored by a moth larvae that results in a ‘ringlet’.

The afternoon drive was largely birds; the nests of buffalo weaver hang mostly on the west side of trees for protection from the hot east wind. I thought I could smell the strong acid scent of Matabele ants. Termite mounds are frequent. The only green in this grey world are the shepherd trees that have deep roots to water. The roots can be eaten, and the tree provides shade for herders.

I shared anecdotes with a Chinese group from Brisbane, and an older USA woman with her young, Ecuador guide, now living in SA. They say my next camp is even more basic.

After downloading the images from today, and a warm bucket shower, I fell asleep to the sweet sound of the night jar and other calls.

In the early 1970’s the European Union stipulated that Botswana had to control the movement of wildlife into its beef herds in order to control diseases such as foot and mouth from infecting the cattle. As beef was the country’s largest export at the time the government of Botswana embarked on a policy of erecting fences in strategic places across the country.

Most of these fences were erected without a feasibility study being carried out with the result that the migration routes of a number of species have been cut off and tens of thousands of animals have died in the past two decades from the denial of a route to water and new grazing. A wildebeest migration second in size to the great migration of east Africa happened between the central regions of Botswana and the waterways of the north. During times of drought more than half a million animals would head north to the Okavango and Savuti. One of the first fences to be erected was the Khuke Fence on the northern boundary of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. What this fence did was to stop this huge migration of wildebeest – with the result that the wildebeest population in Botswana has dropped more than 90 percent.

Possibly the best known fence is the ‘Buffalo Fence’ built in 1995 that separates Maun from the Okavango Delta. It is also called the Veterinary Fence or the Setata Fence. It literally stretches across the breadth of the country. There was a huge outcry when the fence was erected. Accordingly, the fence was removed in 2004, and rebuilt in 2008 with provisions that substantially mitigate the adverse affect on wildlife. It has since been acknowledged by many that the fence may have saved the Okavango Delta. At about the same time as the erection of the fence, the Botswana government had embarked on a project to wipe out the Tsetse fly from the delta. The Tsetse fly was the very reason that cattle had not moved into the prime grazing lands of the Okavango floodplains. Sleeping sickness and Nagana were prevalent in Botswana at the time and with the Tsetse fly gone it would be a free for all for cattle in the delta. The fence stopped that before it could happen.

Ailine & David departed for Motswiri by light plane. I wonder how they went with the bag limits – I’m also concerned, but we have paid extra.

I waited till 10.30 for the Tuskers 4×4 to arrive, having also asked the agent in Cape Town to contact them to ensure they were coming. The drive is tar for about 30 mins, but is then a wide, bumpy sand road. The driver kept asking if I was OK! We crossed the buffalo fence after another 30 mins, turned right to follow it for the last 30 along a track. The camp is remote, in the dry Mopani ‘forest’. Only eight tents, the dining, lounge, and drinks tents placed strategically for the view. Water is scarce, so animals are sparse at this time, however the camp feeds saline bore water into a water hole 150m from the camp, from which I watched a large herd of elephant in the afternoon heat. I was offered lunch but refused as it was so hot. I asked if there were other guests, but had an equivocal reply from the manager who briefed me. It seems there is a couple coming from the Xobega camp (where I go next), as well as some on an all day trip – whew!

My tent is similar to that in the Mara; I also have to be escorted to it at night. It has saline cold water for a shower and toilet, and a bucket is filled at night with hot water for a shower. 12v power so lights are dim. And its hot.

I spent 4hrs alone at the tents watching the animals come and go to the waterhole, so I had 700 images, reduced now to 20.The smallest elephant has taken exception to the warthogs that circle the muddy pan several times. He chases them continually, but they did eventually get to drink and wade in the mud to cool off. They then scrape the mud off on low stumps. A few kudu arrived and left, and a pair of ostriches, and the tiny steenbok. Impala are common. Many birds are located here: a yellow bill hornbill, and several beautiful crimson breasted bulbul have taken residence. On the way here we saw the largest flying bird – the kori bustard and sand grouse that spend most time on the ground, but they fly to water in the morning, so is a way for humans to find water too.

Yellow-billed hornbills, a common and widespread resident of dry thorn veldt and broad-leafed woodlands feed mainly on the ground, where they forage for seeds, small insects, spiders and scorpions. The hornbill name is derived from the shape of the bill, “buceros” being “cow horn” in Greek. The eyes are protected by large eyelashes which may act as a sunshade.

Tuskers is named for an obvious reason – elephant abounds here. The area is dry sclerophyll forest dominated by Mopani scrub, with occasional larger trees. Elephant damage is huge, perhaps too much, but this does lead to opening the forest to allow grass to flourish (as can be seen between the two buffalo fence lines) which brings the browsers, followed by the cats.

Close by the camp is the elephant grave yard; a large area of many skulls of those hunted in days past from this hunting camp. Not a pretty site. Also the horns of antelope which have been bored by a moth larvae that results in a ‘ringlet’.

The afternoon drive was largely birds; the nests of buffalo weaver hang mostly on the west side of trees for protection from the hot east wind. I thought I could smell the strong acid scent of Matabele ants. Termite mounds are frequent. The only green in this grey world are the shepherd trees that have deep roots to water. The roots can be eaten, and the tree provides shade for herders.

I shared anecdotes with a Chinese group from Brisbane, and an older USA woman with her young, Ecuador guide, now living in SA. They say my next camp is even more basic.

After downloading the images from today, and a warm bucket shower, I fell asleep to the sweet sound of the night jar and other calls.

