Is there ever too many elephants ?

Day 288, Thursday 18 October 2012 – Chobe, Botswana

We had a morning game drive today so I was up staggering blindly around at 5:10 getting organised before we all were loaded onto special game vehicles at the hotel office. Chobe National Park is eleven thousand square kilometres and is next to the Chobe River.

The game drive was interesting, our vehicle did not get to see the leopard that was seen by the other vehicle and I was in the middle which makes photography hard, but it was my turn and I am taller than the others. It was a slow start along the river bank, mostly seeing birds.

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I am not sure who is being braver here, the Malibu stork or the small crocodile.

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We did see lots of impala

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An eventually some elephants, there are a lot of elephants in the park and a massive amount of elephant damage everywhere.

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We watched this large troop of baboons for a while, there were quite a few babies around and they are very cute.

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We were then taken to the site of a dead elephant – a feeding ground for dozens of vultures and Malibu storks. We were quite a long way of and it was hard for me to get decent shots from the middle of the truck, so I was a little disappointed with the results, but they have captured the moment, I love the dead tree and the final insult to the poor elephant was all the bird pooh on it.

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We came across a couple of lethargic lions, they didn’t even acknowledge our presence.

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Before stopping to watch a small family group of elephants playing in the bush, this baby must have been very young as it was spending quite some time trying to suckle, it was quite cool to watch.

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As we left we spotted a couple of female kudu, with the dull colouring and the pale stripes they are quite hard to spot, especially against a small slope.

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After the game drive we had a few hours to kill in the campsite before going on a game cruise on the river. I was on dishes and as we had a massive brunch prepared while we out in the morning there was a load of dishes to be done, by the time these were done and I had washing on the line the afternoon was half gone. I took a quick dip in the pool and spent some time in the shade writing before heading to the bar for a cocktail before the cruise got under way at 4:00. After a bit of effort I found the lawn mower asleep under a bush.

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The boat was fairly spacious, it had seats we could move around and roof access, so plenty of space to see animals and take photos. We saw a load of hippo, both in and out of the water.

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A nice male elephant.

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Herds of impala on the riverbank.

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Crocs

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A great sighting, but bad pictures of a couple of monitor lizards eating a catfish.

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A cape buffalo in a bog ! loved this one – though I am yet to get a good full body buffalo shot.

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On the river banks we saw the largest herd of elephant I have ever seen, I counted over thirty elephants in a couple of groups, very cool.

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Our guide for the cruise spotted another, smaller herd of elephants walking on one of the many small islands in the river, they walking towards the edge and he knew they were going to cross to the mainland. We motored upstream to get closer to watch this event, even the guide was excited, it is not something you see often – and he had his camera out too.

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I loved the little trunks sticking out of the water.

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It was a very cool thing to see, there were a number of crocs lurking in the water, but the herd made it through unscathed. WOW.

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After that we motored back to the campsite, under a fairly cool sunset. It was a great trip, definitely another African highlight.

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The evening was similar to the one before except we pooled all the remaining Botswanan currency – the pula and bought beer in the bar – again! Tomorrow is Zambia.

Apparently yes, there are too many elephants, but there is no political will to cull them at this stage. It is a very tricky situation.

Please stay in your seats, there are elephants on the road.

Day 287, Wednesday 17 October 2012 – Chobe, Botswana

It was a night of very little sleep, around midnight there was a very loud chorus of braying donkeys and barking and howling dogs, it didn’t go on for long but it was enough to break up a good doze. This was followed by rain around 2:30, again, not a big shower, but enough to have to get out of bed and close the shutters on the tent.

We were up at 5:40 for a 6:00 breakfast, pack and on the road for 7:00, it was a big drive day today with 600km to our next destination – the Chobe Wildlife Park. 600km may not sound like a massive amount but when the roads are as busy with wildlife as these ones here you really do need to be alert all the way and driving fast is out of the question.

Before we set off we were warned by driver Will to stay seated as much as possible as this road was particularly bad for animals, both domestic and wild and this proved to be the case quite early as wehad to stop for a small mixed herd of wildebeest and zebra crossing the road.

We had a coffee stop at Nata, where it took fifteen minutes to present us with hot water and a jar of Nescafe, not sure of they had to go buy the water or the coffee, but it was all nicely served in little china jugs, one for each person.

We stopped for lunch at a road side rest area, I loved the warning sign.

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The road through here is being almost completely rebuilt by the Botswanan government and there was a lot of road works, but the road is superb, one of the best on the trip so far, it is shame that you just cannot drive fast on it, we saw a dead donkey on the road side and soon after a truck was stopped on top of another donkey, not a nice sight! We came very close to creaming this ostrich, it was only a metre or so away from a messy end.

