I Bless the Rains Down in Africa
December 17, 2005
Today was a day of rest for us. We got caught up on our laundry and our journal and didn't really do much else until afternoon. About 3:00, a troop of vervet monkeys came through. They were raiding the campsite next to ours - the occupants had apparently not properly secured all of their food and belongings and the monkeys were having a field day! Markus tried to keep the monkeys at bay while I walked up to the reception area to see if the occupants were around - sure enough, they (two South African women in their 30's) were at the bar. I guess they got everything put away because we didn't hear the monkeys again for the remainder of the day.
Just after the monkey episode, the rains came down. We were able to sit under our awning for a while and stay reasonably dry, but then the breeze picked up and we had to scramble inside the truck. The rain let up after about 30 minutes and we went back outside. At least this time, all the flaps on the tent were properly closed!
It rained very lightly off and on all evening and throughout the night, but we were dry and cool inside the tent!
December 18, 2005
This morning, I was cleaning up around our campsite and putting away anything that I thought the monkeys could get into. I had just tied up the trash bag (just a small plastic bag from the supermarket) and thrown it in the bin, which is a 55-gallon steel drum. I had no sooner turned my back when along came a monkey that perched itself on the edge of the bin and snatched our little bag of garbage right out! I chased it up a nearby tree, but it was not letting go of its possession. There really wasn't much in it to eat so after it had the bag open and had inspected a plastic wrapper and a wrapper from some crackers, it lost interest and let the bag fall to the ground. I picked it up again and this time I kept the monkeys away until the man came along to collect the trash.
Once that was dealt with, we went on a boat trip up the Okavango River. Unfortunately, it was still raining and after two hours, we were pretty wet. We saw a lot of bird life and a crocodile. We also saw a sitatunga, a very shy antelope that lives in the reeds along the river bank. Sightings of these animals are fairly rare, so we were lucky to have seen it.
The sun finally emerged in the late afternoon, but it still stayed relatively cool. It made for a nice evening to sit by the fire!
Wildlife Spotted: Sitatunga, African Rock Python, Vervet Monkey
Birds: Pied Kingfisher, African Fish Eagle, African Darter, Snake Eagle, African Skimmer, Spot-backed Weaver, Blue Cheeked Bee Eater, Tawny Eagle, African Jacana, Plover, Heron, Cormorant, Ring-necked Dove
December 19, 2005
We had a travel day today - from Shakawe to Maun. All paved roads, passing through innumerable villages along the way. It was the most boring drive to date with no wildlife to be seen.
So, since we don't have much to write today, we thought we would tell you a little bit more about the experience of camping in Southern Africa. I'm sure many of you are very surprised that I agreed to this sort of trip - I'm surprised myself. The great outdoors aren't really my thing, but I have to admit that, except for a couple of instances, I am really enjoying this back to nature stuff.
The summertime here in the tropics is very hot, as expected. Daytime temperatures are typically in the 90's, with nighttime temps in the high 60's - thankfully, it really cools down when the sun sets. In the desert (nearly all of Namibia is desert), everything is dry and dusty, whereas here in Botswana, it is quite humid (a lot like Florida), and when it rains, it is muddy and mucky. Following are a few more details on the best aspects of the trip as well as the biggest challenges.
Top of the list would have to be the Land Rover itself - it's a great vehicle and quite roomy, which is especially important considering that it is our home for 32 days.
The Engel refrigerator (runs off of its own batteries in the back of the truck) - it takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Cold water and beer are an incredible luxury on a hot evening.
Air-conditioning in the truck - this was a pleasant surprise and we really enjoy it when the sun is beating down in the middle of the day.
The animals - the pictures speak for themselves. And, the experience of waking at 3:00 AM to the roar of a lion is truly unforgettable!
The roof tent - it is amazingly easy to set up and take down and as I have said previously, I sleep much better at night knowing that I am 7 feet above the ground!
Keeping things organized - the Land Rover isn't that big! Stowing pots, pans, kitchenware, provisions, clothing, cameras, etc. can be a time consuming undertaking. There is a place for everything and everything in its place - that's the only way it all works!
Keeping things clean - whether it's laundry, dishes or our own bodies, the dust and/or mud is a constant battle.
Personal grooming - there are certainly no hair dryers out here and definitely no need for make-up, but even the little things like showering and shaving can be difficult and take much longer than at home.
Using the bathroom at night - for me, this is the single, biggest challenge. I am absolutely terrified of what is lurking out there in the middle of the night. I won't provide any more details because that is way more information than you want, but suffice it to say that I have thought of a couple of solutions to this problem.
A couple of other items worth mentioning are shopping and cooking. The supermarkets in Namibia were quite good - the ones here in Botswana aren't quite as good, but not as bad as I had expected. So, keeping our larder well stocked is fairly easy. Also, cooking isn't quite as difficult as I feared. Most of our meals require, at most, one pot - that means preparation and cleanup are both much simpler.
December 20, 2005
We both had a good night's sleep last night as we were in Riley's Hotel in Maun - what a luxury to sleep in a real bed with air-conditioning and to not be afraid to use the bathroom in the night! After a nice breakfast in the hotel restaurant, we purchased a few last minute supplies and then started on the challenge of finding more cash (Botswana Pula). For the first time on our trip, our ATM cards do not work at any of the banks here in Maun. Our card is part of the Cirrus network, and we have found a Cirrus machine everywhere including Moscow, Istanbul and Namibia. Yesterday afternoon, I was able to use my Visa card at one of the machines, but this morning, it is not working. We need Pula to pay the park entrance fees and for fuel and supplies along the way. So, we were left with no other alternative than to gather up our remaining foreign currency (U.S. Dollars, British Pounds, Euro and South African Rand) and exchange it. This netted us about Pula 1500 ($300), which should be sufficient when combined with the Pula we have left from yesterday.
Finally, at 9:30, we set off down the road toward Moremi Game Reserve. We passed through the South Gate at 11:15, but it was another two hours before we arrived at the Xakanaxa campsite. The game spotting on the drive was pretty good - giraffe, zebra, antelope of several different varieties. Since spring is just past (December is the first month of summer here), there are a lot of baby animals too.
Once we were at our site, we got our table and chairs setup and had some lunch. We explored the area and in the afternoon, we spent a couple of hours on a game drive. After the game drive and as we were getting dinner ready, we were visited by a bushbuck and her yearling. They are really pretty - they grazed in the area for about 1/2 hour so we could enjoy them!
Wildlife Spotted: Impala (with babies), Kudu, Zebra, Giraffe, Elephant, Vervet
Monkey, Duiker, Bushbuck (with yearling)
Birds: Saddle-billed Stork, Duck, African Hornbill, Francolin
December 21, 2005
This morning, we were a little late getting started - didn't get out on our morning game drive until 7:30. We didn't have the greatest of drives either, probably because we missed the peak time. It also didn't help that we got stuck in the mud! Markus had to get all of the equipment out to get us unstuck - sand ladders, shovel, the truck with the differential lock engaged! It took about 20 minutes and Markus was covered in mud when it was over. It didn't help that the sun was blazing hot by this time. But, we got out and that's all that matters.
We returned to the camp at Xakanaxa so that Markus could have a shower and then we set off for the campsites at the other end of the park. The road is so badly deteriorated with ruts that it took nearly 3 hours to drive the 44 kilometers between the sites. We got to Khwai River at 2:00 and settled in for our afternoon routine. Our typical regimen was interrupted by the appearance of a group of monkeys that stole a tin can of pears out of the back of the truck. Markus had to chase them down to try to get them to drop the tin, which they eventually did. For a little bit more relaxing activity, there is a hippo pool adjacent to the camping area and we stood and watched a couple of hippos sparring.
This evening, we went out for a short game drive, but didn't see anything very fun.
Wildlife Spotted: Impala, Giraffe, Waterbuck, Vervet Monkey (with babies),
Zebra, Tsessebbe, Baboon, Warthog, Lechwe, Hippo
Birds: Little Bee Eater, Southern Ground Hornbill, Lilac-breasted Roller
December 22, 2005
We got a bright and early start this morning - we had our tent down and stowed and were out of camp by 6:25. Unfortunately, after 4 hours of driving, we saw only the usual suspects. If we don't see a big cat for the remainder of the trip, it certainly won't be from lack of trying! One unusual sight worth mentioning was a dead monitor lizard (about 3 feet long) being eaten by 2 tawny eagles.
I tried to take a shower this afternoon, but none of the showers were working. Also, the water pressure in the taps and toilet didn't seem very strong. I think there is a problem, so we have filled up our bucket in anticipation of further problems. Oh, the joys of camping in Botswana!!
We were talking to several other campers this afternoon, so we got a little bit of a late start for our evening game drive. We still haven't seen a big cat in Moremi, and we are starting to get a little discouraged. Particularly when we returned to our camp site and one of the guides told us that they had seen 8 lions in the opposite direction from where we drove!!
It was fairly warm this evening, but we had a fire anyway. At least, it helps with the mosquitoes! We were just about to turn in for the night and Markus had gone to the bathroom while I tended to the last vestiges of the fire - I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and saw a glimpse of a hyena as it came up behind the truck. As soon as I turned on my flashlight, it ran for the nearby woods, so unfortunately, Markus didn't get to see it.
Wildlife Spotted: Impala, Baboon (troop of about 100 with babies), Vervet Monkey, Lechwe, Hippo, Giraffe, Zebra, Waterbuck, Tortoise, Kudu, Crocodile, Hyena (Bonnie)
December 23, 2005
We were awoken this morning at 2:00 when a small pod of 4 hippos came through our camp. They were quite loud as they were grazing and then a couple of them decided to use the area around our site as a toilet - oh, they smelled so bad!!
We were up again at 6:00 and were in the process of packing up when we were invaded once again by a troop of monkeys. Guess they weren't satisfied with the custard packet that they stole from the neighboring campsite! They were all over the truck - I had the front door on the passenger side open and then briefly opened the rear door on the same side. Within a few seconds, a monkey had climbed into the front of the truck and was sitting on the center console looking at me. I screamed "get out of the truck" - Markus said they probably didn't understand that phrase, but the monkey eventually left the truck without stealing anything and that's all that mattered!
Despite the invasion, we were across the bridge (yes, that wooden bridge can support the weight of a Land Rover!) and on the road to Savute by 7:15. We cannot even begin to describe the roads - not even sure they can be called roads. They are basically sand tracks that have been frequently used by vehicles. We had been told that a 4x4 was required, especially during the wet, summer season, for all of the Botswana parks. Today was the absolute proof! You really couldn't use even a family SUV with 4-wheel drive - a true off-road vehicle is needed.
Stretches of the road were full of water and other stretches were covered with 8" of sand. It is very easy to get stuck in either, but Markus successfully navigated us through. Just to give you an idea of the poor conditions, it took us 6 hours to travel 112 kilometers (about 65 miles) - that is an average speed of just about 10 miles per hour!
Another vehicle had driven the road just in front of us and the tracks left behind by it were really useful in navigating the water holes. We caught up with them at the gate to Chobe and it turns out that they were a South African family that we had spoken to at Khwai.
We were only a few kilometers inside the gate when we saw masses of zebra - there had to be about 1000! One herd was grazing by the side of the road and one of the herd was laying motionless in the roadway. We thought for certain it was dead because it wasn't even twitching its tail or ears, but thankfully, as we got closer, it stood up.
No camping for us tonight. We are staying at Savute Safari Lodge instead. This is our Christmas treat! We arrived in time for a late lunch and a quick shower before the evening game drive. I'm sure Markus was very happy to leave the driving to someone else for a change!
We saw only general game on the evening drive but there were still a couple of highlights. We sat and watched an elephant bathing/playing in a water hole. He immersed his entire head and then stuck his trunk up, just like a snorkel. His spa treatment lasted about 30 minutes and then he moved on.
Shortly after that, we entered the valley near the Savute channel and came across another large herd of elephants crossing the valley. There were 2 infant elephants amongst them. The herd is incredibly protective of these babies - always shielding them in a circle. Even as they cross the valley, the baby is kept in the middle and the herd hurries it along as quickly as possible. One of the babies lost his balance, fell on his bottom and slid down the hill - the poor thing!
No night driving is permitted in the national parks, so we returned to the lodge at about 7:15. We just had time to wipe the dust off of our faces and it was time for dinner. The menu consisted of salads, lamb, warthog stir-fry, veggies and rice. Everything was delicious (we didn't have dessert, so can't comment on that). There were only 11 guests in the lodge, so it was just like a dinner party. We chatted with one of the staff for quite a while. His name is Limbo and he worked for Disney in Florida for a year. Disney has a program whereby individuals from the African nations of Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Morocco are invited to spend a year working in the Animal Kingdom park and lodge. We can only imagine the culture shock for these people! Also, our guide, Kenneth has been invited to participate in the program and will be arriving in Florida in March.
We finally retired to our room at 9:45 - that's the latest we have been awake in weeks!
Wildlife Spotted: Zebra, Lechwe, Wildebeest, Mongoose, Impala, Giraffe, Hippo,
Elephant, Bat-eared Fox, Warthog, Waterbuck, Kudu
Birds: Black Stork, Wooly-necked Stork