Let me preface my notes with an apology that it has taken 2+ weeks to get this out. I have decided to spread out my posts on the trip over a couple of days. I am also combining my notes from each camp as a single post to keep the flow going. Of course I am including some of Evan’s photography to make the posts that much more interesting and don’t be surprised if I happen to occasionally slip one of my own photos in. Enjoy!
November 9, 2012
Delayed in Johannesburg so arrived late into Maun, Botswana. Discovered that we had been transferred onto Wilderness Air and that our bags were WAY OVER the proscribed weight limit of 20 KGs per person (fyi, our two camera bags alone each weighed 14.5 Kg’s). We had to buy another seat on another plane for one of our duffles to be sent the next day. Lesson #1: the air charters are now very serious about weight limits, which was not the case not two years ago. Lesson #2: We both could travel with less! Still not sure if we will ever get down to 20 Kg’s but our over/under should be much closer – this may result in carrying only cameras and a toothbrush on our next trip!
We no longer had a direct flight to Selinda/Zarafa, rather, we had become the fourth and last stop. We were tired, hot and a bit frazzled. Frazzled enough to leave Evan’s monopod on the little plane, only realizing that we were without it as we saw the plane flying away from us and as we learned, over to Kasane. In an attempt to radio the pilot (no luck), Pete at the concession learned of our problem and lent us his monopod. Hopefully ours will find its way back to us in the next few days…. In the meantime – thank you Pete!
November 9, 2012 – Day 1 – Afternoon Game Drive
Fresh Sage – it’s the first thing I smell when we got off the plane – it is intoxicating and welcoming.
Not ones for wasting time, we asked our guide, Reuben, if you could start our game drive immediately. Pete met us at a crossroad with his monopod – and we were off….
First sighting – the rare Roan Antelope. I really liked the setting, amongst some tall, fine golden airy grasses.
Went on to see some very full and very tired Wild Dogs. 18 in the pack, 10 adults and 8 youngsters. FYI, a pack is considered large at 30+ animals.
Baby Elephant (probably 1-2 days old) with mother.
Selinda Pride, saw five of them (there are a total of 14). Everyone we saw was quite tired.
November 10, 2012 – Day 2 – Morning Game Drive
Left camp at 5:40am and didn’t return until close to noon. Had breakfast out in the bush around 10:30am: Poached eggs, fresh fruit and an amazing gluten-free nectarine cake that I must get the recipe for from the Chef, Katherine. Evan can’t stop talking about it.
First order of business, the Selinda Pride had rejoined forces this morning with the team of five and nine were now one again. Watched an unsuccessful attempt at the pride to ambush some Wildebeests, but unfortunately, for the lions anyway, their timing was off and they missed their opportunity. Fortunately we didn’t miss our opportunity and got some great shots of them playing after their failed hunting attempt, as well as ultimately coming to rest atop a mound just prior to a rainstorm blowing through. Really great shot of two lionesses with the backdrop of the dark storm clouds and surrounded by the green sage brush.
Have never had much opportunity to shoot zebra and finally a few really cooperated for the camera. Evan got some great shots, which are already included in my new 2012 favorites list.
Day 2 – Afternoon Game Drive
Elephants, Zebra, Warthogs
Saw the younger group of lions (10) as they lounged. Most of them looked like they had full bellies. 6 males and 4 females. We believe that two of these youngsters are the two of the three little 3 month old cubs that Evan and I got a chance to watch two years ago at Selinda! The boys are just starting to grow their manes.
Reuben gave us the story of the Selinda Pride of 14. The Pride is strong because they have a group of young males that have not yet been forced out of the Pride by a dominant male (not counted in the 14). The dominant male isn’t strong enough to really hold the Pride together. The Pride splits up and comes back together a lot as a maneuver to avoid the dominant male pushing out the young 3 year-old males.
We saw the group of 10 as it was getting dark and they were on their way to meet up again with the group of 4. They went off road as the last rays of light were disappearing.
No Dogs today.
Selinda Pride – has learned to cope with a changing landscape. Interestingly, that includes more water, not less. The old runway that we had landed on two years ago is now a flood plain. The changing water dynamic has caused shifts in the animals’ movements – 2011 was a big transition year, not only for the lions, but for all the other animals in the hierarchical food chain. Since 2008 the Wild Dogs were denning not far from Zarafa but they moved closer to Selinda in 2011 after the changes in the water levels – there is much more water here today than four years ago. Note to Self: Need to learn more about this changing environment.
Zarafa Camp – This is an amazing camp, conceptualized by Dereck and Bevery Joubert, and built in 2008. The intention was to make this very luxurious camp eco-friendly and a model for how safari camps can and should be run. They have electricity 24/7 which is derived completely from solar power. Zarafa has served as a role model for others and now there are at least seven other camps in Africa that can say they derive all their power from solar energy. There is no waste – everything gets recycled. The bio-gas fuel is created from food waste and buffalo dung (they discovered that elephant dung is just too dry). There is only limited plastic use and all is recycled. The tropical hardwood furniture is made from wooden debris found after the Asian Tsunami and crafted by displaced Asian carpenters. The teak floors of the camps are old railway sleepers (railroad ties) from Zimbabwe and the glassware is made from recycled coke bottles in Swaziland. They are also very intentional about how they drive on the dirt roads to make sure that the driving is as low-impact to the environment as possible – by this I mean that if two vehicles are coming towards each other from opposite directions they do not suddenly create two lanes (thereby increasing the width of the dirt road, rather, one will back up at a 90 degree angle to the road, let the other pass, and then be on their way). This may sound like a waste of time for those of us used to multi-lane highways, but the intention is to leave the land untouched whenever and wherever possible. Not only should more camps ecologically follow suit, I hope the rest of the world takes notice and starts changing how we derive our energy (and, at the same time, recognize how we so casually waste it.)
Willem and Nienke Bakhuys Roozeboom are fabulous in their role as the Zarafa Camp managers. Their passion and love of the bush and the people come through the minute you meet them. I was particularly impressed with their intention to make sure the entire staff was provided with a greater context for the role that each plays in making Zarafa such a positive experience for all involved.
Two books that Willem and Nienke suggested and I have now put them on my 2013 reading list: “Cry of the Kalahari” and “Eye of the Elephant”.
November 11, 2012 – Day 3 – Morning Game Drive
Really special morning! Woke up to our second alarm clock (the young baboons jumping off the tree limbs onto our tent and using it as a trampoline – and, they are incredibly punctual).
When we walked over to the central tent at 5:15am, Newman motioned us to follow him to see a sleeping elephant who had made his way into camp a few hours earlier and was sound asleep on his side in the middle of camp! He is about 40 years old and, believe it or not, he snores. I took a video and Evan got some pics, both of us deciding it was best to let the sleeping giant enjoy his slumber. He was up a few minutes later though and apparently stayed in camp until about 9am. Yes, that is me getting a “close-up” of our snoozing friend.
No dogs, no cats, but lots of tracks.
Pre-Afternoon Game Drive Excitement
I had just finished taking an outdoor shower while watching the hippos play. I turned the corner of our deck and found an elephant in our small “yard”. I called out to Evan to make sure he was aware of our visitor. We were blown away by the gracefulness of this multi-ton animal. The elephant came up close to the tent (I’m talking just feet away) and found a way to squeeze himself between the wire strut and a tree situated at the base of the deck. We were afraid he was going to snap the wire which held up one corner of the tent but as soon as his trunk and left shoulder felt the wire we noticed how delicately he maneuvered his couple tons of body mass around the taunt wire without even shaking the tent –as Evan pointed out we had just witnessed some amazing “low-wire” acrobatics. As soon as our new friend had finished his tight-wire act we became aware of more activity coming from beyond our tent towards us, yes, more elephants, including a handful of young ones (perhaps around 2 years old – where, believe me, the mothers are still VERY protective). We took a bit of our own videos and then realized that we were going to be late for our Afternoon Game Drive. Evan ventured out first and came face to face with a Mother Elie and her young one. She gave him a bit of charge to express her anger. Then I joined the commotion, which pissed her off again. She jumped around enough to make me jump and I ran back to our tent (and let’s be real, a tent really doesn’t offer a whole lot of “protection” from an angry elephant. Evan reminded me later of the African mantra which is now FIRMLY in my head, “Whatever you do, don’t run!”. This is also the title of a great book written by Peter Allison which has lots of funny stories about his time as a guide in Africa. I highly recommend it – at the very least you will appreciate what the guides have to occasionally put up with from a guest perspective.
When the coast finally cleared, we found our way back to the main tent/deck and witnessed the parade of elephants (at least 40 and of all sizes) play in the water in front of us before heading on their way.
Day 3 – Afternoon Game Drive
Another quiet drive, felt like we drove to Angola and back. Lots of elephants, learned that there are probably 9,000 to 11,000 in this concession (10 years ago there were only 500-5,000 – it is hard to estimate because there is not a lot of available data. The area had also been very dry for many years, in addition, the Motswiri Camp nearby had at one time been a hunting camp so elephants did not feel safe.)
Found lion tracks, but no lions. Found cheetah tracks, but no cheetah. Ultimately found a second pack of five Wild Dogs as it was getting dusk. When the lions move, it forces the Dogs to also move (and basically everything else in the food chain). The Dogs made an attempt at a small herd of impala. Rather than charging through the brush, Reuben correctly anticipated where the impala would come out and we were waiting there for them, soon to be followed by the Dogs. But the impala prevailed, at least on this go-round. It was getting dark and we started the 45-minute drive home.
November 12, 2012 – Morning Game Drive
Our bags were packed and we headed out on or close to our scheduled 5:30am departure time. We had decided to combine our morning game drive with our ride over to Selinda Camp. Very quickly, Reuben identified fresh large male lion tracks nearby. We tracked as best we could until Reuben determined that the large male had gone off-road. I give Evan big points for seeing the lion first (he has also been very good at identifying lots of termite mounds and logs as sleeping cats over the past few days, but this time he really did see a lion!)
The “Namibian Male”, as this lion is referred to, has been in the territory since April. He is about 9.5 years old and is estimated to weigh approximately 230 kg’s. He has mated with the four females (mother and three daughters) – previously he was seen in the Kwando area.
We did see large male cheetah tracks, but unfortunately no cheetah.
The Death March – Over the course of the morning drive, Evan started looking quite pale – he was coming down with some sort of flu – fever, nausea, chills, achy muscles. He ended up lying in the back seat of the vehicle as we plodded along towards Selinda. He was covered in an insulated poncho despite the heat of the day. It kind of looked like we had wrapped a dead body in the back of the truck… We stopped a number of times to let him rest in the shade because the bounciness of the back seat was only making him feel worse. I started wondering if he had somehow contracted malaria or dengue fever or some other deadly disease from a long list that my mother had been worrying about since long before we left. The guide reassured me that Evan did not have malaria because it takes about seven days to incubate and we had only been in the bush for three – and besides, he had been taking his Artemisinin AND we were in a “Malaria Free Zone”. FYI for those of you who do not know much about malaria – malaria is passed on by mosquitoes, but a mosquito has to bite a person already infected by malaria and THEN bite you. What the camps do in a “Malaria Free Zone” is if anyone on staff somehow comes down with Malaria they are quarantined and then removed from camp until they recover, therefore it is much more difficult to for guests to get sick. Bottom-line, we got to Selinda and put Evan to bed for the afternoon. He forced himself up for the afternoon game drive but felt like he had the starring role in “The Walking Dead”. I went to dinner by myself and made note of the fact that there was an English Doctor counted amongst the guests and if we needed his services we could always ask. I also reminded myself that Tony and Michelle Pisacano would be arriving tomorrow afternoon (Tony is a eye doctor) – of course when I told Tony and Michelle that I had taken some solace in knowing that Tony could come to Evan’s medical rescue – Tony said to me, “What am I going to do except give him some eye drops!!”. Bottom-line, the next day Evan was pretty much back to his old self – basically he had come down with a 24-hour flu bug. And it is amazing what some good leopard tracking does to raise one’s spirits…