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When we were having coffee at Nata Will had said we would see elephants on the road side and he was not wrong, only a few kilometres from the town of Kasene, just outside Chobe he had to suddenly slow down as four elephants meandered out on to the road side just before we passed. Very cool, not something you see everyday in New Zealand, sadly I didnt get a picture, wrong side of the truck!

We stopped in Kasane to shop for snacks and drinks – and for those that were hungry – KFC, the first I have seen in Africa.

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We had quite a long break here so Stuart and I went for a walk off the main highway and found the phone shop – a shop with a phone that people pay to make calls from.

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An most importantly the local bar, where a bottle of Windhoek lager was under half the price it was a kilometre away inside the campground. There was a couple of people in there but most were just hanging around outside, not sure what they were waiting for – leftovers ?

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The campsite at Chobe is on the edge of the national park and the Chobe River – the Chobe is one of the main rivers flowing into the Zambesi River, we have an electric hippo fence outside the tents. It is very close to the borders with Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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The campsite is really crowded and as usual very dusty, there are a lot of vervet monkeys and mongoose running around the grassed area near the lodges and the swimming pool/bar area.

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We had a typically relaxed dinner and drinks afterwards and then an early night.

Braving a scenic flight

Day 286, Tuesday 16 October 2012 – Maun, Botswana

Much to my disgust I managed to make it up for sunrise, and of course it was less than average. Fortunately at the camp there was a group from National Geographic TV and they obviously had plenty of sway with the staff as there was coffee and tea available at 6:00 AM, yes !

The light was pretty cool pre dawn and the lake still so it was not a waste of time.

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When the sun did it rise, it rose very quickly and in a lovely small ball, it was over in seconds.

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After the sunrise I took a shower before the rush and went back to bed for a while until breakfast and packing up the 4WD truck at 9:00 to go back to our truck Malakai. We were back on the road for 10:30 and on the way for the five hour drive to Maun.

We stopped for lunch on the way under the most awesome camel tree ever, it was huge and the weaver nests were pretty cool too, pity there is a large green truck under it.

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I went for a quick walk to look for photos as I wanted to find another tree, but as everywhere around Africa you cannot stray too far from other people, there was plenty of animal tracks here…

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It was then off to Maun Airport for an optional scenic flight over the Okavango Delta. I am not a great flyer, I don’t get scared scared and I don’t DISLIKE flying, but it is well outside my comfort zone and small planes – well I normally would just say no. However, this is the Okavango Delta and it is probable I will never be back again so I took the flight.

Ten of us decided to the flight, it was $120 US each, expensive on my limited budget, but worth it. We had two five seater planes.

We were not told that we would have to go through normal airport security when board our little planes, we had to surrender drink bottles and pocket knives – which luckily, we got back after. We also had to go through the normal security gate, most of us made it through OK. However, our New York friend, Bill was not quite as lucky, he has pants and shirts with many many pockets and kept setting the alarm off – i think he was on is twelfth trip through when he got grumpy with them. Turns out he had a foil wrap from some hydration powder in his pocket, man that machine was sensitive. He became curmudgeon number 1 (there are three of us curmudgeons).

We finally made it out to the aircraft.

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The flight was fantastic, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was only holding on for dear life for a short time πŸ™‚ Photography was hard, the windows were disappointingly grubby and even as low as 500 feet it was hard to shoot the animals. I managed to get a smear of an elephant before I gave up, fitted the wide angle and shot landscapes.

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I love the landscape here, it would be fantastic to be able to do the trip in a hot air balloon and shoot straight down on the water systems, the rivers and ponds and paths made by the hippos and elephants.

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We did see a lot of wildlife, especially elephants and this great herd of buffalo. Though I was surprised at the vast tracts of land that just appear to be empty.

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We did see one bush fire from the air, possibly caused by the lightening we saw last night and there are huge areas that have been badly burnt in the past.

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The hour long flight disappeared very quickly and far too soon we were flying over the town of Maun and landing back at the airport. It was a great flight and I am so glad i did it. Photos were a bit crap though !

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Surprisingly we found those who did not fly in a bar over the road from the airport, so we joined them for a quick beer before heading off to Sedia Camp just out of town, our home for the night. The campsite was dry and arid, but had a great swimming pool and a bar with free wifi ! I manged to get off three blog posts that I had pre-written along with a whole bunch of emails, which was just perfect! It was another late night – into bed at 9:30

Hip hip hippos

Days 283-285, Saturday-Monday 13-15 October 2012 – Guma Camps, Botswana

In an (now failed) effort to catch up before the next tour starts this is three day post – warning, this is a mega post!

After going to bed early last night for some quiet contemplation I ended up with a lousy sleep. I did not get to sleep fast enough to beat the snorers and then it rained in the middle of the night and we had to get up to get washing in and put the rain cover on the tent. There was quite a bit of frantic activity in the camp site as we were all caught unawares. It was a brief shower and by the time we were sorted it had finished – oh well.

I stayed in bed till 8:00 as we are not leaving camp until 11:30. It is an overcast and warm day, not great for photography at all so I wandered the camp site and took some photos of the various toilets and showers; it is all very unique and quite special. Especially the throne that overlooks the Okovango river. As I was standing on the bank looking out over the river I could see a couple of hippos briefly raising their snouts out of the water to grab a breath before sinking back below the surface in their slumber. A great spot to sit quietly for a while, definitely do not need the newspaper here! Ngepi camp is definitely my favourite so far and it is a shame we only had one short night here, I would rather have done a down day here rather than in Swapokmund.

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The drive from Ngepi to the border with Botswana is only a few minutes and we were through the Mohembo border post in a few minutes and into country number three. There are a lot more mud brick houses in Botswana and there are more donkeys than I have ever seen in my life grazing on the road sides, another fraught day of driving for our driver, Will.

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We stopped in the town of Satwe to try and get some lunch but the supermarket was almost dry of take out foods so we jumped back in the truck and had another road side lunch.

At 3:00 we parked the truck in a dusty little town – Etsha 13, there are 16 towns along the edge of the Kavango that were close to military bases and they are named Etsha 1 – 16. We offloaded three nights worth of gear into an old 4WD truck which then took us on the rough and sandy 10km drive to Guma Lagoon camp, our home for the night.

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It was another early night, but I surprised myself by sleeping well until 4:00 when I woke up quite cold. We were all expecting a warm night like the last couple but it was not too be and being cold was the topic at breakfast (It was the last time !) Sadly I was not up for sunrise, the keen ones got some great photos so I did kick myself – again.

We packed all gear into bin liners for the days trip, at 9:00 we were on a speed boat to Mokoro Island, we saw this great sea eagle on the way. I have seen loads of them flying about and they are magnificent birds, first time one has sat still long enough to photo.

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We unloaded all the gear from the speed boat and loaded everything onto mokoros, these canoes are of course traditionally made from a hollowed out tree though ours we fibreglass. The plastic wrapped mattresses from our tents doubled as seat covers for the trip.

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We were all allocated a mokoro and a poler to push us through the delta, ours was Tim and he was relatively new – and to be fair, pretty hopeless – he could pole a mokoro but could not identify wildlife, some of them were great though.

The journey out to our island home took almost two hours and we twisted our way through tight channels, made by elephant and hippo and through large open ponds surrounded by lilys and papyrus, luckily/unluckily we did not come across any big game on the way.

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The island we are staying on was probably by the large termite mound, which then collected debris and seeds and then grew into the island it is now, it is not large, though we were not allowed to stray from site as the delta is a dangerous place.

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We pitched our tent in a small clearing in the grass, right next to a pile of elephant pooh…

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The loo was a hole in the ground, though we were lucky to have a seat πŸ™‚

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After lunch it was snooze time for a few hours, I was a wee bit ticked with this as if I had known i would have brought my book with me, I am not good at doing nothing for three hours in the middle of the day, most people are less fussy than me and went to sleep under a big shady tree. The tree also turned into a camera hanging spot and became the camera tree for the duration.

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At 4:00 we loaded up camera gear and jumped back onto the mokoros for an hour long paddle to a hippo pool. The hippos sleep during the day, but start stirring late in the afternoon. We again crossed some large pools and went up some really tight and shallow channels before arriving at hippo pool.

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There were seven makoros in our group and ours was second to last, as we approached the pool we could hear hippos bellowing in the distance and as we got closer we could hear Simon, the head poler, banging his pole on the canoe. When we arrived there was not a lot of room for us in the small area at the end of the channel so I had a lousy view of the pool, obscured by a shoulder to my left and a hat to my right. I was using the lens at 400mm, which is tricky in a canoe at the best of times , but in the end pleased with my photos. I did miss out on the money shot though.

When I arrived in the pool I could see the tops of a couple of hippo heads on the far side, and as we watched this number grew till there was eight or nine of them looking at us.

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The dominant male gave us a few glares, snorted a few times and then started a long process of diving below the surface and reappearing a few metres closer, then swimming to the left and right before diving again and then popping up to glare at us and then displaying his huge choppers.

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All of a sudden he just started coming towards us quite quickly and our poler got scared and started back pedalling rapidly, the hippo jumped out of the water and I missed it. Once recovered from the charge and then the sudden retreat of our poler I was a bit miffed at missing such a great sight, those with less of a chicken for a poler got some good shots.

The hippo stopped about thirty metres in front of us, and the others all gradually approached and were facing us down, at one point they all got together in a group and it looked like they were discussing tactics and then they all lined up and glared at us again. We had another sudden retreat as the big hippo started forward again and then we were back taking photos. After another great display the hippos drifted back to the other side of the pool and we left. It was a good experience, it could have been great if we didn’t have a scaredy cat poler. The others just stood there and watched. Having said that, the hippo is the most dangerous animal in Africa.

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We poled back to the main pool as the sun set, due to our lowly position in the poler rankings we were late getting to the sunset pool, so largely missed it.

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While we were out, Ebron our chef had whipped up another great meal on the open fire and afterwards we toasted marshmallows before doing some night photography.

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I had a go at stars as I had never done this before and there is no ambient light here, this isn’t perfect, but I am pleased with the result.

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The path to the loo was lit with little lanterns

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In the morning we had a quick coffee and were back on the mokoro for short ride to another island for a nature/game walk for a couple of hours. We saw lots of sign of big game but sadly all I managed to photograph was a dragon fly.

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The walk was interesting, led by Simon, he gave us a good run down on the various plants that grow in the delta. The coolest of which is the sausage tree. The fruit grows up to 5kg and has been know to kill people when they fall, they are huge.

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I thought it was a warm morning, not for some…

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The local people are allowed to keep fish caught in the delta, tourists have to tag and release, while we were out on the walk some of the polers cleared some nearby nets and I saw this guy fishing while we were out.

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After a late brunch we loaded up the mokoros again and headed back to mokoro island where were offloaded to the speed boat and were back to Guma Lagoon camp for another night.

Lillie pads from below.

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While waiting for dinner I spotted a troop of vervet monkeys moving through the trees above the camp, I managed to get a couple of shots in before they disappeared.

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As we were going to bed after dinner someone found a non-venomous western green snake on the track to the tents, cool – I think !

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Beware crocs and hippos in the river.

It was another early start this morning, up at 5:45 again to pack up the site and be ready to leave at 6:30. It seems practise has made perfect as we were pretty much all done and on the truck by 6:15, eager and ready to get going on another African adventure day. Today we are leaving Etosha National park and heading to Ngepi Camp on the Kovango River – and the Botswanan border. It is our final night in Namibia – a country I have really enjoyed, albeit from the comfort of a tour truck.

Our final game drive through the park was short and we did not see anything exciting enough to hit the stop button in the truck and we were out of the park just after 7:00 and hitting some nice black top for the five hundred kilometre drive to the border. It was going to be a long driving day.

Having some fairly smooth driving and with the town of Grootfontein ahead – and its potential for internet access, I spent a good chunk of time writing emails on my phone hoping to tap into some wifi and send them once we got to town.

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However, as is normal with travelling, expectation and reality are often miles apart and there was no wifi and the internet access we did pay for was hopeless. I initially tried to upload one of the blog posts I have queued up ready to go, but that failed so many times I gave up, I did manage to get a message away to one of my boys on FaceBook, but that seemed to be the end of any access so I quit trying and wandered off in search of the next most important thing – coffee.

We got coffee at the local supermarket and it wasn’t too bad either. Tomorrow we are heading off into the Okovango Delta so we have stock up on important provisions at the supermarket – beer, wine, snacks – and of course water! Compared to SE Asia travelling in southern Africa is not too bad when it comes to water availability, most of the places we have been staying have potable water, it doesn’t always taste the best, but it is safe to drink. The Okovango is the exception so we have to stock up with a couple of days worth of bottled water and I have also taken a liking to fruit flavoured sparkling water as well.

I am feeling pretty good today, after a good sleep, plenty of water and no alcohol last night my hydration levels are up and am back to normal again. I must get back in the habit of drinking more water and stick to one type of drink of an evening.

As we moved into Kovango province there was an almost noticeable change in the countryside, there are a lot more trees and grass and subsequently there are a lot more people, a lot of small dusty hamlets on the road side as we moved north. With the villages and homesteads come a lot more people and animals, there are massive verges on the sides of the road, often grazing grounds for goats and cows – but there to allow drivers good visibility over the animals that decide to dart across the road. We were constantly braking and tooting at live stock on the way. We have been advised against taking photos of people from the truck, some get deeply offended and the throwing of rocks and sticks at the truck is apparently not uncommon if slight has been given – so there wont be too many photos of people.

The area is quite poor with a lot of the villagers being herders, there are few permanent structures and not a lot of power or water. Most of the trees have been chopped down for firewood but most of the family hamlets had a big tree were people sat during the heat of the day.

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We passed a small bush fire as we approached the end of the journey, it is the start of fire season and there are signs of last years fire damage everywhere. I imagine a few sneaky land clearing fires were lit as well as the normal damage from lightening.

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We arrived in Ngepi camp at 5:00 pm, it was not overly hot, but it is quite humid – the most humid of the journey so far, and of course it will get a lot worse as we go north.

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As we are by the river and surrounded by trees we have moved into mosquito territory so it is now time for long trousers and shoes in the evening, as well as mossie repellent. I had read a book on malaria on the truck today and there is one strain of the bacteria that is particularly unpleasant, so double up on the precautions as well as the anti-malaria tabs.

Ngepi camp is quite amazing, it was set up a few years ago by some South Africans and is uniquely fitted out, it is quite basic but has the key amenities – a bar and a swimming cage in the Okavango river. As soon as we arrived and had pitched tents I was in my togs and down to check out the swimming cage. It is small square metal grilled cage – about 4 * 4 metres on the edge of the river. On the distant shore – in Botswana, I could see a couple of hippos bathing, and there are crocodiles all over – apparently, I didn’t see any though. The river was warm and fresh and it was so nice to be able to wash the dust off.

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After a couple of drinks in the bar and dinner I watched a bit of England v San Marino on the TV with some of the bar staff and then went to bed early and listened to music while the others carried on socialising.

It was a long day in the truck and I needed some space to chill and contemplate, very hard to do in this situation, music in the tent in the dark is pretty good.

The elephant and the moron

Day 281, Thursday 11 October 2012 – Namutoni camp, Etosha, Namibia

I woke feeling hung over, dehydrated and tired even though I had pretty good sleep and not too many drinks last night. I really did not like getting out of bed at 5:30 and packing up the tent to be on the truck for 6:30. I am looking forward to a decent lie in again! However, getting up before dawn is the only way to see the best wildlife in action.

The sunrise over Etosha was quite spectacular though I was not particularly excited about moving and didn’t kill myself to get a great shot.

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I did magically perk up once a cup of coffee was on board after a roadside breakfast – and not in one of the human cages either!

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The first things we saw were jackals and some wart hogs, I love wart hogs and have really been looking forward to seeing them, they were a bit far away for great shots so I am hoping to be able to get up close and personal later on the trip, still at least I have seen them.

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We found a couple of very lethargic lions by the side of a watering hole, there were a couple of males hiding in some nearby bushes but after a long wait we gave up and moved on. The park is big and we have lot of driving to do before we get to our camp site on the far side before the gate closes at 6:30pm.

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Wise advice when you are one hundred metres from a small pride of lions!

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Strangely this is one of my favourite photos from the day, I mean I loved the elephants and I like my elephant photos, but visually this really appeals – a turnaround area near the salt flats.

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There was a lot of excitement on the truck when this secretary bird was spotted, it didn’t mean much to me as birds are not my thing, but I believe we were privileged to have seen one.

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Our real find for the day was a small family group of 10 elephants at a water hole, we spent quite a bit of time watching them interact, especially the young ones, it was pretty damn cool.

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There was a bit of push and shove to access a small water hole.

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but it all ended with smiles all round,

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and some love.

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We stopped for a lunch break at a camp in the park close to the centre and we all got too ooh and ah at a skops owl that lives in a tree there.

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After lunch we drove out into the Etosha salt plan, a massive salt pan in the middle of the park, it was like being on the surface of the moon.

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On the final drive into the camp we came across a small herd of elephants with one of them in the road feeding on a tree.

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We stopped to photograph it and this car passed by us and tried to go round the elephant, scaring it into action. There was a bit of a stand off between car and elephant and we were all hoping the elephant would charge the car as the driver showed no concern for the animal at all, almost appearing to be trying to shoo it off the road.

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Later we spotted this lone male elephant, definitely the largest I have seen so far.

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We stopped for a “comfort break” and I took a photo or ten of trees – so much more interesting than birds:)

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We arrived in Namutomi a little later than planned, the campsite was quite crowded and by the time I had put the tent up and cleaned up it was time for dinner, a quiet sparkling water and off to bed.

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LIONS !!!!

