Sunday, April 5, 2009

Saturday & Sunday, March 28 - 29, 2009, Shinde camp beside the Moremi Reserve

Today’s post starts at noon yesterday when I got on a six seat plane next to the pilot, who is one of the six, and flew to Shinde camp. [shinde is a Tsetswana word for a small brownish/fawn coloured squirrel]. The views were amazing as we flew at analtitude of about 1500 feet. As we got further north, there was more and more water in what looked to be a dry flat savanna type plain. This was literally an air taxi and I got a bit of an idea why these trips are as costly as they are. We stopped at a camp called Chief on a dirt airstrip that was fairly rough, to drop off three people and then the pilot and I flew on to Shinde there the airstrip was half grown over and look like a little used country lane.

The camp is on a higher bit of land that is permanently free of water, even when the delta fully floods by June. The water is just starting to come in from the north and throughunderground channels under the porous earth. I was met at the strip by one of the staff and the man who ended up beingmy personal guide for the next 24 hours, Keone. And I was taken to the camp. The manager and six of the staff welcomed me by singing some Tsetswana welcome song. I found it kind of embarrassing as I think it is a a paternalistic throw back to more colonial days for the rich bwana, but that is my stuff.

Julius, the manager took me around and explained anumber od camp and safety do’s and don’ts. The main thing that was stressed is that we are never to go out of the camp alone without a staff member - there are wild animals around and they can be unpredictable. Morning activities start at 7 am before the heat of the day and finish at about 11. Then lunch, a siesta, an english tea (light snacks and cakes) at 3:30 and afternoon activities from 4 to 7:30. After dark we are not even to walk around the camp alone. A leopard had been spotted near the camp that day – apparently a very rare occurrence. It is all luxurious, and everything is up on stilts about 5 feet or more off the ground. My tent, looking like a permanent structure to me, is very nicely furnished and has a shower, double sinks and flush toilet. The toilet is in a separate room, off the bathing area and has a 50 centimetre ( 20 inch) diameter tree growing in the middle of it at a 45 degree angle and splits into two significant branches going through the taut tarpaulin roof. I am typing this on my deck during the siesta, over looking papyrus and other 6 – 8 foot grasses, shrubs and small trees, listening to half a dozen different song birds.

Near the dining room, there is a large communal deck, overlooking a large body of water that I think connects to a river, with a fridge, wood paneled to blend in nicely; full of bottled water, juice, soft drinks and beer. A fully stocked bar is nearby. Help yourself whenever you want. Within 20 minutes of arriving, I saw a five foot lizard or iguana scuttling out from under the dining area to the water right next to it. The dining area is open on all sides and had regal chairs with high padded backs and arms and a huge chandelier of sorts – the kind you might expect to find at a drag ball. Everything is spotless and all the wood freshly shellacked – all the decks and walkways. There are 21 staff for a maximum of 18 guests, currently there are about 12guests so the care ratio is very favourable.

I went on a game drive with Keone all by myself. No one else wanted to go, and that was excellent. He loves nature and wildlife and was very knowledgeable, having studied at the Botswana Wildlife Institute in Maun. He is a veritable encyclopedia of information on the birds, mammals, reptiles, plants, soils; speaking comfortably of their scientific names, species and geus connections and symbiotic relatiionships. It was an amazing four hours. I learned a ton and saw much. I tsessebe - a beautiful dark antelope, impala, red lechwe - a light water antelope, red bucks, elephants, hippos, giraffe, baboon, jackal, saddle horned stork, Egyptian geese, several kinds of herons, fish eagles, vultures, horn bills, francolin, zebra herd, a huge terrapin. We stop frequently for the camera opportunities and for information sharing. The lack of any human sound is breath taking for me - its absence is so noticeable that I realize we rarely experince that tranquilityany more.

The topography is fairly flat and ranges from open savanna to trees in copses where there is enough water for them to reach by root year round. I find it utterly beautiful, never knowing what you might see next. Keone sees every animal way before I do; they are all marvels of camouflage. He loves this work and it really shows. I feel very lucky to have him all to myself. I sure understand the appeal of his job, even thought as Julius said to me in the 40 minutes we were talking, that there are some pretty “special” tourists at time that are a bit demanding. Keone receives a message that a pair of young male lions were spotted near where we are. We search and search for them, but they were young and very skittish and elude us, even though we look for them for 45 minutes.

We get back at 7:45 pm having watched a beautiful sunset –duly recorded for the memories and I have a quick shower before dinner. Everyone is gathered on the communal deck for drinks. The managers and the guides join us for the meals and that is great as I can continue to ask more questions. The meal is very nice, but I am surprised at cauliflower and Brussels’ sprouts f0r vegetable choices. Afterwards, more drinks on the deck ant at 10 pm, I ask for a guide to my tent for the night; Wago, another guide, complies and most other guests turn in to. 6 am comes all too soon.

In the morning, I get a wake up at 6 am and orange juice is brought to my tent. A sumptuous breakfast is served at 6:30 and by 7 am, I am on my way, again along with Keone for a hike. But we drive for an hour first, to get to an area with shorter grass. 6 foot+ high grass is too dangerous to walk in. At one point, we drive through 4-5 feet of water, with the water coming up to the hood and into the jeep cabin so that we have to sit on the door with our feet on the seat. The vehicle has a special adapter that brings air to engine from above the vehicle. Then, we open the doors to let the water out. In reality, I get another game drive as well as a two and a half hour hike for an up close look at the flora and smaller animals and birds. I see a special kind of owl as well as many more of the animals I saw yesterday. We often crossed very clear paths that Keone calls the hippo highway. Hippos will go up to 15 kilometres inland at night to feed on the grasses they like and in the process take the vegetation in the feeding area right down to the roots- every plant in the area cut down as though by a thorough lawen mower. I am in awe.

At four, I went out on a motor boat around the man streams and channels of the delta in this area. There are not many animals to see in the water. There are crocodile but they are extremely elusive and can feel you coming through the water when you are still a great distance away. Apparently the water has started to rise and will go up by about 30 centimetres by June. There were many kinds of water grasses and papyrus growing up to 20 feet high along the channels - some of them used for thatching the traditional roof of a Batswana house. However, they have to be replaced about every 7 to 10 years and the government is urging people to build stronger homes with corrugated iron roofs, in spite of them being noisier and much, much hotter, absorbing heat rather than repelling it as the thatch does. There are also fewer professional, traditional thatchers available.

I saw a lot of birds including perfectly camouflaged green pigeons as well as several kinds of brilliant kingfishers, loris, a brown and tan cormorant, plovers and more. The channels are quite fast moving and are full of bream, pike and catfish. Restful and relaxing , we enjoy another fantastic sunset when we stop for a snack and something to drink. As darkness fell, it very quickly cooled off so that you needed a sweater.

In the morning, for my last event at Shinde, I take a ride in a mekora – a traditional dugout out canoe / flat bottomed boat propelled by pole like the English punt. The ones at the camp are fibreglass as the trees of choice ( including the sausage tree that feeds soamny wild animals when the fruit are ripe and full of water) for the mekora are becoming scarce and again the government has asked people to conserve them and use fibreglass instead. We start out at 7 am and it is still quite cool. There is a literal symphony of birdsong in surround-sound, which is a marvel to listen to. We travel mostly in shallower waters that are dotted with water lilies and various sizes and shorter grasses. African jacanas run along on top of the lily pads looking for insects and frog eggs. Again, we travel the hippo highways, only in the water this time. They actually perform a valuable service by keeping them clear, bull dozing them out with their bulk and weight. Without this much of the swampy area of the delta not would be navigable, becoming quickly choked with reeds and aquatic grasses.

We return at about 10:30 and all the other guests have left. The drum is just calling me to lunch and at 1pm, I fly off to Lagoon in the north overlooking Namibia across the river – the next adventure

At lunch, Keone tells me that they saw a leopard on the morning game drive and I jokingly tell him that he owes me a cat. He asks how much time I need to get ready to depart and I tell him two minutes. He offers to take a run to where they saw the leopard with its kill before I have to be taken to the airstrip for my departure. We go and after twenty minutes, we find it resting in the shade with a full belly. We drive to within a dozen feet and it looks at us but does not move. It is a young male and is beautiful - sleek and handsome. It was well worth the effort and I am grateful.

Then we head to the airstrip and as we get there is a plane coming in to land. It does not as there is an elephant on the strip and we have to clear it away first – it’s amazing. Then the plane lands and drops of 2 new guests but it does not take me. The pilot tells us my plane will be there in 5 minutes and it is – truly a taxi service.

1 comment:

  1. wow, amazing! my girlfriend says she's envious!