Three days in Mflosi’s Mpila camp with two demure young ladies.
We saw a few confrontations: Two male impala, two male lions, four rhino, with one male threatening the others. Nothing much came of these feints and threats, despite the loud shouts which came from the back seat, where the two demure young ladies were seated: FIGHT! Fuck him up!
I paid and moved on after posing a big challenge to Swamp Stop’s sewerage system. I’d cooked wors, pap, steak and chicken high sosaties and it took two flushes to get rid of it. Did I say cooked? I mean eaten. Cecelia had cooked it. Also potatoes in foil, butternut and a salad. Her broad beam and broad smile had convinced me immediately that her offer of supper would surpass my intended cold baked beans straight outa the tin. And it did, it was delicious.
Two misbehaving teenage fishermen Peter and Ken (ages 75 and 79) were camped next to me the two nights. I tried to get them to behave, but would they listen? Constant gin, beer, wine and tall tales of the bream they were going to catch. Next time. They did catch some fine tigers and barbel, it must be said. They told frightening tales of the terrible A35 road after I had said the road was fine. ‘No it’s not!’ said the driver of the new Discovery, ‘It’s a nightmare! I couldn’t even go 70,75 towing my Conqueror off-road trailer!’ I had to admit I cruise a lot slower and no trailer, so the road was fine for me. Also, I was driving a 2007 Ford Ranger – Ja, they made the obligatory groans that all envious okes seem to do when I mention this fact.
When I left camp after breakfast (Cecelia’s scrambled eggs) I thought, Can 154 Years of Experience be wrong? so I decided to dodge the now dreaded and newly notorious A35 and get to Nxamasere off the grid, taking a road parallel and nearer the Okavango’s western-most channel. ‘You can’t go that way!’ they told me in Sepupa village but I read somewhere, “All Roads Lead to Nxamasere,” so I felt confident. I think that’s what it said.
And I was right. It was a magic little bush track, smooth sand mostly, and winding along merrily, scratching my pristine 15yr-old paintwork only occasionally. After an hour I stopped for a pee in the cool shade of a magnificent Knob Thorn.
So two magnificent knobs there.
At times the road did seem to peter swanie out a bit, but it would re-appear, and every now and then blue concrete beacons marked WP would appear reassuringly. I thought, If this route goes to Western Province I’m sure it goes through Namibia, and Nxamasere will be en route.
At Kajaja health post two men were building a house right on the road. They gave me a smile and a big wave so I asked them (quickly trying, but failing, to ask them a question that could not be answered ‘YES’). ‘NO,’ they said, You cannot get to Nxamasere this way, you have to take the tar road.’ OK, thanks, I said, I’m sure you’re right, but I am going to try. I’ll see you back here if I fail, to admit to you: You Were Right. They thought that was helluva funny. I started to move off and he said, ‘Wait! Let me ask our father.’ I bowed my head and closed my eyes but he meant his earthly father who was sitting on a chair under a shady tree behind the house they were building. “Dad! he shouted in fluent seTswana, ‘Can one get to Nxamasere this way? There’s an ancient white-haired goat here who is determined not to drive on tar.’ No, said our father, There is no way to Nxamasere that way. ‘Our father says no, there is no way to Nxamasere that way,’ said my man. OK, I said, I’m sure he is right, so I will come back if I get stuck and I will say to you, I admit: You Were Right.
The road meandered on vaguely northwards, maybe a bit more overgrown and a touch less confidently, but on it meandered nevertheless, with an occasional detour and only one bit of gardening needed where a tree had fallen across and needed a bit of a chop, a rope and a backward tug to make a gap. It was surrounded by elephant droppings so maybe those pachyderm foresters had felled it. Still a smooth sandy track, no corrugations, hard enough to not deflate my tyres; occasionally a patch of calcrete which made me think maybe this was the old great north road before the A35? Second gear 30kmh; Third gear 40kmh at times.
Then it did peter out. I took a left detour but that turned back towards Kajaja; a right detour going downhill towards the channel ran into some dongas where lots of sand had been extracted. They call them ‘borrow pits’ – I think that is seTswana for ‘quarry.’
I arrived back in Kajaja with a grin and my men grinned back. Our father waved from under the tree. You Were Right, I said, triggering laughter again, and made my way with my exhaust pipe between my legs to the tar.
And Peter and Ken were right. The road was bladdy awful. Smooth; Straight; Wide; Boring.