Day 280, Wednesday 10 October 2012 – Okaukuejo Camp, Etosha, Namibia

I had a lousy sleep last night; the herbal sleeping pills didn’t work so I popped half a proper one at midnight in the hope of a decent sleep. I still failed. It was the first warm night and the first night I did not need to use my sleeping bag.

Up at 6:00 and on to the truck with no breakfast as we were off for an early morning game drive.

We did not see much for quite a long time into the ride, the scenery was spectacular though and I enjoyed looking out the window trying to spot game. We were granted an interesting but unspectacular sunrise. As I have said a few times I love the landscapes here, so varied, so harsh in some cases but there is a photographic opportunity everywhere.

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I really like the patterns the animal trails make in the grass, it would be great to see this from a hot air balloon and look straight down on the trails.

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The animals are so well designed to fit into their environment, this does of course make taking clear photos from a distance quite tricky as these tussling male oryx show.

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We did see zebra, springbok and finally some decent shots of ostriches.

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After a bit more hunting around we saw a group of vehicles parked up so went over to have a look see and found a male lion (Hell yeah!) lying down sunning himself. I love this pose πŸ™‚

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Apparently in the nearby bushes were a number of cubs but we were unable to see them clearly due to the other vehicles blocking the view.

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We waited and waited and finally gave up, I gave them a brief verbal server out the window as they were being incredibly rude. This actually turned out to be an awesome move as 500 metres up the road we spotted mum on her way home.

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We stopped to take photos and after a while everyone left the cubs and came to see what we were doing – so we nipped back to the cubs and had prime position for the reunion, first of mum and cubs and then of the whole family. Just fabbo stuff, my first wild big cats, not too far away and so beautiful to see.

Dad finally showing some interest in his baby sitting.

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The kids hear mum approaching.

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The reunions.

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Dad giving a mighty roar yawn.

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and they finally left, probably to go find a kill that mum made.

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What a fantastic expereince, certianly not something that is seen every day.

Brunch was at 11:30 and another great meal of salads and meats and potato cakes, I certainly loving the food here and it is not doing my waist line any favours at all, I am going to have to get out for a run sooner rather than later. After lunch we had three hours of down time before the evening game drive left, so I was back into the shade and on the computer again. I am enjoying having access to electricity for a change.

On the second game drive we didn’t see any more of the big five but I got some great shots of the other game, zebra, oryx, springbok etc.

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My first wilderbeast

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which often travel with zebra

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sand squirrels πŸ™‚

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We stopped for a break in one of the human cages in the middle of the park, there are a number of these sanctuaries scattered around.

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Some sort of basted

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After dinner I went back down to the waterhole and a different rhino was there with some reasonable light so I managed to get a couple of shots before the sun was too low, and this was a better rhino shot than last nights, but only just.

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Another African sunset!

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I would like to a rhino in a more natural environment, the park is huge – at 22,000 sq km it is the second biggest in Africa, so it is pretty natural, but the waterhole is purely man made and totally geared up for tourists to look at the animals over a chilled chardonnay (or cardboard red in my case).

We had a couple of drinks after dinner and I think I managed to drink, beer, white and red wine, whisky, a G and T and an amurula. Only one of each, but a ridiculous combination…

It was the best in a series of best days!

The road to Etosha National Park

Day 279, Tuesday 09 October 2012 – Okaukuejo, Etosha, Namibia

We had moved the worst offending snorers to one side of the camp site last night so with a little less noise and the help of half a pill I had a great seep, complemented by a wee lie as we were not on the road until 9:00. The campsite was typical of most of the campsites so far – dusty and dry, but there were some quite cool trees to photograph, I love the shapes of the dead, dying and otherwise leafless trees I have seen.

The road to Etosha National park, was not too bad, relatively smooth going considering some of the roads we have been on lately and the countryside here is positively lush, well less dry, dusty and arid then the previous days.

We stopped for coffee and a brief and largely unsuccessful internet session in Outjo and then hit the road again and stopped for a roadside lunch at mid day.

We were all dozing in the truck as we approached the park and I just happened to open my eyes as we passed our first giraffe just outside the gates. I will soon be bored with giraffes but it was very exciting at the time. OK, not really bored – no one can get bored with giraffes, but we don’t stop for them anymore !

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The camp ground is a couple of hours drive inside the park, so for the first time on the trip we popped open the roof hatches and went game driving. It must look a wee bit odd.

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This end of the park has seen some severe fire damage and is quite badly burnt.

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This did not seem to stop some of the wildlife and we saw a good collection of zebra, springbok and a couple of giraffes and a black back jackal. Some of which were photographable with the long lens.

