Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge

Getting into the Okavango Delta is awfully expensive.

A cheaper way is to fly in to Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge, get on a mokoro and disappear off into the wild with a guide who knows where he’s going and what he’s doing. In 1993 Aitch and I did just that, spending a night at Oddballs, where you are given a little dome tent to pitch on the hard-baked earth.

You get visitors:

The name is ironic, see (“contrary to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this” – I made a quick check, don’t want to get ‘ironic’ wrong). While in camp you stock up on the meagre supplies available in their shop, like potatoes and onions; a tent, a braai grid; add it to the 10kg you’re allowed to bring in on the high-wing Cessna 206’s and you’re away! 10kg doesn’t go far when you’re a books, binocs and telescope junkie!

We enjoyed six nights out on the mokoro in the care of a wonderful man named Thaba Kamanakao. We chose to sleep three nights under a jackalberry and three under a mangosteen, minimising packing up and moving. We had little food, but Thaba provided us with the fish he caught in his gill net each night. I ate the barbel and he and Aitch the bream. Lucky me, it was delicious! He also loved barbel, but his lifestyle advisor – a sangoma? – had told him he wasn’t allowed it! The first night we were joined by Pommy doctors Louise and Richard and their guide “BT”.

OddballsOkavango (7 small)

When we moved camp from Jackalberry Camp to Mangosteen or Squirrel Camp we decided we needed a bath, so Thaba took us to a stunning clear lagoon, carefully checked for big things that could bite and then stood guard on the mokoro while we swam and rinsed – no soap, please! (Anyone going: You MUST take a diving mask! Next time I’ll pack some small swimming goggles and an underwater camera. The clarity of that water is awesome).

Beautiful underwater pic by David Doubilet to show what it looks like.

OddballsOkavango Camp
Squirrel Camp

Nights were spent cooking and sitting around the fire; talking and listening to Thaba playing his mbira and singing; I’ll never forget his introduction as we switched on our tape recorder: My name is Thaba; Thaba Kamanakao; Kamanakao is surname;
Days were spent birding, hiking, where we were ‘moved off’ by an impatient ele and where we had to climb a termite mound as a herd of buffalo – spooked by Thaba scouting ahead – thundered all around us; short mokoro trips & loafing in camp, where the squirrels and birds kept us entertained for hours. Six lazy, wonderful, awesome days.

After supper Thaba would play the thumb harp and tell / sing stories of life in the Delta and surrounds, including how his adviser had told him to stop eating catfish – lucky for me! I can still hear his musically-intoned intro: “My name, I’m Thaba. Thaba Kamanakao. Kamanakao is surname.”

One night a herd of eles moved in and we lay listening to their tummy rumbles. We kept dead quiet and just peered at them in the moonlight through the tent flap, as they had a little baby with them and we didn’t want to upset mama.

Botswana Oddballs Savuti (2 small)
Still life with Sausage Tree flowers & leaves

Then we headed back reluctantly for a last night at Oddballs. Warm showers under the open sky, big hearty hot meals prepared for us, ice cold beer & gin’n’tonics on the deck watching spotted-necked otters in the lagoon. Comfy chairs.

And suddenly it dawned on us that, even though we did have to pitch our own tent again, Oddballs really IS a Luxury Lodge!

Oddballs (5)

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mokoro – dugout canoe; plural mekoro

sangoma – shaman? traditional healer? medicine man?

mbira – thumb piano musical instrument

postscript 2018: This post was found by Thaba’s son, who informed me in the comments below that Thaba the legend had passed away. Damn! R.I.P Thaba Kamanakao; You made our trip unforgettable.

Worst Man

I have thrice been a best man. I took my duties seriously. Much rehearsal took place. At first it would look quite good:

Garcin Wedding3

Then someone would invariably ply me with grog:

Garcin Wedding2

and then things would go pear-shaped. Like in this case when the canoe club heavies attacked me:

Garcin Wedding1.JPG

Why don’t they do this to the actual victim? I’m not the groom!

Bass Straits and Dire Straits

Early Sunday morning I roust the lil bastids. C’mon, Up! Let’s go. Off to Inanda Dam where they’re going to slay the bass. Tom, Jose & Ryan. 45yrs of trouble on six legs and, according to them, fishermen of note.

