Aitch and I flew from Maun to Xudum in 2001 when Janet & Duncan were running the show for Landela Safaris. We landed on the nearby bush strip.
Maun airport heading for Xudum
After a few days in camp they had business in Maun and we accompanied them on the drive out of the Delta to Maun in the Land Cruiser. Rickety bridges, deep water crossings with water washing over the bonnet onto the windscreen.
On the drive back to camp after the day in the big smoke of the metropolis of Maun we entered a Tamboti grove and saw two leopard cubs in the road. They split and ran off to left and right, then ran alongside of us on either side for a minute calling to each other before we moved off and let them be.
We enjoyed mekoro trips, game drives & walks and afternoon boat trips stretching into evenings watching the sunset from the boat while fishing for silver catfish or silvertooth barbel – I forget what they called them. Later, wading in thigh-deep water sorting out the pumps. Only afterwards did I think hmm, crocs.
Visited Rann’s camp for lunch where we first heard the now-common salute before starting a meal: “Born Up a Tree”.
Janet moved us from camp to camp as guests arrive, filling in where there were gaps in other camps. We transferred by boat, mekoro or 4X4 vehicle. One night we stayed in a tree house in Little Xudum camp.
Getting into the Okavango Delta can be 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”.
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.
Squirrel CampNights 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.
Still life with Sausage Tree flowers & leavesThen 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!
Aitch learnt the joy of indigenous plants on the Bluff in 1985 when at Wentworth hospital. Ian Whitton, friend and cardio-thoracic surgeon, indigenous gardener and nurseryman extraordinaire, pig-farmer, protea grower, pigeon-fancier, erythrina expert and all-round good friend took her under his wing. She also learnt from indigenous guru, horticultural landscaper, author, visionary and gardener Geoff Nichols; She collected seeds and swopped them for plants for and from Enver Buckus at Silverglen nursery; She worked for noted colonist, author, canoeist, British apologist, acrylic painter and historian Geoffrey Caruth Esq at his Geoff’s Jungle Indigenous Nursery; She joined BotSoc (now the Biodiversity Society) and got very involved, especially in the annual big plant sale, working with Sandra, Wally Menne, Jean Senogles, Dave Henry, Diane Higginson, etc; She spent fifteen years “botanising” (as they called it) with Barry Porter on his and Lyn’s Hella Hella game farm. We went there at every opportunity. It became our second home. They would roam the farm spotting and photographing plants and flowers, occasionally digging up one for culture with Porter’s Patented Plant Pincher**, a handy device Barry had welded together to make extracting small plants easy and non-destructive. Barry taught us to use Eugene Moll’s tree-ID book using leaves to ID the trees of Natal.
Our first property was 7 River Drive Westville, already mostly indigenous thanks to Mike and Yvonne Lello. On the banks of the Mkombaan River, it was paradise unfenced. We rooted out invasives and aliens and planted the right stuff as directed by Geoff Nichols. On his first visit he told me sternly, pointing ‘over there’, to “Get rid of that inkberry”. You know how Geoff is. Right. Sir! A month later on his next site inspection he said “You haven’t got rid of that inkberry!” Oops! True. So I undertook to do it that week.
A few days later I set to with my bow saw, sawing off all the branches and then cutting down the 100mm trunk just above the ground, Then I garlon’d that and composted the bits n pieces. Phew! Done! Finally!
A month later Geoff was back. “Who the hell cut down the tassleberry?!” he bellowed. “And you STILL haven’t got rid of the inkberry!” I never lived that one down. We planted five tassleberries to make up for it. They have male and female trees, so that was best anyway. I am pleased – relieved – to report they did well over the next fifteen years!
Aitch didn’t mind a bit of attention, so when our garden was chosen to be on display for Durban Open Gardens she blossom’d n preened and was in her element! She LOVED showing people around the garden and re-assuring them that it was quite safe* even if it did look a bit wild. In fact she would keep the entrance and pathway to the front door and pool very tame, civilised and trimmed so as not to scare people and put them off wild gardening. The hidden parts of the garden could go wild and host the 112 species of birds we recorded in the garden over the fifteen years we lived there. For 32 of those species we saw nests or fledglings.
We put in a bird bath outside our bedroom window and plumbed it with a fine hose and left it running with a fine little spray of water which ran constantly for fifteen years. I could control the fine trickle from a specially fitted high tap from inside the bedroom. The birds loved it. Me too. The tap is visible against the far wall on the left; the birdbath is hidden behind Jess.
*In fifteen years we saw one Natal Black Snake, one Brown Water Snake, a few Herald Snakes, a resident House Snake, regular Spotted Bush Snakes, tiny Thread Snakes, a couple of Night Adders, and that was all. None of them really dangerous.