Even this donkey felt my disappointment, as you can see if you zoom in on his ass. Terrible road.
Out on the Makalamabedi road south of Maun the Boteti river is flowing nicely. Three or four of the pipes have a swift current and the birds are loving it. And I only got two pictures, none of the lovely scene!
Here’s how it works: Thirty-some years ago I was invited to a wonderful gathering with great friends Dave & Goldie who’d just had twins to add to their Tatum. There was good food thanks to Goldie and lots of beer which Dave may have had something to do with. Also there was something in a church, I dunno why, but hey! Did I mention the food and beer?
Turns out childless, clueless me had said something in church that was actually a lifelong commitment! I had joined the Mafia become a Godfather! I immediately set about neglecting my duties, but when the twins started performing terrifically in the famous Dusi Canoe Marathon I mumbled Them’s My Godsons and got told to shurrup.
But now! NOW! Googs has just run the famous Comrades Marathon in the insanely quick time of 7hrs 14mins – over 15mins inside silver medal time! So once again I step forward out of the shadows. Although claiming some influence on his good performance, I did mention that I hadn’t won my Comrades when I ‘did it’ back when we wore heavy hobnailed boots and hand-knitted vests.
Being the gentleman he is, Googs sms’d me back: Chuffed you are back to claim godfathership! Glad I could lure you back from retirement.
Less than a week later I became a Granpa for the first time. Ziggy had a baby boy on Saturday!
Tom is claiming godfathership! Knowing Zig she probly did confer the honour on him! He’s super-chuffed. Will prolly walk around with his chest out and do nothing, just like his father before him. **Some people!**
Mopani camp was full. How about Letaba? I asked. Sorry, its also full. So Jessie found Tingala Lodge on booking.com – What a happy diversion it turned out to be.
About 15km north of Phalaborwa gate into Kruger Park, Tingala Lodge is terrific. While we chilled on the big patio overlooking a waterhole, a lady arrived in a double-cab bakkie and I noticed a couple of cases of Painted Wolf wine being carried into her room. When she joined us on the patio I said, ‘Lovely Wine, that Painted Wolf. My sister sells it in Durban.’
‘Yep, Sheila’s my sister. I love the labels,’ I said, ‘Who does your artwork?’
Originally an artist who worked on a game lodge in Botswana.
Lloyds Camp on the Savute channel.
‘I knew an artist at Lloyds Camp,’ I said, ‘Jenny Song, she was there when we visited way back when.’
It was Jenny! She did our original artwork!
‘What a lovely person, we got on so well with her. My wife Trish bought something she painted. We had such a special time there,’ I said. ‘When we flew in from the Delta, back in the day, we were picked up at the landing strip by Emma, a young pink-cheeked Pom who said she was the chef, and she was on guest-fetching duty that day. She loaded us into the open Landrover and drove us right up an elephant’s bum at the waterhole on the way to camp. When we got to camp she had prepared a delicious lunch for us overlooking the camp waterhole in the channel, and we ate and drank ice-cold beers looking down on eles heads as they drank freshly-pumped water.’
I’m that Emma! she said. I worked with Lionel and Jenny Song in Lloyds Camp in 1993!I loved driving new arrivals to Pump Pan to watch the eles!
In 2022 we had bumped into Emma the pink-cheeked Pom from our 1993 trip to Lloyds Camp! You sadly just have to behave wherever you go – someone, somewhere will know you – even 29 years later!
I carried on reminiscing about our time in Savute: ‘Our fellow guests were cabin crew from SouthWest Airlines in Texas, the world’s biggest airline at the time.’
That would be Doug and Linda, said Emma, and you won’t believe it, I was in contact with Linda just yesterday. We have kept in touch ever since! She’ll be amazed when I tell her who I met today.
The next day we were due at Mopani Camp in Kruger, so we only stayed one night at Tingala Lodge. I’d love to go back. The birding was terrific, and on the way out we saw an African civet in broad daylight.
Zena said We must go to Kruger, my man Martin is a fabulous guide. I said Let’s Go!, and when August rolled round there we were, chilling in the mopane woodlands around Mopani Rest Camp in the famous Kruger National Park, drinking gin and tonic, gazing out over Pioneer dam from our under-thatch bird-watching stoep.
Martin runs Laughing Hyena Safaris, and his experienced Kruger Park nose soon led us to great sightings – big ones, feathered ones and little ones too.