In the early 1970’s the European Union stipulated that Botswana had to control the movement of wildlife into its beef herds in order to control diseases such as foot and mouth from infecting the cattle. As beef was the country’s largest export at the time the government of Botswana embarked on a policy of erecting fences in strategic places across the country.

Most of these fences were erected without a feasibility study being carried out with the result that the migration routes of a number of species have been cut off and tens of thousands of animals have died in the past two decades from the denial of a route to water and new grazing. A wildebeest migration second in size to the great migration of east Africa happened between the central regions of Botswana and the waterways of the north. During times of drought more than half a million animals would head north to the Okavango and Savuti. One of the first fences to be erected was the Khuke Fence on the northern boundary of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. What this fence did was to stop this huge migration of wildebeest – with the result that the wildebeest population in Botswana has dropped more than 90 percent.

Possibly the best known fence is the ‘Buffalo Fence’ built in 1995 that separates Maun from the Okavango Delta. It is also called the Veterinary Fence or the Setata Fence. It literally stretches across the breadth of the country. There was a huge outcry when the fence was erected. Accordingly, the fence was removed in 2004, and rebuilt in 2008 with provisions that substantially mitigate the adverse affect on wildlife. It has since been acknowledged by many that the fence may have saved the Okavango Delta. At about the same time as the erection of the fence, the Botswana government had embarked on a project to wipe out the Tsetse fly from the delta. The Tsetse fly was the very reason that cattle had not moved into the prime grazing lands of the Okavango floodplains. Sleeping sickness and Nagana were prevalent in Botswana at the time and with the Tsetse fly gone it would be a free for all for cattle in the delta. The fence stopped that before it could happen.

AFRICA reprise- South Africa/Botswana – 25th Sept 2018 – Day 12

A sad departure at 7am. We are unlikely to meet again till that great day – Pauline (always the one with an appropriate remark) said I should have the kettle on for tea if I’m ahead. I will too!

We had enough time to drive over the Hartbeestepoort dam wall with the last view of the bushveld to the north, and the homes clinging to the west end of the imposing Magaliesberg overlooking the dam. The airport check went without incident, and we arrived in Maun 90 minutes later, to queue in the heat (under shade) for 20 mins to get through their immigration. I hailed a small taxi on the road; David doubted we would get all the gear in but we did, and 20 mins later we were at Island Safari Lodge on the delta. Memories flooded back. The lovely thatched huts, open dining room all shaded by the huge yellow trunked fever trees. I hoped we were in the huts, but were placed in standard ‘heritage’ rooms which I don’t recall from our 1988 visit. They now only do one day mokoro trips and the motor boat still plies the Bora river, taking people up to the mokoro launch site. The owner was telling me that what I did then is still possible but the ‘polers’ don’t take one far from the base island, so cattle and other people are everywhere. When I went, I was taken by motorboat one hour up to an island base where I spent a night with just the polers. Next day James poled me most of the day to an isolated island where we camped for the night (I had a 2-man tent). The quiet and birds were so relaxing, but the night became exciting. James woke me at 1am as elephants were near over the stream, pulling down palms for the nuts. We moved the mokoro to the side of the clear launch site in the reeds in case they came over, and went to bed again. About 3 he woke me again – they were nearer. But I gave up and again went to bed. We watched the sun rise between the trees, had breakfast, and returned – an unforgettable experience. The owner also said they now drive guests to another site 45 mins away who can still provide this service in an uninvaded area – pity I wasn’t told.

We left the lodge again by taxi for a 1hr Robinson helicopter flight flown by a young Kiwi. The delta is an inland water world. Rivers flow from Angola in the northwest into the delta where it is dammed by a ‘wall’ created by the uplift of the area to the east, which is a semi-desert. I was in the front left, Ailine behind. He gave us a good flight to shoot the patterns made by the elephants along their ‘highway’ through the green on the water. Hippos clear the reeds and lilies completely making open channels. We saw large herds of both these, plus one croc, the indigenous lechwe, giraffe, warthogs, a motorboat pushing up-stream, a group walking back to camp, and the homes and enclosures of the locals.

We had a late dinner which took ages to bring as there were two large groups plus others. Wifi was very poor, almost useless, also due to heavy use.

There are many camps in the delta as well as to the north, ranging from expensive to ridiculous. And this is because of the service they supply – 1st class for even the lowest price, which are for the few outside the ‘usual’ areas eg my first camp, Tuskers, to the east of Moremi and the delta. My most expensive one is Savuti to the north.

We considered renting a 4X4, but permits are needed, and one still has to book the safari camps, or camp in the designated places which are not fenced so stepping out the tent at night can be an issue!

Logistics are big – much has to be flown in, including guests. It is possible to get to the drier places self-drive, but you need time and good road skills to negotiate the tracks. We flew over two camp sites, and a group walking back to camp.

Flying over the delta is a great experience, especially in a helicopter. I was here in 1988, and flew in a 4-seater fixed-wing; the view was not good due to the thick glass, but the woman Aussie pilot went lower and tilted the plane over the animals. We had extra time too as she felt ill soon after take-off, landed in a very upmarket lodge on Chiefs Island for 30mins to recover. The colours are striking, deep blue water, vivid green marsh, and dry brown islands with occasional white patches of salt.

The lechwe antelope are found in the wetlands of south central Africa. Their hind legs are somewhat longer in proportion than in other antelopes, to ease long-distance running in marshy soil.

We returned to the Lodge, passing the numerous stalls to a late dinner which took ages to bring as there were two large groups. Wifi was very poor, almost useless.
But the lovely thatched huts, and open dining room are all shaded by the huge yellow trunked fever trees. I hoped we were in the huts as in 1988, but were placed in standard ‘heritage’ rooms which I don’t recall from that visit.