Monday, September 23, 2013

No tigers or bears but, oh my!

Don't move. Stop right there. Ryan, hold still. Two male voices, two high-pitched, all three quite frantic. Maybe it was because animals had already shown an interest in Ryan. He found the black mamba on the boat. Just a little guy but dangerous enough cuz the immature ones haven't learned how to control venom flow yet and tend to waste it when giving warning bites. He and a honey badger had shared a fright at night. Ryan was setting up his tripod for some star pics when from our perch at the bar of Haina Kalahari Lodge (Look it up, someday I'll learn how to make one of those hyperlink doohickeys), we heard a growl and an oh god followed by two creatures, one big, one small, scurrying in opposite directions.

But I think most of the concern heard in the voices was due to the fact that only 15 meters separated Ryan from a lioness. Mozilla (like the browser, he says when he introduces himself) had come to pick us up from our tents just like the other mornings. Most lodges I've been to let you find your own way to the main area in the morning, but Haina staff asked us to wait for a ride. The tents are quite spread out and the Kalahari is known for lions, big ones, in fact the biggest on the planet which is weird to me since there's fuckall water most of the year. Back in the 70's Mark and Delia Owens were able to prove through radio collar tracking that lions can go an entire year without water, save what they get from their prey in the form of blood, stomach goo, etc.

Anyway, back to the front. So Moz has already scooped Matt and Dominique when Ed and I hop in at the end of the path leading to our tent. We drive around a patch of brush and Moz says, those tracks are fresh. I look down from my perch in the game drive vehicle and follow the trajectory of said tracks. No shit they're fresh, she's standing right there. And she's staring at Ryan.

Moz floors it to get the vehicle between the cat and the snack. Ryan climbs in and says, did you see the kudu? We point to the lion. Oh geez.

Now that we're all safe and sound in the open-air vehicle, why not follow the pride of eight stalking lions for a bit before we go get coffee and maybe a stiff drink? Well let's at least exhale. I still don't get how or why lions don't just rip people from vehicles, but they don't as long as you keep your hands inside the bus. (Kind of like wax on, wax off-there's a reason you just don't know it yet) I reckon if one figures that out, she'll promptly be killed and the gene won't spread.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Creedence or Ike and Tina?

Two boats, three South Africans, four gallons of special creamer, five Americans, and one hundred eggs. Except I forgot to buy the eggs. Luckily our menu planner was inexperienced enough that we didn't miss them on our float across the whole of the Okavango Delta.

My days of dragging sleds and hauling heavy packs up mountains are behind me but I still like to do things most people don't. So when I learned that more people see the view from the top of Everest every year then see the Okavango from top to bottom or bottom to top for that matter, I figured I had to do it before my time in Bots was done.

The group had a mix of backgrounds, several have spent a month or more in a tent at one go, some had never been a day without a shower. All had river experience, some had power boat experience, but none had been on that stretch of water before. But the days of Livingstone are far gone. We had a map and GPS. The Delta doesn't follow the normal rules of the river and we sometimes found ourselves on the wrong channel. We could tell where we were on the map, it didn't really help us choose routes, but only to mark our progress.

The top end of the Delta feels a bit claustrophobic with papyrus and reeds beating the boat, filling it with leaves and spiders and more than a few bats, one of which lit for a moment on a whiskey bottle. "As soon as you see it, it's full taps." That advice from the scout boat on how to deal with the first blockage. Papyrus mat gets stuck in some of the tighter turns.

Water flowed below but since we weren't in submarines, it took about two hours of pulling reeds from in front of the boat, standing on the blockage with the occasional foot going through to the dark water below (best to not think about crocs that may be lurking) and using both boats together to plow through the 100 meter long mess.

On the fourth day (much the same as in Genesis- let there be light) we broke out of the reeds into the floodplain. The newbies got to see their first elephants, lechwe, and hippos. The swim spots got better which meant more sand over a wider area to feel better about the proximity of crocodiles. And we began to hear lions at night. We decided to do a layover day to rest up for the boat dragging session to come.

Xo(pronounced by making a 'k' sound while trying to get a piece of phlegm stuck in the back of your throat) Flats is the first place the water can truly spread into the grasses and make floating difficult. To prep, we did our best to drink as much beer as possible to lighten the load and lessen the boat's draft. We were told that Xo Flats would be the crux of the trip, especially so late in the season when the floods had mostly receded. But the forecasters were too pessimistic, we only had to pull the big boat a couple of times and never had to portage gear.

We stopped at Eagle Island for ice and a helicopter ride for the mates from the States. Two lions cooperated by feeding on a buffalo during the flight.

In the first five days, we saw only one boat and those folks were doing a day trip from Xigera (again with the 'k' but no phlem). The bottom end of the river is busier due to its proximity to Maun but still we met just a few groups headed upstream while we were on our way to a bacon cheeseburger at River Lodge.