Its gone wimpish! Actually Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge is still a wonderful, more affordable way to see the Okavango Delta and this post must be taken with a pinch of salt; My tongue is in my cheek;
This is classic “The Good Old Days Was Better” bulldust. As my friend Greg says, ‘The older we get the better we were.’
When WE went ca. 1990 we had to take our own food! But because there’s a 10kg limit on the Cessna 206’s and because one naturally has to take binoculars, a telescope, a tripod, a sleeping bag and books:
I exaggerate, these were Jessie’s books for her field guide course last year, but still: weight. So we took very little food. At Oddballs we bought their last potatoes and onions and then we pitched our tent. Not like these wimpish days when the tent is pitched for you on a wooden deck with shower en-suite!! We were like this:
Nowadays New Oddballs is soft and squishy:
Here’s Aitch in the Old Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge – and the wimpish new arrangement!
Luckily, the rest is still the same! You head out on a mekoro with a guide who really knows his patch:
You pitch your own tent on an island without anyone else in sight:
And you enjoy true wilderness. When you get back, Oddball really does seem like a Palm Island Luxury Lodge:
There’s a bar, there’s ice and cold beer, gin and tonic. You can order a meal! And – NOWADAYS! – a double bed is made up for you, ya bleedin’ wimps!
I told Dad I’d taken the kids on a boat trip to Maputo and he remembered his two older Swanepoel sisters Janie and Lizzie going on a trip from Maritzburg to Durban by train then to the same city in Moçambique by ship back in 1934. The city was called Lourenco Marques back then and the ship was called the Julio or Giulio or Duilio or the Giulio Cesar, he said.
Oupa would have organised the train trip at a special rate or free, being a railway man! This is where he worked:
Dad remembers the whole trip costing them seven pounds each, all in. Here’s a ticket from the Giulio Cesare in 1923, the year it was launched:
I went looking and found – as so often – that Dad’s memory was good. Maybe the Grundlinghs and Solomons know more about this trip? What an adventure it must have been for the girls! Dad said he was worried sick his big sisters wouldn’t return! ‘Cried my eyes out!’ he said. He was eleven years old.
Here’s the ship’s service history:
The SS Giulio Cesare was used on Genoa and Naples to South America voyages but also served North American ports. Until 1925 the SS Giulio Cesare and the SS Duilio were the two largest ships in the Italian merchant fleet.
In November 1933, the Giulio Cesare was reconditioned and made ready to serve on the Mediterranean – South Africa Service.
A feature of this ship was the Club situated on the boat-deck, with a bar. The ship also featured a saloon dining room, galleries and a ballroom. Second class was situated amidships. Talkie apparatus were also fitted to the ship and a long-distance wireless telephone was also available.
Tourist class accommodation was situated astern and also had several public rooms. The tourist passengers shared an open air swimming pool with the second class passengers.
SS Giulio Cesare
Italia Line (Navigazione Generale Italiana)
Port of registry:
Italy-South America & Cruising
Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson, Ltd, Newcastle-on-Tyne, United Kingdom.
7 February 1920
four sets of geared steam turbines manufactured by Wallsend Slipway
six boilers D.E. & four boilers S.E. creating 220lb of steam pressure by Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Company Ltd. Newcastle-on-Tyne
21,800 shaft horse power
Total passengers: First Class: 244 Second Class: 306 Tourist Class:1800
Paintwork: White hull and upper works ; Boot-topping green
Funnels white with red and black tops and narrow green band
During WW2, SS Giulio Cesare was chartered to the International Red Cross for a time before being laid-up in the port of Trieste. She was sunk there by Allied aircraft on 10 July 1944, along with the SS Duilio.
I must tell you about a wonderful trip we went on recently (well, back in 2015 actually) to Deepest Darkest Zoolooland.
It was actually a rugged and challenging course in which we were required to survive under tricky conditions, with carefully thought-out obstacles and challenges put in our way by the amazing outfit called:
who led us astray boldly into the back roads of wild Zooloo territory where we watched and learned as he reached out to locals to see if they knew where they were.
This capable and entertaining master tour guide dropped us off at the beautiful Ngoye Forest for the next phase, handing us over to our next capable leader:
Fully equipped, this part of the course led us carefully through:
– Correct equipment
– Packing for an expedition
– The use of snatch ropes and tow ropes
– Handy stuff to always have in your 4X4 (axes, bowsaws, forest vines & lianas);
You had to be really young and superbly fit to survive, and we WERE and we DID! Covered in the mud and the blood and the beer, we emerged smiling from the forest, much the wiser.
Both tours were excellently victualled, lots of sweet and fortified coffee, sarmies, fruit, biscuits, biltong and more. Those who brought deckchairs thinking they would sit back and gaze serenely at the tree tops were optimists in the mist.
Someone came up with an idea as we were leaving to go on a completely different kind of trip next time with this sort of outfit:
But NAH! – we enjoyed the first two so much that we’d book with them again. Unforgettable (and NOT, as Don muttered “unforgiveable”)!!
It was amazing and a whole lot of fun with great people.
(Slightly) more boring version:
We did go to Zoolooland on a birding trip ably guided by Don Leitch. He did get us a wee bit off-course, and he did stop to speak to some local people, for which he got some leg-pulling.
We did get blocked by fallen trees in Ngoye forest and here’s the thing: Among all the rugged pilots, 4X4 experts and farmers among us, NOT ONE had brought along a tow rope or any decent rescue equipment! It took an accountant with a pocket knife to fashion a tow rope out of a liana that eventually saved our bacon. ‘Strue.
I will stand by my story and I will protect my sources, even if they were in their cups. Here Sheila shows the total rescue equipment we manged to rustle up; and there’s the tow rope fashioned from a forest liana that saved the day.
Lydia from London is what we called Jessie’s room-mate on her field guide course. It’s a year later now and Lydia is back in SA doing her Masters thesis on vultures and people (including sangomas and the muti trade).
So the girls decided to get together before Lydia heads off back to London. We spent a lovely day in the reserve, not uneventful! In fact we saw eight stand-offs: Three avian, where pairs of red-capped robin-chats, cameroptera and bulbuls chased and challenged each other; three mammalian, where two bull rhinos, two bull buffalo and two bull giraffes sorted each other out; and one inter-species where a chameleon huffed at Lydia as she rescued it from becoming road-kill.
The eighth was a Fraught Rhino vs a Ford Ranger:
This old bull had been pummelled and bullied and gored by a bigger younger bull who marched him backwards for a couple hundred metres then took him into the bush where we couldn’t see them but could hear the grunting change to squealing, ending in this guy emerging bleeding. We then got between him and the aggressive one and I decided I’d better get past. Upon which this poor fella tucked his horn down and feinted at the vehicle, missing us by inches.
On a more peaceful note, Jess made us a lovely lunch, we saw a finfoot in the river, and we organised a dozen vultures to do a special flypast for Lydia from London!
We also saw a rhino named Frank:
(Couldn’t resist! Got a pic of an ele with egrets with that caption on whatsapp and thought of this picture).
After a slow drive from Mombasa we spent a night at a plush hotel in the metropolis of Voi. There it is in the left background. Don’t let Aitch tell you we didn’t spoil ourselves at times. The dining room had a linoleum floor, plastic chairs and metal tables, no table cloth. It was clean and the chicken and rice was delicious. I had a Tusker beer and that too, was delicious.
Then on to a destination I had looked forward to all my life: Tsavo National Park!
All my life? Just about. We got the quarterly African Wildlife magazines and I eagerly read about Africa’s great parks. I also knew of Bernhard Grzimek’s work in the Serengeti and his book Serengeti Shall Not Die. The great parks I knew and fantasised about included Kruger, Etosha, Luangwa, Masai Mara, Amboseli, Wankie, Ngorongoro, Gorongosa – and Tsavo. I remember seeing an aerial picture of the drought in Kenya and how the vegetation IN Tsavo was worse than that outside the park. The story was it was due to Kenya (Leakey?) refusing to cull elephants and other game. Of course it may have been a story by the pro-culling people in SA’s parks. Who knows? Lots of jealousy and rivalry among the ‘good people in conservation’!
. * Tsavo East * .
Chris and Tilde Stuart, great Africa-philes, chose Tsavo as one of ‘Africa’s Great Wild Places’ in their book of that name, mainly for the huge wild expanse of Tsavo East where you can drive for hours without seeing another vehicle.
Driving around Tsavo East was amazing. We hardly saw any other vehicles.
Firsts for us were Vulturine Guineafowl, Gerenuks and Lesser Kudus:
We saw Kilimanjaro! We weren’t expecting to, but as we drove around we suddenly saw a snow-topped mountain top WAY higher than one would expect through the low clouds; way higher than the hills around us. We realised that it must be Kili, the world’s highest free-standing mountain!
. . driving around on a cloudy day we were astonished to see Kilimanjaro over in Tanzania. WAY higher than the ‘mountains’ we were watching (it was overcast). We just weren’t expecting it!
Of course we should have realised we’d be close to Kili, but we didn’t give it a thought. We were in Kenya, Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania, and it just didn’t occur to us! That’s our pic of the low clouds on the left and an internet pic of Kili from Tsavo West. Our view was a glimpse through a break in thick clouds, though.
Tsavo National Park was created in 1948. At approximately 21,000km², it is the largest protected area in Kenya. In the late 1960s, there were approximately 35,000 elephants in the Tsavo region. This population has suffered two population crashes, firstly there was the drought in the early 1970s when many died, especially pregnant females, females nursing a calf or young calves. Independent bulls mortality was lower as they were able to travel greater distances in search of vegetation and water.
The second crash was due to the illegal killing of elephants for their tusks. The bulls who survived the drought were now the victims. Kenya had banned legal trophy hunting in 1977. By the late 1980s, at the height of the ivory poaching era, about 6,200 elephants remained in the entire Tsavo region.
I know it may seem boring and Tom definitely voices that opinion strongly but we went to Hluhluwe again – and he came along, a rare event nowadays. What swung him was the restaurant food. We debated as a family and decided to stay in the cheaper rondawels, but to eat at the buffet. Tom also slept in both mornings as we went on our 6am game drives, so all-in-all he quite enjoyed the chilled vibe and the grub.
Leaving home was interesting. We left at 5am . .
. . and then again at 8am with a changed tyre plus a repaired spare. It’s a tedious story.
Saw the usual stuff – plus these:
As I spotted the first one crossing the road I thought Bibron’s Blind Snake! Not for any good reason, but it was the first thing that came to mind. I’ve always wanted to see a Blind Snake. Then I thought beaked snake, snouted snake, some underground snake! What were they? I’ve asked Nick Evans, maybe he’ll enlighten me. Length: About from my wrist to my elbow. Say 300-350mm.
Back at the camp the buffet was a big hit. The only gripe Tom had was “Dad, they’re playing Tobias’ music in the dining room!” Yeah, Tom, I’m relieved they’re not playing gangsta rap! After breakfast one morning we went outside where a huge round auntie and a huger rounder uncle filled a couple of deckchairs. As we gazed over the hills we heard them: She: Are you hungry? He: Not really; maybe peckish; She: Yeah, let’s get breakfast; and they heaved their huge bodies out of the deckchairs and waddled in. Hey, the breakfast was good! Full cooked brekker chased with muffins, scones, jam, toast and loads of good coffee.
Nick has replied at last: They’re not snakes at all! They are Giant Legless Skinks, Acontias plumbeus – family Scincidae. So we had a SkinkyDay, not a snaky day. Up to 450mm long, they eat worms, crickets and sometimes frogs. They bear live young and can have up to fourteen at a time. Skinks, of course are completely harmless to humans. The lighter one looks like it did the lizard trick of dropping its tail and regrowing a new one.
Big creatures we saw elephant, buffalo, five white rhino, one croc, one lion, and kept looking for more as the kids were keen. Suited me, as there are always birds to see.
We also saw about eight slender mongoose, one little band of banded mongoose, two leguaans (water monitor lizards), a number of mice at the sides of the road (after grass seed?), samango and vervet monkeys, red duiker, bushbuck, nyala, impala, kudu, zebra, including one that had lots of brown who would have been wanted by the Quagga Project.
My best bird sighting was a falcon skimming low in front of us heading towards a line of trees along a stream, then shooting up and over some bushes to ambush a dove. It pursued it helter-skelter but then another falcon seemed to interfere and the dove managed to get away. Just then Jess piped up: “Gee! You certainly get excited about birds!” I hadn’t realised I’d been shouting. Hmph! I said, That was better than any attempted lion kill!
Here’s Nick Evans‘ pic of a Bibron’s Blind Snake – quite different: