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!
Flying ants, black rhino, wild dogs and a magic unidentified raptor.
Plus impressive thunderstorms, pelting rain, dry stream beds that ended up running merrily. The Hluhluwe river changed from dry sandy bed to quite a brown torrent between Friday night and Sunday morning.
I thought ‘Augur Buzzard’ as I stopped the car just outside the reserve cattle grid gate on the main road. Three raptors were soaring in the wind welling up from a little ridge on the north of the road, right overhead.
Pale leading edge, rust-coloured trailing edge, black ‘fingers’; A falcon-like head pattern (yet not quite) and the size of a YBK or a marsh harrier). Soaring and diving spectacularly. Saw the underside mainly. Upperside I think brown-ish. Forgot to take a photo!! Foolish!
A coucal bubbling in the rain, then listening intently till his mate or rival called then immediately hunching and bobbing into his call (The girls said “Look Dad: he’s laughing!”.
Yep, three teen girls. Who were most impressed by the buffet breakfast and most unimpressed by the massive thunderclap that banged right overhead in the wee dark hours of Saturday. “Dad, I thought the thatch was going to catch fire!” says Jess. And by the lack of wifi.
Samango and vervet monkeys with babies, bushbuck, nyala, duiker, impala, zebra, francolin, longclaws, lots of buffalo, a dozen white rhino; Two eles right at the roadside each munching a tree for breakfast; Baboon; a hippo out of water; a few giraffe.
As you know, Duncan is project manager for Beks Ndlovu’s company African Bush Camps. He is currently refurbishing the camp we stayed at 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”.
Our project manager who has spent many years in the bush building safari camps sent me a message tonight whilst I was on vacation in Australia.
Jurassic by the way is an elephant that has a seriously warped sense of humor at Somalisa. 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 our projects manager:
“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. 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. 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, sunshine and new spoor on the bush telegraph page-wiped-clean: 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 Feb 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 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 didn’t get off the pot! The kids were fine; We got there in Jan 2010 for Aitch’s last – great, unforgettable – Botswana trip. We’d been once before in 1997.
Lunchtime high on the Momfo cliffs overlooking a great bend in the Mfolosi river. Our guides lit a fire and began to prepare our lunch. We settled down for a well-deserved break after the hike up the hill.
From our high vantage point we had already seen a buffalo in the sandy river bed, a rhino on the far bank and a lioness hiding behind the reeds on the opposite bank. As we watched she stalked across the wide river bed towards some zebra. She lay down and waited once she was on the near bank. A few more lionesses and a lion walked across the sand to our left, crouching and flanking the zebra, who panicked and dashed off straight towards the first lioness. She pounced in a cloud of dust and she and her target disappeared behind the thorn bush. We strained to see what happened. Did they get their lunch?
After a while they all walked out looking a bit disgusted with themselves. So no, probably not.
While scanning with my telescope I took a good look at the rhino and called out excitedly to the rest. Hey, come and look! It’s uBhejane, not another white rhino like the many we’ve seen. We all had a good look and confirmed the jizz and the hooked lip of the rarely-seen black rhino. What a sighting!
Scoping well left of the river up an adjacent valley I noticed baboons in two sycamore figs, the mfolosi tree that give the river and the park its name. Suddenly they started barking and swearing in fluent baboon-vloek, and a magnificent leopard appeared in view, staring up into the tree above him. I got the scope on him and called the others. He was most obliging and waited till all nine of us, including the two rangers had a good look before flicking his long tail and bounding up the tree, to increased pandemonium from the residents. We heard loud shrieks, even ruder words and then much barking and squealing. I watched for a long while to see if I could spot the leopard again. But we didn’t find out if he got his lunch either.
So as far as lunches go, we can only confirm that we definitely ate ours, and that it was the delicious traditional huge white bread sarmies with butter, tomato and raw onion with salt and black pepper, washed down with freshly-brewed Five Roses tea. Mmm mmmm!
Four of the Big Five for lunch. On foot! Actually, sitting on our bums at lunchtime. What a day! And the rhino was the real Big Five member, not the more placid white rhino. The big five idea originated in the days when they were considered the five most dangerous animals to hunt. The days when the way you “got” the big five was to kill them, not just to see them. We joked as we packed up to walk back to base camp that we now needed to see an ele on the way home to round off our lunch. Well, we did. It was almost ridiculous. But thrilling.
And that was not all . . .
The next day our walk took us on a different route. As we crossed the low Mfolosi in the blazing sun we asked our guides if we could swim. ‘Well, you can wallow,’ they said, ‘It’s not deep enough to swim.’ So wallow we did and that’s how we came to spot the Big Six, adding the rare Pink-faced Ceramic-white Freshwater Whale to our tally of wondrous things spotted in that very special place, the wonderful Mfolosi Wilderness Area.
The next day we walked upon this sleeping pride, loafing on the riverbed. They scattered when they saw us, the male on the right leading the flee-ing, tail tucked ‘tween his legs!
baboon-vloek – impolite baboon dialect used when worried
The Umfolosi Wilderness is a special place. Far too small, of course, but its what we have. I’m reading Ian Player’s account of how Magqubu Ntombela taught him about wilderness and Africa and nature. The idea of a wild place where modern man could go to escape the city and re-discover what Africa was like
My first trail was ca 1985, when I went with Dusi canoeing buddies Doug Retief, Martin & Marlene Loewenstein and Andre Hawarden. We were joined by a 19yr-old lass on her own, sent by her father, who added greatly to the scenery:
A good sport – took our gentle teasing well
We went in my kombi and some highlights I recall were:
Doug offering “bah-ronies” after lunch one day. We were lying in the shade of a tree after a delicious lunch made by our guides: Thick slices of white bread, buttered and stuffed with generous slices of tomato and onion, washed down with tea freshly brewed over a fire of Thomboti wood. Doug fished around in his rucksack and gave us each a mini Bar One (“bah-ronie”, geddit?). Best tasting chocolate I ever ate, spiced as it was with hunger and exertion.
After the 5-night trail we went for a game drive. Needing a leak after a few bitterly cold brews I left the wheel with the kombi trundling along amiably and walked to the side door of the kombi, ordering Hawarden to take over the driving. Not good at taking orders, he looked at me, waited till I was in mid-stream out of the open sliding door and leant over with his hiking stick and pressed the accelerator. The driverless kombi picked up speed and I watched it start to veer off-road, necessitating a squeezed premature end to my leak and a dive for the wheel.
Thanks a lot, Hawarden! Pleasure, he murmured mildly. Hooligan!
30yrs later Andre Hooligan Hawarden wrote:
“Hey, remember that cool walk we did in the game reserve when you had the tape recorder and we attracted the owl? Then next day we lay on the bank of the Umlofosi river and watched the vultures coming down for a lunch time drink and a snooze?
That was a wonderful experience. I’ve never forgotten it.”