Sunday, 17 July 2011

Chobe and Savuti

A spectacular day at Chobe: Monday 11th July

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better we had an absolutely amazing day.

The highlights included:

- Setting off for a drive around the river flats of the Chobe River and spying what I thought was a pile of slippery grey rocks, only to discover that they were in fact a pile of hippopotami, large and small, sleeping peacefully in the mud near the shore. We saw a number of these 'stacks on hippo', as Erin called them, with only an occaisional yawn to indicate they were alive. Up until this point we had been counting them in single figures but we probably saw 40-50 of them in the one day.

What cute backsides!
- Through the binoculars ( that's an important detail as we didn't want to be too close to these!) we saw three ENORMOUS crocodiles warming up in the sun, with their mouths open to cool off (and terrify the tourists!)

A young giraffe having a rest in the shade
- Giraffes everywhere: crossing the road at a leisurely pace, checking us out briefly and then stopping to feed at the edge of the road. Lots of babies, although even they are still tall! We even saw 4 'teenagers' (I would guess) racing along the plain with enormous strides and covering a lot of ground very quickly. What a sight!

- Following a tip-off (and some GPS coordinates) from Paul we joined them to watch some lions - lionesses and 4 cubs- eating a water buffalo they had just killed. They had pushed it behind a bush and by the time we got there had eaten well and were looking contented ( which we were pleased to see!) They were only a few metres from the road and wandered in and out of the cars parked there without a care in the world. One of the cubs carried the buffalo tail around and played with the others as if it was a toy. We felt very safe despite their close proximity which was surprising to me as I expected them to be aggressive if we were too close.

The lion cubs playing -
totally unconcerned by onlookers
- In the afternoon we went on a Sunset Cruise for 3 hours, so not surprisingly we have heaps of photos of a spectacular sunset! The boat slowly moved among the reeds and water so we were even closer to the hippos (hurray!!!) and the crocodiles (AAAAH!).

We were very privileged to see a rare sight up close, according to our fellow travellers.

A small herd of elephants were standing on the shore,including a couple of babies, whilst we went sailing past. They were headed towards a huge island grassland in the middle of the river, where lots of elephants were already grazing. The only way they could get there was to swim across the water that we were on, right in front of us. They sort of swim, bounce and float to get there using their trunks to breathe when it gets deep. We were all concerned about the babies but when one started to separate from the others a huge trunk swept them in so close they were touching the others. The larger elephants sort of bobbed into them so the baby would bounce up every now again, and we could spot tiny trunks waving in the air. It was like a mass of elephants with a range of tiny to enormous trunks reaching up in the air. It took them about 20-30 minutes to get across and we all watched with bated breath to see if the tiny baby would get there, but of course they made it and happily strolled off to feed. Truly a remarkable sight.

A bundle of elephnats swimming across the river
Success at last!
It was quite a cruise, and of course the gin and tonics were compulsory!!!

Dinner at the safari Lodge was our choice as we were all pining for asian food and they had a stir-fry bar, although this time the meat was impala ( I did feel mean as they are very beautiful animals). Then I ate some kudu marsala curry (they are enormous buck with huge curly antlers) At least I can't be accused of not trying the local delicacies!

Off to our final campsite together..... Savuti Camp - Tuesday 12th July

We woke this morning to the noise of monkeys sitting on our verandah demanding attention. There was a notice on the sliding doors suggesting we don't leave them open and now I know why.

We headed off for Savuti which is in the Chobe national Park: the roads have quite a reputation for being almost impassable so we were very pleased to travel along a brand spanking new highway for some of it at least. Then the dense sand and corrugations started for the next 60 kms or so. The radio in the Land Rover bounces out when it gets too rough so Ewan had one hand on it and one hand on the steering wheel, as the car wheels basically followed the tracks in the deep sand. I was in charge of holding the iphone and itrip so we could get some music.

We saw a couple of ostriches which we hadn't seen before and some more zebras. It's never dull driving along as some animal or bird happens along that you haven't seen before. I thought I'd be tired of animal-spotting by now but not at all.

However there is a scary side to being quite so close.......

Twice in the last 2 days we have upset a herd of elephants crossing a road and a bull elephant has made it very clear that he is not happy. The problem occurs when a large number of elephants are crossing the road including babies and mothers. If we drive through when the herd is split across both sides of the road the bull elephants get very protective and flap their huge ears, trumpet and look generally pissed off.

Yesterday we reversed very smartly hoping one irate bull elephant wouldn't follow us, which it didn't. Then we weren't sure what to do. Just as we were trying to decide, a troop carrier (a sort of open air tourist bus) went straight through without a problem so we followed without any incident: the elephants had resumed eating.

The elephant checking out our campsite
However this morning we went past and then the bull elephant got very annoyed and chased us up the road. They can move very quickly and are very frightening when they are in pursuit. Erin was hysterical in the back seat, but then it was closer to her than us as it ran along the road at high speed toward us. When it decided that we were frightened enough it stopped and rejoined the herd. Phew!!! (  driver's note: they were at least 100m away! ) Excuse me Ewan but since when does the driver get to edit my blog!!!!!!!!!!

We arrived at the Savuti campsite which is fairly isolated and basic. Whilst we waited for the others we decided to have lunch and as soon as the food was unpacked lots of hornbills, which are EVERYWHERE in Africa, appeared. They are speckled black and white birds the size of a magpie, but with huge yellow to red hooked beaks twice the size of their heads ( You'd be very impressed Lauren-NOT!). Up close when you are trying to eat your lunch and they increase in numbers and get closer and closer, they seem very threatening. Consequently Erin had her lunch sitting in the car! ( takes after her sister in some things! ) Ewan was no help as he decided to feed them! We awaited the arrival of the others so that the attention could be divided amongst a few more people.

I was just sitting here typing when a small elephant wandered past in the campsite: not quite what we expected, but luckily it decided that the next campsite looked a bit nicer so it went over!! Lucky as who knows what damage it could have done!!

The Ablutions block here has a concrete wall protected by a huge mound supporting the wall, encircling it to prevent the elephants getting in.

The tap on our campsite has been carefully encased in a huge brick block with only a few inches of pipe sticking out of the side. To turn it on you have to reach into a plastic pipe in the side and that's where the tap is. Apparently the elephants decided that they liked fresh water and worked out how to turn the usual type of taps on!

Chobe is the Park where there are thousands of elephants (20-30,000 estimated) so we're expecting to see a lot of them! perhaps not quite so close...

PS: OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

They were famous last words I can tell you. After I finished updating the blog I went to do a bit of tidying up and started to wash the dishes at our table. I looked up to see a huge bull elephant looking at me about 40 metres away. Then the fun began.....

The elephant exploring one of the caravans
I yelled ( so much for the stay cool and calm advice!) everyone came to look and the elephant slowly lumbered forward to get a closer look at our camp. We had been told that we should not have any citrus fruit as the elephants love it, so those of us who had some had eaten it and tossed the peels into the bush behind the campsite: the birds had eaten most  of the peel.

Anyway the elephant made a beeline for the back of the site and rummaged around for a while, whilst we all fled in various directions. Erin and some of the kids headed for the protection of the Ablutions block wall. I managed to grab the camera from our car. The elephant came into middle of our campsite where we had all of the vehicles in a circle. It picked up and ate some bananas from a chair (carefully spitting out the plastic bag they were stored in and the cake mix being saved for Lou-lou's birthday ( for the chefs among you the cake worked fine!), It moved in front of Moira and Colin's off-road caravan, knocked over one of our chairs and came in the direction of our car which had the tents erected ready for us to spend the night. I had put all of our fruit in the metal fridge inside the car so the scent wouldn't be obvious and Ewan had hastily put the vegetables that I'd cut up for dinner in the car too. So it decided that we had nothing worth having. It turned and went to the other's caravans and tents having a good look for food and sniffing around with its trunk. Paul's family jumped into their car and Saskia described how she could look up its trunk as it sniffed at the car window.

By this stage I had retreated to the safety of the Ablutions block with all of the children ie. I thought someone should look after them and I was happy to do the job under the circumstances!!! The great thing was that the view from the top of the wall was teffific! Like being in the dress circle!

Eventually it ambled off to scrounge for food in the bushes and to demolish a few trees, so we all heaved a sigh of relief! Just to be clear, this was a large elephant with enormous tusks which towered above all of the tents and trees. It was not agitated and calmly wandered around looking for food, not interested in us at all.( says she who headed for the safest place at a rapid rate!!!)

Apart from three hyena who visited in the night the rest of it passed uneventfully!

Wednesday 13th July

Today our family officially failed the lion-spotting contest!

Camped in Savuti by the Savuti Channel and flats which had quite a lot of water means that there should be lots of game. We headed off through very sandy roads and tracks and saw animals we hadn't seen elsewhere: Blue Wildebeest ( very large and dark, definitely not to be tangled with) tsessebe ( yet another type of deer) a jackal and lots of kudus, zebras, giraffes, elephants and of course more impala.

We headed off up a track and Paul followed us a few minutes later. Erin and I were spotting, she to the left me to the right, whilst Ewan drove. Then we got a message from Paul via the radio: we had driven straight past 2 male lions!!! So back we went to see two lions lying in the sun at least 100 metres from the road. To make our excuses for missing them, the track went through low grassland with a few bushes and trees - in amongst the grass there are tufts of grass that are slightly taller and darker than the pale grass. One of these 'tufts' turned out to be one of the lions. The only hope you have of picking them out is that they move just as you are looking in that direction: very challenging to spot. They were very sleepy and not moving much at all but Paul saw a movement just as he looked which was lucky. The result is that our reputations have gone to hell and noone believes us when we report that there's nothing to see on any particular track!

Not a great photo but they were running!
There was a beautiful moment when we were travelling through a difficult-to-find grasslands track (thanks to Gloria the GPS yet again!) and across the grasslands there was a herd of giraffe travelling through the grass in the background with lots of the other animals in the foreground. We circled around and saw the giraffe up close, which is always exciting. These were much darker markings than we'd seen previously, and all sizes.

The focus of the afternoon was the making of three enormous oxtail potjies for dinner. This involves slow simmering in enormous camp ovens for most of the afternoon so fires had to be carefully maintained and there was much stirring of pots.

Before we had dinner , Cobie had assigned everyone a role to play in a drama which she narrated and we acted out. I was the sun, ( props supplied by neon bracelets distributed to celebrate Lou's birthday), Ewan was a very enthusiastic hippo which resulted in him being covered in black sand, and Erin was a tree which involved supporting a fish eagle (Hadrian), being blown away by the east and west winds (the 2 Pauls). It was a lot of fun for both adults and chilkdren alike.

Then we settled down for a delicious dinner until........


As we were sitting eating we suddenly heard a lot of yelling and banging coming from one of the other campsites nearby.

The brave and fearless Moira went to investigate and came back rather agitated; an elephant had just ripped the rooftop tents from a vehicle very similar to ours, and was looking very angry. Fortunately there was noone inside the tent at the time, but the family members who were in other rooftop teants were petrified of course. there was an absolute hubbub with lots of noise being generated to try and frighten the elephant and our camp being packed up in record time!! The potjies were quickly taken to the Ablution block as they smelt atractive to elephants we all assumed. The children, some with their half-eaten dinners, were dispatched there too. The teenagers from the family whose tents had been destroyed were also there very tearful and upset.

And of course we are the only people sleeping in the same sort of tents in our camp so we were rather worried.

In the end the rangers came, and all of the noise did eventually scare the elephant away. The rangers followed it and fired a few warning shots to make sure it didn't return.

The story goes that the elephant went into the campsite looking for food because other stupid tourists had delibarately fed elephants whist staying there. It starled the family who decided the best tactic was to scare the living daylights out of it. The elephant became agitated and grabbed the tent from the car. The accumulated knowledge from our travelling colleagues was that you should stay calm as we had done the night before (!!!) and not try to antagonise the elephant, but who knows??!!

My only other advice is to avoid campsite No. 9 if you ever camp at Savuti! Apparently the rangers had 'poisoned' another bull elephant who did the same thing at the same campsite and they thought this elephant was a companion of that one. They said they would follow the elephant the next day and decide what to do about it, but it seemed that it might meet the same fate as it's mate. Very sad - all because of the stupidity of humans feeding wild animals!

It turned out that the families effected were 2 families of New Zealanders, the mothers were sisters and originally Afrikaaner before migrating to NZ 25 years ago. They moved all of their vehicles on to our site, and slept together in a spare tent and not in their rooftop tents ( not surpisingly!).

Meanwhile we all had a stiff shot of Amarula ( Thanks Colin!) to settle our jangled nerves. We all felt reassured that the number of people and vehicles had increased and eventually collapsed into bed. Although Erin was not entirely convinced that we weren't next!!!!

At some point there was a conversation with the new zealanders about the worst that we would expect at home was a grumpy wombat or a cranky kangaroo! Very small fry compared to this!

Thursday 14th July: Savuti

The visitors packed up and left very early heading for the safety of Kasane.

We farewelled Cobie, Gerritt, Hadrian and C.G., as they headed back to Pretoria : Gerritt was determined to be in his own bed that night so they had a lot of driving to do.

The others all set off, with Erin esconsed with all of the kids, to see Linyanti. Ewan and I weren't keen as the roads are hard work here, especially in the stiff suspension of the Land Rover, and there didn't seem to be much to see as a lot of it was privately owned.

We spent a couple of hours exploring some more local tracks and did visit some rock art in one of the very few hills near here.

The tents the elephant ripped off the top of the car
Then in the late afternoon, another visit by the same elephant who visited the site on the first night (we think!). It was foraging for food. He spent some time eyeing our campsite for food from only a couple of metres away, but he had to content himself with the juicy bushes behind our campsite. Mind you, we still had to do the quick pack-up so there was no food on offer. (Paul commented that it seemed to take a very short time to completely clear the site compared to the amount of time it usually takes us to pack up to get on the road!). Colin produced a serious catapult and Loisnita a stun gun, just in case, but a bit of drumming on an old metal drum barbecue seemed to do the trick. He was very calm and this time so were we - I didn't even go to the Ablution block for safety! He wandered through a few of the other sites and eventually the rangers came and frightened him away with a couple of warning shots.
Colin and Loisnita: well-prepared !

Off we all went for our last game drive together but we had some trouble with the car and had to return to base.

Fortunately Colin is a diesel mechanic and he pronounced it OK after Ewan had plugged some hole with the cork from a bottle of red wine!! Ewan tells me it's leaking hydraulic fluid from the clutch : great! Not exactly hundreds of garages out here to help if needed!

Friday 25th July: Back to Maun

We all got up at sunrise and packed the camp up and set off down a truly horrible road. It took about 3 hours to do 61 kms I think. It was very sandy, huge potholes and lots of corrugations. We finally reached Maun and the power to the whole town had gone off, apparently a frequent occurrence. The last time we were here there was no water to flush the toilets,  so, despite Maun being the big smoke it would be challenging living here! The only place we could find to eat was a Nando's - just like home- as it has its own generator. I'm sitting here in anticipation of the power suddenly starting and then I can post this blog!!!!!! ( no such luck! )

It was very sad to farewell everyone as we have become good friends whilst living together for the past 3 weeks.Our afrikaans hasn't improved much as their english is so good

The kids enjoying Lou Lou's birthday treats

Some of the group enjoying the Sunset cruise
The good news is they weren't axe murderers at all!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment