Monday, November 4, 2013

A 4X4 ADVENTURE INTO BOTSWANA - FINAL EPISODE

We roll through the gates of Thebe River Lodge and there in what appears to be a carpark are our tents. While the car is being unpacked I head out to find the ablution block. Obviously this ablution block has caused consternation before and I am told that two rooms in the Lodge have been reserved for us to use the bathrooms. I hotfoot it to the sanity of a hot shower. The water is instantly piping hot and there is a plug for a hairdryer. I look longingly at the two beds in the room and as I exit my compass guides me I straight to the reception area to find out if they have any vacancies. I head back to camp and much to my dearest husband’s dismay I insist we pack up and head for the hotel room. His resistance to my suggestion is met with steely determination and I inform him that if he wants to sleep in the tent he can, I am sleeping in the Lodge.
Golden light turns any subject into a magical image
We organise ourselves and the following morning promptly at 5.30 we are in the Rubicon heading for gates of Chobe Game Reserve. We park the car firmly in the entrance and await the reception staff.  The next 3 days are heavenly, as much time as possible is spent patrolling back and forth along the banks of the river and the reward is golden light, troops of baboons, a young leopard devouring a guinea fowl in a tree, a lioness with two hungry sub adults, elephants aplenty, buffalo aplenty and much more. Music to my soul.
One of two very hungry sub-adults who were vocalising their predicament to their mother
However, Chobe is a National Park and as such is infested with National Park Idiots. I make no apology for this statement. Besides two Italians who cause a traffic jam in their hired Fortuners when they bury themselves in the sand, a caravan towing Landrover Discovery burying itself in the sand and very aggressive rangers in their vehicles trying to jockey you out of the way all make for National Park horrors. There is little control in Chobe and tourists behind the wheel of their own vehicles do pretty much as they please.
Young leopard female eating a guinea fowl in a tree.
The magic of Chobe of course lies on the river. However, as this is an experimental run to check out the logistics and the lie of the land we decide to forgo the lure of the river and on the last night only do we take a ride on a launch that seats about 60 people. Given the fact that there is a bit of jockeying on the front I manage to occupy a little corner and keep my tripod and lens from being flung into the deeps of the river by someone leaning over the railings to get a shot of a hippo or elephant. The more disturbing thing however, is the same disregard and aggression evident in the Rangers in their vehicles in the Park. Pilots are not in the least concerned to maneouvre themselves around each other or take note of when photographs are being taken. All in all, one of those experiences that leaves you perplexed and sadly dismayed.
Elephants crossing the Chobe River
The highly endangered tern that nests on islands in the middle of the Chobe River
Sunset on the Chobe - a difficult shot to take with so many boats about.
The end of the trip has arrived, we pack the Rubi and headed for Nata where we will spend the night. Our early arrival at the Lodge is met with a surly retort that we can’t book in. We decide to head out to the Nata Bird Sanctuary. If ever there is a misnoma then this is it. Once again, an African Community initiative, obviously by some well meaning organisation where things have sadly gone awry. Here’s the announcement. There are cows in Nata Bird Sanctuary, not birds, cows!  We however do find 3 lonely pelicans on a little island in a very sparse river. In the far distance we can see some flamingos, some, mind you, not what you can call a flock. We have to rescue yet another driver who has buried himself in the mud of the pans and I manage to take a few frames of the pelicans.
The only birds we found at Nata Sanctuary

That night I meet a fellow photographer at the Lodge, have a terrible dinner and we hit the road again early the next day.  All in all we travel about 5 000kms. Translated into time I would calculate that we spend far more time on tarred roads driving from place to place than I spend behind the camera lens which really defeats the purpose of travelling to these wonderful places in Africa. However, one good thing emerges from this arduous journey. My purpose is to chase the light in the wilderness and not to chase from camp site to camp site. My pearls of wisdom for photographers - don’t try this there are far easier ways to get to the animals than this.