One year we decided to make a large pond by damming a little stream that flowed though our garden into the Mkombaan. It came to be called (by Aitch) “Koos’ Folly”. In my defence, Nichols was involved in the planning. We built a substantial dam wall next to the Voacanga on the bank, covered in bidim felt and strong and long-lasting, creating a deep pond about 8m X 4m in size. Which the first flood filled up to the brim with silt. One shot. Pond now a shallow little mudflat with most of the flow passing under it underground. I learnt: Don’t mess with watercourses.
Some murdering had to happen. There was a mango tree in the grasslands and a fiddlewood behind the house. I bow-saw’d and de-barked and felled. Then I garlon’d. That would sort them out. Well, only years later did I finally get rid of the last shoots that kept sprouting. I developed a genuine respect for their kanniedood properties! A massive syringa on the banks of the Mkombaan I just ring-barked and garlon’d. No cutting. Two years later it crashed down across the river, bank-to-bank, forming a bridge you could walk across.
Since the new year rains the garden has been bursting with noise and activity.
Overhead the fish eagle and crowned eagle, the goshawk and the YB kite; In the trees the trumpeter and crowned hornbills; In the garden toppies (black-capped bulbul), yellow-bellied bulbul, GT and cardinal woodpeckers, brown-hooded kingfisher and FT drongos dipping into the pool for a bath and after drowning insects. black and dusky flycatchers, the first paradise flycatcher, golden-rumped tinker, scaly-throated honeyguide, black-collared barbet, white-eared barbet, black-headed oriole, white-eyes, cameropteras, TF prinia, bar-throated & yellow-breasted apalis, black-bellied, redwinged and glossy starlings; Hadedas probe the lawn, hamerkops inspect the pool; Pied crows and gippo geese sit on the high office building above us. Black, Klaas’, Diederiks’ and piet-my-vrou cuckoos.
In the shrubbery the natal robin (red-capped robin-chat) calls and mimics and a trilling noise tells me there are firefinches or (hopefully) twinspots around – haven’t been able to spot them yet. Boubous and puffbacks lurk. Red-eyed doves, mousebirds, Indian ringneck parakeets screech as they whizz past overhead.
Amethyst, collared, white-bellied and olive sunbirds. Bronze and black-and-white (redbacked) mannikins and YF canaries love the seeds in the long grass, swaying on the thin stalks; Loud louries arrive and chase each other around before stopping for a drink; The woodhoopoes are also loud; Spectacled and spotted-backed weavers compete with the sunbirds (and the vervet monkeys!) for the nectar in the strelitzia flowers; Forest (dark-winged) weaver sings his lovely high-pitched squeaky song; The streaky-headed canary also sits and sings happily; At night (late, 3am) the wood owl calls pondo, pondo no-shilling and earlier the nightjar says good lord deliverr us as the francolin settle down noisily.
Gotta have jungle and scrub and hideaways for birds. And a dripping tap.
One of Aitch’s list of “things to do” was visit her twin sis in Botswana. Janet quickly mustered her network and arranged a trip to Hwange, Zimababwe’s world-class national park. Her friends Beks and Sarah Ndlovu of African Bush Camps own a concession and run a very special camp at Somalisa in the eastern, Linkwasha area.
They call it a Hemingway-style camp. We called it bliss. Unpretentious tents from the outside, luxury inside.
The weather was amazing! Bright sunshine, then huge gathering clouds, then pouring rain and back to sunshine in a few hours. Enough rain to bring out the bullfrogs – the first time I have seen them, not for lack of looking. They were out for their annual month of ribaldry: Bawdy songs, lewd & lascivious pixicephallic behaviour. Also gluttony. Then back underground for 11 months of regrets.
The rain was spectacular!
After the rain, sunshine and new spoor on the bush telegraph page-wiped-clean: Aha! The lions have cubs!
After a good soaking the animals would have to drip-dry. We could get under cover and have hot showers, hot drinks and warm dry clothing.
Hwange has become my favourite of all Africa’s big parks. It is simply fantastic.
Those sand roads are very special, as were the breakfasts out on the pan.
I had written to Aitch in Feb 2009:
Hi Aitch – As they so crudely put it, we need to ‘sh*t or get off the pot’ as far as a decision to get to Okavango (and Beks Ndlovu’s camps) this year. Either soonish (March), or September / October (very hot). We must decide yes or no, and if yes, who could we leave the kids with? Dilemma – K
——-ooo000ooo——- So glad we didn’t get off the pot! The kids were fine; We got there in Jan 2010 for Aitch’s last – great, unforgettable – Botswana trip.
Finally got round to making a collage of some of the birds we saw up in Zululand a few years back. Aitch and I went for a breakaway luxury weekend. It was dry – very dry – and the lodge had a water feature running right under the sundeck. Every bird from miles around (as well as all the animals) had to come here to drink.
It was perfect! Aitch was not so strong, so we chose to skip the game drives and ensconced ourselves comfortably on the deck, binocs, camera and telescopes handy. Tea or beer or coffee or gin would arrive at regular intervals. Mealtimes we walked ten metres back into the dining room!