AFRICA reprise The Western Cape – Ladysmith, Knysna, Tsitsikamma – 10th Oct 2018 – Day 27

Breakfast was a typical huge farm style meal. Not the best B&B though, breakfast is extra!

Heading east over this undulating plain with the mountain range to the north, the road soon led down to the relatively flat plain of olive green fynbos  to Oudshoorn. At a glance there is nothing to recommend the fynbos, but on closer inspection there are variations in shades of green interspersed with yellow and fuchsia coloured flowers against a backdrop of tiered, ever higher blue mountains. 

Oudshoorn was once renown for fashionable ostrich feathers, but over time a use has been found for every part of the bird. In 1975 we visited an ostrich farm, watched them race, and the girls sat on them. We also toured the Cango Caves, the largest in SA; a narrow passage, the ‘post box’ was claustrophobic; we all remember it. 

The Little Karoo drops down the steep Outeniqua pass near the coastal town of George, where we turned north east. The Wilderness is still a pretty small town on a large estuary. Wind swept houses crowd the ridge facing the sea, while others huddle amongst the thick leafed dune bushes facing inland. The gardens proliferate in this sheltered zone. 

Knysna is a large regional town popular with retirees, known for a long history of logging and fine yellow-wood & stinkwood furniture. We checked the best known shop, Fechter; most is now a blackwood as the other are rare finds. I was surprised to find the price for a thick top yellowwood table to be only Au$4000 and a pretty two-seat bench at $750 (not cheap in Rand though).. Enquiries revealed that shipping is prohibitive, as high as 3 times again.

A stop at the heads is warranted; the narrow gap causes strong currents between the sea and the large inland lake as the tide changes. 

Plettenberg Bay is a popular beach town, catered by numerous hotels. 

Natures Valley marks the end of the long established Otter Trail, a tough 5 day walk from the Tsitsikamma park entrance to the east at Storms River mouth. We became aware of it on a holiday from Mooinooi to Cape Town and back along this Garden Route about 1976. A few years later, we returned via Durban through the Transkei (a difficult trip without a passport at the time). We were not prepared as well as we should; Maria was only about 8. All food had to be carried in and we didn’t have the light foods of today ie heavy tins. The exciting few days will need telling another day, briefly Maria was ‘lost’ for an hour at the Lotteringrivier; crossing the tidal Bloukrans River at 8pm required divine help, and the end at Natures Valley did not go as planned. 

Today we walked across the broad sand of the Groot Rivier at Natures Valley, to just opposite the trail end on the bluff. The late afternoon sun lit up the craggy walls, reflecting on the wash of the incoming tide. A couple had climbed to the top of a rocky pinnacle standing silhouetted against the blue sky.

We drove the old twisty road through the gorges, as I did so long ago, rather than the newer highway where cars speed along unaware of the deep forest beauty below. The dark brown tannin stained water flowing fast to the sea, past the tall old yellowwood trees hung with moss and vines. The forest perfume enveloped us as we drove the unmaintained road, past rock falls. I fear it will be closed one day, such a shame to lose an iconic road. 

David had booked our B&B in small Storms River town. I was surprised at the change to this once private logging and road camp. Almost every building is now devoted to tourism in some way. The 30 year old Andelomi B&B, operated by two families, is set in a pleasant garden of shrubs and trees.  A row of good ensuites face the track on one side, and a lawn on the other. At one end is the kitchen/dining and reception. WiFi is only available near the office. As they no longer offer dinner, we walked round to the Bistro, who offer a decent menu. We sat outside initially as the place was full, but moved inside later as it became cold.

AFRICA reprise The Western Cape – Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Franschoek, Caledon, Ladysmith – 9th Oct 2018 – Day 26

The lifts were still not working. I made two trips with my bags and the lifts then worked. David took his in the lift to L3 where the owner met us and then the spare flat key was missing. I made the trip up, then he found it in his bag. Not a good start

Still cloudy today. Very long traffic lines into the city. Passing miles of shacks along the BMW & Mercedes packed highway, shrouds of power cables feeding 10 shacks from a single pole. The low cloud hides the mountains. We pass the white gabled homes, estates, and vinyards, Spier, Tassenberg, La Pomier, Zorgvliet, Molenvliet, Pniel. Boschendal. All homesteads have a low white wall defining the boundary, giving a sense of solidity.

