Oddballs, Then and Now

Its gone wimpish! Actually Oddballs 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.

When WE went we had to take our own food! But because there’s a 10kg limit on the Cessna 206’s and because one has to take binoculars, a telescope, a sleeping bag and books:

Jess Zululand Course 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:

OddballsOkavango (14 small)
Good Old Oddballs

Communal showers:

Yes, actually, Oddballs IS a luxury lodge!

Nowadays New Oddballs is soft and squishy:

New Oddballs
New Oddballs

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:

OddballsOkavango makoro

You pitch your own tent on an island without anyone else in sight:

OddballsOkavango Squirrel Camp

And you enjoy true wilderness. When you get back, Oddball really does seem like a Palm Island Luxury Lodge:

Oddballs (5)

There’s a bar, there’s ice and cold beer, gin and tonic. You can order a meal! And – NOWADAYS! – a double bed made up for you, ya bleedin’ wimps!

Go there (or here) NOW!!

Good God Father!

Just because I’m not a good Godfather doesn’t mean I can’t have a good Godson. In fact I have two. Here’s an excerpt from the life of one: Gary Hill spent a few magic years as a MalaMala game ranger! His complete final blog post is here. Here’s a brief excerpt, featuring just four of his amazing photos.

Gary Hill pays tribute to the animals he encountered at MalaMala

As guides at MalaMala, we often feel as though we are personalities in an ongoing wildlife documentary. Following the journeys of the animals as they move through their daily lives is a tremendous privilege and an experience that will not be easily forgotten. The script of the documentary cannot be predicted. Every excursion into the bush reveals dramatic discoveries, and one is constantly engaged in a roller-coaster of emotions.

During my time as a guide, I have been lucky to witness some incredible sights. I have always said in the blogs that to see any of these animals is amazing, and the interaction between the species is really special. This is the ‘MalaMala magic’, and it is always out there waiting to be found. There have been too many fantastic sightings to share, but I have been sure to record each and every one, no matter how seemingly insignificant, in my journal and have tried my best to keep a photographic collection.

Lions: The Selati pride gave us a sighting of a lifetime when they brought down a kudu bull in the Sand River, in broad daylight and in plain sight for us to all see.

 

Young-lioness-launches-upon-the-kudus-rear-Gary-Hill

Following the movements of the powerful Manyelethi males has been incredible. They are a formidable coalition that are likely to dominate for the next few years. To shadow these four beasts as they move on a territorial patrol, or to have them roar in close proximity to the Land Rover, is a humbling experience.

The-Manyelethi-male-moves-through-the-Matshapiri-River.-He-is-my-favourite-of-the-brothers-Gary-Hill

Leopards: It is unfair to single out one species as a favourite. However, there is nothing more spectacular than a leopard. Their beauty is astounding. Their hunting ability astonishing. And, their cunning and intelligence is tangible. They have individual characters, and have been my favourite animal to view. The rich history and heritage of the leopards of MalaMala makes these animals even more fascinating.

Ostrich-Koppies-female-Gary-Hill

As a guide at MalaMala, you are a small part of a such an efficiently run camp. Thank you to all the staff of the camp who make everyday routines run so smoothly. MalaMala is a world class destination, and that is due to all your hard work. I would like to thank all the rangers for playing such a huge role in my experiences. We have become great friends and I will miss being part of such a dynamic team. I have crossed paths with many wonderful guests along the way and it has been a great pleasure sharing the magic of MalaMala with you all!

Gary Hill

Ranger – MalaMala Game Reserve
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An Inordinate Fondness For Beetles

Asked what could be inferred about the Creator from a study of His works, British scientist and naturalist JBS Haldane replied:

“The Creator, if he existed, had an inordinate fondness for beetles”.

I have just re-read the delightful book Jayne Janetsky gave me in 1999 and learned again:

– Every fifth species of known animal in the world is a beetle;
– Beetles come in the most beautiful array of shapes and sizes and colours.

Absolutely fascinating! And right up my alley!

I show just three of the 350 000:

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The book has a few more!

Beetles fondness

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In a letter to the August 1992 issue of The Linnean, a friend of Haldane’s named Kenneth Kermack said that both he and his wife Doris remembered Haldane using the phrase “an inordinate fondness for beetles”:

I have checked my memory with Doris, who also knew Haldane well, and what he actually said was: “God has an inordinate fondness for beetles.” J.B.S.H. himself had an inordinate fondness for the statement: he repeated it frequently. More often than not it had the addition: “God has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles.” . . .

