Friday, 1 July 2011

Botswana: Maun and Moremi and Wow!


Botswana - June 25th-28th 2011

Since arriving in Botswana we have definitely been intrepid explorers dear followers!

Following my last urgent post we were ushered onto a bus with our fellow Bostwana-bound Air Botswana passengers. As we journeyed further from the Johannesnburg Aiport terminal the size of the planes decreased in size from a HUGE Air France double decker gleaming white plane, to ours, third from the end, on which we could actually see the black propellers, much to Erin's consternation!
We had a safe journey over the Kalahari desert and landed at Maun (Ma-oooon). We were pleased to see Don with our luxury home (ie the Land Rover named Gobi) parked outside the tiny airport. After many demonstrations of setting up the two tents on top and a brief lesson on how to drive a Land Rover, along with much signing of paperwork to the effect that we would not damage it in any way: we were OFF!!!

(Ewan has pointed out to me that if I am to be an accurate reporter then I need to mention that The ATM in Maun swallowed his 28 degrees credit card - a loss which he attributes to me as I was responsible for inserting the card into the ATM. So there, consider it reported Ewan!).

So anyway: we were off at last ! find a supermarket and stock up with enough food for the first 5 days! Somehow we managed to find one and attempted to buy everything we needed in what was a very basic supermarket. Then we set off to Drifters campsite, 30 Kms from Maun, and in the dark, to find our new best friends and fellow travellers.

This would have been easy except for the need to avoid the donkeys, cattle and goats who are not tethered at all and seem to find the prospect of imminent death whilst they graze on the side of the road very tempting: Erin and I had to be the 'spotters'.

We arrived safely and met the other 5 families who were very friendly ( and don't appear to be axe murderers....yet).

We managed to assemble the tents and I climbed into one of them with Erin anticipating a very cold night: thermals, beanie, fleecy jumper, tracksuit pants AND sleeping bag. We had a cozy night - probably about 4-6 degrees outside.

(For those interested in my nocturnal habits I have refrained from the late night cup of tea and so far have not had to climb down the ladder and contend with the wild animals in the dark. I do have to admit that my technique for getting from the tent to the ladder to the ground needs refining. This morning i got stuck with my feet straight out of the tent over the top of the ladder and Ewan accused me of planking!).

So on day one I have to tell you we had more adventure than we had bargained for......

We all set off the next morning for the Moremi National Park : Xananaka campsite. When we reached the Southgate two cars - us, and Coby and Gerrittwith their 2 boys - went on a different route to the others as we are not towing amazing vans (which I will describe later!). The roads varied from dry dirt to deep sand to water-covered, but this is the Okavango Delta after all!A couple of times the water has been so deep that it comes in the doors!

But on the way we saw:
a hippopotamus
lots of impala
and even some ground squirrels!

Most of the animals are very close to the road, and today we had to stop and wait for a family of giraffes to cross the road in front of us - including two baby giraffes. All of the animals are very unconcerned about these strange white square 'animals' that have 4 black wheels and make a lot of noise.

To cut a very long story short Gloria, the GPS, who seems to be very Knowledgeable about every dirt road in Africa, led us astray and somehow our common sense let us down and we found ourselves traversing roads with deeper and deeper water which was rather daunting even in a Land Rover. Eventually Gerritt drove through a muddy water covered road and became bogged. Try as we might, despite lots of attempts from every direction, we couldn't pull them out.

By this time it was dusk, and of course lots of animals become very active. We could hear hippos bellowing and there were 4 of them very close by that the boys could see, reducing one of them to tears. Whilst hippos can be very cute and chubby they are also responsible for more deaths in Africa than any other creature, apart from mosquitoes. Travellers are warned to not pitch camp between the water and the grasslands especially at dusk. So we were in that exact position and started to feel rather worried.

We spoke to the others over the radio to let them know that We had decided to pitch camp and light a fire to deter them. By this time the car that was bogged- a Pajero- had water to with 6 inches of its windows: not so great really. By this stage we had all waded in and emptied the car and were wet through and getting cold. We found a great place to camp in a glade under some trees out of the hippos path and with no signs- dung- of other animaLS. There's something to be said for being fully self-contained! we set up camp, changed into some dry clothes as we were sopping wet and built a huge hippo-repellent fire, which was very reassuring for everyone. Mind you some lions started to roar not far away, but that was as close as they got.

We had a good night's sleep considering all of the excitement and the next day all of the others arrived: it took 5 hours to dislodge the car from the mud. There was much macho posturing and planning and tying of ropes and reving of cars and eventually it worked!  Meanwhile the females of the group spent their time undoing Erin's braids, as some of them were very tight. They looked amazing: every one had fake hair plaited in with them to get them identical. It took two women two and a half hours to do them. She must have had at least 40-50 of them so it took a long time , and plenty of women to get them out, except for 8 which she has kept. Now she looks like my Erin again.

So we finally got to the camp and out of the Delta. It's right on the banks of the river/swamp and the sunset and sunrise is amazing.

We had a great day today driving around: everywhere you go there are animals within easy viewing distance. There is a lot of pools of water and a huge range of vegetation. The thorn treees are fierce and soemtimes close to the road . I thought Ewan was trying to finish me off as part of a branch came through the window at one point.

The birds are also fabulous: shiny irridescent starlings, tiny robins, enormous vultures and many more.

We also saw a leopard kill: a half eaten kudu (antelope) draped over a tree branch 10 metres off the ground. News is that the prides of lions that were here have followed some water buffalo towards Kwaii which is our next stop. I'm not sure if that is good news but everyone is very keen to see the lions.

Today we went to the Mboma Boat station and we hired a couple of open power boats to be taken up the 'hippo highway ' to the Hippo Pool. We could have gone in a mokoro which is a small dug-out canoe: they are poled along by a skilled poler standing in the back. They don't go very far so we needed something to get a bit further so we could see the hippos. We went along narrow circuitous channels lined by long reeds until we finally reached a large pool full of waterlilies and other aquatic plants much loved by hippos.

Eventually the boat operator banged on the side of the boat and sure enough three hippos appeared out of the reeds to see what was going on: they are very curious. The largest of the 3, the male, was about 2000 kgms so we didn't get too close. However he apparently thought we were far too close and lunged at us, which made the boat guy reverse very smartly out of there! Apparently the reason people die because of hippos is that they overturn the boat and then the people drown, rather than the hippos actually attacking them: I'm not sure that makes me feel any better! We didn't see any crocs there but there were plenty around. We did see a dead hippo in the water: probably a male who had lost the battle for some territory.

Lots more elephants, zebras, impala: it keeps you on your toes endlessly looking for animals - I think Erin wins the prize in our car. We all have radios so we know where we are: the others communciate in afrikaans and in english for us. They keep joking with Ewan about how he will keep heading for the water.

The truly amazing thing is that after the Pajero spent over 12 hours stuck in the mud and water, Paul towed it to the camp  yesterday and it actually started today. One of the guys Colin was a diesel mechanic and, with the help of a few of the other guys, it looks as if the car may be driveable  after a bit more servicing.

Anyway after our ordeal Coby and Gerritt have been plying us with wine. In my rush to get food I didn't buy any alcohol (not a surprise really!). Everyone has been looking after us which is very kind and they are a lot of fun to be around.

Tomorow we are off to Kwaii so I hope we have a slightly less eventful time getting there

Wednesady 29th June

It occurred to me today as we travelled the sandy and bumpy road to Kwai that there are some consecutive stages  that seem to occur naturally in the process of game viewing:

Stage 1:  OH MY GOD THERE'S A ......... ( insert name of animal here) The car screeches to a halt , a hundred photos are taken even if the animal is a mile away and/or hidden by bushes, trees etc making it very difficult to see. The spotter of the animal feels a warm glow and eventually when the animal is totally obscured or a pinpoint on the horizon we drive on.

Stage 2: There's an......over there. Slow down : will we,won't we take a photo? Are they doing anything interesting?if only one, drive on. If a group or very close to the road then make Ewan position the car for perfect photo ( even if this involves a lot of reversing  and changing of gears and position) Often the animal has moved by now so forget it and drive on.

Stage 3: no comment or just "there's some more ......." impalas usually. Do not stop at all. Very blase indeed!

And then there are the times when none of these apply and the delight of being in the animals environment is overwhelming. Yesterday we spotted a huge male giraffe wandering along the road in the same direction as us, totally unperturbed by our presence. Whilst we waited for him to stroll along and get off the road, the rest of his family appeared and crossed the road in front of us at a leisurely pace. About 7 or 8 in total including two baby giraffes. It is really exciting to see them so close and whilst they keep a close eye on us they are not concerned at all: they just going about their daily business.

This morning we came across a herd of elephants following their trail to better feeding grounds: they had probably just crossed the road and were busy destroying a few more trees whilst they fed. Again there were some babies and they were all shapes and sizes. Ewan jumped out of the car for a closer look, but fortunately thought better of it and got back in. It's amazing how much safer you feel in the car, although apparently a grumpy elephant can do a lot of damage to both you and the car.

None of the animals, from large to small, seem at all perturbed by our presence and they are often right on the edge of the road: I had thought we would need to use binoculars to see any animals but not at all.

Even the birds, particularly the guinea hens waddle briskly up the middle of the road, often with their young, as if they are in a hurry to get somewhere important. It's tempting to yell " Use your wings or die" as they seem totally oblivious to us roaring up behind them. They always seem to move at the very last minute, but everyone was talking about their amazing powers of survival last night around the campfire.

We've arrived at a lovely shady riverside spot on the Kwaii river and YES we have traversed over the bridge at the River Kwai!!

Whilst I have been writing this there has been some raucous sounds of hippos bellowing loudly and not too far away! They don't sound too angry  but then how in the hell do I know that: I'm not sure that 4 days in Botswana qualifies me as an expert.

We're off for a drive to the local village to see if Ewan can procure some beer, although that may be wishful thinking!

your Botswana correspondent and wannabe hippo expert,


PS: No beer available but what an afternoon we've had!  When we booked in at the office the guy told us that there had been lions and leopards  in the campsites here over the last two nights.

Now there are a number of responses to this exciting news: Fantastic let's go and find them!!! OR 'Oh shit, do they like Australians for dinner?'Our fellow travellers definitely fall into the first category so when one of the cars located some lions whilst they were on a drive there was a sudden exodus and everyone piled into their cars and took off in a cloud od dust. We always seem to be relegated to last place as we are the game-viewing virgins and unfortunately we collect everyone ele's dust. At one point Paul, who was leading, radioed us that they had spotted some elephants on the which was all well and good but we couldn't see anything for dust!!

After much mad driving over back roads ( Gloria the GPS almost went into apoplexy!) we found the two lions - both males- sitting only a few metres from the road and looking very content. Again they barely raised an eyebrow when 5 noisy diesel 4WD vehicles descended upon them, everyone pointing cameras and happily snapping away.

As we were watching them a huge bull elephant appeared and walked past the other cars and directly towards us. We were a bit spooked ( see previous entry) but sat tight and it passed us within a few metres and headed for an appetising looking tree, much to our relief. As I had read the section on elephants in the guide book and was the instant expert I realised that it didn't look angry or agitated and wasn't about to attack. Thank heavens!
Just to finish off an astonishing afternoon as we were turning the cars to go home a pack of seven hunting dogs appeared. They have enormous round black ears and very motley tan and black coats, with very spindly legs. They look all out of proportion. We promptly closed the windows as they can be aggressive. They trotted down the road towards us but stopped when they spotted the lions, leaping in the air to get a better view of them and yelping like dogs. Eventually they decided that discretion was the best plan and headed away from them.

Now we have set up camp but with great care as this campsite along the Kwai river has lots of baboons and monkeys. They apparently do not baulk at the idea of eating anything they can lay their hands on, and will even go into tents if they are left open. Should be interesting in the middle of the night. I thought we had done well to escape the attention of lions and leopards by sleeping on top of the car, but Loisnita (pronounced loy-neeta), Paul's wife, tells me that some tourists sleeping in a similar vehicle to ours woke up one morning to find lions patrolling the ground around the ladders waiting for the occupants to get down!!!!

1 comment:

  1. holy shit!! I've just got around to checking your blogs over breakfast in Byron Bay - in this laid-back, relaxing beach place, I sat on the edge of my seat as the toast almost refused to go down my throat reading your adventures! Wow - how exciting! I kept having to remind myself that if you'd been able to post further blogs (which I'd seen you had) you hadn't been eaten yet, so I shouldn't be so worried! The photos are amazing - so close to the animals. It's reactivating Dawn's memories of her safari & now she's asking me if I'd like to go...think I'm too much of a wuss! I was worried about the marauding cassowaries in the Daintree! Ha! Nothing to a herd of hippos or lions circling your van!
    Off to read more now ...