Botswana Safari with Larry

(this blog is about happenings, disasters, surprises and chaos since I caught marriage and kids. But every now and then I re-post a story from my blissful, trouble-free, beer-fuelled bachelor days blog. Here’s one):

Hey, let’s go on a safari!

Great friend Larry Wingert is out from the USA and we hop on a flight to Maun in Botswana. It’s 1985 and we’re bachelors on the loose with time and money!

Okavango Delta

From Maun we fly into the Delta (Tjou Island camp) in a Cessna 206. After many beers and wines a resident auntie starts looking enticing at around midnight but the moment passes.

The next morning a pair of Tropical Boubou, Laniarius major, fly into the open-air pub under a tree right above where we’re sitting and belt out a head-turning, startling loud duet. Stunning! That’s a lifer!

– pic from afrol.com – see story on tropical boubou calls –

After a short mokoro ride it’s back to the plane and a quick, low-altitude flip back to Maun where we all squeeze into an old Land Rover, fill up at Riley’s Garage . .

– 1985 Rileys Garage by Lee Ouzman –

. . and head off for Moremi, stopping just outside Maun to buy some meat hanging from a thorn tree. Goat? Supper. Our outfit is called – I think – Afro Ventures.

We’re a Motley Crew from all over. We get to know two lovely Aussie ladies, a lovely Kiwi lady, a Pom fella – 6 foot 7 inches of Ralph; AND the gorgeous Zimbabwean Angel Breasts (Engelbrecht her actual surname)! Unfortunately, she’s The Long Pom’s girlfriend (sigh). Weird how the only first name I can think of now is Ralph, the undeserving Pom.

Our long-haired laid-back hippy Saffer – no, he was probably a Zim, see his letter – safari guide Steve at the wheel is super-cool, a great guide. So off we go, heading north-east, eight people in a Series 2 Landie – “The Tightest-Squeeze-Four-By-Four-By-Far”.

Long Legs in a Landie to the rescue!

Anyone who has driven in a Landie will know there’s lots of room inside – except for your shoulders and your knees. Besides that – roomy. Land Rover’s theory is that three people can fit on the front seat, three on the middle seat and two on those postage stamp seats in back. Right! See that metal pipe that your knees keep bumping against? That’s what Land Rover used as their prototype airbag. It didn’t work so they only kept it for the next fifty years, then changed it. By using milder steel for the pipe?

– promotional pic extolling landrover luxury –

Previously a critic of Landrover design, in a flash I’m a keen supporter! Unable to endure the cramped space on the middle seat, The Lengthy Pom gets out at the very first stop and sits on the spare wheel on the roofrack. I sit with my thigh firmly against Angel Breasts’ thigh (sigh).

More clever Landrover design features:

The Long Pom stays up there for the rest of the week – whenever we’re driving, he sits on the roofrack! When we stop he has to pick the insects out of his teeth, like a radiator. I’m in seventh heaven. Mine and Angel Breasts’ thighs were made for each other.

– she was like this . . . the landrover wasn’t –

Birding: Problem Solved!

I’m mad keen on birding but I don’t know how these guys feel about it. What if they get pissed off? What if they only want to stop for large furry creatures? After all, five of the seven of us are fureigners. But the problem gets solved like this: The first time we get stuck in the deep sand, a little white-browed scrub robin comes to the rescue! He hops out onto the road in full view, cocks his tail and charms them. From then on I have six spotters who don’t let anything feathered flit past without demanding,“What’s that, Pete? What’s that? And that one?” I become the birding guide! Steve is happy – it’s not his forte, but he’s keen to learn.

– thanks fella!! – see http://www.wilkinsonsworld.com/about/

Moremi – and True Love

At Khwai River camp a splendid, enchanted evening vision befalls me – my best nocturnal wild life sighting of the whole trip: I’m walking in the early evening to supper and bump into Angel Breasts outside her bungalow – she’s in her bra n panties in the moonlight. Bachelor dreams. Oops, she says and runs inside. Don’t worry, I’ve averted my eyes, I lie (*sigh*). That’s another lifer!

Chobe

At Savuti camp the eles have wrecked the water tank.

At Nogatsaa camp a truck stops outside the ranger’s hut, a dead buffalo on the back. The ranger’s wife comes to the truck and is given a hindquarter. Meat rations. They also drop the skin there and advise us to carry a torch if we shower at night as lions are sure to come when they smell the skin.

– internet pic of nogatsaa waterhole –

Another Lifer! Later I head for the tiny little shower building – a single shower – to shower while it’s still light. Discretion being the better part of valour! A sudden cacophony makes me look out of the broken shower window: The lady-in-residence is chasing an ele away from her hut by banging her pots & pans together! We travel thousands of k’s to see elephant and she says Footsack Wena! Tsamaya! The ele duly footsacks away from that awful noise. While looking out, I spot what I think could be a honeyguide in a tree, so I have to rush back to our puptent wrapped in a towel with one eye on the ele to fetch my binocs. It is a Greater Honeyguide, the one with the lovely Latin name Indicator indicator, and that’s another lifer for me! Moral of the story: Always carry your binocs no matter where you go!

– Greater Honeyguide, Indicator indicator- also from xeno-canto.org –

That night the elephants graze and browse quietly right next to our puptent, tummies rumbling, other noises emanating from front and rear. Peeping out of the tent door I look at their tree stump legs, can’t even see up high enough to see their heads. Gentle giants.

As we head on north and east through the sand, we approached the Chobe river; and the landscape looked like Hiroshima in WW2! Elephant damage of the trees was quite unbelievable. That did NOT look like good reserve management! Botswana doesn’t believe in culling, but it sure looks like they should!

The Chobe river, however,  was unbelievable despite the devastation on its banks – especially after the dry country we’d been in. What a river! What wildlife sightings!

Zimbabwe

On to Zimbabwe, the mighty Zambesi river and Victoria Falls. We stayed at AZambezi Lodge. Here we bid a sad goodbye to our perfect safari companions. Me still deeply in love. Angel Breasts holding The Long Pom’s hand, totally unaware of my devotion (*sigh*).

At the end, our new friend and safari guide Steve gave me and Larry a letter. We read it on the flight out of Vic Falls.

– lovely note –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Hopeful note: Larry had a camera on the trip, I didn’t, so I have asked him (hello Larry) to scratch around for his colour slides in his attic or his secret wall storage space in Akron Ohio. He will one day. As a dedicated procrastinator he is bent on never putting off till tomorrow what he can put off till the next day. Meantime, thanks to Rob & Jane Wilkinson of wilkinsonsworld.com, xeno-canto.org and others on the interwebs for these borrowed pics and sounds!

Edit: There’s more hope! Larry wrote 16 December 2017: P.S. I will renew my efforts to locate some photos of our Botswana trip. If you saw the interior of my house, you’d understand the challenge. . . . OK, but if you saw the exterior of his old house you’d fall in love with it:

– 40 North Portage Path, Akron Ohio –

Terrible note: Update November 2019: Larry has since had a bad fire in the basement of his lovely home. Much of his stuff is ruined by the fire, the smoke and then the firemen’s water! He may not repair his home! This is so sad! Dammit! Pictures suddenly aren’t important any more.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Saffer – Suffefrickin; South African

Zim – a Zimbabwean

lifer – first time you’ve seen that bird ever – or anyway in lingerie

Footsack Wena! Tsamaya! – Go away! Be off with you! Eff Oh!

pamberi ‘n chimurenga – forward the liberation struggle! in Shona

~~~oo0oo~~~

Lloyd’s Camp, Savuti

We flew east out of Oddballs / Delta leaving the green delta; then across the dry Kalahari to Savuti:

We flew on 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.

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.

– fetched from the airstrip by pink-cheeked Pommy chef Emma who drives us right up an ele’s butt . . –

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 Kiwis, Aussies, 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!

– . . . and then feeds us at camp –

Jenny and Lionel Song hosted us. She was a honey, 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’s 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:

Roolin Safari
Botswana Oddballs Savuti (7)
Savuti Botswana (1)
– Lionel & Jenny Song –

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.

– Lloyd and his fellow safari guide sister Daphne –

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.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

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 Lloyds 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 and June Wilmot – early days at Savuti:

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

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! (. . . haven’t found anything)

~~~oo0oo~~~