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Thembi's Trip Report: 2005 Bots/Zam/ZA - Better Late Than Never

Thembi's Trip Report: 2005 Bots/Zam/ZA - Better Late Than Never

Old Mar 3rd, 2007, 05:13 PM
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Thembi's Trip Report: 2005 Bots/Zam/ZA - Better Late Than Never

It is two years since we embarked on this trip – and bought home a life-time of memories... 20 days (inc int. air) April 2005.
Botswana 12 days/Zambia 3 days/ Cape Town 3 days – but we only discovered Fodors in January 2007 – so hope you will all forgive the two year gap!
We are (for those that don’t know) planning our 2008 - 65-70 day return trip, so affected were we with our first (ever) trip overseas on safari in Southern Africa.

Our April 2005 Bots/ZM/ZA itinerary
ADL/SYD/JBG
JBG/ Maun BW
3 Nights Baines Camp
9 Nights Wilderness Safari’s “Migration Routes” fully serviced camping
http://www.wilderness-safaris.com
2 Nights Livingstone /Zambian side Vic Falls
3 Nights Cape Town
CT/JBG/PTH/ADL

Note: we did not keep a diary/journal or check list of wildlife or an expose on the accommodation – these are the major impressions of the trip. You want a check list? Go to Woolworths!

<b> Getting There</b>
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 Hemishpere. 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.
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Old Mar 3rd, 2007, 06:05 PM
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Maybe your trip report is like a fine wine that needs some time for aging before reaching perfection. I'm sure 2005 was a very good vintage for you.

I like your count down. Kind of like an advent calendar.

Your story of the couple in their 70s on their way to Africa to pursue a lifetime dream when the wife died should nudge those wondering if they should go to do so. Farmers married at 19 probably had no opportunity until about 70--either no $ or no time away from farming.

How nice you saw Antarctica en route--a 2 continent holiday.
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Old Mar 3rd, 2007, 06:15 PM
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<b> Baine’s Camp and Meeting the Ele’s 3 Days/2 nights</b>
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!

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. http://www.sanctuarylodges.com/bainescamp.htm 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.

Our drives always turned up yet another magical moment – our “first” Hyena, giraffe, wildebeest , Tsessebee, impala, elephant (I missed seeing Ele here because I 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.

Kort could tell us so much about the animals 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.

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.

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Old Mar 3rd, 2007, 06:21 PM
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<b> Meeting the Ele’s – the Elephant Experience – Baines Camp</b>
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 (The Elephant Experience- see http://www.livingwithelephants.org/). 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.

<b>Pr&eacute;cis of Remembered Wildlife Sightings at Baines</b>
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...
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Old Mar 3rd, 2007, 07:05 PM
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Thanks, Thembi......nice of you to write it up for all readers.

Hari
 
Old Mar 3rd, 2007, 08:44 PM
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But wait... There's more
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Old Mar 3rd, 2007, 08:47 PM
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Yes, please. Your report is fun to read, you write very well.
regards - tom
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Old Mar 3rd, 2007, 09:36 PM
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Thanks Tom and Hari

Lynn - If our trip was like a fine wine, we are still suffering the hang over - endless longing for the cure only the hair of the dog will suffice!
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Old Mar 3rd, 2007, 11:33 PM
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<b>Our Camping Safari Begins - Wilderness Safari’s Migration Routes – Xigera 2 Nights/3 Days</b>

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.

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 (not to be confused with Xigera Lodge)– 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.

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.

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...

<b> Precis of Remembered (animal) Wildlife we were lucky enough to see at Xigera</b>
Red Lechwe, Saddle Billed Stork, African Fish Eagle, Hammerkopf, Baboon, Hippo, Malachite Kingfisher, various unique insects, frogs, fish and other birds, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Female Kudu, Giraffe.

<b> Wilderness Safari’s Migration Routes – Moremi National Park Kwhai (Lechwe Camp) 2nights/3 days</b>
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. B)

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 <b>always</b> 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!

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!

<b> Pr&eacute;cis of Wildlife seen at Kwhai North Gate Moremi National Park &amp; Lechwe Camp region</b>
Hippo, Mating Leopard!!!!, Red Lechwe, Bush Buck, Kori Bustard, Impala, Kite– various other birds inc Lilac Breasted Roller, various other wildlife.
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Old Mar 3rd, 2007, 11:59 PM
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Thembi,

I really enjoyed your excellent trip report.

I remember very well that Pilot was afraid of snakes ... after leaving Ilala lodge at Victoria Falls we came across a puff adder on the road to Chobe ...

Best regards,

Johan
 
Old Mar 4th, 2007, 01:15 AM
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Thanks Johan - We wondered about 'fessing up on Pilot's behalf... but it is such an integral part of the story for us.

Next Installment - Chobe NP - Savute.
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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 07:06 AM
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Your report is very entertaining to read. I loved how you described the whole game drive experience from the sounds and smells to the toilet stop and improving your field of vision. You two really took it all in.

The title of the song upon your arrival at Baines was welcoming, hilarious, and sweet all at once. It reminded me of some of the Swahili songs I heard on my first trip to Africa. I asked for a translation of some of the lyrics. Fodorites might get a kick out of some of these translated lyrics:

“I love you. Let’s hug even though sometimes you are annoying.”

“A man gave the name Pickle to the woman he loved. She left him but later returned. He decided he did not want her anymore.”

“I want to build you a ‘story’ house but my vehicle has no gas to carry the bricks.”

“I am tired of being jobless so I am returning home to tend land in my garden.”

“If you think I am going to stop doing the rumba you are crazy and belong in a hospital.”

Compared to some lyrics in popular songs today, these are refreshing.

On to your elephant walk! Your experience seems to have been outstanding just like everyone else’s. Thanks for the detail on where the fees go. What a win win undertaking. <b>How long did you spend on the walk? </b>

That was fascinating how Jabu wandered off on his own private safari for five weeks and then returned. I am sure the staff was frantic trying to find him. After five weeks, they probably had begun to give up hope. <b>Did they describe how he reappeared?</b>

The fact that Jabu has the freedom to wander off is actually commendable for the program. It shows the elephants are not unnaturally contained. It also is great that Jabu was able to fend for himself on his own in the bush for such a length of time. <b>Did they speculate there may have been some romance involved in his departure?</b> It is also amazing that he would just return one day. That speaks volumes to his treatment by the handlers. I bet they were a bit on edge for Jabu’s first couple of walks with guests following his hiatus.

You seem to have benefited from the leopard tortoise spotting rivalry with two sightings.

Looking forward to your adventures in the next camp when I read the latest installment.





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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 03:17 PM
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The mekoro trip must have been magical. I don't know if those are offered any more.

Glad to learn that you were responsible with your Amarula, unlike the eles.

Great account of the magnificent Pel's Fishing Owl. How exciting to see it.

I know how smell can bring back those memories. The suntan lotion that I use on safari has that same effect as the bug spray. Sometimes when I smell real potatoes cooking I am reminded of the potato bush that I sometimes smell on safari, which smells like its name.
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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 09:53 PM
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Terrific report with outstanding details that really give the flavor of the experience. So glad you decided to share it and I can already imagine that the 65+ day 2008 trip is going to read like an excellent book.
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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 10:53 PM
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Lynn – Thanks for your encouraging comments. We hoped to capture the “essence” of the trip.

As to your questions, not sure we have all the answers but we will do our best.

<b>How long did you spend on the walk?</b> We ‘met the Ele’s for about an hour, walked with them for about three hours and the lunch was about an hour with Ele’s still in sight, hanging around.

<b>Did they describe how he reappeared?</b> No great details, he just wandered back into camp one day.

<b>Did they speculate there may have been some romance involved in his departure?</b>
Jabu has not shown signs of sexual maturity, as of 2005, so romance may not have been the cause. We speculate he was just at that age when he wanted to explore further afield as most teenagers do. Also, in the wild bulls are kicked out of the herd at about the age he was then, we understand this had happened when he was about 15 or 16 so he may have ‘felt’ that instinctual tug too.

<b>Mekoro Trips Still Available?</b> Migration Routes is still running (WS) and mekoro is the main focus on the Xigera leg. There are independent operators and some community based mekoro trips - most permanent watercamps offer mekoro trips. WS also offer a mekoro transfer between two lodges - Tubu Tree and Jacana camps.

<b>PedatorBioligist</b> – We’re taking advance orders on that book!
No, seriously if it took us 2 years to process and recover financially and emotionally from our last 20 day trip – that would put the 70 day’s trip report out to about the year 2030. Still, you got us thinkin!
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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 11:10 PM
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<b>Wilderness Safari’s Migration Routes April 2005 – Savute/Chobe National Park (Western Side) 2 Nights/3 days</b>
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.

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!

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.

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.

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 20 KM’s, then stopped – he looked at the sky, sat listening, moved, stopped, moved stopped, tracked, moved, stopped...
Then there we were watching the Lion. (See photos to be posted at the end of the trip report.)

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 rent with lion roaring*

“Whose Land This?”
“Whose Land This?”

“Mine”
“Mine”
“Mine”


<b> Pr&eacute;cis of Wildlife at Savute</b>
Lion, Zebra, Wildebeest, Warthog, Ostrich, Guinea Fowl, Dwarf Mongoose, Impala, Steinbok, Helicopter Bird, Impala...various birds and Elephant, Elephant, Elephant, Elephant, Elephant, Elephant, Elephant, Elephant, Impala, Elephant, Elephant, Elephant, Elephant, Elephant, Elephant, Elephant. Tsessebe, Kori Bustard.

*acknowledgement to Travel Africa Magazine from where we took this quote
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Old Mar 5th, 2007, 03:08 PM
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At last...some Fodors glitch has stopped me from posting for a couple of weeks.

J &amp; K, thoroughly enjoying your report...it really cuts to the chase. I'm keenly awaiting Linyanti.

John

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Old Mar 5th, 2007, 05:09 PM
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Thembi, allow me to hijack your thread for a second, by saying, &quot;welcome back Afrigalah&quot;......

Hari

PS: continuing to enjoy your trip report, Thembi

 
Old Mar 5th, 2007, 05:25 PM
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Hey Hari - you are welcome to hijack the thread - I too am so glad to see Afrigalah back after his glitch-absence. Welcome Back John and thanks for your kind comments.

Coming Soon - Linyanti...


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Old Mar 5th, 2007, 06:39 PM
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You had some good fish eagle encounters on water and in the air. Your Xigera departure breakfast must have been good to remember it 2 years later.

What a tale of the sunken truck and the occupants just having to remain there for days. It is a good thing you could offer them some food, although there may have been provisions in the truck. A week or so in the bush on a truck with who knows what to eat--quite a contrast from some of the comments I've been reading about outdated lodge ambiance and only average buffet spreads that don't particularly delight the pallet.

I have not encountered anything like the conversation you mentioned where you could hear nothing but your guide obviously could. And he knew the birds were making leopard calls. What ears!

The stories just keep getting more interesting with the snake tale. &quot;Making her own story.&quot; A good description.

The 6 hour drive to Savuti wore me out so I read no futher. I need a sports bra just thinking about 6 hours of bouncing over rough terrain. That's great you had some decent game viewing along the way. You could really hone your spotting skills over 6 hours.

On the mekoro trip--I think Wilderness had a 3-day mobile mekoro journey that got cancelled. A mekoro section in the middle of your mobile offers a nice variety.

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