Monday, November 4, 2013

BOTSWANA A 4X4 ADVENTURE - 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.



Sunday, November 3, 2013

BOTSWANA A 4 x 4 Adventure - Part 3

The warthogs in the riverbed were actually quite relaxed
The drive into Ngepi Camp is an interesting exercise. There is an owner with a warped sense of humour. At first it is amusing reading rude little signs, but then, it isn’t really that interesting anymore. The campsite is a treat however, with some soft grass underfoot. However, that is only until you discover that the loos on this property are amongst the most bizarre in the world. Suffice it to say that doing number two becomes a challenge because your neighbour can look at you through the reeds separating the two cubicles. The showers are even more interesting. Hot water is a challenge and the donkey (that provides the hot water) has to be stoked (yes it is a fire thing) by guests to ensure that they get hot water. No such thing as ensuring this by the camp owner and the chaps from Bhejane have a thousand other things to do. Once you have hot water you can proceed to the showers. But, be warned they are “quaintly” rustic. I quite like the concept of showering under the stars but find it disconcerting when I have to straddle a treestump trying to get at the water. The pool of water on the concrete step also does nothing for my sunny disposition when my pants get wet and my feet have sand all over them ensuring that the inside legs of my jeans now have an inner lining of riversand. 

One of the hundreds of Kudu of Buffalo Reserve
Early the next morning we hightail it to Muvhango again hoping to catch some sight of the lions that were around the previous day. At about 11am we return to camp and my head is pounding. I collapse onto my inflatable mattress (whoever dreamt of such a ridiculous option for sleeping) and I stay there for two days. I consume every headache tablet I can find and collect medication from all and sundry in order to at least feel reasonably human. Like flies sprayed with a lethal dose of doom, we fall, one after the other, and almost every family in camp is affected. This is course is why there are no photographs of the camp. On the third night in camp I can make it to the dining area to try and eat. Have I mentioned the fact that I have a food allergy? Eggs. I know it is unusual and I am assured by the organizers that the camp cook and staff will look after me. Haha... and all that. Their idea of taking care of my allergy is to warn me which foods I shouldn’t eat. Which of course means I can’t eat 75% of the food prepared. Oh, and did I mention that they don’t try to provide any sort of replacement. Upside of all of this is of course that this is the first holiday I have ever been on that I don’t pick up any weight.

Another Kudu 
The vervet monkey who rescued the day
All doped up (never will I go anywhere again without Coryx, the only restorative that has any effect) we make a sortie into the Buffalo Reserve. I have never seen so many kudu in a single reserve anywhere else in Southern Africa. The Buffalo stay out in the river and once again the light is not what could be considered magical. However, a little vervet monkey saves the day when it sits on a log and the filtered backlighting works its magic. Later that day I finally capture a crimson breasted shrike and now I can stop trying to photograph this very annoying bouncing bird.


The crimson breasted shrike who is now no longer on my list

Back to packing up the tent and onto the road we go. Our journey takes us through the Bwabwata Game Reserve and the revelation that the track we visualised we would be following is now a mighty highway. Traversing the Bwabata Game Reserve was as frustrating an exercise as going through the Makgadigadi Pans as there was no time to stop or even take the camera out of the bag. After a long day we make it through the border post at Ngoma and onto Kasane.

Sable and Roan in numbers I have never seen anywhere else.


Friday, November 1, 2013

BOTSWANA A 4x4 ADVENTURE - Part 2


The second day of packing up the tent in the morning and the realisation that this will be something we have to do almost every day sinks in. So, besides paying quite a high daily rate I have to make my own bed, pack it up and pack the car. For someone used to spending most of the day behind a lens this is certainly a bit of an eye opener. Okay, you can all stop laughing now!

We head out at about midday as the rest of the group does a quick flip over the Okavango Delta. These flips (which I have done in a helicopter on a previous occasion) are highly overrated and it is very amusing to sit and listen to the stories around the campfire that night. Nausea seems to be the main topic of discussion with a large contingent not even looking out of the windows at the view below. We spend the morning trying to find a blanket as the sleeping bag I bought from Outdoor Warehouse must be rated for the tropics. With blanket underarm we head out for Sepupa Swamp Stop.
This is about as inspired as I could become at Sepupa Swamp Stop
Very quickly, I might add, at this juncture it is obvious that this is not a 4 x 4 adventure. This is definitely a euphemism. The roads are wide, tarred, and certainly do not warrant the likes of a Jeep Rubicon. And we drive and drive. Finally, we reach Sepupa Swamp Stop. The word swamp in the title should have rung all the alarm bells, but it is one we completely ignored. Think the swamps of New Orleans - get it? We drive into a camp site where our little igloo is waiting for us. There is a team that breaks down the tents and re-erects them for us (this is supposed to make us feel that we are on a luxury safari I think). The picnic blanket now becomes our verandah or we will have half the Delta’s sand in our tent attached to our feet. The ablution block (a very important aspect of this trip) is not in the best shape. One loo (of two) is not working. So, being the enterprising owner of a Lodge I set about the repairs. Then into the shower and one little glance skywards reveals that the staff must all be very, very short. It would appear that they can only clean about 1,5 metres from the floor. The dust and cobwebs that adorn the ceiling are reassuring signs that the spiders can watch us shower and maybe even keep us safe while we are doing so.

While this is what I got to photograph on the Delta

This, I think needs no explanation
The following morning we hire a private boat to get to see the Delta up close and get my shutter firing. Can you hear the desperation in my voice yet? 3 days on the road into Botswana and I still haven’t been able to take more than 10 frames. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. 20 frames. We head out really early, only marginally delayed by the fact that the motor of the boat would not start. Then, the pilot starts weaving between the reeds at breakneck speed. I explain to him I am looking for wildlife to photograph and he slows down for two seconds for me to photograph a disappearing hippo. Off we go again. Finally we reach his destination, which we find out, is his own farm 14kms down from camp and he is trying to find someone to open a Lodge on the property. We obviously look like just the people who want another Lodge! Interestingly enough we pass the guys who are filming swimming with the crocodiles for Nat Geo. But, we don’t see any action so it is hardly worth a mention. We return to camp and I have maybe added 10 frames to my count. The rest of the camp has some serious Health and Safety issues so if you are a H & S Inspector I would steer well clear of this destination. You could suffer a fatal heart attack.

Then, next morning the larger part of the group heads for Tsodilo Hills but by now the withdrawal symptoms are raging and I need to see some animals. We head for the Shakawe/Mohembo border. And straight into the Muhango Game Reserve. Finally, something to photograph. Wrong time of the day and all that but we head straight into the Reserve. And within minutes I have photographs of elephants, roan, sable, and half a dozen other animals. But of course, nothing to write home about because the sun is high and we have to leave before sunset.
Finally, an elephant right next to the road. 
Roan and Sable in one pic!
A gorgeous little bee eater just waiting for me to snap a shot. 
And a baby ellie disconcerted by the Jeep 
This is what happens when you try to take photos in the midday sun.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

BOTSWANA A 4 x 4 ADVENTURE Part 1


South Africans have become whingers. This is a new trend in the travel industry. I am in the travel industry so I know and the worst whingers (apologies to those who are not) are the citizens of the Republic of Cape Town. Yes guys, you are.

This is therefore why I have not written a single blog about my trip to Botswana. I don’t want to be categorized as a whinger from Zululand. I will however, proceed with caution and try not to go off on too many rants during the telling of the story. I promise!

It is our first road trip to Botswana, so the decision is made to go on a 4 x 4 adventure as an exploratory trip to see if we can join in and get some photography done at the same time. Two enquiries and the decision is that the better trip of the two looks like Bhejane 4 x 4 Adventures. Dates are set for July (school holidays - big mistake no 1). I will add here that my other half and I are seasoned African travellers who our whole lives have not shied away from the remote or faraway places of Africa. As an example I will say here that we feel Namibia is a tame place to visit and we are most offended by the fact that to traverse the Skeleton Coast we have to go in convoy! However, we have not driven in Botswana so we thought it would be a good idea to take the pressure off by allowing someone else to do our organising.

The Lodge at the Martinsdrift Border Post
Crossing the border at Martinsdrift went fairly well other than when someone (no names mentioned) refused to walk to a gate to make an enquiry. This remains a challenge for me even though 30 years of this has gone by and I still haven’t learnt to simply do this myself. I digress. On the other side of the border our first port of call is a bed for the night. Luckily for them I can’t remember the name of the Lodge at this point in time but suffice it to say that I would not consider stopping there again. When one has to calculate your own bill for your stay your jaw kind of ends up on the floor. (Oooh what bad English).

Paul waiting patiently at Letlhakani
The meeting place with Bhejane 4 x 4 Adventures is the little town of Letlhakani. There we discover we are part of a group of 13 odd vehicles. A lot more than I expected.  But, the tour guide is very organised and soon we are on are way to Kubu Island - the first stop. Romantic notions of a starlit vista are quickly dispelled when faced with the toilet facilities. Imagine trying to pry open a rickety door only to find some white knuckles desperately pulling from the other side. Then, once its your turn the total elegance of squatting over an odiferous pit and the fear that someone may try to get in the same way you just did! This is not for the fainthearted.  Next is the realisation that a 2m x 2m dome tent packed up close to tents on either side does not make for a peaceful night! If I thought my husband’s snoring was something out of another world I now discover that his nightly renditions are gentle symphonies by comparison. At this juncture I think it would be prudent to mention the fact that we are paying ZAR1000 per person per day for this little adventure.

I fail to get a single star shot for a dozen or so reasons.  The new day dawn after a very uncomfortable night and all ablutions are quickly dispensed with so that we can get off to the next destination and hopefully find a bush that is a lot more conducive than that which we are just leaving behind.

Crossing the Makgadigadi Pans en-route to Kubu Island
Maun and Drifters Camp is a welcome respite. Set next to the Boteti river it is like an oasis in the desert. The tents are slightly further apart and that night I can even blowdry my hair.  For the first time I can take out my camera in my own time and get a shot or two. 

The Boteti River

Friday, September 20, 2013

ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK - A DAY AT A WATERHOLE


The wilderness of Africa is a shrinking concept in the face of an exponentially burgeoning human populace that is encroaching more and more into areas that for millennia have belonged only to the savagely wild and wonderful beasts that roam its plains. Reaching these now isolated pockets of wilderness means travel of thousands of kilometers for those wishing to share in its magic.

And so it is that after two days of travel I find myself sitting at the gates of Etosha National Park in Namibia. It is day five of a seven day sojourn that we decide the day will be well spent next to a waterhole for the whole day. We’re there just as soon after sunrise as we can muster and we settle down for the day.



The first very curious visitor to our vehicle is a Pied Crow who spends the day hopping from car to car looking for something to eat. Bets are on that he is regularly fed titbits from disobedient tourists!



The first visitors to the waterhole in large numbers are some very thirsty Zebras that stand kneedeep in the water to get their fill. Hot on their heels come the first elephant herd followed shortly after by another smaller herd, while in the distance a black rhino makes its appearance staying well away from the carpark at the edge of the waterhole.







Quiet reigns again for a nanosecond and the only photogenic subject turns out to be a rockscraper thrush that scratches in the grass looking for its daily sustenance. Hanging around on the western side of the waterhole a lone male springbok seems to be defending his bit of territory from other invading males.

By now, the sun is high in the sky and the shadows cast by the angle of the sun makes for very flat images but I cannot resist taking shots of the lone bull elephant who ambles towards the water intent on slaking his thirst.

Then, all goes quiet and we sit and discuss the value of sitting all day in the same place, but, we’ve committed ourselves and it would be foolish to give up half way through the exercise.

In the distance at the treeline, well back from the water we notice that the black rhino suddenly takes off as though he trod on a snake. We scan the bushes with binoculars but all we can observe is some long grass. The silence is interrupted by a vehicle that strictly speaking shouldn’t even be in a park like this - an overlander. Someone on the vehicle notices that we are intently scanning the bush and within seconds from her elevated viewpoint she spots the lioness. All we can see from our position is the occasional ear flicking between the golden tufts of grass. We wait.



The bus finally takes off obviously on a tight schedule and we are alone again at the waterhole. All is quiet and there are no more animals at the hole. Then, towards late afternoon our vigil is rewarded when two lionesses come warily down to the waterhole with six tiny cubs in tow. If we consider all we have studied on the behaviour of lions this would appear to be the first move for the cubs. They seem to be heading towards a large pride of lions that have taken up a territory on the edge of the Pan. Our speculation leads us to believe that these cubs are about to be introduced to the pride.


We watch as they come to the water’s edge and after a good long drink they come carefully walking past us watched by a long bull elephant still satisfying his thirst in the middle of the waterhole.



They move past us and then disappear into the long grass. Our vigil is rewarded and we end the day knowing that once again Africa has revealed one of its secrets to someone who is willing to watch and wait.