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.
It’s a real challenge. This having to navigate the world surrounded by dof friends.
I wrote to my ‘friends’ – it might have been early one morning; they might not have been fully awake: -original message- Subject: Where’s that? From: Pete <email@example.com> Date: 06/06/2011
I was embarrassed that I had never heard of Sanya, a city that looked bigger than Durban, with huge bridges, high buildings, man-made islands and world-class resorts. It’s China’s southern-most city. Well, today I tested Midi Yan’s eyes and he and his brother had never heard of Sanya either! OK, they are from Tianjin in the North, which is thousands of km’s away, but it made me feel a little better that they also hadn’t heard of this city in their own country.
Bruce – after reading with one eye? – wrote: Pete I`ve been there with you IN A BOAT – Legend of the Sea = tHERE AFTER THE BOAT DOCKED IN VIETNAM AT HA LONG BAY WHERE WE WENT ASHORE AND DRANK BEER
Janet wrote: So, Pete, it’s just the memory that’s going…
Rita wrote: That too!
I tried to straighten them up: Don’t be dof, people, I was embarrassed THEN that I had never heard of it. When the “Chinas” came to visit me last week I told them I’d been there and THEY had never heard of it. THEY said ‘Where’s That?’ So I didn’t feel so bad about not having heard about Sanya BEFORE I went there. Get wif ve program.
Rita persisted: Well clearly, you were not clear.
Steve backed her: ‘Fraid thats the way I saw it too. Sharpen up Koos.
Janet made things worse: Hair today gone tomorrow????
**** SIGH ****
confession: I may have tidied the language of my posts ever so slightly to make my point clearer here . . . in order to emphasise their dofness, see . .
I thought the nervous client had spotted Janet also looking at the scorpion and the puff adder in her room.
But it wasn’t like that; Janet wasn’t there.
The lucky, nervous – and ‘happy at the same time’ – client had spotted a scorpion, a puff adder AND a spotted genet like this one: All at once!
She had NOT spotted a Janet like this one:
Janet’s life in Botswana is seldom dull . .
So Janet wasn’t spotted. Some things are not spotted. In fact they’re STRIPED.
Later – Not-Spotted Janet sent a pic of another – or the same – puff adder visiting inside a chalet.
Beautiful, innit? Now, I know what you’re thinking: You’d shit your cotton undertrousers if you spotted a puff adder in your chalet, but think of the poor snake! It would shit its custom-made snake-skin undertrousers, seeing a 60kg murderous mammal towering over it. Poor thing is half a kg of innocence. Hundreds of them get bludgeoned for every human they bite – and only a few of those humans that get bitten actually croak. Give snakes a break.
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, ne!? 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.
From Maun we ventured North-east to Mogotlho and back to Maun; then south-west to Khumaga and back to Maun. Both trips in that fine Toyota skorokoro 4X4.
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.
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
I don’t do DIY. I was going to say except for our wedding, but on reflection, I also did that the way I do everything: Stand back and watch as others do it all, encouraging and applauding while trying to save money.
What I did do was buy the booze and fill Mike Lello’s Isuzu Trooper and trailer with it and drive it out to Barry and Lyn’s farm Game Valley Estates at the foot of the well-known Hella Hella on the Friday. Lots of rain, muddy roads. It had been a wet summer following the huge September 1987 flood.
Like most bachelors when they do fall, I headed off cheerfully to meet my fate, all my own advice forgotten, marching singing to the gallows!
Luckily Saturday cleared up. I always sing ‘The robots change when I go thru, the clouds dissolve and the skies turn blue, and EVERYBODY loves me baby – – – what’s the matter with you!?
And the clouds did dissolve . . It got Sunny. Then Hot. Then Scorching, Humid, Sultry. It felt like all the rain of the big flood was trying to get back up into the clouds.
Barry’s big old 4X4 Ford F150 gave people a tug up slippery Hella Hella Pass so they could get to their lodgings at the nearby Qunu Falls Lodge. The Brauers, the du Plessis, the Reeds, the Schoemans, the Stoutes, the Stewarts. The Hills live nearby. Family stayed in the concrete A-frame lodge on the farm.
The sauna was pitched on the lawn under the Hella Hella mountain.
The Porters were linked up to ESKOM but just because ESKOM has arrived does not mean that when you throw a switch with a flourish that anything will happen. And so it was on our wedding day that ESKOM was feeling a bit off that day and we were without krag, power, lights and fridges.
Enter David Hurle Hill !! He roared off in his bakkie and fetched a huge diesel generator on a trailer. David is a Drrrillerr and will drill you a borehole. In fact his company motto is ‘On The Hole Our Work Is Boring.’ He linked up and threw a switch with a flourish and nothing happened.
She was not wekking, as David Hurle Hill would say.
Enter Enea Spaggiari !! All the way from Italy via Kenya and Petit outside Benoni. He climbed up onto and over and under the trailer and fiddled with wires and threw a switch with a flourish and Let There Be Light! Music! and Cold Beers!
Iona coaches her daughter: Make all the big decisions, but make him think he made them . . . Aitch: Ha Ha I already do that . . .
Then the usual stuff, the ominous music from Jaws: Tun Tun Ta Da!;Tun Tun Ta Da! What? Oh, the wedding march. The father of the bride looks like he’s having having second thoughts; Guys are thinking hm hm hm who’d a thunk this day would arrive?; Ladies are smiling – they seem to enjoy weddings; Aitch saying – ‘Honour? OK; – Obey? Are you mad!?’ and so on. The usual kak.
Then the cake, made by Lyn’s talented friend with a green frog couple in tux and wedding dress – probly a strongylopus and an arthtroleptis. In the heat they keeled over. We should have got a pic, but something like this, just green frogs and not from alcohol:
Then The Lies! You just can’t trust some people. Ten years prior to this I had done a very good job being his best man and if he had paid attention he’d have learned something. Like, to stick to the flattering truth and not tell scurrilous alternative truths that nobody wants to hear. At least nobody called the object of your attentions wants to hear them . . .
Followed by The Truth!, plain and unvarnished:
At last, we could change into shorts and relax and party.
Later came The Getaway:
Which took a while, handicapped as we were. We wore getaway kit appropriate for our intrepid honeymoon. We were headed for Deepest Darkest America.
On the Monday friend Allie Peter flew over Hella Hella in a helicopter and took pics of Rapid No.5&6 looking downstream and then back upstream:
Twenty Five Years Later – 28 Feb 2013 – I wrote to friends:
Crazy, innit! 25yrs ago today Aitch and I got hitched down in the Hella Hella valley in a fun DIY game farm wedding. She made it to 23yrs of married bliss (OK, she might have had something to say at this point . . ) and one month short of 26yrs together. We celebrated that 25yrs-together milestone in August 2010.
Thinking of all you good peeps that made our wedding so memorable – that’s the bachelor days before, the day itself, and the 25yrs since!
Lotsa love – Pete – and now Jessica & Tommy!
BTW, Lyn and Barry Porter of Hella Hella also died in 2011: Lyn in January – also breast cancer; Barry in April – hospital infection; And then Aitch in July.
Dave Hill: I remember it well – I ‘nipped’ home to fetch my generator when the power went off.
Pete Stoute:Remember the week-end like yesterday! Struggling up the other side of Hella Hella to the Qunu Falls hotel in the mud and rain – Dave Hill saving the day with a BIG generator.Will have an extra glass of vino this evening – great mates and good times.
Sheila Swanepoel:Those pics are great. What a wonderful record of a very special day. I remember the incredible heat and how you, Pierre and Pete sneaked off and changed into shorts straight after the ceremony. And how the phone kept ringing in the middle of the ceremony in the house. Linda was flower girl, Robbie was so proud of his brand new red “tight”
. . and Jeff kept putting off going to change, saying that he was charge of the antelope on the spit – he dithered for so long that there was no time to change and that pleased him no end. Bess & I sneaked down to the pool for a kaalgat swim and found Iona had beaten us to it!
Steve Reed: Will always remember the weekend; a great occasion. I think it was thanks to Mike and Yvonne in the 4×4 that we traveled safely back through the mud to our lodgings. Fond memories – raising a glass tonight to all of you!
I remember Brauer chasing a tight deadline speech writing – wise.
Pete Brauer:Damn. Been holding my breath during this stroll thru memory lane hoping that no-one noticed at the time or that no-one would still remember that poor last-minute effort.
Terry Brauer: Steve nothing has changed! PB has his own website called lastminute.com
Steve Reed:Speech was excellent. Not many can compose a wedding speech while putting on a tie with the other hand. Besides, Swannie probably tasked Brauer with the job as he was getting dressed himself.
Terry Brauer:Yip Brauer remains an orator of note and Swanepoel continues to notify me he is coming to stay usually on the day when he lands in Pretoria – 😀 Those old dogs ain’t gonna learn new tricks but love them both! T
Pete Swanie:I had prepared well in advance.
Brauer procrastinated and ignored my two rules: Keep it short; and NO LIES.
Pete Brauer:If I stuck to the latter rule the first would have fallen into place quite easily.
Tanza Crouch: Thinking of you, Aitch, Tommy and Jessy at this time. My spider days at Hella Hella are very special to me and Aitch, Barry and Lyn were very special people.
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.
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 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
Later Xudum was taken over by &Beyond. Super luxury: R15 000 per person per night! Very different to the lovely rustic tented camp it was when we were there. I hate the way ‘conservationists’ use miles of wooden decking and flooring!