We hire two canoes from Msinsi and off they go. “See you in about two hours, Dad!” shouts Tom as they wobble off.

Inanda Dam fishing (12).jpg

I chill and watch the terrific birdlife. Wrynecks, woodpeckers, waxbills, prinias, canaries, sunbirds, geese, a fish eagle, herons, neddicky, bush shrikes, etc.

Six hours later a weary and sunburnt crew return. They had flattened the eats and drinks I packed and it’s lucky I did: No fish were harmed in the filming of this movie (none were even disturbed).

Lugging the boats back to the boathouse (with much help from Dad) they unanimously decide they would not be doing the Dusi anytime soon.

Inanda Dam fishing (16)

Dusi – The Dusi Canoe Marathon, 120km 3-day river race from Maritzburg to Durban passes by this point on the Umgeni river.

 

Hance Rapid in the Grand Canyon

Hance Rapid3

Hance Rapid at Mile 76.5 stands sentinel at the Colorado river’s entry into the Granite Gorge.  The river drops 30 feet as it passes through a natural constriction formed by the Red Canyon.  The dark dike cutting through the red Hakatai Shale is one of the most photographed features in the Canyon.

I found out more about the man the rapid was named after:

John Hance (1840 – January 8, 1919) is thought to be the first non-native resident of the Grand Canyon.

John Hance_cr

He opened the first tourist trail in the canyon before the canyon was a national park, giving tours of the canyon after his ca.1866 attempts at mining asbestos failed. “Captain” John Hance was said to be one of the Grand Canyon’s most colorful characters, and one early visitor declared that “To see the canyon only and not to see Captain John Hance, is to miss half the show.”

Hance delighted in telling canyon stories to visitors, favoring the whopper of a tale over mere facts. With a straight face, Hance told travelers how he had dug the canyon himself, piling the excavated earth down near Flagstaff (thus ‘explaining’ those mysterious then-unexplained dirt piles).

Flagstaff SanFranciscoPeaks

John Hance died in 1919, the year the Grand Canyon became a National Park, and was the first person buried in what would become the Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery.

(from wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and archive.org)

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In May 1891 one Charley Greenlaw wrote this in John Hance’s guestbook:

I can cheerfully say that this, the Grand Canon of the Colorado River, is the grandest sight of my life. As I noticed in this little book of Capt. John Hance, a great many people say indescribable. I can say nothing more. It is beyond reason to think of describing it in any way. You must see it to appreciate it. A grand sight of this kind and so few people know of it. By accident I formed the acquaintance of two ladies en route to the Grand Canon. I joined them. We have enjoyed our trip; the stage ride from Flagstaff to the Grand Canon is grand. Good horses, competent and accommodating drivers. I have seen the Yosemite, have visited California several different times, in fact seen all the principal points of interest in the United States, but the most wonderful, awe-inspiring piece of Nature’s own work is this, the Grand Canon of the Colorado River.

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Another entry by J. Curtis Wasson told of the twelve hour stage coach journey after alighting from the Santa Fe Railroad Company’s train:

From Flagstaff at 7 o’clock a.m. our stage and six goes out.

Arriving at Little Springs Station, where a new relay of six horses is added, we make haste until the half-way station is reached, passing through a fine unbroken forest of Pinus ponderosa, quaking aspen, balsam fir, and spruce. The open forest, the waving grasses, the gorgeously colored mountain flowers, the occasional chirp of the forest songsters, the ice-cold springs traversing our smooth compact road, the peaks, clear-cut and massive, towering up nearly 14,000 feet into the blue above, the low rumbling of our great Concord stage, the sound of two dozen hoofs, the sharp crack of the driver’s whip, the clear, bracing atmosphere, every breath of which seems to stimulate, the indescribably beautiful Painted Desert outstretching for a hundred miles to our right.

stagecoach2

One fain would linger on scenes like these but we have arrived at Cedar Station, and after partaking of a very refreshing luncheon we are given a new relay of horses and hasten over the desert portion of our ride to Moqui Station, where another relay is provided, which takes us to the hotel at the rim of the Grand canon, where we arrive at 7 o’clock p.m.

