Monday, September 29, 2008

Safari tip number 34. Don't swim in the Okavango in the morning

Greetings all, again, from the goat's bum of Africa, Maun.... Wrote this garbled post a few days ago.

Heading up-country back into the Delta again tomorrow for four days at a predator research camp. Yes, I do lead an interesting life. The things I do for you LOF. Anyway, thanks very much to all of you who commented on the recent posts, and all you lurkers as well. (pics to come, redcap, as we say in the trade). Read on:


Woke up feeling a little fuzzy this morning, Legion of Fans (LOF) after a few too many Windhoek Lagers last night, so I thought a refreshing dip in the mighty Okavango River might be in order.

Fear not, chickens, I planned to take the waters within the safety of a river cage swimming pool to protect me from the many crocodiles and hippos that infest the river.

I’m writing this from the banks of said river at the perfectly charming Ngepi Camp Ground near Divundu (another goat’s bum of a town) in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. It’s not all drinking and swimming in crocodile infested rivers, LOF… I am in the process of researching book seven.

Anyway, I went for a dip in the cage yesterday afternoon and found it most agreeable, particularly with an ice-cold Tafel Lager in hand. Windhoek Lager is the Foster’s of Namibia – ie only the tourists drink it – and to mark yourself as a true Namibian you are supposed to drink Tafel. Actually it’s not s nice as Windhoek, but when in Namibia…

The waters of the Okavango, or Kavango as it’s known hereabouts, were mighty fine and cool, clean and refreshing. Apparently we are drinking water straight out of the river here in the camp ground, hardy folk that Mrs Blog and I are.

Stretching and yawning I wandered to the edge of our campsite to take a look at the briskly flowing river. Unfortunately, rather than water fowl and crocodile snouts what greeted me was a raft of soap suds and, if I’m not mistaken, a couple of floating man-made objects, if you get my drift.

I realised that morning time must be when the good folk of Bagani village, a couple of kilometres upstream, perform their ablutions. Perhaps not the best time, then, to dive into the cage, lest the bars act as a solid pollutant trap.

This is a working river, LOF. A living, breathing (at times heaving) thing that provides life to man and animal alike, as well as a fast flowing sewage system.

Don’t get me wrong. Once the burgers of Bagani have finished their morning reading of The Namibian and completed their business the Kavango will be cool, clear and pristine once more, and it will be my pleasure, somewhat later in the day, to immerse myself in it.

There is more about our travels at www.getaway.co.za so I urge you to go there now and beef up the numbers on their site meter, and perhaps post a comment or two on my posts to remind my good friends at Getaway how popular I am.

To summarise the last week or two of travelling:

Zimbabwe – no fuel or food and a shortage of paper and ink to print money, but plenty of animals to be seen in Hwange National Park, where Mrs B and I did our annual game census.

Kasane, Botswana – a charming little ville, as always. Newsflash, African adventurers – the camp sites at the Safari Lodge now have electricity and sites have been demarcated so there is no risk of some German pitching his tent on your doorstep (tent-flap-step?).

Namwi Island Camp Site, Katima Mulilo, Namibia. Katima would qualify for goat’s bum status were it not for the sparkling new Zambezi Shopping Centre, featuring that cool, inviting African oasis that is the Pick ‘n’ Pay supermarket. Forget Christianity, Pick ‘n’ Pay should colonise Africa, bringing light, ducted air con, pepper steak pies and fresh fruit and veg to the darkest reaches of the dark continent. Namwi Island camp site was a beautiful little piece of Afrikaner/Teutonic orderliness in a province of dust, goats, bums and plastic bags.

Nambwa Campsite, Kongola, Caprivi Strip. Wisely, the proprietors of this picture postcard perfect campsite scratched out the number of kilometres on the sign pointing to their little slice of African paradise from the main road. Had we read that it was 15 kilometres from the tar road we may very well have turned back after the first kilometre. I tell you folks, it’s harder than it looks to drive 15 km through deep sand, much of it in low range, first gear, for the four-by-four fundis among you. Mrs B was just about making small potty in her safari pants at some points, but Tonka the Land Rover and I got into it and though the road seemed as if it would never end, it finally did, on a sand island in the middle of the Kwando River. Elephants, hippo and other grass eaters abounded and I do believe I heard a leopard in the evening. Bliss.

Greetings, too, to the extended Martin family of regional Victoria, who met up with us for the Hwange Game Count this year, and a guided tour of places in and around Hwange National Park where the fictitious Michelle Parker (as opposed to the real one) and the equally make-believe Shane Castle and Fletcher Reynolds all had sex with one another in my book, SAFARI. A fun time was had by all – us, the martins, Shane, Fletch and Michelle. We all stayed at the Sprayview Hotel at Victoria Falls after the count and while the bar was open, sadly (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), there were no trashy Aussie backpackers present.

The adventure continues…

Monday, September 08, 2008

Bush Tip Number Two – how to survive a python attack

More useful tips from the bushveld... There will be pictures in due course. Signing off now for a while as Mrs B and I cross into the badlands of Zimbabwe... for now, read on...


“When the python bites you on the leg, stay very still. Maybe for up to one, one-and-a-half hours,” said Metsi, our safari guide at Xakanaxa Camp in the Moremi Game Reserve, deep in the Okavango Delta.

“I see,” I said, as we watched the 3.5 metre African Rock Python inch its way into a hollowed out log.

Metsi cackled, digressing: “We sometimes stop at this spot for sundowners and people they want to sit on this dead tree. Hahahahahahahaha.”

“So,” I said, bringing him back to the subject at hand, survival in the wild, “when the python grabs you, you stand still?”

“Yes, very still,” he said to me, like I was the dumb kid in the back of the class. “The python, you see, is not poisonous. His bite is like the dog, so it will not kill you.”

All very well, but I don’t know if I’d be standing still for an hour and a half if a Doberman’s jaws were locked on my thigh.

“The python he wants you to move, and when you move he will wrap himself around you, squeeze you, break all your bones and eat you,” Metsi explained matter-of-factly.

“Gotcha.” Good incentive to stand still. I asked Metsi if he knew of any humans who had met their end by flinching under the bite of a python, as I checked the snake’s very large head and very large teeth through Mrs Blog’s binoculars.

“My uncle….” Most of Metsi’s interesting wildlife stories seemed to relate to his uncle, who led a dangerous and varied life, scaring lions off kills to steal their food and generally doing his best to get himself killed as he poled himself around the delta on his mokoro canoe in “the olden times”.

“My uncle,” he continued, “was walking from island in the river to another in the olden times when the python grabbed him on the leg. He stood in the water for one and a half hours with the snake holding on to him. Eventually the snake got bored and let him go.”

I wondered, given Bob’s advice about crocodiles (see my earlier post if you have just joined us) what would have happened if Metsi’s uncle had encountered a curious croc midstream at the same time as the snake attack. How easy would it have been to stroke the belly of the crocodile or tear out its nostril valves with a python chomping down on his calf?

After our encounter with the snake Metsi led us to an excellent leopard sighting. A female had killed an impala and dragged it under a maggigwari bush to devour it. Nearby, in a tree, was her small but perfectly formed eight-month-old cub, who occasionally squeaked to its mother.

So cute was this miniature killer, that Mrs Blog and I were tempted to snatch it up and whisk it away. It bounded out of its tree, ran across to its mother and posed beside her (pictures to come), then hopped back up in a nearby tree, to the accompaniment of a chorus of clicking and whirring cameras.

Metsi informed us that this particular leopardess’ method of hunting was to wait silently in the branches of a Jackalberry tree. Impalas, inevitably, would be drawn to the foot of the tree to nibble on fallen berries. At the right moment this cunning cat would simply drop out of her tree on to the back of her unsuspecting prey.

What, I wondered, would Metsi’s uncle do if a leopard descended on him from out of the blue? I doubt that the time honoured “whatever you do, don’t run” would work in this case.

How to hypnotise and/or kill a crocodile

From Maun, Goat's Bum of Africa, we travelled to the sublime luxury of Xakanaxa Camp in the Okavango Delta. REad on...........

Did you know, Legion of Fans (LOF) that if you roll a crocodile over on his back and rub his belly he’ll fall asleep in your arms?

Quite how you get the croc to roll over so you can begin hypnotising him is another matter, of course, but I’ve learned a lot about these cunning reptiles thanks to Popcorn.

Popcorn is an eight-year-old budding handbag who lives just below the “Beware of Crocodiles” sign by the dining deck at Xakanaxa Camp in the Moremi Game Reserve within the Okavango Delta.

Xakanaxa (pronounced ka-karnaka) is a little slice of paradise inside a big chunk of heaven. It’s amazing that the country that brought you Maun (see my last post, re ‘goat’s bum of the world’) can be host to the Moremi and the delta (or, as we say in Botswana, ‘the swamps’).

While watching Popcorn attempt to catch fish after breakfast this morning, the camp manager, Bob, explained other ways of dealing with troublesome crocodiles. If you can’t get them to roll over, and thus begin the process of hypnotisation (what a great word), simply reach a finger inside one of the nostrils at the tip of the snout and rip off the flap of skin that you’ll find within.
Blog post wolhuter as well.


The flaps act as valves which prevent water entering the reptile’s lungs (do they have lungs?) when they submerge themselves. According to Bob, if you rip out the valve the croc will fill with water and drown.

Of course, there is the other tried and true method of drowning a crocodile, by ramming your fist down his throat, but every young soldier in the Australian Army knows that one, as well as the importance of zig-zagging (a crocodile, a crusty old warrant officer once told me while I was on exercise in the Northern Territory, will easily outrun a man in a straight line, but zig-zagging confuses them. Just how far one is supposed to zig, before zagging, the warrant officer was unsure of).

Having the presence of mind to rip open a nose valve, zig-zag, or grab a crocodile’s epiglottis during an attack is, I suppose, akin to remembering to bite the shark on the nose when it takes hold of your leg.

Anyway, back to the Okavango Delta… errr, I mean swamps. Mrs Blog and I have been to other parts of Africa where the hype sometimes fails to live up to reality. There are so many “wildlife paradises”, and bits of “real Africa” (ie: bad roads, inflated prices and appalling toilets) that it’s hard to separate the pooh from the clay, if you know what I mean.

If two days of game driving and boating are anything to go by (sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t) then Moremi is, indeed, a very good place to see animals. On our first drive we spent about an hour with a leopard as he began his evening patrol and was harassed by two yappy little side-striped jackals. Next day we had two excellent sightings of a nice big pride of lions complete with several cubs of varying ages.

The landscape here is very agreeable. As well as the waterways and reedy islands there are open floodplains (good for spying animals at a distance) and impressively huge trees. You know you have been in Africa a long time (perhaps too long) when you get excited about trees, LOF, but I have seen Mopanes the size of oak trees! (Are you excited as I am? I doubt it).

What I like about Moremi is that the environment here is so different to other parts of Africa I’ve visited. It’s a bit of a cross between the Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa, with patches of Hwange and Kruger thrown in. All that probably means nothing to most of you, but trust me – it’s different enough to warrant a look.

Xakanaxa Camp, itself, is lovely. It has big walk-in safari tents with an open air bathroom out back (I do love me a shower under the stars, with cool beer in hand). The accommodation and communal areas are rustic enough to please the European visitors (in search of zee elusive ‘real Africa’) and luxurious enough to melt the hearts of shallow Aussies (like Mrs Blog and me) who crave a bit of creature comfort after months living in a tent or on the roof of our Land Rover.

I would have liked to have tried out one of the self-drive camp sites in Moremi – there is one just down the road, also called Xakanaxa - but I have yet to meet anyone in Botswana who has been able to get a booking in a Moremi camp site. According to the locals Botswana Wildlife (the local national parks authority) continually maintains all the camp sites are full, yet people in the know attest to the fact that the stands usually stand empty.