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Once at the campsite and set up for the night we set off for the nearby waterhole for the late afternoon drinking session – not us this time, but the local wildlife. I got there just in time for a small group of zebra, a couple of springbok and the some giraffe followed by three elephants that hogged the waterhole for quite a long time, loved it !

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As the sun set this small group of zebra wandered off, kicking up a small dust cloud as they went, such a magnificent sight.

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Ibron baked me a beautiful piece of hake for dinner and it had been flavoured to perfection. After dinner I went back down to the watering hole to see if I could spot the black rhinoceros which is apparently due at the waterhole at 8:00 pm every night, and he was there on schedule, but very hard to photograph in the dark – lit only by some strong lights.

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A great day, our first game drive, first time seeing some of the animals here and tomorrow promises to be awesome!

Photographing wildlife is hard ! I was using the 2x extender on my 70-200 mm lens and pretty much every shot is at the maximum focal length of 400mm. Hand holding a heavy Canon 5d mk1 with this lens steadily is not easy and shooting at slowish speeds due to the low light made for lots of not quite sharp images. The rhino was shot using a tripod though. I may try and set the tripod up in the truck when we go to another park.

The Cheetah Conservatory

Day 278, Monday 08 October 2012 – Ojitotongwe Cheetah Conservatory, Namibia

We were up at 5:30 again after a lousy sleep. There was lots of loud snoring equally matched with some of the local donkeys braying throughout the night, it was a long one.

We packed the tents and the site and were in the truck for 6:00 to drive up the road a bit for a road side breakfast with a great view of the mountain range at sunrise. The Brandburg is an old volcanic range and basically was just popped out of the desert and glows red on a clear day. All around the mountain are small piles of rock that were tossed out during the eruption. They made for some great photo backdrops but I wasn’t really feeling it and this is reflected in most of my photos, though I did get a couple of good ones.

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I just love how these rocks just end up balanced on top of others, you couldn’t plan this, nature is so cool!

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We were on the road for 7:30 and it was a rough old drive out to the ‘main’ road, which was a rough old road as well. We stopped at road side craft stall run by some herero and himba woman in traditional dress. I bought a small bracelet (which I lost the next day) from the himba woman, this afforded me an opportunity to take a couple of photos of her as, well. I took some of the near naked herero woman as well, but they are rubbish photos sadly. The herero cover themselves in mix of red ochre and fat as a form of protection from the elements and bugs, it is quite interesting.

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There were a couple of stalls along the way at this one, one of the people on the truck bought one of these dolls so I snapped a shot, of the very happy woman making them.

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You need to be careful on the road here!

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We arrived at Ojitotongwe Cheetah Park mid afternoon, after getting tents up and things sorted I was in the rather cold swimming pool for a much needed swim and dust off. This and the last few camping sites have been really dusty and the dust is just everywhere, I am being quite vigilant with my electronic and camera gear in an effort to keep it dust free, but I can hear the grinding when I manually focus my zoom lens, not a good sound!

At 4:00 we were all picked up by a ute towing a trailer and packed in with the other groups staying in the park and were taken to the main house to see and interact with the tame cheetahs, three adults and a cub. There were a lot of people here and it was a mass of bodies and cameras as people tried to get the best shot, I was one of them of course – though I was trying to get an angle that excluded the house and other people in my shots. It was pretty hopeless really. I did get my photo taken with one of the cheetahs – see that cool bracelet !

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I was conflicted over the cheetah park. On one hand it was great to see these beautiful animals up close and to be able to touch them and feel the power in their bodies and roughness of their fur, it is possibly the only time we will see them as well. On the other hand this was purely and simply a money making attraction for this farming family. Yes, they do take in cheetahs that are trapped by the local farmers – at least they are not shot out of hand like they used to be. However, the farmers did not talk about the animals, there was no information on them, their habitat, what the “conservatory” was trying to achieve, it was a case of hand over your money and come and get your photo taken with the animals, it was deeply disappointing really.

After the close up session we were all bundled back into the trailers and taken to a large fenced section of bush land where we watched the cheetahs being fed, again I loved watching it and took a load of photos, but it was a shame that there is no effort made to rehabilitate the animals and prepare them to be released, they are just fed by hand. A conflicting afternoon!

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It was Dave’s birthday today so after dinner back at camp we had birthday cake that Ibron had made on an open fire. It was a decorated and piped, triple layer chocolate cake, moist and delicious. I could not make this cake in a kitchen let alone on an open fire. Ibron is a pretty amazing chef!

We had a later start in the morning so most of us stayed up a bit later past the usual 9:00 pm or so bed time. It was another enjoyable, but challenging day.

Wrecks, seals and cave paintings. An action packed day.