Leaving our Concord stage, giving our grips to the porter, not even waiting for “facial ablutions”, we hasten across the yard and up to the rim of the canon, when, looking over — the Chasm of the Creator, the Gulf of God, the Erosion of the Ages, that Erosive Entity, that Awful Abyss, lies in all its awfulness before us, — awful, yet grand; appalling, yet attractive; awe inspiring, yet fascinating in its greetings.

Grand Canyon South Rim

Panoramic view of Hance Rapid:

Hance Rapid

coach pic from wildwesthistory.blogspot.com

 

As Good Books Go

Talking about ‘fuck’ – I read a wonderful book ‘Duzi Fever’ by an entertaining old bugger Rob Gouldie who did the 1955 Dusi. I once heard him give a hilarious talk at Kingfisher. He has since shuffled off down his final rapid.

Umko Gouldie Book Duzi Fever.jpg

Excerpts:

On portaging on the Duzi – “Negotiating barbed wire fences was a ball ache second to none . . . you had to pry open the strands so your partner could squeeze himself and the the canoe through without hooking his nuts“.

Winning the Dusi one year his partner “blew” and said “Rob, I’m fucked, can I just trail my paddle behind me and pretend I’m steering?”

He asked for leave from his job at a bank to do the Dusi and his manager refused. He writes: “I never knew how important I was as a junior clerk and felt quite proud that the bank would grind to a halt without my services”. Anyway he went AWOL, wrote a letter of resignation “should the shit hit the fan”. It did. He expressed great relief at no longer working for them.

On the race his partner “developed a severe chafe due to sand in his underpants” so he threw away his pants and underpants and “went Beau Brummel”. When they got to Umfula Trading Store the owner kicked him out. His wife was serving in the shop and Rob thinks the owner “was upset that she might be able to compare notes”. After Rob explained and his partner demonstrated, the owner took pity on his partner and gave him a roll of plaster “to wrap around the emaciated-looking Percy”.

In shooting a rapid: ” . . where we nearly saw our rings . . “

They were lying second one Dusi, 44mins behind the leaders who were “obviously cocksure of their lead, not knowing we had caught up to them and could almost smell their farts”.

On a trip down the Umkomaas he bought and drank way too many raspberry-flavoured milk drinks at a remote valley trading store, got bilious . . . and “hurled the most spectacular pink cat”. His mate caught the moment on film:

Trip Rob Gouldie Umko shoots pink cat

And on in that vein.
Thoroughly enjoyed it! My kind of book!

Paddling Down Rivers

Looking at the Dusi results today I see the first finisher who, if I bumped into him, would say “Howzit Swanie or Howzit Pete” came in 93rd !!

Getting old! Gone are the days when I knew most of the top ten!

Another observation – 13 of the top 20 had African surnames. Wonder how the Anti-Affirmative-Action boys would explain that away?

I would bet good money if they (we!) were asked beforehand “What sports are black Africans likely to do well in if given a chance?” few would have suggested Dusi paddling!

sbonelo-khwela
Sbonelo Khwela came second

Talking of prescience, the first lady finisher came in 30th!! Shades of Frith vd Merwe finishing 15th in the 1989 Comrades!

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Abby Solms won (30th overall)

And we used to ban ladies from even doing the Dusi (“to protect them” – to protect ourselves from getting our arses whipped, it turns out!).

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Yesterday a past Dusi and Umko winner phoned me about his eyes. I asked him if he was planning to do anything stupid in March.

He is. He is about to do his 51st consecutive Umko canoe marathon, the hardest of all the river marathons!

The reason? He has done 50 but he has only finished 49. He broke his boat back in 1970 and didn’t finish that one.

Fukkit!! So he wants to do his 50th finish.

He said to me “You should do it too, you know”. I said no ways, I’m too slow. He said “We paddle quite slowly these days you know” (he won the very first one in 1966).

I said you don’t understand. My slow includes frequent stops, and a lot of resting on my paddle and checking the scenery. He understood that was slower even than him and other 70yr-olds.