Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge

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 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!

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 if 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;

– shady jackalberry camp –

We chose not to move camp each day, electing to sleep three nights under a jackalberry and three nights under a 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 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.

OddballsOkavango Camp

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;

– our ‘buffalo hide’ termite mound –

We would sally out daily on short mokoro trips,

– colourful dragonflies, lilies and reed frogs at eye level –

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.

Botswana Oddballs Savuti (2 small)
– still life with Sausage Tree flowers & leaves – Aitch saw the beauty at her feet –

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 .

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)
– chandeliers of sausage tree flowers hang over the lagoon –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Oddballs is fancier nowadays.

mokoro – dugout canoe; one mokoro, two mekoro

sangoma – shaman? traditional healer? medicine man? says he communes with the ancestors

mbira – thumb piano or thumb harp musical instrument

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

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.

Pulling Frontwards

VOORTREKKER HISTORY WEEKEND

FRIDAY 31st JULY – 18H00 Meet Ken in the Conference Room for a talk, “Zulu Military Systems”.

SATURDAY 1st AUGUST – 09H00 Depart for the Kerkenberg, to see where Piet Retief’s daughter wrote her father’s name on the rock; and the Kaalvoetvrou (barefoot woman) Monument at Retief’s Pass. From this magnificent vantage point on the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment, you’ll be told the story of the arrival of the Voortrekker parties, Retief’s visit to King Dingane and the tragedy that unfolded in the valleys below.

Return to The Cavern in time for lunch

Ken makes it all come to life. But no thanks. I had enough of “the arrival of the Voortrekker parties” back in the sixties and early seventies to last me a few more decades, thank you. “The Great Pull” – Die Groot Trek – was an oft-repeated, always mocked theme throughout my lo-ong Free State school years.

Before we had Boy Scouts in Harrismith my good mate Leon Crawley joined the FrontPullers as we used to call them. The Voortrekkers. Later he told me they were going on a camp and made it sound so good I asked if I could join. Only if I ‘sluited aan’ said the Kommandant and Korporaal and Hoofleier and all those other menacing military-sounding mense that ran it. With their berets and badges and uniforms.

So I sluited aan and went to a pre-camp session, then joined them for that camp in winter in a wattle plantation on a farm outside Swinburne. Bok Venter’s farm. Where we sang lying songs and listened to lies exaggerations.

I did have fun, but I resigned the next week. So yes, I abused the Voortrekkers, I’m afraid. Used them, rather. Used, not abused.

I remember the tents: Canvas with sloping roof and vertical walls, wooden poles, rough hessian rope guys, some metal pegs some wooden pegs. Remember them?

wooden tent pegs.jpg

No groundsheet, just bare dusty ground (no grass in a wattle plantation). We didn’t pitch them, they were ready-pitched. We didn’t dig trenches on the uphill side, though best practice said you had to do that – though it must be said there’s very little chance of rain in a Vrystaat winter. I didn’t think the FrontPullers weren’t big on actual camping lore though, and that’s what I wanted to learn. I had American Boy Scout books and I wanted the camping and survival stuff, not the history stuff.

A few years later we started Scouts: 1st Harrismith Troop. Now that was fun. Sure, the uniform was also military-like, but it felt more . . . anti-establishment somehow. Had I known more about British army atrocities in SA and the Scouts’ beginning in the British army in Mafeking in the Boer War I may have had a different outlook, I’m sure.

20150621_095434

But, ignorant, I loved it! The 50 Mile hike down Normandien Pass. A blind-folded trip to Nondela and a compass-guided walk back.

Nondela koppie Drakensberg
Nondela on the Natal / Free State border

Being a Patrol Leader, choosing our name as Cheetah Patrol with brown and burnt orange shoulder tabs. Fishing. Canoeing. Cooking meals. Camping out. Sleeping out alone – character-building – that was a lo-ong night! Killing my first chicken and cooking it – character-building also. Building rafts and platforms. Watching a sheep being slaughtered – can’t have mutton without death, right? Father Sam of the Anglican church ran Scouts, assisted by Dick Clarke our municipal electrician, and Charlie Ryder, electrician and Dusi canoeist. Robbie and Wally Sharratt supported us and let us use their farms.

Good times, good people.

=======ooo000ooo=======

sluited aan – joined;

Die Groot Trek – mythical epic heroic trek into the interior; actually trekking away from the abolition of slavery and rule of law;

Tugela Gorgeous – Boats and Bosoms

Bernie Garcin (Bernie and the Jets), Doug Retief (Doug the Thief), Dave Walker (Lang Dawid) and me at Fig Tree Sandbank campsite, one of the planet’s most beautiful spots.

Three plastic (or ‘tupperware’) Perception Dancers and one Quest in 1984 and 1985 – we went both years. In those early days old-timers would still mock plastics, saying ‘tupperware keeps turkeys fresh’ but we knew the joy of not having to schlep fibreglass patch kits along and just smiled!

At the time Greg Bennett was sponsoring and competing in, a motorised rubber duck race down the Tugela (sacrilege!!). In ’84 he had Jerome Truran as crew, in ’85 Rip Kirby. We used Greg’s bakkie to get to Ngubevu.  Who fetched us at Jamieson’s Bridge?

Tugela boob2
– she was like –

On one of the trips bare-breasted maidens flashed us. We saw a Landrover parked on a hill on the left bank, then saw some swimmers in the river, who ducked down as they saw us. As we passed two of the girls popped up their lily-white tits to huge approval. They were like this except the water was brown. And they had no cozzies on:

Four-man Hole was soon after that and I crowded into a Bernie-occupied eddy straight after the drop and punched the nose of my Quest into his ribs. Being Bernie he didn’t even wince, but I knew it had hurt.

The current swept us past them, but the mammaries lingered on.

Cleavage
– she was like –

Overnight at the duck race camp the sponsors Lion Lager thought we were competitors so their beautiful beer hostesses liberally plied us with ale. OK, lager. When they ran out I rummaged in the boats and found wine papsaks we used for flotation and squeezed out the dregs. Karen the gorgeous, voluptuous newspaper reporter (remember the days when they wrote stuff on paper?) covering the event for The Natal Mercury held out her glass and as I dispensed I gave her the patter: “A good wine. Not a great wine, but a good wine, with a delicate bouquet”. She shook her mug impatiently and said endearingly “I know fuckall about flowers, I’m in it for the alcohol,” and I fell deeply in love. My kinda dreamboat lady in shape and attitude. She was like . .

Tugela beermaid
– she was like –

Dave too, was smitten as one of the comely lager hostesses joined him in his laager and treated him to sincere sleeping bag hospitality above and beyond the call of duty, ending the session with a farewell flash of delightful décolletage as she kissed him goodbye in the morning.

As we drifted downstream we sang:

The landlord had a daughter fair – parlez vous

The landlord had a daughter fair – parlez vous

The landlord had a daughter fair

Lily-white tits and golden hair

Inky Pinky parlez vous

We sang to the resident goats:
I ain’t afraid of no goats

We sang (to the tune of He Aint Heavy . . . ):

Hy’s nie swaar nie, hy’s my swaer

.

Ah! Those wuz the daze!

~~~oo0oo~~~

We stayed at Figtree Beach Camp again a few years later.

This should actually be on my pre-marriage blog vrystaatconfessions.com

River trip Deepdale – Hella Hella

We left Bernie’s white Ford Escort at Hella Hella with the Porters, and drove round to Deepdale in my white Ford Cortina. Linda Grewar (who became a notable paddler herself – she later won the Fish river marathon mixed doubles with Bernie!) then drove my car back to Durban. ‘Seconds’! ‘Helpers’ ‘Chauffeurs’! What would we do without those wonderful volunteers?  It was winter on a low, clear Umkomaas and we set off happy as larks. Or otters. In our Perception plastic kayaks imported by Greg Bennett in his Paddlers Paradise daze.

Deepdale Falls
– how low can you go? –

We put in at the Deepdale railway bridge and drifted downstream, portaged around the waterfall – Well, you’d have heard a dull thud if you tried to shoot it at that level! Deepdale or Bald Ibis Falls. It was a glorious afternoon, warm and clear with hardly a breeze. We paddled at my pace which meant this was a two-day trip,  lots of drifting, lots of chat with my mate Bernie ‘The Jet’ Garcin, frequent stops, carrying back and shooting the bigger drops again. We stopped early, to camp while there was still light to cook by.

The night was as cold as a banker’s heart and I was in my sleeping bag straight after grub. Not so The Jet who first had to go through an elaborate foot-washing ritual in the freezing twilight. A long night on the hard ground, and off early next morning. We didn’t know how far we had to go. We knew some guys had done it in a day, so we weren’t too worried and kept to my usual blistering (!) pace. Bernie had stood on the podium in mixed doubles results in his day, so was no slouch. But he knew me and was resigned to (hopefully quite enjoyed?) my drift-and-gaze-in-awesome-wonder pace.

The rock gardens we’d heard about in Longdrop Rapid were wonderful. You’d drop into a little ‘room’ and find the outlet and then drop down into another, huge boulders all around you. We decided this would be very hairy in high water!

Deepdale Hella Kayak (5)

Dropping into a ‘room’:

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Deepdale Hella Kayak (9)

Bernie got wedged here. I made to rush back to free him, but he shouted “No! Wait! First take a picture!”

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Deepdale Hella Kayak (1)
look sharp territory

We paddled that whole sunny day with a leisurely lunch stop. As it started to get dark we quickened the pace, Bernie deciding we needed to get a move on. But night started falling before we got anywhere we recognised. Then we shot a weir we knew was not far upstream of the Hella Hella bridge and a nasty piece of rusty iron sticking out flashed past at eye height. We decided Whoa! time to call a halt. Bernie’s legs are a lot shorter than mine, and I knew the Porters well, so we decided I’d run to the farmhouse and drive back as close as I could get in his off-road Escort.

At the Porter farmhouse Barry & Lyn gave me a beer (‘um, forced a beer on me’ I explained to Bernie when he said “What took you so long?”). Driving back along the track down into the valley, a couple guys on horseback kicked their mounts into acceleration, just beating me onto the narrow track down to the river, so they had the benefit of my headlights to light up the way, and Bernie had the benefit of my taking longer to get to him.

Halfway down into the valley a fella on foot leaned in my window (it was slow going) and asked if HE could hitch a ride. “Sure” I said and THEY hopped in: Two guys, two dogs and a huge sack of maize meal in the Jet’s two-door Escort! Ahem, I’m sure Bernie won’t mind chaps, I said to no-one in particular.

Hella Hella from Deepdale

I stopped with the headlights on the two kayaks, lying cockpit to cockpit. No sign of Bernie. I got out and a head popped up, yellow helmet still firmly on his head. He had wedged himself between the boats. As he blinked in the headlights I saw his eyes widen as a guy in a trench coat got out of the passenger door. Then another. Then a mangy dog. Then another rangy dog with a curled tail. His mouth dropped when the two guys reached back into the car and hauled out a heavy sack. He said nothing. That’s Bernie.

We loaded and set off for Durban. After a while Bernie had to talk: Did I know he was surrounded by dogs growling the whole time I was gone? and what took me so long? and was I aware his car smelt of dog?

But he forgave me. He always did. He was a really good mate Bernie and I was very sorry when he buggered off to Aussie (not because of the dogs or anything, mind).

~~~oo0oo~~~

Thy Ox and My Ass

On a boys getaway weekend to Manteku on the WildCoast my kombi makes it easily down to Drifters’ camp, though I do think Uh! Oh! as we drive down, Might be interesting getting out!

Uh Oh!

Five glorious days later we pack up and head out. But it has rained and the hill is too much for the kombi. What now? We’re the only vehicle in miles. “No problem” says our Drifters camp manager. “I’ll get some oxen”.

Oh, the shame! My ‘friends’ roar with laughter and start preparing. To lighten the kombi? To attach the tow rope? To clear big rocks away? No. None of the above. TO TAKE PICTURES!!

A ‘helpful’ comrade filled with empathy!
After one false start, where the oxen made a beeline for the river, we’re now aimed right . .

To this day I am reminded of this by these helpful ‘friends’. If I mention any car trouble they helpfully tell me: “Check for ox shit in the axles”.

At the top, it’s payment time: Thanks for your time, your trained oxen and your skill!