Suddenly! We spotted some spots in the mopane shadows! With great skill we tracked the shadowy spots through the dappled sun and shade of the mopane woodland. What could it be?
Hey, it was! It was a . . a . . leopard! Kruger’s holy grail. With great tracking skill, we had found it:
. . . ‘course, we actually found it the traditional Kruger Park way:
To celebrate we had lots more gin & tonic, which improved our sightings even more:
A keen photographer and Canon ambassador, Martin aimed his long lens out the window and later let us have some of his pics:
. . and he made us a video:
and he taught us a new bird species: the Burchell’s Poupol
. . meet at the Hops from time to time to swap words of wisdom and – as Greg Bennett says: “The older we get the better we were!” I feel like a bit of a fraud among these ancient fellas as not only did they always pull their paddles much harder than I ever did, most of them are still paddling! I hung up my paddle decades ago – and my paddle didn’t notice any difference . .
The gathering started when Chairman Allie Peter (him in red with the smooth pate) summoned ten paddlers who did the Berg together down in the freezing Cape winter back in 1983 for a debrief and an examination of why one would be so crazy as to do such a thing – 240km along a flat river, no rapids to play in, howling wind and lashing rain. I say “did the Berg together” generously, but actually nine Kingfisher Canoe Club paddlers in black T-shirts were in an awful hurry so I would watch them disappear into the distance straight after each day’s start, leaving me to meander peacefully along at the speed of the current. Which is how one should paddle if you’re not going to actually win the thing; and if the prize is not a red VW Beetle.
Then the gathering grew and now there’s dozens of ous each year – or twice a year. This year we were missing dear old Caveman, Herve de Rauville of the original ten. He has paddled his final flat-out interval.
Bloody hell, me shoulders! All of a sudden, really painful shoulders lying in bed one night a month ago (written June 2021). Not an ache – actual pain. I couldn’t roll over, I couldn’t get up without flopping like a jellyfish. I was amazed, then I thought, Aha! I Know What Did It. Two days prior I had done a lot of tree branch trimming high overhead.
Using a pruning saw on the end of my aluminium swimming pool net pole, I was sawing off branches that obscured my gates. I’d been meaning to trim for a while as the jungle took over but . . procrastination. Then I got cameras on my gates so I can see who is there and now I had to actually do it.
So, I thought, I’ll be stiff for a day and all will be well. But it was pain, not stiffness, so I hoped: Maybe I’ve pulled a muscle! Luckily the Bennett brothers weren’t here this time to chorus in rude unison: ‘Ha Ha! Swanie, you couldn’t have pulled a muscle. You must have pulled a fat!’
Well, it’s a month later and I have really painful shoulders at night. Daytime they’re fine, nights are torture.
A few months later: It’s gone, fank ve pope.
Confession: The only thing I changed was prompted by a clickbait ad which I did NOT click on. It shouted: “Here’s what not to eat if you have arthritis! CLICK HERE!” with a pic of a panful of tasty-looking fried eggs.
I thought, I have eaten two fried eggs every single day of lockdown. I have breakfast down pat. I fry two eggs, make two slices of toast and scarf it down, salt and black pepper, washed down with sugarless black coffee, breakfast done.
So I stopped. The pain disappeared. Please note this anecdotal evidence is not research. The pain may have disappeared if I’d twirled around three times and farted facing north that day. But I’m too scared to chance it, it was seriously a kak spell, so it’s no more gardening for a long while now. Can’t take chances. Maybe less eggs too.
Lovely accommodation, such friendly and helpful people. I decided to go full-on loafing and arrived expecting dinner, bed and breakfast. They had us as self-catering and the chef had taken leave. We said No Problem; They said No Problem; and between us we pooled what food we had. The delightful Nana who welcomed us and whose face fell when I asked what time dinner was, ended up cooking breakfast for us all three mornings. She was teased by the other staff in her new role and as I listened to them bantering in isiZulu, she ended off her reply with this American English: “There’s a new chef in the building!” to warm laughter. For our dinners she hauled venison out of the deep freeze and we cooked for ourselves as she goes home at 4pm. Today she said “I’ll make you a proper breakfast tomorrow, we have been shopping!” – the shops are about 27km away in Pongola.
Great birding for me, and Jess saw another special predator: A pack of seven African Painted Dogs.
At night a leopard (the resident female, said Adrian) could be heard ‘sawing logs’ while walking in or near the camp, while a lone lion oom oom’d at various distances all three nights.
‘Yes, but it was only a glimpse,’ said Jessie of her first-ever sighting of a leopard, a female walking in the grass about 30m off a dirt road south of Satara in the Kruger National Park. No matter what our guide Bennett and I said, she teased us with ‘Yes, but it was only a glimpse.’ You’ve waited ten years for that sighting JessJess. ‘Yes, but it was only a glimpse.’ Lots of people never see a leopard Jessica. ‘Yes, but it was only a glimpse.’
We saw other stuff:
We watched a gang of ground hornbills kill and eat a tortoise; We also saw waterbuck, kudu, steenbuck, scrub hare, buffalo, bewildered wildebeest, impala, warthog, zebra, dwarf mongoose, slender mongoose, hippo, crocs, nyala.
And all the while we were tortured with ‘Yes, but it was only a glimpse.’
So thank goodness we came across this male leopard who posed obligingly in the late afternoon for a very thrilled Jess to get a long look. Peace and quiet at last.
Jess has had me in stitches today recounting the sayings and foibles of her fellow inmates in rehab. This one said this, that one always says that; this one does that, that one looks like this, etc. She is a keen observer and has great recall, my Jess.
You crack me up Jess. You guys are a bunch of weirdos. And that includes you!
I started off going west to find cellphone signal. In the Pafuri area Vodacom (wrongly) told me, ‘You have left your area, you are now on Movitel Mocambique; calls will cost you more;’ So I had to drive 40km west of Pafuri gate to be “in SA” from a vodacom point of view. Local people all shook their heads when I asked where I could catch vodacom signal. ‘You have to be MTN here,’ they all said.
The day I left Pafuri River Camp I just kept going west. When I hit the N1 highway I realised I was halfway to the Botswana border, so I decided to keep heading towards the setting sun. I’d find room at my friend Dave Hill’s friend Duncan MacWhirter’s Kaoxa Camp. National Parks are mostly full because of school holidays. When I got past Musina, guess what? Vodacom (wrongly) told me, ‘You have left your area, you are now on Orange Botswana; calls will cost you more;’ Get your act together, Vodacom! Refund me, dammit!
Kaoxa Camp is everything I remember from a stay here in 2013. and better. There are now safari tents, a swimming pool, and the campsite (no longer a Drifters) looks even better. I had the whole place to myself, and wonderful hosts Virginia and David to look after me!
The farm is now open to the western section of Mapungubwe National Park – the fences between them have been dropped. It was amazing to drive west on the property and just keep going as the only vehicle around, all the way to the Limpopo river and the National Park camps there. I felt like the owner of the full 28 000ha.
To get to Mapungubwe east you have to drive out of Kaoxa gate on the main road and then into Mapungubwe main gate. It’s an amazing park – the more famous of the ‘two halves,’ east and west.
One morning I took a flask of coffee and drove to Duncan’s Lookout on Kaoxa. I sat on the comfy bench and scanned the mopane woodland below, looking north towards the Limpopo. Nothing to see, but plenty of birds to keep me there. A loud squeal told me there was an elephant nearby and I walked to the edge of the hill to see if I could see him. Nothing. Then he squealed again and I saw he was a distance from the hill, not as near as he’d sounded. Then I saw a second ele – they’d been right in front of me and I hadn’t seen them! Then I saw a whole herd of big and small – about twenty five of them. And then – how blind can you be!? A herd of seventy or more! There was a dry stream bed which hid them whenever they went into it, so that’s my excuse. Here’s the Lookout:
One day I’ll be a reliable blogger. Meantime, here’s a brief mainly pictorial – catchup, as I’m “in wifi!” I was pleasantly surprised to find out the beautiful, rustic Kaoxa Camp has wifi. I don’t specifically seek wifi or cellphone reception in a place, but I cannot deny it is handy!
South-eastern Kruger National Park – Pretoriuskop & Berg en Dal Camps
Groot Letaba reserve – Mtomeni, part of the African Ivory Route group of camps
Middle Kruger Park – Letaba & Shingwedzi Camps
Northern Kruger Park – Punda Maria Camp
Pafuri River Camp outside the park:
The Pafuri to Crooks’ Corner northern tip of KNP bounded by the Luvhuvhu river, is amazing birding country; here’s a glimpse:
I’ve read about this area for ages, and now finally got to visit; up where SA meets Zimbabwe and Mocambique, at “Crooks’ Corner”: