(A re-post with added pictures, as I throw out paper photo albums after copying and uploading. Major un-cluttering happening as I prepare my home for the past sixteen years for sale. Next chapter about to begin!)
Another trip to the Delta!
Aitch and I flew from Maun to Xudum in August 2001 when Janet & Duncan were helping Landela Safaris run their show. We landed on the nearby bush strip. We had been before, in January 2000. This post has pictures from both trips.
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, earning my keep as a guest of the lodge managers. Only afterwards did I think hmm, crocs.
Visited Rann’s camp for lunch where Keith and Angie Rowles were our hosts. That’s 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.
Lazy days in camp drinking G&T’s
Here’s Trish’s paper album – photographed and discarded:
Later Xudum was taken over by super-luxury company ‘&Beyond.’ OTT luxury, and R15 000 per person per night! Very different to the lovely rustic – but still luxurious – tented camp it was when we were there. Should ‘conservationists’ really be using miles of glass and wooden decking and flooring in the bush!? Methinks rich spoilt children are doing the designing for Daddy’s company and perspective has flown out the canvas-zip window and crashed into the plate glass floor-length picture window.
In May 2019 it burnt down. Had it been canvas there’d have been less pollution from the fire and the re-build.
On our trip up north in 2003 Aitch and five year old Jessie kept a diary; when they got home they made this picture album as a memento of the trip. Enjoy the slideshow!
(Slides change every four seconds. To pause a slide, click in the top right corner. To speed it up or to go back, use the arrows).
Last year Maun received none of the floodwaters that usually arrive in winter. The summer rains in Angola 1000km to the north had been poor, and the flood just didn’t get right through the Okavango Delta to Maun; Well below average summer rainfall added to the drought. Rainy season is December to March in Angola and Botswana. So this winter, as word got out that the highlands in Angola had had good summer rain, and knowing that local rainfall had been above average, filling the pans and raising the underground water table, word got out that the flood was a big one and there was a lot of excitement in town.
Everybody who’s like me (!) followed the progress of the water flowing south with great interest. The levels are monitored as the mighty Okavango leaves Namibia and enters Botswana and spreads out into its beautiful delta in the Kalahari desert.
The highlands in central Angola is where the water is coming from – 1000km north as the crow flies. Rain that fell in January and February is reaching Maun in May. It travels the first 700km in about a month, then slows down as it spreads out in a fan in its dryland delta on the sands of the Kalahari.
The focus of the townspeople of Maun was when the floodwaters would reach Old Bridge. My main focus was when it would reach little sis Janet’s home 13km further downstream. We started getting updates when the headwaters of the flood reached the Boro river, which flows into the Thamalakane.
Monitoring the incoming flood was Hennie Rawlinson, a neighbour two doors down from Janet in Tsanakona ward. Janet’s lovely cottage on the river is the feature pic above. Hennie had the inspired idea to turn the event into a fundraiser for WoMen Against Rape and the Polokong center by allowing people to follow him daily as he tracked the headwaters. On average the flood moves about 2km per day, but that’s a huge variable, depending on the terrain, the foliage and the water table, the porousness of the sand its moving over, how much its channeled or spread out at that point, etc. Even in a river bed, where it moves quicker, it will reach a pool and have to fill that up before overflowing and moving on. So there can be long hours of ‘no progress’ – no forward progress, that is.
Hennie traveled into the Delta fringe to find the headwaters. Here’s one of his videos:
Then the water reached the confluence of the Boro and the Thamalakane! Great day! But wait! It headed NORTH East! It had to fill up a few pools and only then did it push South East towards Maun.
Much excitement as the water past under the high new bridge across the Thamalakane and approached Old Bridge, a historic landmark with a backpackers and pub just downstream of it on the left bank; and the site Hennie had chosen for his ‘Finish Marker.’ Other denizens of Maun also awaited the flood:
Finally the time came when the pool before Old Bridge started filling up and Hennie decided the flood would flow under it that night. He and a few others got permits to be up all night on the bridge as Maun was under corona virus stay-at-home orders like most places.
They waited all night, along with a crocodile or two. The water took a couple hours longer, and arrived in the wee hours of the next morning:
The fundraiser: The Rawlinsons tallied up all the donations and announced: The final amount we have raised is: P50 511 – We will be handing the money over to WoMen Against Rape and the Polokong center this week. The winner who guessed the time the water would arrive was James Stenner and that couldn’t have been luckier, as he had pledged the prize – a chopper flight over the Delta – to three deserving people of his choice who are involved in research on the delta but have never flown over it! What a mensch! He runs luxury mobile safaris – have a look at his website.
Meantime, further downstream, here’s what the dry river bed looked like outside Janet’s front gate:
We had started our own little competition: When will Janet’s size three clogs get wet? So she went out in them to show us how dry the riverbed was . .
and then when the water started seeping into the grass, showed us the first time her clogs could get wet in many months – a year!
From the air you could see more: the flood was approaching. That’s ‘Wilmot Island’ in the riverbed in the distance – dry – water arriving – water filling up. Over the course of just three days. Janet’s home is in the lower left corner just out of picture.
On the ground her view changed from the one above to:
One of her neighbours in Tsanakona ward made a collage of the view from his gate:
In dry times the river is a road and many streets cross straight across it. When the flood arrives you have to cross at the three big bridges:
And so Maun celebrates and heaves a huge sigh of relief. Residents flocked to the waters, welcoming it and scooping up some from the very front of the headwaters to take home. Pula!! The waters have arrived!
Of course the water doesnt stop till it has evaporated, sunk into the Kalahari sand or been pumped out and used by us humans. It carries on! Onward towards the Boteti and Nhabe rivers, with their endpoints in Lake Xau and Lake Ngami respectively. There it does stop. Those are lowpoints and there’s nowhere else to go.
I may post on that. The headwaters have already reached the split where the Boteti flows SE and the Nhabe SW.
Read how the Okavango may just be the site where humankind originated! Latest mitochondrial research moves the probable origin site of the direct ancestors of people alive today. Fascinating work by an Aussie scientist.
There are about 6000 species of hoverfly. They disguise themselves as wasps but they’re harmless little buggers and they do a great deal of good pollinating and eating pests like aphids. They love flowers and nectar so they hang around lovely perfume-smelling things:
My cellphone pics and videos of the Khwai River hoverfly weren’t great so I didn’t post this until my ex-Saffer-turned-Kiwi, now in Aussie, mate Stephen Charles Reed sent a better picture of a Brisbane hoverfly.
They are amazing hoverers! They can hold dead still in mid-air and then flick to another spot in any direction, zip! just like that. They can do anything mid-air:
All this made me go looking and I found a new hero. Fredrik Sjöberg lives on Runmarö Island in Sweden and looks for hoverflies, butterflies, beetles and anything that else that might flit by. He wrote a wonderful book on hoverflies, life the universe and everything which his publishers thought might sell 1600 copies in five years. Well, he sold 30 000 and has since published it in numerous other countries! Then – I told you he’s my hero – he won the IgNobel Prize for Literature in 2016!!
IgNobel LITERATURE PRIZE [SWEDEN] — Fredrik Sjöberg, for his three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasures of collecting flies that are dead, and flies that are not yet dead. REFERENCE: The Fly Trap is the first volume of Fredrik Sjöberg’s autobiographical trilogy, En flugsamlares väg (“The Path of a Fly Collector”), and the first to be published in English. Pantheon Books, 2015, ISBN 978-1101870150.
Learn more and see some beautiful pics here.
We humans finally started to learn how to hover in 1907 when the French brothers Breguet flew the Gyroplane No.1 quadcopter about 0.61 m above ground for a minute. Hoverflies all around the world laughed at us.
Years before I had been fascinated by proboscis flies.
It has 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 Bennett says, ‘The older we get the better we were.’
When WE went in 1993 (‘the olden daze’) we had to take our own food! And that ain’t easy when there’s a 10kg limit on the Cessna 206’s; because one naturally has to take binoculars, a spotting scope, a tripod, a camera 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 in the supply store, and then we pitched our tent. Not like these wimpish days when the tent is semi-permanent, pitched for you on a wooden deck with shower en-suite!! Here’s THEN and NOW:
Here’s Aitch snoozing inside an old Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge bedroom. And the wimpish new arrangement! Aargh!
Luckily, the rest is still the same! You head out on a mokoro with a guide who really knows his patch: Our guide was Thaba Kamanakao – Delta legend.
You pitch your own tent on an island without anyone else in sight:
And you enjoy true wilderness. When you get back, Oddballs really does seem like a Palm Island Luxury Lodge:
There’s a bar, there’s cold beer, gin and tonic and ice. You can order a meal! And – NOWADAYS! – a double bed is made up for you, ya bleedin’ wimps!
Go there NOW! It’s amazing . .
(you can also look here)
With all due respect to Moremi, Chobe and Makgadikgadi, the birds you can see in and around Maun rival them all. In fact, pound-for-pound or especially dollar-per-bird, Maun wins hands-down. Especially when you’re staying in your little sis’ house, eating her food and driving her car!
So here’s a good recipe for Best Botswana Birding: Don’t just land in Maun and buzz off elsewhere! Rather stay in this lovely home:
Drive this superb 4X4. With 400 000km of all-Botswana roads experience on the clock, it didn’t even need much steering:
and bird the immediate vicinity:
Here are some of the birds seen in and around Janet’s home and along the Tamalakhane where she walks her dogs. Forty one shown, but there were more.
Added bonus: Visit the spots like The French Connection, Miguel’s Place, Tshilli Cafe, Island Safari Lodge along the river – and Ann’s CinemaMultiPlex for breakfast. Wonderful food and they all serve alcohol! What more could you want?
But the best and best-value meals are found here: Janet’s cottage in the salubrious Tsanakona suburb and Bev’s cottage in the salubrious, upmarket and fashionable Disaneng suburb. Neither had vegetarian-only or no-alcohol policies. Um, actually quite the contrary!
On a drive out towards the Boro River Janet and I stopped at a flooded grassland and watched a bird party frolicking on three little acacia trees, dropping down to drink clear water in some tyre tracks. Here’s the spot: Most of the action was in that small acacia dead-centre, behind the foxglove (help me here) stem.
Twenty three species within half an hour! It got quite “Shu’ Up! Another One?” Here are fourteen of them (Lee Ouzman pics mostly).
These two black birds were mingling with the unsuspecting colourful hosts that they parasitise! Like, your spouse’s lover has come to supper . .
The Indigobird was a LIFER for me! Long time since I nailed a lifer.
Here’s some other stuff as we searched for the Boro – and there’s the lily to prove that we found it. How’s the height of that termitarium? Janet is not tall, but that’s still some structure!
Yet another advantage to having a little sis who’s a nineteen-year Maun veteran is she can sweet-talk curmudgeons into showing you their patch. So we ended up one morning walking the Tamalakhane flood plains in Disaneng guided by an old bullet with a long lens after drinking free coffee here:
Imagine if he got a wife how she’d make him smarten up that stoep, nê!? Despite the low-key decor, the coffee’s top-notch.
We saw three of these birds plus a bat hawk flying. These are his pics, but from his website. His lovebirds he shot in Namibia, but we saw a few in his garden that morning! Escapees? Or had they followed him home?
Read about the history of Maun here where Lee Ouzman has more old photos like the one on top of Maun ca1985 when I first visited this Kalahari metropolis.
While I was there I was covered by these good people, thanks to Janet! For a very small fee you can buy air rescue cover for a whole year.
The Tamalakhane River runs south-west out of Maun and when it turns east it’s called the Boteti. After a while it runs southward forming the western boundary of the huge Makgadikgadi-Nxai Pans National Park.
At Kumagha village there’s a gate into the park. When the river has water in it a ferryman carries you across, one vehicle at a time.
We were guests at Tiaan’s Camp as Tiaan is looking for someone to help him start a new admin system and Janet’s just the person to do that. I got lucky as they decided she needed to visit him to check out the camp and discuss how Janet’s consultancy could run the project for him. Tiaan is a character. He was once a diplomat although you would never guess that in a game of Twenty Questions. Nor in game of One Hundred and Twenty Questions.
Tiaan has run mobile safaris in Zambia, Botswana and Zululand among many other places. He has been involved in lodges on the Delta panhandle and has now settled in Khumaga village in a camp he built himself with comfy chalets, lovely campsites, a crystal-clear swimming pool and a huge central building housing an open dining area, an open raised deck overlooking the Boteti where 22 elephants came to bathe the afternoon we arrived.
AND he operates a cool bar run on the honour system. You know, gooi and skryf.
He has a delightful accent, a mischievous laugh, speaks three languages well, and has an amazing store of tales from brain surgery to government service to building in Botswana and Jakobsbaai on the Cape West Coast; to safaris, interesting guests, religion, Land Rovers (he’s afflicted with six of them), philosophy and fascinating animal stories. Maybe he does have a diplomatic side, but he keeps it well-camouflaged.
He took us on a game drive in one of his Land Rovers – and we didn’t even break down – so he could show us his knowledge of and love for his patch, the very southern end of the great Okavango Delta, just before the waters from Angola sink into the Kalahari sand for the very last time at Lake Xau.
The next day Janet and I took her old Toyota – now well over 400 000km on the clock – into the park along the green Boteti river valley. The water was dropping so the ferryman had me move the Toyota forward a couple metres, then back a couple metres on the ferry to rock it across the shallows. We found plenty of interesting little things to photograph, and only got stuck in the deep sand once.
In between all this there were the gin n tonics, whiskies, beers and Tiaan’s home-made absinthe, generously dispensed – the absinthe gratis on the wonderful Tiaan system of “Have another and listen to this . . . !”
Interesting birds included Double-banded Sandgrouse, Acacia Pied Barbet, Hoopoe, Crimson-breasted Boubou, a young Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Pin-tailed and Shaft-tailed Whydahs, Red-faced Mousebird, Bateleur, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Blue-cheeked, European and Little Bee-eaters, Meyers Parrot, Goliath Heron and a Grey-backed Cameroptera who clacked at me fourteen times! Here in KwaZulu Natal they usually clack five to seven times. Here are some Lee Ouzman pics from his website:
Before this leg of the trip we had been to Mogotlhong.
gooi and skryf – honour system in a bar: pour your dop and write it down, you’ll be billed later
dop – grog
Straight after posting this I got a gotcha! email from Janet in Maun: Ha! Now I’ve got you! Stop procrastinating and VISIT!
So I have booked to go to Botswana in March after years of procrastinating. That is, Janet’s friend Bronwyn arranged a great price and booked. The 14th of March.
YES! Can’t wait!
Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique via Botswana. We only had a month, so not as leisurely as we would have liked. Can hardly believe it was fourteen years ago! The kids are now 19 and 15!
Mostly we drove at a leisurely pace and didn’t do great distances. We did put in a long day of driving on four stretches, which allowed us to chill most other days: Lusaka to Chipata in Zambia; Blantyre in Malawi to Tete in Mocambique; Tete to Vilanculos in Mocambique, and lastly Zavora to Nelspruit back in South Africa were all long-hauls. On those days we left early with the kids strapped in and sleeping. We’d drive for hours before breakfast. Aitch always had food or entertainment for them.
For the rest our days were unhurried. Slowly with the windows usually down, as we didn’t use the aircon. Anyway, speeding and potholes are not a good combination. At places we liked we’d stay up to three nights. Each of our five three-night stays felt like a complete holiday on its own. The Bushman off-road trailer proved its worth at every stop.
Waterberg, South Africa
On through Botswana and to the Zambian border at Kasane where a ferry carries you over the Zambesi. One of the ferries had dropped a big truck overboard and got damaged, so only one was in operation, which slowed things down. Took about four hours and we were safely across the Zambezi river in Zambia. Tommy took to the “fewwy” in a big way and called all boats fewwies for a while. The battered and half-drowned second ferry and truck and trailer were visible looking sad at the side of the river. The border post was pleasant enough. They charged us more for our “minibus” and tut-tutted sympathetically at my exaggerated protests that this was not a fee-earning taxi, but just our vehicle! Laughingly insisted “Well, sir, it’s the rules”. Had a good chuckle and they wished us well in their country.
In Livingstone we camped on the grounds of the Maramba River Lodge. It was full, so we squeezed in near the gate – not the best site, but quite OK. Lovely pool again. Drove to the falls at daybreak where a vervet monkey snatched Jess’ breakfast apple out of her hand. Our first sight of the falls from the Zambian side. Spectacular even though low.
Drove to Taita Lodge on the very lip of the Batoka Gorge downstream of the falls overlooking where we had rafted years before. A warm welcome and a great lunch on the deck hanging over the river. Ice-cold beer, great sarmies. Looked for Taita Falcons, saw Verreaux’s (Black) eagles soaring below. Tom & Jess banging on the dinner drum and xylophone was un-musical, but no other guests around, so no one minded – in fact the staff loved the brats and spoilt them with attention. I thought I’d better step up and perform as Aitch had been doing all the lessons and homework, so I taught them Cheers! Salut! and Prost!
On the way out of Livingstone we hit the best section of road we saw on the whole trip – brand new wide black tar with centre white stripe and side yellow lines! Amazing!
BUT: Just as we hit the smooth, the ole kombi died. Stat. Not a shudder or a hiccup first. Just suddenly nothing. That much-dreaded “CAR TROUBLE” thing! Well, after 197 000km I spose it’s OK. Unpacked the back and lifted the lid to stare at the engine. That’s my mechanical trick: I stare at engines.
Some school kids walked up and said ‘Don’t worry, they know a mechanic at the nearby village’, and the toothy one on the battered bicycle offered to go and call him. Sure, I said, not hopefully. “JP” from Gauteng, on his way to service some big crane, stopped his rented car and kindly offered his assistance. Soon he was joined (I was amazed) by Carl the mechanic, who arrived with a metal toolbox on his shoulder, and between the two of them they peered, prodded, unscrewed – and broke the distributor cap! Using mostly my tools and swallowing the ice-cold drinks I passed them, they eventually gave up. ‘Must be something computerised in one of these little black boxes’ was their verdict. Right!
‘There’s a VW agent in Lusaka’ says Carl cheerfully. Right! 200km away. As they’re about to leave, Carl spots a loose wire under near the sump. Finds another loose end of a wire and joins the two. VROOOM!! Apparently the wire was from a cutout switch to a heat sensor in the block. The kombi roared to life to tremendous applause! Well, four of us cheered. JP said ‘My pleasure’, Carl said ‘R200’, I said ‘Bargain’, Trish and the kids said ‘Thank you!’ and we were on the road again!
Next stop Lochinvar National Park at the south end of the Kafue National Park. We’d never heard of it but saw it on the map. Quite a bumpy road got us to the gate after dark. ‘Sorry, but you can’t go in’, said the soldier with a gun. ‘Sorry, but I have to’, said me. ‘You see, I can’t let these little kids sleep out here and nor can you, so hop onto your radio and explain that to your main man’. Back he came – ‘Sorry. The main man says the gate is closed’. ‘You just didn’t explain it to him nicely enough’ I said – ‘Please tell him I can’t, you can’t and he can’t leave a 22 month old sleeping in the sticks’. Off he went and back he came. ‘The main man will meet you at the camp inside’. ‘You’re a marvel, well done, thank you!’ we shouted and drove in on a 4km free night drive in Lochinvar. No animals, but some nightjars. A primitive camp, so we rigged up our own shower. Nice big trees.
It has beautiful flood plain lakes in the middle of dry surroundings.
South Luangwa National Park in Zambia was my main destination – I had read about it for decades. It was everything and more I imagined. Flatdogs Camp just outside the park was a blast, too. Big shady trees, a hearty meal available if you didn’t want to cook, and a swimming pool with a slide. Jess loved it so much she wore a big hole right through the bumular zone of her cozzie.
We met an American Mom with three kids. She’d married a Zambian man in the USA and had shipped over a converted school bus to tour around Zambia.
Then into the park – South Luangwa!! – a long-awaited dream. It was terrific. Saw puku antelope for the first time.
To get there we had to drive from Chipata town – that dreaded road we’d been warned against! Well, the grader had been a few days ahead of us and it turned out to be one of the smoothest stretches of the whole trip!
On to Malawi
Chembe village on the shores of Lake Malawi, and freshwater snorkelling off Mumbo island in Lake Malawi, cichlid fishes, and bats and swifts in a water cave.
We stayed at Emmanuel’s. Fair-minded people will agree with my assessment of it as ‘luxury’ but Aitch veto’d that and stuck it firmly under ‘basic with roof’, even though the shower was almost en-suite.
Outside the room, Aitch was in heaven:
Leaving Malawi we crossed the wide Zambesi at Tete, where we stayed in a motel on the right bank as we wanted to head straight off the next morning. Probably Aitch’s least favourite lodgings of the trip – mozzies and an empty swimming pool. Leaving town two garages had no petrol. They said the word was that the town on the far bank had, so we crossed back over the Zambesi, filled up and crossed back again. The kombi liked that!
Our biggest luxury was three nights at Vilanculos Beach Lodge. Sea, sand, a bar, lovely food, huge soft beds, friendly staff. Especially João, who spoiled the kids rotten, writing up cooldrinks to our room number! They thought he was a wizard.
We took a boat to Bazaruto Island and then on to Two Mile reef offshore in the big Indian Ocean. Lake Malawi and Bazaruto were Aitch’s main snorkeling destinations and she LOVED them both! Two-Mile reef really is ‘like an over-stocked aquarium’.
Zavora Bay near Inharrime. Stunning lakes and a wi-ide bay; A reef at the point, so you can walk in and snorkel in sheltered water for a kilometre; Lovely cottages – houses, really, on top of the dunes overlooking the bay. Our best find in Mocambique. We hadn’t heard about it before and we fell in love with it. We agreed: “We MUST come back here one day!”
Here’s where the kids got sick. We tested them – high positive readings for malaria. Luckily the lodge owner gave us Co-Artem pills which we fed them and then set off early next morning for South Africa.
When we got to Nelspruit hospital they tested all clear! The Co-Artem had done its job perfectly!
Two Memory Highlights:
Firstly, the rivers – stunning! The Chobe, Zambezi, Kafue, Luangwa, Shire, the Zambezi again (at Tete it’s wi-i-ide and beautiful), the Save and the Limpopo rivers were all magnificent and welcome and we stopped and stared. South Africa has some lovely rivers, but these were wider, swifter-flowing and clearer.
Secondly. the friendly people. Everywhere we went we were helped and fussed over and we heard laughter and “No Problem!”, and quite often: “Are these your children?”
Accommodation: We camped 14 nights; Basic shelter with roof 6 nights; Comfy lodgings 7 nights; Spoiled ourselves with luxury 5 nights;
Duration: Five 3-night stays; Three 2-night stays; Eleven 1-night stands;
Cook’s Tour: Thomas Cook (1808 – 1892) was an English businessman best known for founding the travel industry. In 1855 he took two groups on a ‘grand circular tour’ of Belgium, Germany and France, ending in Paris for the Exhibition. The expression ‘A Cook’s Tour’ was humorously used for any rapid or cursory guided tour: “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium.”
We flew east out of Oddballs from the nearby Delta Camp airstrip, leaving the green delta behind; then across the dry Kalahari to Savuti:
The flight was a bit bumpy in the hot clear air and Aitch started to go green about the gills, but we landed before she resorted to any lumpy laughter. I’m up in front, co-piloting.
At the Savuti strip we were met by pink-cheeked Emma the Pom in an open game drive vehicle. She was the camp chef – and the airstrip fetcher that day.
Just three of us in the vehicle. The last time I had been to Savuti was in 1985 when I’d arrived in a crowded old Land Rover full of two Aussies, a Kiwi, a Zim, a Pom and a Yank on a budget overlander. We pitched our tiny tents in the public camping area and the eles bust the water tank.
Sixteen years later, luxury! Emma took us on to camp and fed us overlooking the famed Savuti channel. After Oddball’s semi-roughing it: YUM!! Fresh food, cold beer!
Jenny and Lionel Song hosted us. She was a honey and a gifted artist; he was lion-obsessed. And we had Texans with us, so we did a lot of lion-chasing. ‘Myomi’s pride’ (or Maomi) was the focus. Gotta see lions; Lions gotta have names.
So first thing in the morning we’d hare off to where the lions had last been seen and at last light we’d hare back to camp – Lloyd’s Camp game drives are in Chobe, a national park, so you can’t be out after dark. Once on the way we saw two ratels or honey badgers, ambling along busily, stopping occasionally to skoffel around. At least we did slow down to watch them awhile. A very special sighting for me – my first ratels in the wild.
In Lionel’s defence he was doing his job, the Americans – two guys and a lady – were frequent repeat guests who worked for Southwest Airlines based in Dallas – world’s biggest carrier at the time. They were delighted when he gunned the Cruiser after a lioness as she started sprinting at a giraffe. She and five others brought down the giraffe and that was it, we spent the rest of the day watching lion lunch.
The good thing is a vehicle is a great hide, so I could scan around for birds too. While doing so I saw two ears above the grass some 100m off. A cub watching and waiting. It stayed right there till the pride leader looked up and made a funny high-pitched bark and they – turned out there were three of them – came running straight onto the carcass and started making a nuisance of themselves. When we left they were all fat as ticks, but had hardly made a dent in the huge female giraffe.
Next morning we drove straight back at first light and all that was left was a blood stain on the grass, a chewed head nearby and scattered bones! Two males had arrived and they were lying there the size of dirigibles. Eight round lions and three bloated cubs. They looked like the animals from Rollin’ Safari:
In camp Lionel, teasing, said to a guest who asked about the Lloyd of Lloyd’s Camp: ‘You should meet him! Pity he’s not here. He’s 6ft 4in tall with long black hair tied back in a ponytail”. Yeah, right! Lloyd Wilmot’s a legend in deeds, but not in stature, and no longer in hair.
It was 2001 and the Savute / Savuti channel was dry, so the only waterholes were supplied by boreholes. The Savute flows with water from the Linyanti river. It apparently flowed in Livingstone’s time, around 1845, then was dry in 1880 and remained dry for over 70 years. It flooded again in 1957, dried up again in 1982, flowed again in 2008 and the marsh flooded fully in 2010. This was documented by Dereck and Beverley Joubert in their films Stolen River and Journey to the Forgotten River. Mike Myers tells how the whole dynamic of the region changes depending on what’s happening with the water. I heard in Maun how Lloyd Wilmot had found a crocodile up under an overhang in the rocky hills above the marsh around 1982 after the channel ceased to flow.
skoffel – rummage; being a badger; badgering?
Some history from Lee Ouzman’s Jacana Enterprises site: The Wilmot family first came to Botswana in the early 1900’s. Grandfather Cronje Wilmot’s son Bobby Wilmot was part of the group that were involved in the early exploration and opening up of the Okavango Delta at a time when it was virtually unknown and unexplored. Bobby’s son Lloyd, once a hunter, now a conservationist, is a veritable mine of information. You name it – he’s done it. Swimming with elephants, tracking lion, leopard or cheetah on foot, building hides to view game at remote waterholes, following the amazing African migrations and more. His famous Lloyd’s Camp in Savuti was a legendary place of wonder and excitement and not surprisingly probably more credited in wildlife documentaries than any other camp in Botswana. It was here that Lloyd developed his special affinity for lions. It is not surprising that one delighted guest wrote of Lloyd Wilmot: “While Lloyd is my shepherd I Wilmot fear…”
Lloyd has since retired and written his memoirs in a rollicking book of mischief, daring, fun and – yep, occasional recklessness! He identifies the South West Airlines people as Doug Reiser, Mike Costello and Linda Fuller. I’m going to search to see if any of them have written something about their hairy adventures with the naughtiest little boy (aged about 70 now) in the bush! ( . . . didn’t find anything, but look what happened 29 years later).
(Here’s Trish’s 1993 photo album on our trip – I have copied, posted here and discarded the album. Downsizing – Selling our home)
Getting into Botswana’s 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 – unlike you – 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 under the palm trees.
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 spotting scope junkie!
The next morning we pushed off in our gentles S-shaped tree trunk mokoro to enjoy six nights out on the water in the care of a wonderful man named Thaba Kamanakao. He rigged up the seats so they were really comfy, the backrests enabling you to fall asleep at times!
Thaba said we could choose where we wanted to camp – anywhere. Soon after lunch we saw a magnificent Jackalberry tree on an island and said ‘there!’ – my guess is he knew that! We set up camp – our tent and two deckchairs and a ready-made campfire spot which he’d likely used many times before. The rest of the day was given to lurking, loafing, listening, lazing. Thaba set his gill nets, gathered firewood, pitched his smaller tent and set his chair at the fire. We were all quiet most of the time, listening and loving as night fell. After we’d eaten we sat talking and listening some more. Then Thaba played his mbira – his ‘thumb harp’ – and sang to us; I’ll never forget his introduction as we switched on our tape recorder: ‘My name is Thaba; Thaba Kamanakao; Kamanakao is surname;‘
We chose not to move camp each day, electing to sleep three nights under a Jackalberry and three nights under an African Mangosteen, both giving welcome shade and birdlife. 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? a shaman? a nutritionist? – had told him he wasn’t allowed it! So a myth robbed a man of a tasty and useful source of protein. The first night we were joined by newly-qualified Pommy doctors Louise and Richard and their guide “BT.”
When we moved camp from the camp Aitch named Jackalberry Camp, to her new chosen Mangosteen or Squirrel Camp, we decided we needed a bath on the way, 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 to this beautiful inland delta: Pack some small swimming goggles and an underwater camera if you can. The clarity of that water is awesome.
Beautiful underwater pic by David Doubilet – to show the clarity.
Squirrel Camp nights were again spent cooking and sitting around the fire; talking and listening to Thaba playing his mbira and singing;
Days were spent birding the camp, hiking the island and an daily foray in the mokoro. Once we we were ‘moved off’ by an impatient ele, Aitch getting mildly reprimanded for turning round to get a fuzzy picture as we retreated. Another time Thaba – scouting ahead – spooked a herd of buffalo, who thundered in a tight mass towards us. We climbed the nearby termite mound – Thaba had told us to stay next to or on it – and they thundered all around us;
We would sally out daily on short mokoro trips,
Back before the sun got too high so we could loaf in our shady camp, where the squirrels and birds kept us entertained for hours. Six lazy, wonderful, awesome days.
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.
Then we headed back reluctantly for a last night at Oddballs. Warm showers under the open sky; cold beer & gin’n’tonics on the deck, ice tinkling in the glass; watching spotted-necked otters in the lagoon, lounging in comfy chairs. Topped off that evening by a big hearty hot meal prepared for us and plonked onto a table on the deck. We ate watching the sunset turn the water red.
And suddenly it dawned on us that, even though we did have to pitch our own tent again, Oddballs really IS a Luxury Lodge!
Then we flew east, to the Savuti.
Oddballs is fancier nowadays.
mokoro – dugout canoe; one mokoro, two mekoro, three mekoro, FOUR
sangoma – shaman? traditional healer? medicine man? says he communes with the ancestors; gives advice
mbira – thumb piano or thumb harp 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.
Read an account of another 1993 trip to the Okavango Delta – Delta Camp right next to Oddballs) by Bill Keller, a US journalist for the NY Times based in Joburg.
(Here’s Trish’s 1993 photo album. I have copied, posted it here and discarded the album in my downsizing while selling our home in 2021)
I joined Jenny & Tabs Fyvie for a lovely week in the bush at their luxury lodge in Botswana. Right on the banks of the Limpopo river – a wonderful setting. Their friends Johan and Elsa from their days in the lowveld were there, plus other friends and fellow shareholders from the Eston KZN district where they farm now.
Wonderful wildlife, including two leopards; Great birding including a lifer: a White-backed Night Heron hiding out in daytime. The bird pics are all off the internet.
Weather changeable, hot and dry or warm and wet. Cool nights. October 2013.
We had a wonderful time, with only one minor catastrophe: The bread was not completely square; it was slightly buckled and squashed from being thrown in the back of my bakkie. Tabbo survived that thanks to Jenny’s laughter.
I sent these images – pinched off the ‘net – to interested friends after I got back. Some of the birds that fluttered down to drink at iMbuzi waterhole in Limpopo-Lipadi reserve in the two hours we sat there. What a feast for the eyes!
Plus, some of the nyonis seen in and around camp:
I drove back from Botswana in just under 12 hours. It’s been a long time since I did that. Pressure from the kids to get home, so I resolved to keep moving, but overnight with Pierre in Harrismith, or with my folks in Pietermaritzburg if I got sleepy. But I didn’t. I just kept trucking, stopping regularly for a walk and a bite and hot black coffee.
Got a huge welcome when I got in! “Daddy we MISSED you!” No cellphone comms in the bush!
I wrote to Dave Hill: I haven't told you yet that we had a long discussion about you (rolling cars, Hartebeespoort dam, etc)
He replied: Hi spekkies. I knew it would be dangerous letting you loose with those rubbishes. I bet they were full of heinous lies about me. You of course were mum. . Me again: No! I had nothing but praise. Which they laughed at. Trevor, Pete, Butch and Bruce. Pete and Butch dishing the dirt on you about rolling cars and choking Linda Lovelace. Funny how some things stick in your throat memory. ~~~oo0oo~~~ photographersdirect.com (this site has since disappeared) shutterstock.com (royalty-free thumbnail pics) https://limpopo-lipadi.org/
Here’s a lovely overview:
As a schoolboy I was keen on kayaking and was tickled by a cartoon depicting a kayak on dry land trailing a dust plume with the caption Kalahari Canoe Club! I kept that on my wall for years. Kayak’ing in the desert was just a joke, right!?
In January 2010 we got to the Kalahari to hear the Nhabe River was flowing strongly into Lake Ngami and Aitch’s twin sis Janet and boyfriend Duncan had organised us kayaks! Hey! Maybe you really could kayak the Kalahari!
A reconnaissance trip to the area with GPS found us a put-in place where we could launch – no easy task as this Kalahari “desert” was knee-deep and chest-deep in green grass after the good rains. We returned the next day with two vehicles, four yellow plastic expedition kayaks and lunch, and set off on the beautiful river, flowing nicely between overhanging trees. It was my idea of Paradise! Green green everywhere, with plants, flowers, grasses and birds all putting on a spectacular show.
everything was green –
Five Giant Eagle Owls peering down at us blinking their pink eyelids from one thorn tree – that was special! As was a big green snake, I guessed over 2m long that came towards me on the bank as I drifted towards it. I was amazed it kept coming. When my kayak’s prow beached it still came on up to about a metre away, grabbed a small shrub in its mouth and only then beat a hasty retreat. A Kalahari Vegetarian Viper? I was thinking till I heard a loud hiss and saw the big flap-necked chameleon he had caught (together with some leaves) in his mouth. I had missed seeing a chameleon in that tiny green shrub! My guess is he was an Angolan Green Snake.
Another memorable sight was rounding a bend and seeing four cows drinking: One all-black, one all-brown, one all-white and one all-tan. They looked so striking against the lush new green backdrop that we remembered the camera but we had drifted past in the current and by the time we paddled back against the current they had dispersed. Here’s the white one:
Lunchtime we ate on the bank sitting on the kayaks. I remember hardboiled eggs and very tasty sarmies, thanks Jan!!
The girls then turned back as the paddling would be much slower against the current while Duncan and I headed on, determined to get into Lake Ngami.
And we did. How spectacular! The trees fell back and the sky opened up and huge reed beds stretched in every direction. Fish eagles cried, ducks scattered before us and herons and cormorants and waders were all over the place. At first we were still in a channel, but after another kilometre or so we could branch into other channels and lagoons out of the main current. We felt like David Livingstone in 1849. Sort of. Better.
Way too soon we had to turn back to get back upstream to the girls and the vehicles.
This is a trip crying out for a multi-day one-way expedition with seconds collecting you at a take-out point on the lakeshore. To do it though, you have to be free to leave at short notice on those rare occasions when the river is up. Or else you’ll be reviving the old Kalahari Canoe Club – with plumes of dust!
Roll on, retirement!
Trish (Aitch) and 5yr-old Jess made a paste-and-cut album when we got back from our trip to five Southern African countries. I found it lying around so thought I’d photograph it and paste it here as a gallery. Hope you enjoy.