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

11pm as i write. Its been a long day as it mostly is on ‘holiday’. Up at 6, breakfast at 6.30, 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 a few times, owned by old Gilfillin, ex army I think. He had grandsons who would hunt through similar ground. I accompanied one when he shot a small antelope (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. We drove down to the swamp, but it was quiet compared to yesterday. The elephants were moving away from the waterhole (also topped up by a bore). But we found two of the local lions sleeping (as usual) in the shade of a bush. We spied a large herd of roan 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 stoping at the water. At this the lions heads poked from each side of the bush – but they went back to sleeping. We drove 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.
No hunting in Botswana since about 2008 has paid off. Tourists flock for the amount of game despite the terrible roads. 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. Ailine, a USA lady and I shared 30mins together yesterday. So unexpected. More on the blog sometime….
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 VF. I searched 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 3 days to get through. It was well worth paying for the guide. The Botswana airport and customs are in good shape unlike the Zim side where one stands outside a small window. The Botswana building reminded me of Beit Bridge where one entered a passage along one side of several officer windows, while the same occurred the other side for people entering. And that reminded me of that stifling hot night we spent in the hotel, Karen in a carry cot. Jan 1966. We arrived in Vic Falls about 3, settled, and set off to see the falls, so David said, from the Viewpoint cafe. We didn’t manage it as 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. We didnt get far as we were warned elephants were around. So we returned to see the gorgeous stately Victoria Hotel. I think even Rhodes was involved but needs checking. . 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 apparel rich – which I don’t have. The place has many rooms and all are FULL! Walking around its clear who belongs here. The hotel was opened in 1904. The view of the bridge and gorge from the broad terrace is excellent. Despite the bed price it appears to be full. Dinner was a very large hamburger at ‘The Three Monkeys’ cafe next to the railway. An 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!
This 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 would find a place.
So thats a blog for today
23.40 bed time

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

The USA lady & her guide that I met at Tuskers was 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 (of course) 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 good shots. The vultures and dogs were also watching. Apart for the frequent herds of impala and blue wildebeest, small groups of bored giraffe munching on the thorn leaves, steenbok, and another of tssebe, We had the best time watching a large herd of elephant jealously guarding a waterhole from wildebeest and three painted dogs. The older elephants don’t bother, leaving the young ones to do the shooing. Starlings 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.

Lastly we found a pride of about 14 lion lying flat in the shade of bushes, from several cubs to a very old (14?) 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. These are the Savuti marsh pride, though the ‘marsh’ is bone dry at present.

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 cant see beyond the bush top edge. The marsh area is entirely grass; elsewhere it is open savannah, tall thorn and acacias, low green bushes.

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. So difficult to manage in such a remote, sandy, hot place. The water was off this morning (pump failure), then the power. Yet they produce the best food (the cook is a large black woman).

I am reminded 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 truly live in peace, as depicted in the flag..

After ‘high tea’ (cake, tea, coffee, cold or hot), we set off again in the hope of seeing the leopard. First was 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 whiteback); a kite sat in a tree waiting for an opportunity, with the dogs..

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, several adjacent antbear (aardvark) holes, but they were not present. 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 again. Returning to the den we found 10 young hyena laying around in the dusk. Mother was pacing through the bust 300m away, looking for a meal. She must have smelled the rotting elephant 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, a pink and violet sky 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 in 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 cruel in tooth and claw. I hope I can sleep.

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

Independence Day. The Ba Tswana are growing on me. So many, and I’m told 90%, are Christian. Some is probably a mix with their old beliefs, but tonight has touched my soul.
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, 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 beak hornbill.
Notes: Lechwe front legs are long for leaping the swamp.
Hogs knees are adapted to kneel as their necks are too large to bend.
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 impala hanging from a branch. I could not wish for better – just hope I did it justice as we had a plane to catch and still many km to go on the sand horrible road.
Dust blew on the airstrip this cooler windy day. 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 – glad I didnt buy new ones.
Three lions were seen on the way to the new camp, next to their kill, a small elephant, watched by vultures and a kite. And we saw our first Blue wildebeest, a strange dark colour on an animal.
A lonely hippo lay in a muddy pool surrounded by, at times, wild dogs and impala.
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 by thin heavily varnished pole leaving small gaps!
Afternoon notes:
Kori bustard (largest bird of flight – quite something to see.
Ring-neck doves – so familiar in Rhodesia.
Lila breasted roller
Red crested korhan
But no sign of the leopard.
Before dinner we were entertained by the entire cast with several songs and dance t celebrate the Day. They are very proud of their history of continued non-aggressive behaviour – the flag is white, black, and blue (white & black people, blue sky and water). I found it very touching. The dinner was amazing – with a touch of local ie pap!