Haldane was making a theological point: God is most likely to take trouble over reproducing his own image, and his 350,000 attempts at the perfect beetle contrast with his slipshod creation of man. When we meet the Almighty face to face he will resemble a beetle or a star, and not Dr. Carey [the Archbishop of Canterbury].

Rhinoceros beetle

Botox Ballies Blues Band

I sent this cartoon to Reed & Brauer:

Old age home Asylum Rockers

BTW, ‘ASILO’ on the wall means ‘ASYLUM’.

.
On 2013/07/18, steve reed wrote:

I love it.

Over here, the national broadcaster has a competition called ‘Exhumed’.
A fitting term for those of us, like yourself, who played in a band as a younger person but wanna give it one last go.
The blurb is:

Exhumed is a band competition with a difference. It’s not for has-beens, it’s not for wannabes, it’s for the never-weres. It’s for people who play music for the sheer love of it. If you fit that description, enter and listen to your Local ABC Radio to be part of Exhumed. You could hear your track on the radio, be interviewed on air, perform at your local Exhumed event and feature in an ABC Music release. Each station across the country will choose a winner. Of those winners only six will go through as finalists and perform live on TV at our Grand Final. But just one will take home the title ‘Exhumed Winner 2013’.

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/exhumed/

I wrote:

C’mon Brauer! Enter the Botox Ballies Blues Band in this great competition!

Reminds me of a gathering of old canoeists where someone said we’re the Has Beens.
Mate of mine said “Swanie you’re not a Has Been. You can’t be a Has Been if you Never Was”.

PS: Reed, you may not know this, but the BBBB is quite famous behind the Boerewors Curtain among certain square circles that are often in their cups. They even pay to play at some events in far distant little known venues. Serious! Brauer’s on guitar and quite vocal.

He got lost under a pair of bloomers that was lobbed onto the stage once. Rumour has it.

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Tsavo in Kenya

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.

Voi, Kenya
Voi in October 1998

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 gate

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.

Elephant Hills Lodge in Tsavo
Arrival at Elephant Hills Lodge
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Here’s where the underground hide leads down to the waterhole

Driving around Tsavo East was amazing. We hardly saw any other vehicles. Firsts for us were Vulturine Guineafowl, Gerenuks, Lesser Kudus, White-headed Buffalo Weavers, Golden Starlings.

Lesser kudus & gerenuk - both firsts!

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. Tsavo West .

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!

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.

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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.

KenyaTsavo national park map

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Hluhluwe again

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.

Hluhluwe Apr2018 (1)

. . and then again at 8am with a changed tyre. It’s a tedious story.

Saw the usual stuff plus these:

Hluhluwe Apr2018-001.jpg

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.

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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.

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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.

Hluhluwe Apr2018

Hluhluwe Apr2018-002

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!

Mkhuze with the Excells

Long-time friends of Trish’s from Cape Town days, Val & Pete Excell came out from the UK to visit in 2009. Trish was finished her chemo and was ‘in remission’. She had been with Val when their little Claire – now about 30 – was born. Val had bought two new Nikon P90 cameras, one for her and one for Trish, so they were excited about the four million pictures they were about to take.

We stayed in a beautiful bush camp – Nhlonhlela has solitude and its own cook and guide – sheer luxury! Patrick the Shembe was great and taught us plenty about his ‘home patch’. He showed us a green, a bronze and a black dung beetle and two yellow and black beetles, and taught us how to tickle a scorpion.

Patrick the Shembe teaches

Mkhuze with the Excells 2009

One night in main camp (disorganised KZN Wildlife!), then three in bush camp

The kids were in a lovely pre-teen space and just reveled in the experience.

Mkhuze with the Excells 2009-007

Twelve year-old Jess: Help me Dad, I can do this with you; Eight year-old Tom: LEAVE the wheel Dad, I can do it on my own.

Mkhuze with the Excells 2009-002

Lots of slow walking in the lush green countryside.

MkhuzeExcells2009 Val Pete_2

 

When we had to drink  for medicinal purposes, the kids manned the kombi-pub, pouring the champagne and opening the beers and savannahs.