Botswana Trip Report - March 2007

Mar 30th, 2007, 05:17 PM
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Botswana Trip Report - March 2007

Start of Journey -March 10th

I started out with much trepidation as the week before departure I threw out my lower back and spent the week laying flat or painfully trying to stand up straight. So along with the various medications that keep me glued together I added a muscle relaxer and vicodin to the medicine bag. One thought kept me going - First class to Dulles and Business Class lie-flat seats to Johannesburg. I was sure that once in Africa my aches and pains would miraculously disappear and for the most part they did.

Comments on the trip over: I was always curious about what on behind the curtain in First Class. Curious no longer and a bit disappointed. We flew American from LAX to Dulles on a red-eye on the theory that we might get a few winks in on the five hour flight. Between my back and turbulence that was not to be. The seats weren’t all that comfy or roomy. Oh well we gave it a try, next time we’ll save our dollars on this part of the trip for another night in camp somewhere.

Due to my bad planning and a change in airline schedules we arrived at Dulles at 6:15am and our SAA flight to JoBurg didn’t leave until 5:00pm. We got a day room at the Holiday Inn nearby - with enough time to shower and grab a couple hours sleep before heading back to the airport at 2:00. When we checked in with SAA we were given a pass to the Virgin Atlantic lounge. A nice oasis from the airport hustle and bustle. Then it was on to our flight and to Africa!!

I managed to get some sleep on the flight as I took a muscle relaxer. I maybe got a solid three hours sleep, then maintained that weird neither region of “did I just sleep? Am I really awake? Must sleep, must sleep….oh good slept - I think” Eric swears he didn’t sleep a wink. We were happy to see the outskirts of Johannesburg and have our ears start popping at descent.

Passport control, luggage pickup and customs was a breeze. Despite construction going on around the airport, everyone was helpful and even though I’m sure we had that scary sleep deprived look, we were greeted with smiles. Guess they’re used that there.

We were met by Gordon of Wilderness Safaris who took us to our airport hotel. The Airport Sun is a nice hotel. After checking we were offered wine, cheese and snacks in the lobby. I grabbed a glass and we headed up to our room. Being an airport hotel we weren’t afforded great views, in fact our room looked out onto a roof. But it gave us an opportunity to view our first African animal, the wild South African roof kitty, which took up residence under our window and delighted us during the evening as he hunted for moths and beetles.

The hotel restaurant offered a buffet that evening, roasted chicken and pork for Eric with rice and gravy. I had the lamb curry - an excellent choice. A beautiful salad bar, and something special according to our servers, ice cream.

We were exhausted but managed to stay awake long enough to dash off the twenty five postcards promised to friends stateside. Then to bed were I slept like a log until midnight. Then it was tossing and turning until four when Eric woke up and we gave up on sleep.
After an outstanding breakfast buffet we were off to the airport and our flight to Botswana where our trip really began.
VeeR is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 05:26 PM
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We checked in at Air Botswana and headed to the International Gate Area, aka: My Shopping Mecca, Duty-Free. Since we had time I did some “pre-shopping” at Out of Africa and pretty well had my list for our return trip mapped out.

Air Bots left on time, offered us sandwiches and drinks. We were fortunate enough to sit next to Shara who is a manager at Chief’s Camp with her husband Jamie. They were just coming back to camp following a holiday. She was kind enough to share her life and love of Botswana. Her enthusiasm was contagious, as if we weren’t already excited. Because of her entertaining stories and willingness to answer our questions the flight seemed to take no time at all.

At Maun we got into the terminal and began the wait as the bags were brought in, one small truckload at a time. Finally loaded up on the trolley we headed through the doors and saw my friend Jane. Hugs, hugs and a few tears. She introduced me to Rebecca Binns of Children in the Wilderness, who in turn introduced me to part of the staff, Geoffrey, Helena and then Lesh who I remembered from Wilderness Tented Camp. However, I was fairly well done in by the trip and the whole Maun Airport experience will always stay a little blurred, a little too short and a bit frantic as we had to transfer immediately to the Sefofane flight to Xigera. Rebecca said she was coming to Xigera the next day to give a presentation and that we would have time to visit then. I sadly said good bye to Jane.

We shared out flight to Xigera on a 12 passenger Caravan. We were the first stop on the flight, with the other passengers heading on to Abu Camp and Mombo Camp. As we headed north the landscape was dotted with pillars of smoke on the edges of the delta. We were told most of the fires had started by lightening strikes. We were greeted at the airstrip by Sam and Ishmael our guides for the five nights we were at Xigera. Our first game drive started the minute we left the airstrip with a sighting of a mother warthog and three babies along the side of the road. A bit further down the road Ishmael pointed out into the distance to a tree. Along side the tree were two giraffe. As we drove through a wooden area there was movement to the left. “Bushbuck” Sam informed us “Hard to find” Funny how my back didn’t bother me at all on that bumpy road.

When we turned another bend in the road we saw the camp and were greeted by some of the staff singing welcome. There we met Janice the camp manager, and as we walked over the bridge into camp she filled us about the camp and in her Scottish accent began to weave the enchantment of Xigera around us.

We were given Tent 9, the honeymoon tent. I am still trying to figure out how we rated this upgrade - but what a special treat. Tents 9 and 10 are the furthest out from the lodge. The first time we walked out on the wooden decks to get there it seemed like miles and that we were certain to get lost. With Tent 10 unoccupied we certainly felt like we had our own little Eden. The king sized bed was most inviting, but with little under an hour before tea I didn’t dare lay down. I alternating between rummaging through our bags for clothes and toiletries, and staring out our front screen to the panoramic view of the floodplain. Or exclaiming over our own private loo with a view.

After tea, where we met our campmates we headed off on a welcoming mekoro ride. I have to admit at this point that water activities and I don’t always get along. But part of this trip was to stretch myself and I was looking forward to this activity as a “must do” for Xigera.

I wavered between thoroughly enchanted and extremely nervous. Sam was our poler, while Ishmael poled the other mekoro with a couple from France as passengers. We kept to the shallows and saw hippos in the distance. Then Ishmael came to a sudden stop, his mekoro wobbled, he jumped out to steady it and gave it a frantic yank back and began to back pole out the canal. He had bumped into a submerged hippo -

“He shouldn’t have been there” Ishmael explained a few minutes later “It was an odd place for him to be”
“So when was the last time you almost toppled a mekoro Ishmael?” Eric asked
“When I was seven” was the reply.

Even with that reassurance the shallow water just didn’t seem as benign to me. And it seemed the hippo telegraph was going off full blast, as the basso profundo of the hippos tattooed the air. I know I’m the original Nervous Nellie, a regular tower of Jell-O - but I say never underestimate an hippo. We kept seeing bubbles of hundreds of fish in the water, then a blue Bass came flying over the prow of the boat in a perfect arch, nearly hitting Eric in the head before landing in the water on the other side. Overhead fish eagles patrolled the area, or majestically surveyed their realm from lofty tree tops.

Back at camp as we were disembarking from the mekoros we heard a loud rustling in the trees across the river. Entire trees were swaying. We were calmly led back to the deck by our guides. At first we could see nothing, then in the fading light tusks began to glow through the greenery, then emerging like a ‘fade in’ shot came the rest of the young bull. He worked his way across the river to the mekoros where he seemed to pose for everyone in camp before slowly turning around and heading back into the bush. It was jungle fairytale magic.

Dinner was simple and delicious, baked chicken, new potatoes, green beans and broccoli with a crisp and lovely green salad. It was ten o’clock when we made it back to our tent and probably ten o’clock and 30 seconds when we fell asleep. I awoke to Mother Nature’s call at 4am and fumbled in the dark to the loo with the view. I was in no position to jump up and run when I heard rustling under the tent floorboards and a distinctive scratchy “grrrr” - definitely feline in nature. It sounded more irritated than menacing, but I was happy to get away from that screen and snuggle back down in that comfy bed and savor the night noises.

Eric woke up and we listened together. The distant thumping, harrumph call of the hippos started the orchestra with a bass beat - followed by the erratic piccolo counter point of the fruit bats. A Greek chorus of baboons serenaded us for a fraction of a minute. Various birds including one they called the “Go Away” bird provided the backup vocals. Then all of nature seemed to take a deep breath, pause a second and begin anew. The moon began to rise around 5am so we sat out on our deck in the surprisingly mossie free darkness. (Thank you friendly fruit bats) The walkway lights came on shortly afterwards and our wakeup “Good morning” from the end of the walkway came at 5:30 sharp
VeeR is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 05:27 PM
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Waiting for more!
Marija is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 06:12 PM
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VeeR - Fantastic start - Was interested to hear how your crook back miraculously came good - i had the same experience! Must be Africa Magic

Your description of the dawn chorus is lovely "Then all of nature seemed to take a deep breath, pause a second and then begin anew". yes, it is just like that.

More More!

Thembi is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 06:18 PM
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Thanks for the kind words. The crooked back made for interesting exits from the boats - fell back in the mekoro once - fell out of the motorboat face first into the mud on another trip. I think that fall popped it back in place.
Oh - I noticed that on this report the source of my loo encounter wasn't included. It was the camp leopard. Never got to see it though.
The rest of Xigera report will be this shortly.
VeeR is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 06:31 PM
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Day two started out promptly at 6:30 - we were off on a motorboat ride through the Delta.
The couple going out with us was impatient to get going, so coffees were left unfinished and morning ablutions not completed. It wasn’t long into the boat drive that I needed a private place. After all the postings on the Fodor’s board about taking care of business on game drives - we never did touch on what to do in a boat, with my husband and five strangers. The first plan of action - find an island. Keep this in mind because it all comes down to finding the right island - one with enough land to have privacy. Just because there are trees doesn’t mean there is more than a trunk’s worth of land. So it takes time. Okay enough said on that subject.

Back to the boat trip. We were wending our ways down a narrow canal with towering papyrus and reeds on either side, making for slow going when a huge ripple splash roiled up in front of us and suddenly we are prow to nose with a large crocodile. After giving us the evil eye he slid back into the water and unavoidably we felt the bump-bump as we floated over his back. When we looked back his head was above water balefully glaring at us. We continued onward through the reed canal until it opened up to a lagoon carpeted with day lilies. The air was heavy with the fragrance, trees adorned with birds of every ilk, and the flood plains, still at low water were filled with red lechwe, along with kudu, impala and tseebee. We stopped on a small island for tea before heading on to our destination of the morning - the hippo pool.

When we made it to the hippo pool I took several bad photos - thankfully Eric knows his camera well and got some good shots. There was a group of ten who seemed to be trying their best to pose nicely for us. Then as it was 10:30 we headed back to camp - mustn’t miss a meal you know.

Wednesday afternoon turned out to be one of the most special afternoons of the trip for me and for Eric but for different reasons. I opted out of the afternoon game drive for two reasons - first my back was still tender and I thought I should pace myself a bit. Reason two - the bigger reason, was that Rebecca Binns was due in camp to give a presentation about Children in the Wilderness and I looked forward to the opportunity to talk with her a bit about the work they are doing in Botswana. I had done research on line, subscribe to the Children in the Wilderness newsletter and had sent some books and classroom supplies from time to time so thought I understood what they are doing in Botswana. However, the time I spent with Rebecca opened my eyes to their outreach program, so that the children who go to the camps can continue to be nurtured and educated on everything from health issues to environment. They are continuing to expand to meet the needs of the children and to track them afterwards, so going to camp with Children of the Wilderness is not just a one shot deal, but CITW is committed to each child as they grow to adulthood. It is a far larger project with a far greater potential than I had known. I am so honored to have met Rebecca, and to be able to help in a small way in this program. I’ll get off my soapbox now - but if you want more information just go to their website - just remember - IMHO the website doesn’t tell half the story of all the positive things they are doing.

Eric’s afternoon was remarkable journey of discovery also. By fluke, by fate, by the sunny safari god who seemed to be smiling on us - he got to go on a private game drive. The large family group had their own program going for the afternoon, the young couple from Canada were just in and wanted to hang around in camp, and unfortunately our safari buddies from the morning boat drive had an emergency and were headed home right after lunch. So off he went - his first real game drive and he had the undivided attention of both Sam and Ishmael.
His game viewing list included an elephant who greeted him with a loud trumpet, zebra - the only zebra seen in this area as they were moving off the concession - giraffe up close and personal, kudu, red lechwe, fish eagles, lilac breasted roller, copper tailed coucal and a host of other birds. Sorry I can’t name them all - he didn’t have a checklist with him but estimates he heard at least twenty different names of birdlife while on the drive. He was also very happy to get to know the guides better. It turns out that we were blessed with two of the most experienced guides at Xigera, if not in the area. Both men grew up in the area, are members of the Polers Trust, though employed full time by Wilderness Safaris. Each has over twenty five years experience guiding in the area. Both were willing to talk about life in the area - growing up on an island near Chief’s Island - “over there” with a wave of the hand.
After that game drive Eric’s experience with the guide’s became personal.

I did warn you didn’t I that this report would probably be more about the people than the game?

Rebecca gave her presentation before dinner. Then everyone went their separate ways to eat. The family group had their thing and the big camp surprise - the young man from Canada arranged for a candlelight dinner by the pool to propose to his beautiful lady. Ahhhh - I can’t think of a more romantic setting. So dinner was Rebecca, Johnny (one of the guides) Eric and I. It was a lovely presentation with the entrée being kudu. It was prepared deliciously, and after a couple glasses of wine I forgot about the beauty I saw in the bush that morning. I kept thinking “venison, venison…I am a carnivore”.

VeeR is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 07:02 PM
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You must have been frantic with a bad back just before departure. Or did enough Vicodin keep your emotions and pain in check? Even though 1st class turned out to be a little disappointing, the thought of a comfortable first flight might have helped ease your back into shape. Wishful thinking if nothing else.

I'll ask for the room with the roof kitty. Thanks for the heads up.

Bumping into a hippo on a mekoro is a sign of good luck! The rarity of that was demonstrated by your poler's response of when he last bumped into one. I wouldn't like that at all. You're a brave girl.

You descrption of your morning wakeup call and all the sounds is beautiful.

Now you are bumping into a croc? It's either the mekoro ride from hell or really, really good luck.

Lucky Eric on his private game drive. A bush proposal, how romantic.

Great report, waiting for more.
atravelynn is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 07:04 PM
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It is great to hear that CITW does a long programme - with follow up into adult hood. Good work WS.

Eric had great wildlife viewing on his "first ever" game drive.

I am suprised to hear that there was kudu on the menu - I believd that WS does not serve local animals for the pot!

I prefer to think "Omnivore! Omnivore!" ...Brocolli doesn't scream when you cut it
Thembi is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 09:04 PM
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I started to post the next installment and found a dozen little omissions so will wait til tomorrow morning to post again.
The back thing was tough on the flight over - flexril, the muscle relaxer worked better than vicodin which has its own set of side effects.But I've been dealin with this stuff for years. I do believe the lessening of pain was the African magic. Everything seemed better there, the back - all of the sudden I had strong fingernails and I swear my hair grew two inches in two weeks. Eric and I strongly discussing opening a Mexican restaurant in Maun since I got healthy while we were there.
VeeR is offline  
Mar 31st, 2007, 02:41 AM
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Thank you so much for sharing your trip in this much detail - it's magical - I'm really enjoying it and feel like I'm there vicariously!
Kavey is offline  
Mar 31st, 2007, 03:57 AM
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Thanks for the great details, Vee! Gotta love Botswana...I miss it so.
Ericka is offline  
Mar 31st, 2007, 06:11 AM
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More, please! Really enjoying your detailed report. We leave for Botswana and Vic Falls On May 25, so your report is like a prequel. I'm especially interested in how your back fares on the game drives. I've had three spine surgeries and have daily back pain, so am a little worried about bouncing around in the bush. Will be going armed with lots of drugs and a pretty serious back brace, as I don't intend to miss out on anything. Still, it has me a little freaked.... Make sure you give updates on the condition of your back as your trip goes on. Looking forward to reading more. And thanks for all the detail.

bevor is offline  
Mar 31st, 2007, 06:59 AM
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I'll be sure to stop at your Mexican restaurant in Maun--when it open--for a bite between flights.

Thanks for the Children in the Wilderness information. Was meeting Rebecca and seeing her presentation at Xigera arranged through your friend or was it more of a lucky find?
atravelynn is offline  
Mar 31st, 2007, 07:52 AM
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Really enjoying your report and lovely descriptions-can't wait for more!
moremiles is offline  
Mar 31st, 2007, 08:27 AM
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Good morning here everyone. Readying the next chapter right now.

Bevor - The drives really didn't bother me as much as I thought they would. I had plenty of room to change my posture while sitting and found when sitting up straight I could take the rocking in my hips. The roads weren't class four off roading in anycase.

Atravelynn - My friend Jane who used to work with WS told me more about CITW when I asked about it. Rebecca and I started up email correspondance when I started sending books and classroom supplies. I think Rebecca was able to arrange her presentation schedule a little bit so I could see it. One piece of info -I guess the chef at Mombo has put out a cookbook and part of the proceeds go to CITW. I'm trying to figure out how to order one of those books.
VeeR is offline  
Mar 31st, 2007, 08:30 AM
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Xigera Days Three four and Five a long report

Four am, Thursday morning and I’m wide awake after a good night’s sleep. I savor the laydown time and the early morning noises as the nocturnal animals give it their last hoorah for the night and the daytime animals begin to stretch their vocal chords. I listen closely for the leopard - but the camp patroller cannot be heard. The fruit bats’ squeaking reminds me of our dog’s chew toy which he gnaws on - a semi-familiar sound in the heart of a foreign land.
Eric wakens shortly before dawn and we dress before our Good Morning wake up, and walk back with our caller in the near darkness. Being early we find out a bit about the morning routine. First up and working are the morning wait staff and guides. Coffee is made, muffins laid out, fruit dished up, while the guides prepare for the morning’s activities - vehicles and boats are checked, ice chests and thermoses filled. Route and routines discussed. By the time the rest of the campers come to the lodge the well oiled machine is humming smoothly. As we are leaving at 6:30 we see the rest of the staff crossing the bridge to begin their day. The cooks must begin baking in the early morning, bread for brunch, cakes and goodies for tea and prep the yeast rolls for dinner, along with the muffins for the next morning. The housecleaning staff must come and make their magic in everyone’s rooms in the few short hours we are gone. The decks are swept each morning and again in the evening. At Xigera this means miles of sweeping daily.

On this, our second wakeup in camp we had leisurely coffee and muffins before setting off on a long game drive with the young newly engaged couple from Canada. Over and through rivers and streams, crossing wide expanses, catching a whiff of smoke from the fires to the south. Our sunrise was blazing orange and red from the smoke on the horizon. Our guides were on a mission to find lions - but they proved illusive. The pride that had been in the area not a week before had moved on - though because of the tall grasses - high as the vehicle in some cases we wouldn’t have known they if there were there. But we knew if Sam and Ishmael said they were gone….well they were gone. After six hours, in which we saw ellies, giraffe, impalas, red lechwe(of course) we headed back to camp. We opted out of an afternoon activity with the goal of an extended siesta. As we tried to nap the room got warmer and warmer - so another opt out - no nap - lets hit the pool. What a delight! The pump was going and made for a nice Jacuzzi effect. Later we found out the high that afternoon was 34C - which in my rough figuring was around 98 degrees F. But the night was pleasant enough for sleeping and I actually slept through to our wake call in the morning.

Day four and we found out our new safari mates were a quartet from Rome. A father and son, and two of the father’s friends. And we were off for a motorboat ride again - an activity that I loved even with the previous emergency island stop over. The day dawned blazing white hot - no smoke in the air this morning. On our way out to the Boro River I saw movement in the tall grass - no more than a fleeting glimpse as Sam exclaimed “A sitatunga!” in an excited whisper. “Very rare” I was the only one to see it and put an imaginary feather in my cap.
Since the water was just coming in from Angola, new waterways were opening up each day. We got to go exploring, but could only get so far before the reeds and sand would play havoc on the propellers. Several times the poles were used to back us out of channels that weren’t quite full enough to float our boatload. But we saw beautiful vistas of what looked like grasslands, but were actual marshlands. When the red lechwe bounded off, they churned up sparkling froths of water. Crocodiles lazed on flatten reeds and with a flick of a tail sank out of sight. Only one thing marred the beautiful morning - attitude. Maybe being the lone woman in a boatload of testosterone made me a little hyper sensitive to things - but our shipmates had a tendency to jump up whenever an animal was pointed out - including the hippos. When Sam or Ishmael would ask them to please sit down, they were usually answered with a shrug and “its okay” “I’m alright” and stay standing. I got a little pissy during our coffee break on a little island and went off in a corner to cuss in Spanish about the idiots, pretty well knowing that some of what I was saying was close enough to Italian for anything overheard to be understood. Just my passive aggressive way of handling things. For what’s its worth I think it might have worked a little. The rest of the ride home was uneventful.

It was another scorcher - 35C which I didn’t even try to figure out in Fahrenheit. So it was off to the pool , where we met up with our Italian friends. My grudges were put aside and young Filipo (spelling?) a young dreamer of rock and rock dreams thought Eric was a god because he actually played and sang in a band. They got to talk music, Filipo had his laptop with some samples of stuff he liked. Eric had a fine balancing act between father and son. Encouraging the younger to follow his dream, but get an education and a day job and reassuring the elder that both were possible. A sundowner game drive where the sky glowed red in the west and south - smoke could be smelled again. A lone bull elephant obliged us for photo moments. And the guides obliged me, but giving me the front seat and a choice of three pillows to prop my back.

Actually riding in the vehicles wasn’t that hard. There was enough room in the seats to readjust my position and by sitting up very straight I could take some of the rocking and bouncing in my hips. Sort of a sit down hula. I avoided the strong meds and when not on a drive or boat ride I stood and walked around camp as much as possible.

There was a delicious beef stroganoff for dinner and off to bed early, as it was a full day trip on the morrow.

Day Five Because it was a full day trip, we started later than usual and didn’t get our wake up until 6:30.We were up before then, but took our time getting ready and doing some organizing of the room. After a good breakfast we were off on the boat again. I was trying to be a good sport about my back (whine, whine, whine) and even offered to to stay behind….Ishmael and Sam were having none of that. Pillows were provided and I was given the front row seat as the most comfortable for the ride in the motorboard. I really hated taking those pretty embroidered pillows from camp. We were going far afield this time and once on the Boro we headed for miles in open waters - through oceans of day lilies, just the hint of their sweetness in the air as they were just opening for the day. Then we hit the reed and papyrus river jungle. I spent half the time with my head in my lap or one of those pretty embroidered pillows in my face to avoid the slapping plants as we trailblazed the swamp. At one point I remembered that scene in the African Queen where Charlie had to pull the boat - you must remember - when he came out of the water “Leeches - ah - leeches” Though we didn’t encounter any of those critters, we did have a rhino beetle hitch a ride. Then open water, a hippo pool, and one hippo in the canal who to exception to us being there and gave a half hearted chase, and another who took exception to us, climbed out of the water and gave a loaded tail flick. Crocs were in abundance so we didn’t have anyone jumping to their feet today, thank goodness. Then we came to paradise. A sycamore tree, branches full and spreading perched on the banks of the canal. We got out for our picnic. But before any food was laid out, Ishmael got out a blanket and a pillow just for me, so I could rest my back before lunch. It felt mighty good to be the queen bee at that moment. Over lunch the talk turned to cousins, tribes, lifestyles, Bushmen and some politics. After lunch while our Italian friends napped, we listened and asked questions and listened some more to tales of the bush from Sam and Ishmael. Under the shade of the sycamore tree we received a first person history, geography and social studies lesson that we will never forget. We were asked and answered questions about life in the States. Under that tree, I believe friendships of a lifetime were forged.

Our last night in camp - yes I was totally overcome with summer camp syndrome. Everyone was my new best friend - we brought out the Polaroid and took pictures to leave so “you don’t forget us” I spent some quality time in the office, choosing baskets to purchase. Xigera has a great selection and they are all made by the staff or the family of the staff. We were able to get a few made by Julia the bartender and a beautiful covered basket made by Ishmael’s wife. These we will always cherish.

As we walked back to our tent we heard singing coming from across the river. In the staff village, Saturday night church services were going on. So we sat on our deck and listened to the distant harmonies. It seemed all of God’s other creatures let the humans have this night to make their joyful sound. After the service were over, the animal chorus began up again and continued the song.

VeeR is offline  
Mar 31st, 2007, 09:41 AM
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I tell you, the magic of your experience comes through in every word you write.
Kavey is offline  
Mar 31st, 2007, 02:51 PM
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VeeR - you write beautifully - very evocative. (yes, i have a few tears going here). Oh! to be back in the Delta - but your tale is the next best thing.
Thembi is offline  
Apr 1st, 2007, 01:50 PM
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On to Muchenje Lodge, Chobe NP

Sunday morning - Day six - We spent the morning savoring Xigera Camp. After five days in camp we were fairly spread out over the tent and we had a time making everything fit back into the duffle bags. I got the cook’s tour of the kitchen and storage areas. They are in the process of building another tent for the staff and an outdoor patio area for the staff to take breaks. They had the most ingenious cool room system I had ever seen. It was square building with iron grated walls. Sandwiched between two plates of the grating was coal which was rigged with a water system so the coal stayed damp and the process of evaporation kept everything cool in the room.

Though I had said my Amarula soaked teary goodbyes the night before, I was reluctant to take that last walk across the bridge to the carpark.

Ishmael and Sam drove us to the airstrip and when it came to shake hands, Ishmael took Eric up in a hug that lifted him off the ground. “Cousins now” Ish smiled to Eric. Sam helped me into the Cessna 206 (yeah a small plane!) and then we were taking off over the Delta. The pilot was very friendly during the flight, turning around to talk to us and pointing things out on the map. We asked to take his photo…

“Only two things I hate - hard landings and photographs” but he smiled when Eric snapped the picture.

An hour and half and a few hundred aerial photos later we landed in Kasane. No hard landing. I love little airports. No fuss, no muss, just “Welcome to Kasane”.

JJ, one of the managers of Muchenje was just inside the door to greet us. Soon we were headed towards Chobe on the first paved road we’d seen in nearly a week. The road was in great condition, and our game viewing started not long after leaving the airport, with elephants on the side of the road at the edge of the bush line. A left onto Botswana Road #B334 and we hit a well maintained dirt road that became denser with growth as we moved toward the Lodge.

We were housed in Chalet #10, the farthest out to the northeast of the compound with a stunning view of the Chobe River with the bridge to Namibia in the distance. It felt a little odd to have four solid walls around us, but the room was lovely with a king sized bed decorate with heart shaped leaves and flowers. Seems the honeymoon treatment was continuing here. The marble shower was made for two.

We met up with JJ to go over the house rules before going on our first sundowner.
The meal schedule was different - breakfast 8:30, lunch 1:00, dinner 8:00. My waistline was going to like this schedule. And the late start meant we could try to sleep in a little.
Then it was time for our first Chobe Sundowner. We met our guide, Dan, who kept us on a point system for sightings and animal names. “Ten points for you” he would announce for a good call or “Minus ten points - try again”.

I hear people say that this isn’t prime season for elephants at Chobe NP, but we astounded by the number of breeding herds we saw our first afternoon. On the way back to camp, trying to beat the 7pm park closing we were waylaid by a large bull. A stand off of sorts until he got bored with us and let us by. In the waning light a large troop of baboons skittered in the road, babies bouncing, tumbling like circus clowns.

Monday Morning - Day Two Muchenje - Day Seven in Africa

We visited the primary school in Mabele this morning and got to use the Polaroid camera in a couple of the classrooms. Eric took the Polaroids and became everyone’s new best friend. The teacher in the first grade classroom was so out numbered by students - I would estimate forty little bodies at worktables and desks. But she was a good sport and was just as delighted as the children with the Instant Photos we could give her. It was interesting to see some of the same elements in her classroom as I used in mine. And her philosophy that children learn by doing, by playing, I was in complete agreement. When we went to the second grade classroom, the teacher was not there but the children were diligently tending to tasks in their workbooks. Well at least until we started taking pictures. When the film was used up and we started to leave the children broke into a thank you song with no adult prompting. Eric was hard pressed to leave as a half dozen children attached themselves to him. With the help of Dan we said our goodbyes. We found the teacher in the office, gave her the photos for her classroom and apologized for causing insurrection.

Then it was on for our full day of fun. Because of my back I sat in the co-pilots seat. I was still babying it a bit. We had a wonderful drive down to the river. At one point we stopped to watch a group of elephants having a marvelous mud bath. I decided to play with the video option on my little Nikon point and shoot, everything on AUTO. Then Dan said in a low voice “We have a large friend coming up on the left, please maintain your calmness” I decided to keep the video on and began to pan to left as a heard gasps from our travel mates in the backseats. Suddenly my viewfinder was filled with two eyes and the bridge of an elephant’s trunk as he caressed the hood of the Rover. His trunk came up, almost touching the windshield, then he slowly turned and kept on his journey.

As we pulled up to the river and our launching site for a river cruise Dan filled us in on some facts. Because the Zambezi was so wild and woolly there was a point in the Chobe where the water was forced backwards. Because of this and the fact that I had totally lost my sense of direction since arriving in Africa I never did know if we were traveling up river or down river. Also, the river was so very close to the road because at that point the Chobe was 4 meters over its usual banks.

During the cruise there was hardly an open spot on the banks, so many elephants were lined up to drink and bathe. We stopped for lunch at a local watering hole, tied off a low lying branch of a large, shade providing tree and proceeded to ignore lunch to take pictures of the 50 or so elephants bathing less than 20 feet from the prow of the boat.
We finally laid the cameras down to partake of our boat picnic. As we were packing up the foodstuffs, the ellies began the changing of the guard and more young males came to roughhouse as mothers took their young home for a nap. When the youngsters began their play the boat really began rocking. Amazing what a few thousand pounds of elephant can do to a calm little inlet.

As we headed back the riverbanks were literally littered with elephants and their young. Each time we exclaimed “that was the smallest baby yet!” another would peak from behind a mother’s knee, even smaller.

Once off the boat we began the game drive portion of the day. After the spectacular viewing on the river and the close encounter of the early morning I put my camera away with the thought:

“There is life beyond the viewfinder” and went on to savor the day through human eyes.

There are some Jurassic park settings in the park away from the river, rolling hills dotted with elephants and giraffe. I have yet to see a photo to truly do it justice and amateur I am I wouldn’t even try. Our last sundown with elephants at the river and a massive red sun dodging clouds as it sank into the horizon. In the twilight on the way back to camp we glimpsed a bat eared fox.

Later over dinner everyone had stories to share. It was quite a lively group. I excused myself to go out to the carpark for a cigarette. Just as I lit up the trees next to the driveway began to shake violently and there was an earsplitting crack of a branch. I tried for nonchalance as I returned to the dining room to let JJ know I thought there might be a visitor in camp.
He and Dan joined me on the porch - “Ten points for you!” Dan whispered.
I guess it was one of those very rare times it pays to be addicted to nicotine.

The ellies stayed just out of sight, but not out of earshot for most of the night. It was the talk of breakfast the next morning. Each chalet had an upclose and personal visit.

Some closing thoughts on Muchenje.

Because of only being there two nights I didn’t get a real sense of the camp or the people. Maybe its for the best, one major summer camp episode was probably enough. I will say the grounds are beautiful with manicure lawns, a beautiful swimming pool and the lodge is simply gorgeous, grand without being pretentious with lots of cozy conversation and viewing areas. I think it was a good choice on the itinerary as it eased us into civilization again.

Over all it seemed “buggier” than the Delta camp. But this made sense as Muchenje has much more brush closer around it and the buildings than Xigera. But only on the grounds, within the lodge there weren’t many flying critters and it was no problem in our room with mosquito netting and keeping the lights turned off. In fact, Eric and I sat out on our deck to listen to the elephants on our last night there, with no bites.

The sunsets over the Chobe cannot be beat. I do believe the sun is so much larger there.

Dan, our guide was terrific. We’ve come to the conclusion that a part of becoming a guide is a special humor test.

Next…on to Victoria Falls.
VeeR is offline  
Apr 1st, 2007, 01:53 PM
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Join Date: May 2006
Posts: 136
Victoria Falls

If this is Tuesday, this must be Zimbabwe. After a leisurely breakfast and repacking, I actually had time to catch up on my journal before we had a ground transfer to Victoria Falls. We were driven by Neo, with our new best friends Debra and Danielle, mother and daughter traveling together throughout Southern Africa, to the Kasane Airport to meet up with a Wilderness Safaris rep and vehicle transfer to Victoria Falls. We ended up having to wait there nearly an hour, which wasn’t as bad as it seems. We got in photos, used the facilities - I bought a postcard as was able to get change in Pula for my father’s collection.

Four other people, just off a plane joined us as the Wilderness Safaris van arrived. Was it age(oh to be so young and entitled to it all), were they just tired and cranky? We’ll never know. The kids pushed their way past us to load themselves in the back of the van, two in the front seat and two in the back, leaving the middle seat open. Eric tried to sit in the back seat and rude fellow #1 said “There’s room in the front”. And proceeded to suck face with his girlfriend. So Eric moved to the front seat, since we three women had taken the middle. Rude girl #2 in the front seat, heaved a big sigh turned her back to Eric, threw her arms around her boyfriend, her legs in his lap and nuzzle. Joy oh joy.
Thankfully we didn’t have to be part of the raging hormone sandwich for too long as it turned out they had gotten on the wrong bus!! We got a scenic detour to the Chobe Marina Lodge in Kasane where they were left at the Wilderness Safaris office to figure out how to get to the river cruise.

The rest of the trip was a blast. Debra and Danielle were great travel companions and it turned out they were staying at the Victoria Falls Hotel also. And was that a place a treat. It was there I discovered there was one thing I would sell my soul for…air conditioning. And I got it! Without having to sell anything! Our room was on the first floor with a view of the bridge and the ‘smoke’ from the falls. After cleaning up a bit we had high tea during a raging thunderstorm on the terrace. Then we explored the nooks and crannies of the hotel since even I knew you don’t go walking with an umbrella in a thunderstorm. And the lightening was right overhead.

That evening we went to The Boma at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. We picked up two other couple from The Kingdom and they were all a twitter because a bolt of lightening had struck the hotel, knocking out the TV’s and causing the telephone to buzz in one woman’s hand before going dead.

The lightening definitely heightened the mood at The Boma. The show was entertaining and very polished - professional - but not too Las Vegas. Though a highlight at our table was when a dung beetle fell from the thatch roof onto Eric’s back. He did a happy dance in his seat and everyone got pictures of the mammoth bug before it took off for parts unknown. We were daring in our food choices - crocodile appetizers - warthog and ostrich grilled. And once I had enough wine in me - I ate a mopani worm. Now let me tell you, I was watching a guy get the worms himself - he was going for a “diploma” (ten worms), and his were all smallish, jellybean sized. I said “I can handle that” But noooo - when its your first worm - the ‘worm man’ gets to pick it out. “A nice big fat one for you madam” he said. A little salty with a texture I can only hope to forget. But I got my certificate and pictures to prove it.

When we got back to the hotel we headed right to the room and the air conditioning. How quickly I got spoiled. We had an early morning meeting with some lions the next day.
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