To be honest, from what I know of Botswana game reserve and national park camp sites they tend to be overpriced and poorly equipped. Which means, if you want to experience Moremi, it may well be worthwhile saving the pennies to go stay at an up market lodge. Your call, LOF, but as I always say to people who ask me about travelling in Africa, don’t take my word, go and see for yourself.

So, next time I get attacked by a crocodile I’ll remember Bob’s advice abut stroking its belly or tearing out its nostrils, but I won’t know for sure if either remedy works until I try it for myself. I’ll let you know.

Wildest Kruger

Thank you, members of the Legion, for forgiving me. Here, if you have nothing better to do at work, are some more musings from the road. First we go back in time a couple of weeks to when we were in the Kruger National Park. Read on..........

Too chicken to do a self-drive safari in Africa like Mr and Mrs Blog do?

Too fraidy-cat to camp in the wilds of the Zambezi valley, with lions and hyenas sniffing around your tent at night?

Too sensible?

Well, have I got the safari option for you. If you like the idea of camping out in the wilds of Africa – in the bush as opposed to a national parks rest camp – but don’t have the gear, the guts or the gumption to do it yourself, then try a camping safari.

Done me some camping in the last 13 years of travelling through Africa, Legion of Fans (LOF), and it’s fair to say that Mrs Blog and I think we have it pretty well sussed when it comes to living under canvas. (Actually, we live under polypropylene, which is cheaper, lighter and more water resistant than canvas, but I digress).

It was with great interest, then, that Mrs B and I signed up for an organised camping safari in the Kruger National Park in order to see how a professional outfit does life in the weeds.

The Wolhuter Tented Safari, run by my very good friends Thompson’s Safaris of South Africa, is named after pioneer Kruger ranger Harry Wolhuter who famously used his pocket knife to kill a lion that had dragged him (and his horse) to the ground.

The Wolhuter temporary tented camp is off the Sweni Road, near Satara, if that means anything to you. If it doesn’t then be advised that this is Animal Country with a capital ‘A’ and a capital ‘C’.

Our accommodation was in canvas bell tents (perfect for the dry season, though I stand by my earlier assertions re man-made fibres and water resistance), nicely kitted out with a bit of carpet and stretchers padded with not one, but two mattresses.

Mr Blog is padded in all the wrong places, and my hips ain’t one of them, so I do like a bit of blubber between me and my sleeping surface.

The only thing between us and the big, bad, carnivorous creatures of the Kruger Park, however, aside from a few microns of canvas, was a three-strand portable electric cattle fence, wired up to a car battery.

In the Army, many years ago when Mr Blog was a young soldier, we were issued with a piece of equipment called a “Smock, Psychological”. It’s proper name was “Smock, Tropical” (the Army writes everything ass-backwards), but people in the real world would have called it a camouflage raincoat. It was dubbed ‘psychological’ because it didn’t do a very good job of 1. keeping the rain out – it leaked like a sieve; and 2. concealing the wearer – it’s camouflage pattern of black and vivid green made one stand out in the Australian bush like a Dingo’s donga. (Also, for some reason none of us could ever fathom these coats always smelled of vomit, no matter how often they were washed. But I digress, again…)

Anyway, Mrs Blog and I went to sleep on our first night, safe and sound behind our “fence, psychological”.

As I’ve reported in my other blog, at www.getaway.co.za we had quite an eventful second night, watching a clan of hyenas dispatch two impalas in quick time.

Meals, as I’ve also chronicled elsewhere, were top class thanks to the impossibly young and very talented Tish and Scott who managed to conjure up some culinary wonders in a kitchen that also looked like it dated from Australian Army surplus stocks (like my spew-scented raincoat, but with much nice odours emanating).

Around dinner time we had hyenas and a civet (look it up) patrolling our small but perfectly formed electric fence, and during the day a curious giraffe peeked into the camp over a tree and two elephants had a bit of sword fight with their tusks while we watched on from the safety of our wired enclave.

I don’t know if it was the three-strand fence or the stout green canvas, but I felt particularly safe and secure in this little encampment. The sound of lions calling nearby in the pre-dawn darkness woke me, then slowly began lulling me back to sleep as I snuggled under the doona.

If you ever visit Africa, or consider it, some silly people may try and tell you that the Kruger National Park is not “wild”, simply because lots of people visit it, it’s affordable and it has tarred roads and particularly clean toilets.

People who pooh-pooh Kruger usually haven’t been there, or feel compelled to bag it after having spent inordinate amounts of money visiting this place called the “real Africa”. I’ve also been to the “real Africa” and can attest that it has fewer visitors (because it’s so expensive), appalling roads, and very dirty (or non existent) toilets.

As I drifted off the hyenas whooped it up in answer to the lion’s call and somewhere in the distance an elephant trumpeted his own chorus. Not wild in the Kruger Park? Wild enough for me.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Hello, hello, hello, is there anybody (still) out there?

Are you still there, Legion of Fans?

Have you disowned me because of the shabby way in which I’ve neglected you? I wouldn’t blame any of the five of you if you have. If you’re reading this then you have my eternal gratitude and humble apologies.

I am coming to you live (possibly, if this manages to send, and if I haven’t been eaten by goats by the morning), from the goat’s bum of Africa… Maun, Botswana.

Can there be a more disheartening, disgusting, dry, dingy, dirty, dusty gateway to one of the world’s most famed wildlife paradises? I doubt it.

“Goat’s bum of the world” (armpit doesn’t do it justice, because it’s too dry and much smellier here) is a term I’ve just coined after looking at one. A goat’s bum, that is. There is a family (herd?) of goats in the campsite in which I am now sitting, ankle deep in grubby, smelly sand, leaves and goat droppings.

I’ve seen goats aplenty on the roads of Africa, LOF – even managed to hit one once in Tonka – but never in my campsite. This bleating beast just tried to eat the power cord of my laptop.

Despite my forceful ‘shoo, shoo’ noises this particular goat keeps munching away on garbage in front of me, presenting its shabby rear end. It’s not pretty, LOF, not pretty at all.

The reason I haven’t been blogging for you, LOF, is simple. Money, of course.

I’m being paid to help a very interesting South African chap write his life story. I shall reveal more in due course, but for now I am head down and (human) bum up, typing away furiously.

I have, however, been emailing the odd blog post to Getaway Magazine in South Africa and you can view my intermittent jottings there if you hop across to www.getaway.co.za

It’s not that I value Getaway more than y’all, Legion of Fans, it’s just that I live in hope that because of my dedicated journaling for them that one day the editor will call and say something like: “Mr Blog, you’ve done such a good job blogging for us that we think you should take our sample latest-model Land Rover Defender on a test spin up to the Masai Mara for a couple of months”. Hmmm.

Speaking of Goats’ bums, I recently spent time in Cde Robert Mugabe’s own little African utopia – the Republic of Zimbabwe. You can read about that on the Getaway site, as well. Suffice to say that when locals informed me there was no beer in the shops I beat it out of there across the border quite quickly. At least Maun has beer (there, I said something good about it).

What else to report… ummmm….

Mrs Blog and I had an interesting drunken interlude with a pack of hyenas in Kruger a couple of weeks ago… and you can read about that at www.getaway.co.za as well. Getting the message?

Well, the sun is setting blood red through the pall of garbage-fire smoke, diesel fumes and dried goat’s dung dust that is Maun, LOF… and Mrs Blog has just opened the esky/cold box/chilly bin (depending on where you hail from).

Wherever you are and whatever you call it, there is only one solution for bad towns and bad camp grounds. Strong drink.

Cheers.

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION UPDATE: For all of you too lazy to actually read one of my books, good news is at hand. My very good friends at Macmillan have just emailed me to tell me that SILENT PREDATOR is going to be released as an audio book.

I wonder who will read it and, more importantly, will they manage to read the rude bits out loud without laughing? Interesting. Any listeners of audio books out there (Michelle, this is a test to see if you are reading the blog)? If so, I would like comments about how the naughty bits are dealt with. IE: Does the reader put on a “what are you wearing” voice especially for certain scenes, or is it done in a rigid monotone?