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

I was awoken suddenly at 1am by Santos the elephant visiting my tent. I thought he would push it over as he brushed against it, lifting a part! H comes most nights.

No rush today, we took a slow ride downstream to the boat station, passing marabou (old ugly) storks, pied kingfisher, pretty African jacana (walk on water), a small crocodile, lechwe. Hippo, the tiny Angolan reed (painted) frog clinging to a reed, elephant, white fronted bee-eaters, 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. We were back for lunch when the first couple (from Albany) arrived.

In the afternoon the motor boat took us to a nearby island inhabited by thousands of large nesting birds: the Open bill stork, Yellow-billed stork, Marabou stork (French for old ugly old man I’m told, which David likes) and a grey heron. It was amazing to see these big birds flying west across the channel to bring back a suitable reed for the nest right in front of us in the late afternoon sun. Ailine and I went nuts with the fast 7D’s rattling like machine guns, I didnt want to stop! A wonderful sight. A short distance away the yellow-billed kites were in trees, here for summer till March.

The wifi was strangely better here in the water world, but still not for phone calls.
Vervet monkeys swing in the massive sausage trees shading us on this island, so the tents must be zipped. 

We also saw an elephant swimming across a channel, 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.
Only we three last night but full tonight with 9 unfriendly Germans.
Tomorrow we leave for Savuti in the Chobe reserve.

AFRICA reprise- Botswana – 28th Sept 2018 – Day 15

Left at 6 with Brian, a fund of information. We saw only 3 elephants at the fence. Stopped to help a car towing a heavy trailer, and a tyre spiked. And spare also useless – Africa.

The thorn trees a big and lovely almost like a parkland.

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

Notes: Sable are endangered

Horns of dead animals are bored by a moth lava that makes a ‘ringlet’.

The most beautiful area is Xakanaxa – huge trees, water, green grass. Elephants, vervet monkeys, long tail starlings.

Lunch was at an old airstrip, near 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 later. We saw elephant, ostrich, lechwe, warthogs up close, and zebra on the way to the boat station. The road from 3rd bridge is terrible, the 4WD had to wade and lurch through deep sand for 2 hours at about 10kph; I was thrown side to side continuously, and reaching the boat station was a great relief. As was the 30minute motor boat ride through the reeds to the island camp. On the way we saw the lechwe again, one just meters away, and lots of birds but none photographed.

The camp is minimalistic. A small tent, bucket shower and chemical toilet in an open top space, 12v power so lights are dim. And its 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 Botswana and the food is amazing, especially bread.

AFRICA reprise- 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. 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 gueana 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 a 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 up 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 site are the elephants harassing 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 butard, sand grouse, and the nests of white buffalo weaver which are mostly on west side of trees for shelter from the east wind.

Notes: The greenest trees are the  shepherd trees (story to follow)

Mud taken by elephants deepens pans over time.

Grey lowrey

Sunset drinks

The boss arrived with his family tonight. Kept to themselves. Also a young guide with elderly USA client. Guid met David L in London And  a USA couple from my next camp Xobega. Sae lots to here liked the camp

Shot the moon

Packed to leave early in low light run off solar power batteries

AFRICA reprise- 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.

I waited till 10.30 for the Tuskers car 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 dirt, 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 2-track route. The camp is remote, in the dry Mopani ‘forest’. Only eight tents, the dining, lounge, and drinks tents. 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 a 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.

The smallest elephant has taken exception to the warthogs that circled the muddy pan several times as he chases them continually, but they did eventually get to it to drink and wade in the wad 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 do so too.

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 is the elephant grave yard; a large are with the remains of the skulls of those hunted in days past from this hunting camp. Not a pretty site.

The afternoon drive was largely birds; the nests of buffalo weaver hang mostly on west 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 is 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.

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

A sad departure at 7am. 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. 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 1989 visit. They now only do day mokoro trips and the motor boat still plies the Bora river, taking people up to the mokoro launch site, for short trips. The owner was telling me that what I did then is still possible but the ‘polars’ don’t take one far from the base island, so cattle and other people are everywhere. When I went, I was taken by motor 1 hour up to an island base where I spent a night with just the polars. 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 on 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 returned the following day after breakfast, watching the sun rise between the trees, 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. 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 also channels which keeps them open. 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.