Aitch’s twin sister Janet and her partner Duncan were running Makololo camp in the wonderful Hwange Reserve in Zimbabwe. Duncan had just recently built the camp for Wilderness Safaris and now they were the camp managers. And they invited us to stay! We flew in to Vic Falls, they picked us up and we had a long slow ‘game drive’ to the village of Hwange; then into the park and a real game drive to the camp in the south-east corner of the huge reserve.
The camp that Duncan built – stunning wood and thatch comfort with only the four of us in residence. One night a woodland dormouse fell into the soup, poor little bugger! He seemed alright.
Sylvester the grumpy lion chased after us with seeming intent! We didn’t stick around to ask him what was bugging him! We accelerated away from his waterhole.
Saw two firsts, there – two lifers! A Red-necked Falcon and a Caspian Plover.
Janet Humphrey got this magic pic of a young Giant Eagle Owl and a Paradise Flycatcher in her old garden on the banks of the Tamalakhane river in the suburbs of Maun in Botswana.
BTW – Owl wisdom? Not so much
Owls are “eyes and ears on wings”. That brain cavity above is about the size of a large peanut. Two-thirds of the owl brain is devoted to sight and hearing. Of the one-third that is left, about 75% of it is devoted to hard-wired instinct and lower functions. That leaves a tiny little sliver for learning which is mostly taken up by remembering good hunting grounds and hunting strategies that work.
Owls are not social creatures like parrots or crows, so they don’t need a lot of cerebral cortex. Think of them as the sharks of the sky. Very good at what they do (hunt, see, hear and reproduce). Mediocre at everything else. (Thanks Mercedes R. Lackey on quora.com).
Geoffey Widdison, also a quoran, asks why we associate owls with intelligence and wisdom and decides “the most likely reason is that they have large depressions around their eyes (which, ironically, are apparently there to direct sound more than to help vision), and that makes them look ‘intelligent and deliberative’ to humans. In other words, not only are we judging by appearance, we’re judging another species on something that has no connection to the quality we attribute to it. (We’re ‘anthropomorphising’).
Which suggests that, while owls aren’t especially bright, neither are we”.
Here he is a few months later in a neighbour’s garden:
Sister-in-law Janet in Maun sent this: As you know, Duncan is project manager for Beks Ndlovu’s company African Bush Camps. He is currently refurbishing the camp we stayed at with Trish in Jan 2010 – Somalisa in SE Hwange.
This week Duncan wrote to Beks: “FYI . . Jurassic is causing a nuisance in camp. Broke into the new storeroom to get cabbages and potatoes. Then did the same to the new Acacia kitchen on Monday night. I believe quite a lot of damage and refused to be chased away.”
Beks wrote: Our project manager Duncan Elliott, who has spent many years in the bush building safari camps, sent me this message tonight whilst I was on vacation in Australia. Jurassic, by the way is an elephant at Somalisa who has a seriously warped sense of humor. He eats guests’ soap and toothpaste and refuses to go by our general ground rules . . He has a mind of his own!
I can’t help but reflect that today we have these encounters with wildlife and here is what I sent back to Duncan:
“What fun and games… You are amongst very few people in this world that can tell that kind of story? Do you think your grandchildren might have the same stories in years to come? Please kindly ask Jurassic to understand we have a new camp to open in less than a week and since he is family he needs to understand FHB ( family holds back)!”
One of Aitch’s list of ‘things to do’ once we knew she had cancer, was to visit her twin sis in Botswana. Janet quickly mustered her network and arranged a trip to Hwange, Zimababwe’s world-class national park. We’d been once before. Her friends Beks and Sarah Ndlovu of African Bush Camps own a concession and run a very special camp at Somalisa in the eastern area, Linkwasha I think they call it.
Beks calls it his 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. Repeated daily. 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 there’s sunshine, and the bush telegraph page is wiped clean: New spoor becomes clearly evident. 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 dashed off an email to Aitch in February 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 to 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
—-oo0oo—- So glad we stayed on the pot! The kids were fine; We got to Botswana eleven months after that email, in January 2010, then trekked on to Zimbabwe for Aitch’s last – great, unforgettable – Hwange trip.
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 oldKalahari Canoe Club – with plumes of dust!
Jess was 12 and Tom was 8 and even though they would (sort of) believe me when I would say: “Err on the side of spoiling your Mom n Dad, and listening toyour Mom n Dadif you want Xmas gifts”, they felt they would hedge their bets and write to Santa as well.
Off they toddled up the road to the PnP centre with their aunt Janet, visiting from Botswana, to post their petitions in the big red letter box.
Jess had given me a copy of hers. It said “Please may I have . . “ before each and every separate request. Extreme politeness was evident.
Tom’s envelope was addressed to Father C. Jess thought it would be better to address hers to Santa C – more formal. Janet had helped with the spelling.
All together now they shoved them through the slot and turned to go. After two paces, Tom swung round, looked hard at the slot and said sternly: “Read them, OK?”