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Southern African Adventure


Thembi
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Introduction

It is two years since we embarked on this trip – and bought home a life-time of memories... 22 days including international flights in April 2005.

 

We are planning our 2008, 58 day return trip, so affected were we by our first (ever) trip overseas, on safari in Southern Africa.

 

This is our story.

 

Itinerary

 

Day 1

Adelaide/Sydney/Johannesburg

 

Day 2

Johannesburg / Maun Botswana

 

Day 2 –5

3 Nights Baines Camp Botswana

 

Day 6 - 15

9 Nights Wilderness Safari’s “Migration Routes” fully serviced

camping Botswana

 

Day 16 – 18

2 Nights Livingstone /Zambian side Vic Falls

 

Day 19 - 21

3 Nights Cape Town South Africa

 

Day 22

Cape Town / Johannesburg /Perth /Adelaide

 

 

Getting There

We did a count down of how many sleeps to Africa – our workmates and family were gracious in keeping the eye rolling to a minimum at our “ 19 [18,17...] sleeps to Africa” comments every day. Bless them for their patience.

 

We were up at 4am for a 6am flight from Adelaide (South Australia) to Sydney (New South Wales). On arrival we just had time to have a couple of smokes and a cuppa, clear immigration then on to the flight from Sydney to Johannesburg. We were in the plane for over 17 hours.

 

It is self-evident, but planes particularly economy seats are not designed for comfort. The darkest hours of life are about 4 to 6 hours into the flight when you can’t get off, can’t stop the infernal and constant noise of the jets, are breathing hundreds of other peoples barely air-conditioned air, watching bad movies on tiny screens with scratchy sounding headsets, eating tasteless food, listening to babies cry and trying to hide the fact that we are crying too.

 

Then a passenger died. She and her husband were on their first trip to Africa – they were childhood sweethearts, married at 19 and farmers from country New South Wales (Australia). In their seventies. She suffered a massive coronary or stroke and died suddenly 4 – 6 hours into the trip. It is amazing that we learned so much about them – but people were of course, worried and concerned and when the worst happens the good comes out in people and the care and concern from the passengers was evident. The cabin crew were diligent and amazing in their attempts to revive her – a call went out for any doctors on board – there were 6 of them and all in all every effort was made that was humanly possible in the circumstances to revive her. As sad and heartbreaking as this was for the people concerned we were wise enough to count our blessings and send a prayer up in silent thanks that we were not the afflicted ones. We acknowledged that while it was a very tough time for her husband – poor man, the woman herself at least died happy on the way to a trip of a lifetime – she wouldn’t have suffered at all.

 

Our plane flew from Sydney to Johannesburg via Antarctica – really! Looking out the portholes we could see the most amazing icebergs – a holy colour. Old ice bluer than the sea, a clear and vibrant turquoise colour. Sculptured into weird ice castles and some as flat as tables – still easily seen from this phenomenal height. We were flying at 37,000 ft and the temperature outside was -51C.

Arriving in Jo’berg tired, crumpled and bewildered we cleared immigration and customs without any problems. In fact the utter boredom and disinterest shown by the officials was only momentarily broken by a polite smile at Kaye’s comment “This is the only time my passport photo would look better than I do”.

 

Overnight at Caesars Gauteng (without milk for our coffees!), in a non-smoking room that had an ashtray in the top drawer - in case. We had about 2 hours broken sleep and in the morning caught a plane to Maun, Botswana – the hub of the Okavango and the busiest light aircraft airport in the Southern Hemisphere. The 2 hour flight in a twin prop 60 or thereabouts seater took us over what was to become a familiar sight – the view from the air of the parched earth dotted with vegetation and small dry waterholes with myriad paths leading from the surrounding area into the pans. Like bone-white starbursts in a sky of dry green. We transferred immediately to a light plane for our 15 minute flight to Baine’s Camp airstrip – our “real destination” - our Africa Adventure had finally really begun.

 

Baine’s Camp - Okavango Botswana

As we landed on the bush airstrip we could see giraffe, zebra, and warthog at the edges – they had just been cleared from the landing strip and formed a guard of honour welcoming us in!

 

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Our guide, Kort welcomed us, retrieved our packs from the hold and settled us into the safari Land Cruiser for the 45-minute drive to Baine’s Camp proper. Bewildered, jet lagged and recovering from airsickness we sat, stunned in the back of the Land Cruiser bouncing our way to our first camp. The landscape was green and lush here, the grasses golden and green and (being April) at least 3 to 4 foot high. The trees and shrubs and ever present acacias all looked “gardened” and clipped. It was all wild but neat and orderly – a strange thing to be viewing – we realised later it looks this way because of the giraffe and elephant that browse and keep everything “clipped” and tidy looking.

 

We came around a corner of the track and before us was an oasis – our camp. There was a grass thatched verandah and in the shade of this 6 women in neat uniforms sang and danced us a welcome in Setswana; the language of Botswana we learned later the song means “Welcome – Come play with us in Africa – we are the same age”. A woman (later introduced as Kate Mundy –the chef from Nairobi) stepped forward proffering a silver platter with chilled, lavender scented damp washcloths upon it, to wipe off the dust of our trip. Then we were handed an ice cold juice in a tall glass beaded with moisture, and garnished with mint leaves to quench our thirst. We were pretty overwhelmed by the welcome, the warmth, our arrival and the chilled damp lavender scented washcloth were nearly our undoing – the first of a trail of tears of joy (or overwhelmedness) around our Africa journey!

 

“Welcome – Come play with us in Africa – we are the same age”. A gracious beginning to our very special safari.

 

Our room was a “chalet” type built in the style of the local buildings, timber, thatched roof and mud daub walls painted a deep ochre orange on the outside and a cool white on the inside. It had a private deck overlooking the hippo pool. Each of the 5 rooms are accessed by their own “walkway” from one long walkway - built about 8 feet from the ground. Made of polished timber decking with post and rope railings, interconnected to a main walkway that lead in one direction to a swimming pool and in the other to the main “Boma” the lounge/dining/ deck area overlooking the hippo pool. After being shown our room we were left to unpack, relax for an hour or so. We had lunch on the deck and then retired once more to our rooms. We met at the Boma for high tea at 3pm before an evening wildlife drive. We were introduced to iced tea here and it was sensational! Kaye, exhausted and needing to sleep opted to stay in camp and Jude ventured out on the drive.

 

Kort, our guide, remained with us for the duration our stay – each day when we went out wildlife viewing Kort would be driving. We were accompanied also by Kaiser, a representative of the local community who was present at all our drives. The community owns and manages the “concession” on which Baine’s Camp and others are built. It is a condition of tenure that a community member; employed by the Dept of Environment, accompanies the guides on each drive. Kaiser and Kort were both from Maun area and were related, cousins we think. They were very knowledgeable guides and knew the area well.

 

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Our drives always turned up yet another magical moment – our “first” Hyena, giraffe, wildebeest, Tsessebee, impala, elephant (jude missed seeing Ele here because she chose to stay in camp instead of going on a morning game drive –never again!), leopard, mongoose, squirrel, springhare, civet, serval – so many varied birds we cannot name them all – the bush itself a wonder. African sage bush everywhere, the smell of African sage bush became as much an experience as the wildlife experiences. (Kaye’s earlier fears about the smell were completely unfounded). The colour of light on the grasses, the sharp seeing – “looking” so carefully to spot another animal against the brush, against the green, in the grass, amongst the shadows. Our eye-sight improved while we were there -–using that long-sight viewing we so rarely use in our day to day, computer driven lives.

 

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Kort could tell us so much about the animals and birds we encountered; their habits, preferences, mating seasons – he was very knowledgeable pointing out spore, other signs, and areas of interest to watch. If we asked a question he would stop the vehicle and turn around and address us with respect. On our afternoon drives after 2 hours driving and viewing we would always stop at a waterhole, we would get out – after Kort and Kaiser had carefully checked the area. They would lay out a linen cloth on the back of the landcruiser, serve ice cold beer, Gin and tonic or soft drink in glasses – a plate of biltong (dried beef) and dried apricots were there to nibble. We would all gather round watching the sun set in the African bush having our “Sundowners”. It was quiet, cooling and always a pleasure.

 

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Needing a toilet stop was always a bit exciting – you usually held on for as long as you could before saying anything. Then you’d have to wait another half hour or so before the guide would find a safe spot to stop. A location with a bush where he could pretty well see all the approaches - but not directly behind the bush. When you squat down for a wee in the African bush – you wish you had eyes in the back of your head – it is a very “vulnerable” moment – with the imagination making every lion and big furry thing with teeth sneaking up behind you! It wasn’t until we got home that Jude realised that while facing “into” the bush fretting about what was sneaking up behind – she could have been facing out from the bush knowing she was safe! “Marking our territory” was one of the most exciting parts of the trip!

 

In the evening back on our deck having a pre dinner drink - our beautiful and magical African night was lit up by the light of millions of fireflies. It was the dark of the moon that night and we surmise this encouraged the fireflies into their dazzling and magical show. Other nights we saw a few but this night – the air was alive with them like a galaxy of fireflies all around us. The sound of bell frogs rang in the night air. The Hippos in the nearby pool grunted and yelled their hippo sounds. The crickets, and owls and insects sang their night song into the cool crisp air. Before dawn we again sat out on our deck – we had left the bathroom light on for a little illumination and the moths were attracted to the light. Suddenly around us were micro-bats swooping in to for the moths. It was a treat to see these tiny mammals in flight, dodging around us.

 

Meeting the Elephants -

Baines Camp

 

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On our third day we went on a very special trip. To meet three young semi-habituated but still wild elephant named Jabu, Thembi and Morula. This was such an amazing experience that Kaye and I had great difficulty talking about it for months afterwards.

 

We were met by Doug Groves, the Ele’s guardian and devoted servant. Doug and Sandi Groves have dedicated their lives to looking after these three magnificent animals. All three were repatriated to Botswana after surviving either culls or poaching in Zimbabwe and South Africa. The trio of Ele’s are looked after by Doug and local people employed to be their guardians and caretakers. They wander out in the wild most of the time, coming in close to home for fodder feed each evening.

 

The Ele’s are vetted and supervised, but they basically go where they want to go, when they want to go (except at night when they are housed in a boma). Any control of them is more along the lines of food reward and some training in basic commands so they don’t hurt people inadvertently by swinging their massive trunks around. The Ele’s are ambassadors for their kind. They may not have ever wanted to be, but they are and the experience is one where you feel that they are being gracious in their acceptance of your presence.

 

We were briefed by Doug about what to do should we get into what he termed “an exciting situation” which we picked up meant danger! And he gave us basic rules for our own conduct when meeting the Ele’s.

 

When Jabu walked out of the bush and came to greet us – we were overwhelmed by his sheer size and massive strength. Doug introduced him to us and we were invited after a few minutes to go up one by one and meet Jabu, touch his skin, trunk and tusks. Jabu stood as we met him and touched him, Doug had asked him to keep the tip of his trunk on the ground for safety’s sake, and Jabu complied – getting an occasional “horse pellet” as a reward. Doug spent a long time telling us about Jabu, his likes and dislikes, talking about Elephant physiology, how they hear, grow, when they mature sexually, and he was very knowledgeable. Doug was evidently a little shy – and it is not so remarkable that a man dedicated to these three “other” lives and so immersed in their day to day care and spending most of his time in their company would find talking to a group of tourists (as interested or otherwise as the members of our group this day were) a bit difficult.

 

He did a lovely job, and warmed to Kaye and I as we asked question after question about elephants in general but especially about the wellbeing of these three AND we listened carefully to his answers. Jabu retreated into the bush and Morula came out to meet us, a half hour later Thembi – tiny compared to the other two but still a full grown elephant came into the clearing and we met a very different Ele in her presence, immediacy and sparkle. We walked out for three hours with the Ele’s watching them walk, eat, bathe in a mud hole. We walked side by side with them through the Botswana bush, smelling their Elephant scent, watching their delicate silent walk. Listening to Doug tell us of Ele lives, and Ele tales. Jabu had gone missing once for 5 weeks – the Groves were almost beside themselves. Spending every day in the air scouring the area. He eventually just turned up, wandered into their camp. You could see the fear and relief Doug experienced as he recounted this story.

 

The eldest of the Ele’s, Jabu is 18 years old. Elephants live up to 60 years in the wild if they live to the term of their natural lives. Doug is in his late 40’s early 50’s and the Ele’s will outlive him and Sandi by many years. The money he raises by having the Ele’s meet us humans go towards not only their care but also to a Foundation called Living with Elephants. LWE sponsors groups of Batswana children and young people between 7 and 17 years old to come to this area and meet the Ele’s.

 

The young people stay at Baine’s and another nearby camp – Stanley’s (the camps are closed to paying guests at this time). The children served and cared for in the same manner as if they are paying guests – it would be a trip of a lifetime for most of these youngsters. They are served the same food and stay in the exquisite rooms, play in the swimming pool and eat on the deck overlooking the hippo pool.

 

Everyday the young people are educated about elephants, wildlife and the precious resources that they are for Botswana and her future and people. In Botswana the greatest threat to elephants is not poaching but human encroachment – there are many elephant (some Batswana think TOO many)– and the spread of humans into elephant territory causes conflict. Elephants being large and hungry (200kg per day of vegetation) devastate crops. A small herd of Elephant can destroy an entire crop over night. People are obviously upset about this and wish to destroy the things that destroy their livelihoods.

 

Living with Elephants Foundation hopes to teach a THIRD WAY of being where living alongside elephants is a possibility. From these seeds planted as children may grow the guides of the future, the advocates and education in the villages about the value of the elephant and their natural environment and the value of the tourism dollar to the nation. LWE, Doug and Sandi Groves and the Ele’s play an important role.

 

At the end of our walk in the hot Botswana bush we rounded a corner to find a long table set for lunch spread in white linen, silverware and glasses under the shade of a morula tree. We said our farewells to the Ele’s as they went off to their own lunch. We ate our cooked lunch, served at table, chatting with Doug and the other guests who had been out with us and marvelling over our experience. We parted reluctantly and after a short hot drive, retired to nurse our feelings in the privacy of our room. Feeling as if nothing we could do or see in Africa could top meeting the Ele’s

 

Yet, every day proved us wrong. Nothing topped it – but it wasn’t a competition – each day provided yet another awesome moment – another sight, sound or experience that touched our souls, stirred our spirits and made us cry on more than one occasion.

And still does.

 

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Précis of Remembered Wildlife Sightings at Baines

Fire-Fly, Micro-bats, Slender Mongoose, Zebra, Wildebeest, Tsessebe, Ele, Leopard, Serval, Civet, Black Back Jackal, Spotted Hyena, Spring Hare, Leopard (briefly at night), Giraffe and Leopard Tortoise – (Twice... Jude is #1 Tourist Leopard Tortoise Spotter of all time at Baines according to Kort – proud gleam emanating here), Baboon, Squirrel, Hippo, Saddle Billed Stork, Impala, Palm-Nut Vulture. Lilac Breasted Roller, Long-Tailed Magpie, Lesser Jacana, Pied Kingfisher, Black Egret. Francolin running before the vehicle in a strange game of “chicken” and flapping out of the way at the last second, Fiery Night Jar nesting on the road (their red eyes reflecting in the spotlight). This being in our first few days in Africa (ever) we probably missed the significance of a list of whole other sightings. There were other wildlife we heard – frogs, toads, Lion, etc...

 

Wilderness Safari’s Migration

Our Camping Safari Begins...

Saying goodbye to Baines camp staff to Kort, Kaiser and Kate the beautiful and talented Kenyan chef, who supplied us with so much flavoursome food during our stay was hard – we wanted to live there forever. Farewelling the resident hippo in the pool, packing our things and waving goodbye to the lodge staff and saying to them a phrase; we had asked so we could learn, from Kaiser, phonetically “get-her-kor-bona” in Setswana which meant “See you again!” we reluctantly returned to the airstrip for a 15 minute flight in a 5 seater plane to the Xigera airstrip (pronounced Kee-jera) to meet with the group we were travelling with on our serviced-camping safari for the next 9 days – but there was a twist in the plan.

 

Xigera is in the true wetland area of the Okavango Delta. This part of our trip was to spend several days in the wetland wilderness travelling by mokoro (fibreglass replica of a traditional dug-out canoe) and camping on an island in the Delta.

 

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There had been a delay in our flight due to; or so we were told by the pilot of the aircraft, the traffic controller at Maun “going for a smoke” for 20 minutes while planes lined up ready to take-off at the tarmac. We were 2 hours late to our rendezvous at the Xigera airstrip. Instead of “connecting’ with our camping Safari we were 2 hours late! The professionalism of the people on the ground to accommodate this glitch is to be admired. In contingency we were met by the manager of the nearby Xigera Lodge, Wade (at that time) and lucky for us operated by Wilderness Safaris and driven for 20 minutes to the side of the waterways. Cedric – yet another tall, handsome Batswana man waited patiently for us in the mokoro. The others had all gone on ahead. We would have to catch up. It is only now 2 years later in 2007 we realise what an immense and exclusive privilege it was to have this ‘private” experience.

 

So, feeling like the only people in the world the three of us Kaye, Jude and Cedric, as guide and poler, glided through this water wonderland, an esky cooler loaded with cold water, local beer and a delicious cider Savannah Dry. For the next two hours we silently glided through the shallow clear but “tea” coloured waters of the Delta. The papyrus created tall tunnels as we passed underneath. The bird calls and buzzing of insects as they flew by, the only sounds. Cedric pointed out various birds and at distance a giraffe – but mainly here in the waterways the wonders were small and intimate . “Ladies” he whispered “Ladies, look to your left – a Malachite Kingfisher”. And sure enough there was.

 

The waterways are really hippopotamus highways – kept open by the movement of hippo from one part of the Delta to another – this knowledge made us nervous but we always felt safe with our guides and they took good care of us throughout.

 

We eventually caught up with the rest of the group at a “pit stop” on an island some hour out from our Xigera camp. The group of six were introduced to us and it is here we first met Pilot – our safari guide and leader. Pilot Manga – whom we became very fond of and looked up to in awe of his knowledge, his respect and care of us all and his good and fine sense of humour. The other people on our trip consisted of two couples from California travelling together and an Australian woman and her English husband – they, like us, were all in their forties and early fifties – we were compatible for most of the trip ;). After superbly cold drinks and quick whizzes behind bushes we set off again in convoy this time, gliding through this water wonderland surrounded by waterlilies, dragon-flies, colourful king fishers and feeling content to be in the world.

 

Our arrival at camp was marked by a warm greeting from Tylo – the camp cook – a forty something local Batswana woman who, on camp fire only, produced restaurant quality, 3 course meals every night and freshly baked (yeast raised) bread. Tylo welcomed us in with a gentle whistle and wave – introduced herself and a camp assistant stepped forward to assist us from the mokoros and show us to our tents.

 

The days we spent here were filled with the quiet and relaxing wonder of exploring the waterways in the mokoros, sitting around the camp fire at night swapping stories and drinking the never ending supply of good local wines, beers, cider and the newly discovered and MUCH appreciated local cream liqueur Amarula Cream – the drink elephant’s prefer. The morula tree is a local tree that bears small berry like fruit, much sought after by elephant and wart hog. On the few occasions where a tree hasn’t been stripped of its fruit by the end of their fruiting season – the fruit falls and ferments on the ground. Elephant and warthogs reportedly LOVE to eat the fermented fruit and it was told to us, become quite tipsy and silly, enjoying their euphoria. We appreciated Amarula Cream in much the same way but retained our dignity.

 

One afternoon we went on a two hour walking safari – this was exciting and a bit scary because we were well briefed about the possible dangers. We had to walk out with the shortest at the front directly behind Pilot and the tallest at the back directly in front of Bee – another one of our handsome, helpful and happy guides. As it turned out – Kaye at 5’3” was in front and I at 6’2” brought up the rear.

 

On this walk we were introduced to a totally different view of the Okavango. Interesting information about the plants we encountered –one, the “smoke bush” pods “puff” out a very fine white powder when squeezed – so even in the most seemingly still afternoon any air current will show the wind direction by the smoky drift. Then there was the ‘wait-a-moment” bush which, when its thorn become entangled in your clothes means one has to say ‘wait-a-moment”. Another shrub, the African “bush-cure” for STD’s (sexually transmitted diseases) bears a remarkable resemblance (albeit green) to a man’s scrotum. The baobab tree, three thousand years old, rent around its bark by the tusks of Elephant to get at it’s stored moisture. We had a moment where one of the guides and mokoro poler, Bee showed us “African Magic” by breaking some twigs and throwing them to the ground and declaring that we would see giraffe today! At the time we peeled our eyes for giraffe – and we DID see an old male Giraffe a way off behind a copse of trees about ten minutes later.

 

Walking back from the afternoon walking safari we had to transfer from the island we were on back to camp by mokoro – half the group had transversed, with four of us and Pilot still waiting, when a movement caught my eye and Jude spotted what she thought was an eagle on the wing – She exclaimed “Eagle!” and pointed and Pilot looked and hoarsely whispered “No! Pel’s Fishing Owl!”. We were off – we ran through the swampy ground, hearts pounding, jumped or clambered over fallen logs- clutching our camera equipment as it bumped about on our chests, wet to the knees until the bird roosted, the chase lasted a good 5 minutes. It was dusk and the light so very poor, but above us on a branch was the biggest owl! We had seen Pel’s Fishing Owl (the first since August 2003 in the area) and Jude (An African Safari newbie) had been the one to spot it. Proud, squishy boots and all we tracked back to the awaiting mokoros to cross to camp. We regaled those who had missed it with the tale – some ‘got’ how lucky we were, others wondered when dinner was...

 

Xigera camp was a rustic, temporary camp but we LOVED it. The dome tents were comfortable , the thick and comfy mattresses directly on the tent floor and the linen sensibly in the colours of Africa designs; particularly as the water used to wash the linen is from the tea-coloured Okavango waters ; from the tannin stains in the water from the grasses. Our latter camps all had white or cream linen which we felt was not fair on the women camp staff who have to wash and keep pristine in bush environments! It had a long drop loo – there are no Hyena at this location so human faeces management is not such an issue. There was a troop of baboon close to camp.

 

[An Aside: Want to remember the trip? Spray yourself with Bug-Off or Peaceful Sleep - being careful to breathe it in and drink Amarula Cream. When you get home don’t use the insect repellent for a couple of months – use something different! When you use the same ‘Africa’ repellent back home and close your eyes you will be transported back to your most cherished African memory – a trick of our reptilian brain...]

 

Leaving Xigera was the next bout of (circumspect) tears – we had to say goodbye to Cedric, Tylo, Bee and the other camp hands. Setting off in our mokoros we were amazed at how high the water had risen since our arrival three days prior. Where there had been water lilies proud above the water, there was now only water and grass. We will post photos soon and one can see the amazing transformation. On our way out of Xigera we saw hippopotamus at water level. Our group in five mokoros (four for the guests, one for our guide Pilot) nestled up against some short but thick water reeds so we could see the Hippo in a deep pool – the male hippo in the pool was cautious – he did not display but we were sitting at water level (eeeeek) within about 20 feet of us and he watched us intently.

 

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[That was an exciting moment – about a week before we left for our trip a woman had been killed in Kenya by a Hippo. Unfortunately, she had come between the Hippo and water at dusk (despite signs and warnings apparently). Our friends and work colleagues had great fun telling us two impending (intrepid) travellers ALL about it.]

 

Moving on through the waters toward the end of our “water” safari there was a pair of beautiful African Fish Eagles either side of the channel – our presence stirred a territorial display. They began to proclaim their ownership of the channel to us and each other. As we poled between them – the male took flight to the left, glided over our heads at about 20ft calling all the while. We saw him mid-flight throw his head back and utter that piercing high pitched and distinctive cry – the sound of Africa.

 

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All too soon, despite the heat and sun beating down on us – we came to the landing point to meet our transfer vehicle to the Xigera airstrip for our onward journey to Lechwe camp, near the North Gate of Moremi National Park. This was turning into a long day...

 

Precis of Remembered Wildlife at Xigera

Hippo, Red Lechwe, Saddle Billed Stork, African Fish Eagle, Hammerkopf, Baboon, Malachite Kingfisher, various unique insects, frogs, fish and other birds, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Female Kudu, Giraffe.

 

Moremi National Park Kwhai

Lechwe Camp

After our 2 hour Mokoro pole from Xigera camp we were transferred by a 45 minute flight in a fifteen seater to an airstrip still several hours’ drive from Kwhai. During the 45 minute flight Kaye discovered the best location in the aircraft to avoid air-sickness; from which she suffers, is right behind the pilot. She observed the most remarkable sight –an African Fish Eagle flying in the opposite direction to us at the same altitude. Kaye looked over the pilot’s shoulder at that moment and read the altimeter – 4500ft– the Eagle zoomed past us like a fighter aircraft!

 

We had last eaten at breakfast at Xigera; albeit a cooked brekky with eggs, bacon, sausages and toast which was fantastic and encouraged by staff as we were told it was a LONG time between meals. After the 5 hours we had taken to get to the Kwhai region landing strip we were all tired and famished. If it hadn’t been for the massive bag of rice crisps, which some of the people in our party had bought on the spur of the moment leaving the USA and the ubiquitous Castle beer in the gas fridge in the back of newly encountered vehicle we had for the rest of the trip - we would have all collapsed from heat, hunger and tiredness – because we were all weak, white, soft and Safari newbies!

 

Once on the ground we swapped the plane for the Land Cruiser with a group coming the other way. Retrieving a beer from the back of the landcruiser Jude stepped up on the step rail to open the fridge at the back of the vehicle and hit her head on the bar on the roof canopy nearly knocking herself out... So tired was Kaye (supposedly the light-of-her-life!) and the others in our group, drooping in the shade 30 feet away– all the sympathy she got was somebody (not Kaye!!!) calling out “Are you Okay?”. Not that she’s bitter or anything.

 

After several hours of driving we arrived at the Lechwe camp. Greeted by a gorgeous young Batswana woman with dreaded, styled “reddish” hair, also named Kaye – our camp cook, the BEST bread baker in the wilderness we ever did meet, and Festus the (young and learning but) proficient, silent, male camp hand. The setting was riverine, very ‘close’ in terms of trees and shrubs and within seeing distance; although the view was mostly obscured by trees and reeds, of the Kwhai River. We could hear the Hippos.

 

We had an evening meal and collapsed into our tents. Being 6’2” tall with broad shoulders - the GI stretchers under the comfy mattresses were a tad short for Jude and she had a bit of an uncomfortable nights’ sleep. She asked for the stretcher to be taken out the next day – and, mattress on tent floor, slept well for the duration of the trip. Kaye (not cook Kaye) found the GI stretcher/mattress beds perfectly comfy.

 

Our trips from camp to the NP were enlivened by the presence of a truck – sunk to its axles in a river crossing. The driver and offsider had been there for several days – as is the case in the Botswana bush following a breakdown. The truck was loaded heavily with timber destined for a new Wilderness Safaris camp in the area. Every day, we packed a little extra food and passed it to the driver as we forded the stream on our way to the park. Pilot said they would likely be there another four days while waiting for a vehicle big enough to unload the timber and haul them from the bog.

 

This sparked another amazing (to us city folk) encounter. On the way back to camp one afternoon we saw, way off in the distance a lone man in a bright red t-shirt walking toward the area of the partially built lodge. Pilot stopped the vehicle; we were a good 600 to 800 metres from the red shirted man. The two of them had a long conversation in Setswana in a normal conversational volume. Us tourists couldn’t even hear the guy in red, but knew he was responding because his arms were moving, as people do when they talk. We were all gob-smacked and totally impressed as Pilot conducted this conversation. As we were moving off, Pilot informed us the upshot of the conversation. We hadn’t heard anything from the other man - over 600 meters away - but Pilot had heard every word!

 

Now that we were in the vehicle, Pilot became famous for his “shortcuts” which always got us (seemingly) lost but also invariably delivered fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities. On the way back from one morning drive to the Moremi NP, all hungry and ready for lunch – Pilot took a ‘shortcut‘ which saw us bush bashing for over an hour. We were cut off by swampy ground at every turn, and at one stage we had to disembark so the blokes on board could move a big log. On the way back to camp (we were HOPING it was the way back!) we came across a pool full of Hippo. It gave us some of our best Hippo sightings – the male was disturbed when Pilot made challenging Hippo noises from the vehicle – mimicking its grunts and roars and we were rewarded with the wide open mouthed gape of the angry male defending its territory (The Hippo – not Pilot!)! Lost or not – it was one of the best encounters with wildlife we had!

 

Returning later than expected from that trip (because of the “shortcut”) we came to a deserted camp – no Kaye or Festus waiting with customary drinks...in fact no Kaye or Festus to be found! Pilot went to investigate while we milled about in typical lost sheep mode waiting to be told what to do!

Pilot returned 15 minutes later to inform us that while were out – Kaye had been setting the table for our lunch.

 

She heard a hissing noise and stepping back, saw a coiled Snouted Cobra under the table! It lunged at her, but (fortunately) missed – Kaye was clearly shaken up and we were grateful that she still stayed to cook and look after us for the next couple of days! Doubt we would have done the same in her place. This episode introduced us into another quaint Botswana way of viewing the world- because Kaye limped for the next two days, although she had not actually been bitten. Pilot said “Kaye was making her Own Story” – as she internalised what “might” have happened in her near deadly encounter with the reptile had she been bitten, hence the limp. When we heard that the snake had slunk off towards the ‘American Quarter’ tents – we didn’t worry about its whereabouts’ at all.

 

This first snake encounter also revealed that Pilot (our hero) has feet of clay. He had to confess that he wasn’t scared of much but he was terrified of snakes (More on this later).

 

Afternoon nap at this location was particularly delicious – in our tents (zipped up firmly against Snouted Cobras!) we had been sweltering – laying half naked on our beds – with wet and wrung-out kikois (like sarongs) over our chests.

 

A rhythmic, wave like breeze sprung up and blew through our well ventilated tents for several hours, cooling the damp cloth and relieving the tension only engendered by relentless heat!

 

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The wind caused the leaves in the trees to create an impression of a train coming and going. You could hear it coming, pass over the tent and move into the distance... then another ‘train” of cool air coming in the distance – the anticipation was delicious.

 

[An Aside: We cannot recommend strongly enough the value of having a kikoi (or sarong) which came into service as shade, damp cloth, pool-side wear and now is a lovely reminder of the trip!]

 

It was at Lechwe camp that the Hippo wandered about in camp in the wee hours of the morning... making grass tearing and chewing noises close enough to our tent to keep us awake!

 

Lechwe Camp at Kwhai is set some way from Moremi NP (North Gate) so getting there were a tad long each day, (if you live, like we do, in a microwave society and are expectant of instant results!) about an hour. We tended to arrive at the gate at about 8.30 am – too late for that extraordinary morning light that makes for great photos. Still, the park itself held up some great viewing. As the Lechwe Camp itself is in a concession where hunting was recently (relatively) allowed, the wildlife was skittish and also hard to photograph in the bushy terrain. It was here however we really appreciated the consummate skill, knowledge and leadership of our guide and group leader – Pilot Manga.

 

Moremi NP (North Gate) was where we encountered Leopard. Another show of Pilot’s excellent tracking abilities. It was very late in the afternoon Pilot heard francolins call, he stopped the car and listened. He turned around to us and said “The birds are saying ‘leopard, leopard!’ he went on to say he knew it wasn’t lion otherwise the bird would be making a different call, which he then imitated! We were on the northern side of a thick copse of trees and shrubs, he turned the vehicle around and tracked back to the southeastern side of the copse of trees – there in the long grass, sure enough as the francolins had told us – was leopard. In fact – there were two. Mating! Even Pilot in his 20 years of guiding had never before encountered mating leopard. The light was fading fast and unfortunately the quality of our photos of this rare and exciting sighting are poor. We stayed to watch as long as we could – but the gates shut at 6.30pm and we were a long way from the gate. The drive back to the gate was exhilarating!

 

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A bit blurry but it is proof!

 

Précis of Wildlife at Kwhai North Gate Moremi

Mating Leopard!!!!, Hippo, Red Lechwe, Bush Buck, Kori Bustard, Impala, Kite– various other birds inc Lilac Breasted Roller, various other wildlife.

 

Savute - Chobe National Park

The transfer from Kwhai to Savute was of approx. 6 hours duration – it was a veritable game drive in itself. Journeys of Giraffe, Open Billed Stork, Crocodile, Jacana, Hippo, Ele. The roads were rough, some wet and boggy patches the terrain bouncy (Thank God for the Sports Bra!).

 

On arrival in the Chobe NP – we “signed in” at the gate and Pilot paid our fees. There was a traveller, a South African man, coming out of the park. He told us there were Lion. It was our first potential sighting “Fifteen km in – go past three herd of Zebra on the right, take the left fork-in-the-road and about 3 km on there is a pride resting in shade on the right hand side”. So we set off towards our Savute camp with these instructions in mind. Sure enough, three herd of Zebra on the right, a left-fork-in-the- road and there in the shade was a Pride of Lion. Our first ever. 3 Females and 4 cubs. Got some nice photos.

 

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Savute was also teeming with Ele’s. Breeding Herds, bachelor groups, action at mud holes, water holes – many and varied sightings of Ele! We were in 7th heaven!

 

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We arrived at our new “camp” full of wildlife eyes.

 

The staff here – Peggy-Sue and Michael were also excellent, experienced hands. Our tents were a bit close together – but this was more due to the potential safety aspects as Lion and Ele are prevalent in the area, than anything else. The toilets were a flush type dug/built on the day (also in Kwhai – which we failed to mention) because of Hyena presence. Basically a dug pit, with an incongruous white porcelain toilet sitting on top of the pit, with a cistern of water suspended above – very civilised – all surrounded by green canvas walls. The showers through-out the 7 days camping were bucket showers – hot water on request, although we all were encouraged to shower in the evening – when the camp staff had had most of the day to heat the water on the braii – fire. The shower cubicle was canvas walls with a small timber slat mat laid over the ground to stand on, pour-in basins for hand washing. Perfectly serviceable. The lap of luxury after a 5 hour dusty game drive!

 

Food was as always beautifully presented, western fair. We only ate a little “African” food one night in Linyanti (comes later) when Mealie Maize was served as an accompaniment to the “western” chicken dish.

 

Our game drives here were fantastic – wall to wall Ele, a great (moving, tear producing) hour with a mature male Lion eating a full grown (dead three days) male kudu.

 

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Other than wildlife – the Savute region also showed us a different view of the landscape. For the first time on our trip we came across the stone hills. On the afternoon drive we climbed a steep stone precipice to view San rock paintings. The millennia old pictures of Eland, Giraffe and Ele where fascinating. We watched the sun set over the Mabebe depression. All was right with the world. Connected back thousands of years.

 

One afternoon we sat watching a waterhole, a stately mature bull Ele walked to the waters edge. Four metres tall, colour a slight bluish -grey from the dusty-mud on his skin. He walked into the water to his elbows. Then – unexpectedly and in total contrast to his regal bearing he became – for all intents and purposes – a big puppy!

 

He sank beneath the water as far as he could to its depth. He waved one back leg out of the water in the air pushing his face and shoulders down in the cool enveloping mud. He wiggled about, all legs, trunk, back heaving – and then... he sat – haunches down, front legs straight and lifted his face to the afternoon sun with trunk raised – so all we saw was a happy Ele’s smiling mouth.

 

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Within moments – he raised himself out of the water, stepping to the solid ground and became once again the imposing bull elephant in is own territory.

 

The Lion on Kudu sighting was one of the wonders of the trip. Pilot, our guide and leader, had come across another vehicle (one of the very few we saw in our 9 days inc NP’s) the guide in that vehicle was not familiar with Savute, recently coming from another area – he told Pilot he had seen a male Lion and broadly described it’s whereabouts. Pilot then performed an “Africa magic” miracle. This man could track MOUSE on ROCK, we were sure! He tracked back using the other vehicles tyre marks for well over twenty kilometres, then stopped – he looked at the sky, sat listening, moved, stopped, moved stopped, tracked, moved, stopped... Then there we were watching the Lion.

 

At our camp that night we sat around an evening campfire, talking and eventually went to our tents full of the day’s sightings. As we lay drowsing to sleep we heard the night air torn with the sound of lion roaring

 

“Whose land is this?”

 

“Whose land is this?”

 

“Mine”...

“Mine”...

“Mine”.*

 

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(*source: Quotation: Travel Africa Magazine)

 

Next Up... Linyanti, Botswana

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Part II

 

Linyanti River

We set off on our next transfer, again by road – along the track known as the Sand Ridge. Before we left the Savute area we spent one last morning checking the dry Savute Channel for leopard. We found tracks of a leopard and her cub near one of the stone massifs but no sighting. The most extraordinary track found here in the dry conditions was the spoor of a hippopotamus! How it came to be so far from permanent water was a mystery to Pilot. A band of dwarf mongoose, emerged from their nest in their adopted home of a termite mound – sunning themselves in the morning light. Heading out into the Mabebe depression we saw a nocturnal springhare – Pilot told us that in Botswana seeing a nocturnal animal during the day or vice versa was an omen of bad luck to come. An hour later we experienced our first (and only) flat tyre.

 

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Peggy Sue and Michael packed up the Savute camp whilst we were on our game drive, as this whole camp travelled with us to Linyanti. We met up with them on the road a few hours later while we were stopped having morning tea.

 

The Sand Ridge is a long track that runs from Savute to the Linyanti River. The sand here is very deep. The track was narrow, rutted from previous vehicles, but no compaction - so the trip was slippery in the sand, overcrowded with branches and bumpy! Those towards the front of the vehicle spent a lot of time calling out to warn the rest of us - “Bush” “Bush” “Bush” to avoid being whipped by branches and “Bump” “Bump “Bump” and “Hang On!” to brace on the seats! We joked with Pilot that if he really cared about his clients he should come down here on his days off and prune the trees back from the road!

 

Arriving in Linyanti, our camp just inside the western boundary of Chobe NP and was yet to be set up, so we sat on the banks of the Linyanti River enjoying a salad and sandwiches and the beautiful view. The river was wide, we could hear, but not see Hippo. The trees were the largest we had encountered in our whole journey, shady, stately trees with wide canopies.

 

When the camp was set up – we had an afternoon rest and a cup of tea. Whilst resting in the shade, a squirrel entertained us as he scampered up the trunk of a tree. He climbed in a frenetic spiral around and around as he went higher. He made his way out on a limb quite near to us and pranced up and down the length of the branch metres away. Our cameras were in the vehicle– so we missed this cute opportunity.

 

A catering crisis lead to our next great sighting!

 

This was to be the last night in the wilderness – and surely would be memorable and need toasting. But we had run out of Amarula Cream. Pilot said he had never known guests to drink the camp dry of Amarula Cream before...

 

Luckily, Kings Pool lodge was only a round trip of two and a half, hours so Michael went to get some from there – this is real service. He had been gone about twenty five minutes when his call came over the radio – “WILD DOG!”.

 

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They were resting on the road. We all scrambled into the landcruiser and took off at a pace –slowing just before we rounded the bend to where we knew they were. We spent an incredible hour here, the late afternoon light throwing long shadows of the dogs across the sand. They had killed and eaten sometime earlier in the afternoon and were full as googs! Mostly laying about in the shade. So full was one male that lying on his side, he lifted his hind leg and wee’d on his other leg. Across the way there was a troop of baboon getting edgy at the pack in their territory – every now and then as the baboons barked particularly loudly – the dogs would lazily raise their heads and cock their ears in their direction. We would have happily stayed there until the pack moved on, but others were getting restless. We are posting photos at the end of report.

 

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We came across an incongruous giraffe fight beside a waterhole; a juvenile male had challenged a full grown bull. The ensuing fight, a ballet of sinuous movement and slow neck butts to the opponents chest and side was such an unequal contest. We were a good 50 metres away but could still hear the thunderous thud as their necks impacted.

 

Guess who won?

 

Later – we stopped to ‘mark our territory’ and came across a hippo out of the water in silhouette with the rapidly darkening sky behind. It was late by now and we were all looking forward to dinner under the Linyanti stars. In the darkness Pilot “spotlighted” as he drove, holding the light out the driver’s side window. At one stage we were surrounded by dense bush and suddenly, seemingly out of no where we were surrounded by a herd of Ele’s – this made for a very tense moment. Pilot turned off the spotlight. The herd was fore and aft, we couldn’t turn around and backtrack to avoid them. Pilot just drove steadily forward, but you could sense just how concerned he was at this moment. We pulled clear without incident.

 

As we were nearing camp in the full dark, the spot light picked out, on the road coming toward us, a pair of two full grown male lion. Pilot stopped the open-sided landcruiser, turned off the headlights and tracked the leader with the spotlight. Our group, usually chatting about something or other – had fallen totally silent the moment we saw these magnificent cats. The lions continued straight toward us, in single file. The leader stepped to the side of the road and walked down the passenger side of the vehicle. The lead male was looking straight up at Kaye. At this point Pilot turned off the spotlight! Because he didn’t want to flick the light around and attract attention. The lion stopped just beside the vehicle. The lights all out. You could hear the lion breathing and smell the wild male smell of him.

 

Jude was on the driver’s side of the landcruiser and when Pilot turned on the light – the others were ALL LEANING VERY HARD over towards her side. As the light came back on the lead male was still looking at Kaye! The lead male padded on and the following lion cruised on by to join his friend and we could all breathe again!

 

Full grown male lion in the dark with nothing between you and them except air and a prayer ... look the same size as Holden Barina Hatchback cars !!!!

 

Back at camp, 300 metres up the road, there was much excitement as these two had just walked right through camp not 20 minutes before. That night, after a change of underwear, seated at our linen clad dining table in the open air we all had slightly hunched shoulders from the thought that somewhere close by were these two massive carnivores looking for their dinner too. Thankfully there was plenty (!) of Amarula Cream to soothe our nerves. It was our last night in the bush.

 

The following morning we set off toward the King’s Pool airstrip to make our transfer to Kasane. On the way, we stopped at King’s Pool lodge – Pilot told us we had to shut our eyes while we were there because we hadn’t paid to stay in a lodge! He is a funny man. We had the opportunity to have morning tea on the deck overlooking the river at KP, and visit their lovely gift shop (we suspect this was our real reason for being there!). We purchased two lovely metal sculptures of giraffe made of Fanta can strips and wire. We were a bit restrained because we were still on our 12kg luggage limit. Whilst we thought KP was a lovely setting – it was a bit too big for our preferred lodging – the location was sensational, the Boma very luxurious and the staff who served us morning tea very welcoming to us dusty (smelly!) campers.

 

Arriving at the Kings Pool airstrip we were gratified to find a shade shelter – the temperature was well over 30C. While we were waiting for the 15 seater several of us made our way on foot the 150 metres or so from the vehicle parked at the end of the runway over to the shade structure. After a few minutes Pilot was driving towards us and suddenly stood up in the drivers seat and yelled out a warning “Snake! Snake!”. He was pointing at the track in front of him. Thrilled, we all grabbed our cameras and rushed toward the spot where he was pointing to take a photo. Stupid newbies! On the track was a snouted cobra, 2 metres long and thick as a mans arm. It slithered off into the grass and we didn’t see it again. Pilot was almost hyperventilating at our idiocy. He parked the vehicle under the shade structure and we were on strict instructions not to step more than three feet from the vehicle, even if we had to mark our territory. He drove us back to the end of the airstrip when the plane arrived - 150 metres. We are sure he had visions of losing one of us out there that day! (Poor Pilot – it’s a snake thing).

 

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Wildlife Precis Linyanti

Squirrel, Baboon, Kudu – juvenile male and adult female, WILD DOG!, Lion, Hippo, Giraffe, Juvenile Bateleur Eagle, Snouted Cobra, Honey Guide, Elephant (in the dark).

 

Next Up ... Chobe River Cruise and Victoria Falls, Zambia

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Part III

 

Chobe River Cruise

The 45 minute flight over the vast expanse of Chobe was through a clear sky and uneventful. We were thoroughly seasoned light aircraft travellers now – so different from the green-around-the-gills of our first flight out to Baines just 10 days or so before.

 

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Arriving at Kasane (Botswana) airport we headed off to the Chobe River for a lunch time cruise. The environment here was riverine and lush – and the highlight was witnessing the Ele’s swimming over the 60 ft deep Chobe River channel from the Kasane shore to Sidudu Island. We had great views of the Ele’s from the water – swimming, snorkelling (!), grazing on the island and playing. The perspective from the water was something different and made the Ele’s look much bigger! We pulled up on a bank for lunch and watched a herd of impala browsing, the biggest pod of Hippo we saw during the entire trip were ensconced nearby in a reed lounge. We were in a Fish Eagle’s territory and he came to check us out as well.

 

We saw a crocodile sunning himself on the bank, monitor lizard – myriad water birds – cormorant, heron, ducks, geese. Swallows dipping across the water.

 

Came to an end all too soon.

 

Botswana moved into our hearts and will be ever reflected there.

 

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Livingstone Zambia - Mosi-oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls)

We drove to the Kazungula border to cross into Zambia and waited by the side of the mighty Zambezi river for a water taxi that never came. It was the only real glitch of the entire trip (except running out of Amarula Cream!) it was trivial really. We eventually caught the public ferry over the river. There has been talk for years of building a bridge at this location but it is yet to eventuate – we believe that recent talks between the Botswanan and Zambian Governments have come closer to a commitment. The border post (our first outside of an airport) was an eye opener to us. The post was guarded with soldiers carrying AK47s. There were touts selling cheap copper bracelets, very insistent. As we waited for the bureaucrat to process our passports (in slow motion) we witnessed an interesting use for an AK47... a woman came out of the office and presented a bottle of coke to a soldier. He removed his clip from the gun and thumbed back the bullets, used the edge to open the coke and handed it back to the woman then reclipped. An hour later our whole group of 8 had been processed and we could enter Zambia. We were glad of the air-conditioned mini bus (bliss!) to take us the 60km to Natural Mystic Lodge for our last night with the Wilderness Migration Route safari and our last night with Pilot Manga... Here we were introduced to Kingsley, our local guide for this portion of the trip. Natural Mystic was about 30km up stream from the Falls.

 

The lodge had lovely architecture and grounds, thatched rooves, solid walls – plumbed showers with TAPS! Very comfy beds and was right on the river. The funny thing about it was the orientation of the chalets. Somehow – when they were built no one noticed that all the windows were facing the wrong way. The premier view out over the river could only be obtained through the front door of the room and a small window at standing head height above the toilet cistern – ok if you were a bloke ;) The pool at the lodge was a welcome respite from the afternoon heat and slight humidity – our first swim since Baines. It was nice after 8 nights of Constant Company for us to be able to sit alone on the main deck overlooking the Zambezi as the sun set. We slept very well that night on a proper bed. Hippos rumbled in the river.

 

The next morning we assembled for our last breakfast together and group photo session. Leaving Natural Mystic to visit one of the seven natural wonders of the world at 8.30am. At the gate into the Falls we said goodbye to Pilot. This was a hard moment – most of us teared up – it was a quick and unsatisfactory farewell as he hopped out of the mini bus into a crowd of people and disappeared. We didn’t get to tell him just how much we appreciated his leadership, skill, humour, patience and enthusiasm for his beloved Country. (Danke - Bushman).

 

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The Falls were phenomenal – for a couple of gals from the driest state in the driest continent in the world – the 190,000,000 (yes million!) litres a second that flowed over the falls that April, it was an obscene amount of water. We were lucky enough to be there one week after peak flow. The water THUNDERED over the chasm and the air was saturated with spray. The sound is as loud as a rock concert making it impossible to talk. We walked the face of the falls for over a kilometre, soaked to the skin despite having hired ponchos. Luckily though, the ponchos kept the camera gear dry, it was too wet to get the cameras out – but we were soaked! It was also interesting to see Japanese visitors with umbrellas (hired out by entrepreneurial Zambians) but completely useless with the spray coming from all directions!

 

Back at the car park we were excited to see our first market – this quickly turned into a bit of a trial. The salespeople were very insistent and as we had no previous experience in shopping at markets we were quickly overwhelmed by the assertiveness of the vendors. Each had a tiny shop crammed full of either carvings, fabrics, utensils or jewellery – after about an hour of being tentative and polite we took on a slightly sterner attitude and did some bargaining. We were now free of our 12 kg luggage limit. An effective routine employed by the vendors was to ply you with objects so your hands were full – it felt like if you were holding it, you had to buy it! While this was happening they would block your exit from the tiny stall. We bought more masks than we needed! Kingsley our lovely Zambian, Thomson’s guide for the day, bless his cotton socks, did come to our rescue a few times while we were bailed up in the back of a stall obviously freaked out with too many items and an insistent salesman. This is of course only our impression – others about seemed absolutely in their element bargaining. Haggling away!

 

We said goodbye to our camping companions at the Royal Livingstone Hotel and we went on to our new digs (on our own!) at the Zambezi Waterfront. Located just 4 km upstream from Victoria Falls, the Waterfront has a large serviced campsite, a tented village and en-suite chalets, the complex includes a restaurant, shop and the "Adventure Centre" to book activities. We dumped our bags in our room and had a late lunch and a long drink at the bar overlooking the Zambezi – it was very pleasant. We booked our activities for the following day and got an early night. Outside our room we were visited by Vervet monkeys and a monitor lizard. We had a riverfront chalet, it was reasonably comfortable.

 

The following morning (in clean washed, pressed clothes for the first day in over a week!) we embarked on our Helicopter flight over the Falls . Fifteen fabulous minutes – such a different perspective. It was interesting to see the great chasm from the air, like a great tear in the fabric of the earth and to view of the surrounding countryside.

 

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That evening we splurged on a ‘luxury’ sunset cruise on the paddle steamer (?) The African Princess – all you could drink, lovely canapés. It was hot in the afternoon sun but we sat right up front on the deck on cane lounge chairs served by waiters, named Charity and Gift. Smart was the captain. Now, we do like a drink but even we were a bit gob-smacked that some of our fellow passengers sat at the bar with their backs to the view and drank steadily the whole time – not even looking at the Ele’s on the bank or the spectacular sunset...

 

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The Zambezi Waterfront is located next door to a boating club and their Saturday night dance went loudly on into the wee hours of the morning. We would recommend if staying at the ZWF to avoid the weekends or go to the boat club dance!

 

[Next Up...Cape town, South Africa and Home

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Part IV

 

Cape Town -South Africa

The two hour international flight from Livingstone to Jo’berg passed over some rugged country – our last glimpse of our beloved Botswana. We passed through customs once more and caught our connecting flight to Cape Town for the end of our adventure.

 

We stayed at La Splendida Hotel, at Mouille Point beachfront, it is a lovely little boutique hotel and we would highly recommend it. Being back in a big city we turned our thoughts to home and were missing our dogs terribly. However, we were still on a safari schedule, waking up before dawn, wondering why nobody was telling us what to do... Luckily, Mouille Point is a favoured dog walking area and we startled the locals by rushing up and begging to pat their dogs! Our stay in Cape Town was originally a shopping stop – but turned into so much more.

