When I left Specsavers in 2000 the lovely team I worked with gave me a perfect farewell gift: A book by Chris and Tilde Stuart: ‘Africa’s Great Wild Places.’ Right up my alley. If the Stuarts think these places are special you can bet they are. They have been all over Africa and they don’t flit in and out; when they go somewhere, they stay a while!
I had been to seven of the fifteen places they chose for the book and immediately set about getting to the eighth:
Luangwa in Zambia
Okavango in Botswana
We had this book at home growing up and I loved it. It describes the Okavango in 1958; Moremi and Chobe weren’t parks yet, but the story about two crazy loons driving a great lumbering gas-guzzling, wartime D.U.K.W amphibious monstrosity led to a fascination and – years later – many trips there starting in 1985. The latest trip was in March 2018. While there I read her new book Starlings Laughing, under her new name June Vendall Clark. I’m pleased to report that exactly fifty years later the Okavango is still the amazing paradise June Kay loved so much.
The Kalahari – Gemsbok Park in SA and Makgadikgadi Pans Botswana
1969 school tour and 1996 with Aitch; In 2010 with Janet we saw the Green Kalahari!
Etosha in Namibia
Hwange in Zimbabwe
Probably my favourite. In 1997 we went to Makalolo and in 2010 to Somalisa
This was one area I thought it unlikely we’d get to visit. Then Mike Lello got to go! His son Chris worked in wildlife safaris in Tanzania and arranged a fly-in trip. And lately, wonderful news: My bro-in-law Jeff and nephew Robbie have bought a farm near Iringa. I may not get all the way west, but I’d love to go to the Selous and Ruaha National Park! Time will tell!
More to see:
Uganda, the Serengeti, the Soda Lakes, the Great Selous
Aitch and I flew from Maun to Xudum in 2001 when Janet & Duncan were running the show for Landela Safaris. We landed on the nearby bush strip.
Maun airport heading for Xudum
After a few days in camp they had business in Maun and we accompanied them on the drive out of the Delta to Maun in the Land Cruiser. Rickety bridges, deep water crossings with water washing over the bonnet onto the windscreen.
On the drive back to camp after the day in the big smoke of the metropolis of Maun we entered a Tamboti grove and saw two leopard cubs in the road. They split and ran off to left and right, then ran alongside of us on either side for a minute calling to each other before we moved off and let them be.
We enjoyed mekoro trips, game drives & walks and afternoon boat trips stretching into evenings watching the sunset from the boat while fishing for silver catfish or silvertooth barbel – I forget what they called them. Later, wading in thigh-deep water sorting out the pumps. Only afterwards did I think hmm, crocs.
Visited Rann’s camp for lunch where we first heard the now-common salute before starting a meal: “Born Up a Tree”.
Janet moved us from camp to camp as guests arrive, filling in where there were gaps in other camps. We transferred by boat, mekoro or 4X4 vehicle. One night we stayed in a tree house in Little Xudum camp.
Lazy days in camp drinking G&T’s
Later Xudum was taken over by &Beyond. Super luxury: R15 000 per person per night!!
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!
We enjoyed six nights out on the mokoro in the care of a wonderful man named Thaba Kamanakao. We chose not to move 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? – had told him he wasn’t allowed it! The first night we were joined by Pommy doctors Louise and Richard and their guide “BT”.
When we moved camp from 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: Pack some small swimming goggles and an underwater camera. The clarity of that water is awesome).
Squirrel Camp nights were again spent cooking and sitting around the fire; talking and listening to Thaba playing his mbira – ‘thumb harp’ – and singing; I’ll never forget his introduction as we switched on our tape recorder: ‘My name is Thaba; Thaba Kamanakao; Kamanakao is surname;‘ Days were spent birding and hiking. We we were ‘moved off’ by an impatient ele, Aitch getting mildly reprimanded for turning round to get a fuzzy picture as we retreated. When Thaba – scouting ahead – spooked a herd of buffalo we climbed a termite mound 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; ice cold beer & gin’n’tonics on the deck watching spotted-necked otters in the lagoon, lounging in comfy chairs. Topped off by a big hearty hot meal prepared for us.
And suddenly it dawned on us that, even though we did have to pitch our own tent again, Oddballs really IS a Luxury Lodge!