Day 277, Sunday 07 October 2012 – Brandburg, Namibia

I had another one of those nights where I woke up not long after midnight and never really made it back to sleep again, dozing until morning. Up at 6:30 for a quick and hot shower before breakfast and back on the road for 8:00. Well at least as far as the gas station, where we all ran off to get more cash from the ATM and a take away coffee from Raiths. The coffee wasn’t bad, but the array of pastries and savouries was mouth watering. It was a shame I didn’t visit it yesterday!

This morning I popped what I thought was my first anti-malaria tabs as I am supposed to start two days before we get to Etosha which is the start of the malaria zone. The next day I discovered another open packet with two missing – I must have grabbed a couple in the dark yesterday morning instead of a couple of panadol, that may explain my upset stomach!

We were finally on the road for 8:40, and it was going to be a big day!

The last house in Swakopmund – as the town slowly moves into the desert, in this case it is not the desert moving into the town/

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A small holiday town between the desert and the sea, the sea is so cold here, no idea why you would want to have a holiday.

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The first stop was some road side salt stalls, there are massive salt flats just outside Swap and there are little stalls along both sides of the road.

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We next stopped at a ship wreck just up the coast, a small fishing trawler had gone aground on the beach two or three years ago and had just been left to die. The stretch of coast here is called the Shipwreck Coast for good reason!

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Some one had taken these jackal bones and laid them out like a human skeleton.

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As we were leaving the wreck site we spotted a black backed jackal in the distance, waiting for the cars to leave so it could raid the rubbish bins.

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The next stop was a cape seal colony further coast. Another good opportunity for me to practise shooting at 400mm before we get to the real game! The Portuguese discovered and claimed the area at Cape Cross in 1485, not sure why – it is all desert!

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The entry fee was all ready covered off as part of the package so after a quick loo stop – with a real loo, we were on the boardwalk down by the beach snapping away. There are about 4000 seals in the colony and the air was pretty ripe – those who had been before had things covering their noses. It was also pretty loud with plenty of roaring from the young males as they tested each other out, both verbally and physically.

By my standards I took a lot of photos and was pretty pleased with quite a few, I was also really happy that I was getting focusing right and there was not a huge amount of shake, even at 400mm hand held.

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We headed back south again for a way, it was still quite cool on the coast but as we turned inland and headed towards the Brandburg range the haze started to lift and it started to get warm enough to take the thermal under-layer off – hopefully for the last time. It has been my most used clothing item, it is hard to believe that in the desert in Africa a thermal layer is needed. Luckily I knew this and came prepared.

The roads towards Brandburg were really rough so it was a bouncy ride for quite a while, most people dozed and read as we bounced our way slowly inland. We stopped for lunch at a road side rest area, three people were already stopped for lunch and must have thought this was some sort of weird alien invasion as they just openly stared at us until the left – odd folk!

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There are a lot of gem stones scattered all over the ground in this area and it is quite common for the local people to gather and polish them and sell them at roadside stalls. We stopped at one for a look see and some of the group bought some. I didn’t need the weight, plus I am a lousy tourist.

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A couple more hours on the truck and we arrived at the lodge in Brandburg. There was not enough time to set up the tents and get to the entry point for the walk to the “White lady” cave paintings so we dropped off those who did not want to walk at the bar and took a rough 25 minute ride to the park entrance.

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We were guided on the three hour walk by a young Namibian lad named Vivien, he has only recently started learning English but had an excellent grasp of the language as well as quite a sense of humour, it was an excellent and informative walk.

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As always I was fascinated by the shapes and textures of the trees and took a few photos of them.

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We also had a good opportunity to see some dassies, these are a small mammal and bizarrely the closest living relative of the elephant.

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And then on to the “White lady” cave. The paintings are between and 2000 and 5000 years old and were discovered in 1918 when a German explorer, Reinhard Maack took shelter from a storm in the cave and woke in the morning to see them above him. The key figure is the white lady, which is actually a figure of a man! There are numerous animals and other figures in the cave as well, it was pretty special. It is not often I get to see such ancient things up close. There have been numerous theories as to the origin of the painting, but the most likely is that they were painted by bushmen. The Brandberg Range is apparently home to some other painting sites as well.

The white lady

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We stopped to pick up the others from the bar at the lodge and decided to stay for a quick one ourselves, it was dark when we got to the campground and it was fantastic to find that Will our driver had put up all the tents while we were out. It was very cold at the campsite, beanies and jackets were the order of the evening.

After dinner we were entertained by a local singing group for fifteen minutes before retiring to bed about 9:30. The nights are not late ones!

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Another early start and another long and awesome day!