 

Spent too many hours at the Victoria &Albert Waterfront – but you do when you get there at Seven AM in the morning and see the staff coming in. A large shopping mall the V&A had more things than you needed but we bought them home anyway. Of all the shops – the Customs House is the most interesting –prices were high however. We purchased two lovely etched ostrich-egg lamps, a customs problem when we came back to Australia. But we still have them after paying their worth over again to have them gamma-rayed. Some of the carved furniture at Customs House was amazing. One – a bedroom suite including a king sized bed fully carved with rutting everything! Lion, Ele, Humans! A settle, wardrobe and bookshelves completed the suite – deeply carved all over with African wildlife and rural scenes. The suite wouldn’t fit in our backpacks so we had to leave it there.

 

Green Market square in the city is a former slave market. It is a great outdoor market now – a bit more our style and the vendors were not as aggressive as at Vic Falls. They still haggled but it was a gentler art here. We purchased gifts for friends and family but regret not buying more fabrics – will on the next trip.

On our second day our agent had booked us in to a whole day Cape of Good Hope Tour. Our guide was a retired Marine Biologist, Alex – a white South African. Alex was really knowledgeable about the environs, marine, animals and geology of the area. The coastal scenery and massive rocks were such a juxtaposition to the wilds of Botswana. It was cool, grey and stormy in the morning – but cleared up to be a nice day. In a full size coach with only 6 others we stopped at Camp Bay for a short viewing to see the tremendous breakers rolling in against a back drop of mountainous scenery. We stopped at Hout Bay – more markets – more masks! On to the Cape of Good Hope. Wild wind, crashing waves, kelp forests and bracing sea air. It was fantastic. Travelled around the point to Cape Point and had plastic sandwiches for lunch from the kiosk there (we recommend you bring your own lunch!) in the company of some very bold little rock mice and miner birds. They liked the sandwiches better than we did. Heading up to the light house we took in some breathtaking views. We opted for the funicular (return) trip – a strange contraption a bit like a cross between a tram and a cable car. The shop at the top was also quite good – did we mention the shopping yet? Only T-shirts to prove we had been there though – no more masks!

 

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The tour resumed and we stopped in the afternoon at Boulders Beach to view the African Penguins. Boulders is a suburban beach and by all accounts the locals live with the African Penguin colony in relative harmony. The infrastructure at Boulders is really good, with a raised wooden walkway and viewing platform just a few feet above the sand, but enough to keep the many visitors off the sand or getting too close to disturb the breeding penguins.

 

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[An Aside: On our return home a week later we saw an Animal Planet documentary called City Slickers about this penguin colony – watch it if you can, it is a great story.]

 

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Continuing on the Cape loop we made the bus stop (in the middle of the street!) - at nearby Simonstown so Kaye and I could pay homage at the statue of Just Nuisance.

 

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We had come across the story of this wonderful Great Dane dog whilst researching our trip. Just Nuisance’s story is here Just Nuisance

 

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The last stop of the tour was the beautiful and dramatic Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in the shadow of Table Mountain. It is representative of the floral kingdoms of South Africa, the view from the gardens across Capt Town were spectacular but because it was so late in the afternoon we did not take any photos here. There were resident Guinea Fowl on the manicured lawns and there are rumours that Leopard still live in the foothills of the mountain which form part of the gardens.

 

We had dinner that night in the Italian Restaurant attached to La Splendida – we didn’t venture out into Cape town after dark, we got shy. The food and ambiance at the restaurant was fantastic – locals eat there, which is always a good sign. We took large Amarula Creams up to our room in brandy balloons every night for night caps. All up, three dinners (6x2 course meals) inc. alcohol cost us $120AUD.

 

Our last day in Cape Town we had half hoped to visit table mountain but it had been shrouded in cloud for our entire visit – and the high winds meant that the cable car was out of action. There was abrief moment when the ‘tablecloth lifted while we were at V&A and Kaye was able to take a great photo. We schlepped back to V&A for a last shop and also visited the wonderful Cape Town Aquarium for several hours. We bought bubble wrap and tape and scored a couple of cartons from shop owners to pack all our masks for the trip home – we left Adelaide with 23 kg’s of luggage and came back with 40!

 

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We were ready to be home, but we didn’t want to leave.

 

Tim, our transfer driver picked us up early morning to take us to the airport and we drove past Cape Flats township. We had not seen the township on the way in because we had arrived so late, but gosh, it was confronting. Here in Australia there are similar sights but way in the outback not nestled in the suburbs of Adelaide. The people who live in shanty towns here are in dire straights – unemployed, no hope. We understand from Tim that the townships in ZA are the residential area for working class black people, it is here that the waiters and clerks and street vendors we met in Cape Town live.

 

We flew to Jo’berg to make a connection with our South African Airways flight home. This time direct to Perth with a connector to Adelaide. Jo’berg airport was a great airport – nicer than any here in Australia. It has smoking lounges for a start and you can get a decent coffee.

 

[An Aside: Last minute shopping saw us belatedly purchase a Southern African soundscape. This has proven to be a great addition to our slideshows, and in those moments of longing we put on the CD, spray ourselves with Bug-Off, pop on a khaki hat, close our eyes...]

 

The South African leg was 8 hours with a stiff tail wind. We still wept 4 hours into the flight. It was Kaye’s 46th birthday on the journey home somewhere over the Indian Ocean “what did you get for your birthday Kaye?”...

 

“A trip to Africa”

 

We did not get any sleep. Tired irritable and already suffering Lack-of-Africa we stumbled into customs with four bottles of Amarula cream and a good proportion of Africa’s forests carved into masks. It took an hour and a half to process through customs, having to remove all that bubble wrap and tape and re-wrap.

Perth International Airport is inexplicably 13 km’s from the Domestic Terminal... Transport between the two was a1950’s school bus! Because we had been caught up in customs there was a busload of tired grumpy travellers waiting for us to board the transfer bus! The driver wrestled or 40 kgs of bags and boxes into the back of the bus. We had to stand the whole way as the bus careened around the back blocks of the airports... by the time we got to the Domestic Airport, sleepless as we were, we were almost hallucinating. The bus stopped a good one hundred metres from the terminal entrance with nary a trolley in sight. As we plonked ourselves down on the Perth/Adelaide flight the conversation went like this.

K to J “ I think we should include in the price of the next safari a course in transcendental meditation or business class seats”

 

J to K “ I dunno – crying for hours seemed to work ok for us and it’s cheaper”.

 

Arriving home our good friend had turned down our beds, cooked us lamb chops on the BBQ and sat patiently listening for hours while recounted our whole trip from beginning to end, pausing only to sip Amarula Cream and cry.

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Cheers and we hope you enjoyed our Trip Report!

Kaye & Jude

 

Next year... On 3 August 2008 we depart for our 58 day trans-country safari – there will be a LOT of Safaritalk coming up after that trip!

 

Itinerary in Brief

Drakensburg Mountains ZA 5 days

South Luangua NP Zambia 4 Days

Okavango, Selinda Botswana 9 days

Self-Drive Namibia 33 days

Cape Town 7 days

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  • 8 months later...

Nice letter colors. I may steal the idea. Start cranking the Southern African Soundscape, it's under half a year. I'll be departing Joburg on the 5th of Aug about the time you'll be arriving! Wonderfully written report on any forum.

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