Stellenbosch is world renown for the wine, old gracious homes, and the mountains. Ailine & I spent over an hour shooting them! It also has a very prestigious university, once only Afrikaans. Confirmation of the vast changes here – two women sharing coffee in a cute cafe, one black, one white. Just a conversation between two friends; maybe there is hope yet?  

Franschoek (French Corner) is significant to me as this was the town settled by the Protestant French Huegenots, persecuted by the Catholics, the forebears of my mother. A symbolic monument and museum was built at the top end of town to preserve the history. The complex consists of three identical small one-room buildings linked by an arch with the text “Post tenebras lux”, a Latin phrase translated as Light After Darkness. It appears as “Post tenebras spero lucem” in the Vulgate version of Job 17:12. The phrase came to be adopted as the Calvinist motto, and was subsequently adopted as the motto of the entire Protestant Reformation. In front is a larger building, the museum, currently under repair. All are flat roofed, embellished by corbels (plaster) and painted white.

The first Huguenots settled in the Cape in 1688, and the memorial was dedicated on 17th April 1948. The figure of the woman holds a bible in her right hand and a broken chain on the left, symbolising freedom of religion. She is looking south from Europe to her new land. The ‘fleur-de-lis’ on her dress attests to nobility of spirit and character. She casts off the cloak of oppression and stands above the earth in spiritual freedom. Their art and culture are represented by the harp, agriculture by the corn and vine, industry by the spinning wheel. The sun and cross depict the Christian faith. The pool (under repair) expresses tranquillity after strife, and the three arches behind her represent the Trinity. The entire memorial is enclosed by a half circle colonnade. Viewed from the front against the high mountains, it’s a lovely place moving me to thank God for my mother’s faith. To one side stands a sun dial on which are inscribed the names of the ships and families.

The next town was Caledon, not without numerous photo stops up the high pass for views of the valley. Caledon is the town of my mother’s birth. I have little data about her, but she had a framed postcard of a shelter the Botanical garden which I hoped still existed. Indeed it does! Near the entrance facing a large pond though my recollection is of flowers in front. It had significance for her living so differently thousands of miles north in Rhodesia. The garden did not disappoint us; at first it appears dry and barren but quickly one sees carpets of flowers, several small stone & timber rest or viewing shelters hidden along the thickly planted stream running to the pond. Large trees, rock faces, bridges, narrow tracks run everywhere up and down both sides of the stream. Ericas, daisies, and cactus crowd on the tracks. And up above where this Karoo fynbos park ends are balancing rocks on the mountain range. The park has a reputation as a hide for druggies, so its not visited often. We only saw gardeners

Good lunch in a Wimpy Bar for past memories. The owner had a bar in another town, but moved here as it offered a better return. Not happy with life in general, and I can’t say I’m surprised; my mother would not recognise or like the town now.

We made many more photo stops along the road for the large open, neat wheat fields against a backdrop of another majestic mountain range. We crossed the steep Tradouw pass into the semi-desert Little Karoo where most of this broad east-west valley is covered by short fynbos and flat top hills. Another high range marks its northern extent into the Great Karoo beyond, continuing for thousands of miles north. Barrydale was a lovely sight in the late sunlight in the valley against the mountain. 

Our stop is Volstruis B&B in Ladysmith. A large old house conversion, 4m high ceilings, well appointed ensuites but no wifi though it claims so on its web. I had a lamb stew at a local eatery, served in a miniature black three-leg pot on a large plate of rice, sweet potato, fresh beans and carrot. A very Karoo meal.

Huegenot Memorial

AFRICA reprise – The Western Cape – 7th Oct 2018 – Day 24

Because of its natural beauty, Cape Town can never be a disappointment; majestic, impossibly flat, Table Mountain, blue ocean, tucked away cove villages on the slopes, gracious white gabled homes hidden behind ancient oaks and trimmed gardens, or surrounded by neat lines of vinyards. Constantia, Groot Schure, Hout Bay, Fishoek, Tokai – strange names. The city lies on the north east slope of the mountain, sheltered ( sometimes) by the arm of Lions Head and Signal Hill. Its old, set up by Jan van Riebeck in 1752. The only castle south of the equator was built on the sea front to guard the safe harbour. Today it is stranded several  inland by the reclaimed ground, initially for the railway, later for port extensions. We spent a few hours here to sense the history; the slave quarters, the long dining room, prison cells one can hardly lie down, surrounding a large courtyard overlooked by the Captains room. 

The Company Gardens adjacent Parliament, the Great Synagogue, St Georges Cathedral, and other public buildings, set along a leafy tree lined avenue. 

Bo Kaap, the pastel coloured blocky homes of the Moslem Community on Whale Street had us shooting from all angles in the morning light, causing traffic issues! 

Koopman de Wet house, once a furnished example of an early home, is now boarded up sadly, surrounded by seedy shops.

And lastly the District Six museum, displaying how the ‘Coloured’ mixed race people lived in this designated area. I was told it was unsafe for others to venture there. Sadly the area had become valuable and the people were forcibly removed during the 1970s by the apartheid gaverment. 

Groet Constantia was established as a vinyard in 1685 using cuttings from Europe. A simple house initially, though with the Dutch gable, it was extended subsequently so the complex now has a new cellar and two restaurants. It still sells home grown well regarded wines. It is approached along an avenue of very old leafy oaks. I saw it as a 7yr old which impressed me so much, I had to build on at Forth, Tasmania, and in 2002 in Perth as a B&B. 

These are all places I visited with my mother in 1952  my sister, Myra, lived in a suburb here, Bellville. Mom had nursed me through Rhumatic Fever over several months so Dad sent us by train from Salisbury (Harari), a 3 day journey via Botswana.

And we ended the day shooting the mountain from Blaubergstrand across the wide bay. The view from here has been painted and photographed since the beginning of the colony, so why not us?


AFRICA reprise – Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) – 5th Oct 2018 – Day 22

I watched David ride the swing and zipline at the Lookout cafe on the gorge edge this morning. Fairly tame he said, but not my idea of fun. The cafe provides a good view of the bridge and the many rafts negotiating the rapids. Didn’t look too tough but THAT would have been fun. Too late now. Getting here requires a vehicle though the distance is minimal, owing to a small herd of elephant that badly injured a guy recently. Baboons and a few warthogs stroll the streets but it is safe to walk where street lights exist.

The northern Zimbabwe Shona tribe are well known for carving, especially of soapstone. A large market 20m from this hotel has a massive variety, one stall in particular owned by an old guy Chris, caught my attention yesterday. I decided to buy a small carving of the Zimbabwe bird of the Great Zimbabwe ruined city near what was Fort Victoria. The stone walls are beautifully cut and placed, similar to the well known Machu Pichu on a smaller scale. Large areas of the country are terraced too and speculation is that Arab slave traders had it done – or a people now extinct. The bird emblem is located there. Ailine ended up buying a lot including an excellent very large heavy elephant carving, probably by local Ndebele.

Chris is talented; besides carving he plays music at a local venue, mentioning ’By the Rivers of Babylon’. He could easily fit in New York’s Harlem. He also said that Mugabe’s party never won here and that all lived in peace. Any outsider had to conform! I feel sorry that he has never seen the world, living in poverty relative to us, yet wonder if its not better than our ‘civilised’ west in these ‘politically correct’ anti-Christian times.

We moved David’s bags to the Victoria Falls Hotel, then taxied across to Zambia in three taxies ie from hotel to Zimbabwe gate, then to the Zambia gate, then several km to Livingstone. Both customs have similar long buildings, a glassed office with passages each side, in and out of the country.

Oranges are currently cheap in Zimbabwe.  We saw at least 50 heavily loaded bicycles pushed by guys across to Zambia to make a 100% profit. Its about a 10 km hilly road they do twice a day in the heat. Tough life.

The taxi driver in Zambia pointed out many buildings and a shopping complex built by Chinese, now abandoned. The adjacent ‘Safe Harbour’ hotel is open but not in good shape. The driver claimed they were still here but didn’t say what they do. They dont employ locals, but provide loans to government that will never be paid, effectively buying Africa.  Many years ago they built the rail from Lusaka to Tanzania with virtual Chinese indentured labour. 

Livingstone is the fourth largest city in Zambia, comprising long main street, one traffic light at the cross road to Namibia, a few colonial era buildings and many more recent. All are in typical African disrepair. We were dropped at the far end next to a high long shed divided into many stalls displaying colourful local craft. Ailine bought some though the US$ are running low. David tried to change 50’s into 10’s at one bank; we were ignored but had success at the next.

We selected a busy local cafe for lunch having seen Europeans on both sides of the counter. One customer was a huge man who responded that he often ate here so we felt safe to eat here too.
Guards with guns are common in both countries which may explain the apparent safety. Tourism is very important; truck loads of young arrive as well as the older European rich or self-drive South Africans, and they have to keep coming.

At 4pm our taxi took us to the Zambian park gate for sunset. Despite the lack of water, enough fell in two spots to make it interesting, especially the first which offers a good view all the way down the fall chasm, overlooked by a Livingston statue. We had to be out by 6, 15mins before sunset, but managed to get some good shots (I think, as checking them is not possible on these long days). We opted to walk 1 or 2 km to the Zimbabwe side across the bridge as the steam train was there for sundowners. David asked the loco driver if I could blow the whistle- and I did! Ailine and I were dead by then so a taxi brought us back.

After a shower I walked 10 mins to the Victoria Falls hotel for a very tender venison dinner followed by a sundae and coffee on the terrace of this gracious old building. A great way to end this visit to what was ‘God’s own country’, a taste of the glory days. The garden perfumed air accompanied me on the short walk back to my hotel.
It’s 12.40am now and an early morning start tomorrow.

AFRICA reprise- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) – 4th Oct 2018 – Day 21

David booked the old Victoria Falls Hotel for one night yesterday but this place promises to find a room for me by tomorrow night. I checked at the posh Shearwater hotel but they are full.

Breakfast at the cafe again, and then off to the falls for morning shots at 5 points (1,2,3,7,8}, while David did the Livingstone Island dip. I could see him from point 8 as I finished and left for the Falls cafe at the gate, leaving Ailine to do her multi-shots. The cafe was crowded, service slow, but a welcome rest spot.

David showed up at 1, after which we set off again to make sure the afternoon shots were good!

Arriving back at the hotel at 6pm I was told I could stay in the same room. Relief; I was about to ask at the camp which has very old brick rooms scattered under large trees. Some look maintained but most are not. Not the best, but very cheap.

I noticed that a new soap tablet had been added again today; I now have one from each day here – which reminded me of a story about soap in hotels.

 What to Do With Hotel Soap

  The following letters are taken from an actual incident between a London hotel and one of it’s guests. The Hotel ended up submitting the letters to the London Sunday Times!

Dear Maid,

     Please do not leave any more of those little bars of soap in my bathroom since I have brought my own bath-sized Dial. Please remove the six unopened little bars from the shelf under the medicine chest and another three in the shower soap dish. They are in my way.

Thank you, S. Berman

Dear Room 635,

     I am not your regular maid. She will be back tomorrow, Thursday, from her day off. I took the 3 hotel soaps out of the shower soap dish as you requested. The 6 bars on your shelf I took out of your way and put on top of your Kleenex dispenser in case you should change your mind. This leaves only the 3 bars I left today which my instructions from the management is to leave 3 soaps daily. I hope this is satisfactory.

Kathy, Relief Maid

Dear Maid – I hope you are my regular maid.

     Apparently Kathy did not tell you about my note to her concerning the little bars of soap. When I got back to my room this evening I found you had added 3 little Camays to the shelf under my medicine cabinet. I am going to be here in the hotel for two weeks and have brought my own bath-size Dial so I won’t need those 6 little Camays which are on the shelf. They are in my way when shaving, brushing teeth, etc. Please remove them.

Thank you, S. Berman

Dear Mr. Berman,

     My day off was last Wed. so the relief maid left 3 hotel soaps which we are instructed by the management. I took the 6 soaps which were in your way on the shelf and put them in the soap dish where your Dial was. I put the Dial in the medicine cabinet for your convenience. I didn’t remove the 3 complimentary soaps which are always placed inside the medicine cabinet for all new check-ins and which you did not object to when you checked in last Monday. Please let me know if I can of further assistance.

Your regular maid, Dotty

Dear Mr. Berman,

     The assistant manager, Mr. Kensedder, informed me this morning that you called him last evening and said you were unhappy with your maid service. I have assigned a new girl to your room. I hope you will accept my apologies for any past inconvenience. If you have any future complaints please contact me so I can give it my personal attention. Call extension 1108 between 8AM and 5PM.Thank you.

Elaine Carmen, Housekeeper

Dear Miss Carmen,

     It is impossible to contact you by phone since I leave the hotel for business at 7:45 AM and don’t get back before 5:30 or 6PM. That’s the reason I called Mr. Kensedder last night. You were already off duty. I only asked Mr. Kensedder if he could do anything about those little bars of soap. The new maid you assigned me must have thought I was a new check-in today, since she left another 3 bars of hotel soap in my medicine cabinet along with her regular delivery of 3 bars on the bath-room shelf. In just 5 days here I have accumulated 24 little bars of soap. Why are you doing this to me?

S. Berman

Dear Mr. Berman,

     Your maid, Kathy, has been instructed to stop delivering soap to your room and remove the extra soaps. If I can be of further assistance, please call extension 1108 between 8AM and 5PM. Thank you,

Elaine Carmen, Housekeeper

Dear Mr. Kensedder,

     My bath-size Dial is missing. Every bar of soap was taken from my room including my own bath-size Dial. I came in late last night and had to call the bellhop to bring me 4 little Cashmere Bouquets.

S. Berman

Dear Mr. Berman,

     I have informed our housekeeper, Elaine Carmen, of your soap problem. I cannot understand why there was no soap in your room since our maids are instructed to leave 3 bars of soap each time they service a room. The situation will be rectified immediately. Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience.

Martin L. Kensedder, Assistant Manager

Dear Mrs. Carmen,

     Who the hell left 54 little bars of Camay in my room? I came in last night and found 54 little bars of soap. I don’t want 54 little bars of Camay. I want my one damn bar of bath-size Dial. Do you realize I have 54 bars of soap in here. All I want is my bath size Dial. Please give me back my bath-size Dial.

S. Berman

Dear Mr. Berman,

     You complained of too much soap in your room so I had them removed. Then you complained to Mr. Kensedder that all your soap was missing so I personally returned them. The 24 Camays which had been taken and the 3 Camays you are supposed to receive daily. I don’t know anything about the 4 Cashmere Bouquets. Obviously your maid, Kathy, did not know I had returned your soaps so she also brought 24 Camays plus the 3 daily Camays. I don’t know where you got the idea this hotel issues bath-size Dial. I was able to locate some bath-size Ivory which I left in your room.

Elaine Carmen, Housekeeper

Dear Mrs. Carmen,

Just a short note to bring you up-to-date on my latest soap inventory.

As of today I possess:

     – On the shelf under medicine cabinet – 18 Camay in 4 stacks of 4 and 1 stack of 2.

     – On the Kleenex dispenser – 11 Camay in 2 stacks of 4 and 1 stack of 3.

     – On the bedroom dresser – 1 stack of 3 Cashmere Bouquet,

     – 1 stack of 4 hotel-size Ivory, and 8 Camay in 2 stacks of 4.

     – Inside the medicine cabinet – 14 Camay in 3 stacks of 4 and 1 stack of 2.

     – In the shower soap dish – 6 Camay, very moist.

     – On the northeast corner of tub – 1 Cashmere Bouquet, slightly used.

     – On the northwest corner of tub – 6 Camays in 2 stacks of 3.

     Please ask Kathy when she services my room to make sure the stacks are neatly piled and dusted. Also, please advise her that stacks of more than 4 have a tendency to tip. May I suggest that my bedroom window sill is not in use and will make an excellent spot for future soap deliveries. One more item, I have purchased another bar of bath-sized Dial which I am keeping in the hotel vault in order to avoid further misunderstandings.

S. Berman

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- 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.