Thursday, 19 December 2013

Botswana - Abu camp

With a heaviness of heart  we reached the fourth and final of our camps, Abu.  The heaviness of heart was due to the fact that our Botswana adventure was all too rapidly drawing to a conclusion. 

Abu turned out to be a wonderful camp.  Famed for being an elephant sanctuary, it provides the opportunity to ride or walk with the small herd of trained elephants (which is a fantastic experience).  Having done both I can report that I much prefer the walking rather than the being swayed around indiscriminately and as long as you make sure you aren’t stepped on relatively safe…

Trouble in paradise

Sadly, we soon discovered that not everything in life is in your control….

Mrs B  first alerted me that there was trouble brewing in Paradise when she mentioned that she had been snubbed by a woman who ignored her when Mrs B  had said hello (Safari camps tend to be friendly places) but then said “Perhaps she didn’t hear me.” I next overheard a conversation about some new arrivals who had caused problems at their previous camp….

I didn’t put 2 and 2 together. 

It was only the next morning when we joined our guide and went to get into our Land Rover. There was a German couple already sitting in the front seat – it looked like they had camped there all night (I’m surprised they didn’t use the normal German trick of putting down towels on the seats – sorry for the racial stereotyping, I know some wonderful Germans but these  were not of that ilk*).  Our guide introduced us and the woman looked us up and down and then put her nose in the air as if a bad smell has assaulted her very being.  He wasn’t much better…. As we drove off, the warm breeze turned icy cold as it ran over our  two new friends, leaving us chilled to the very bone….

*  It must have been a bad batch of Germans** on the trip because their was another group staying at Abu who moaned about the tribal singing that greets you when you first arrive at a camp.  unbelievable, what is not to love about beautiful harmony singing from happy people proud of share their heritage.    

** More often than not it is my fellow Brits abroad who are the ones best avoided - specifically the heavy drinking loud mouthed louts that we often seem to export.  I guess it helps to keeps our country nicer for tourists....
After that, every time we got to the Land Rover we found the air conditioning units already installed in the front row. (There is an unwritten rule on safari that people take turns sitting in the front seats).  In the two days that we had the pleasure of the company of these wonderful people not one word did they say to us. If they didn’t speak any English I could understand it but we heard them chatting away to the guides and any staff who they thought would be useful to them. 

To offset  the Sour Krauts the staff at Abu were fantastic. We were first greeted by Nathan who claimed that their aim was to make us feel at home…. They came close but I would liken it more to visiting your favourite relatives who make you feel so welcome and look after you so well that you want to forget you have to go home.  For the whole of the trip I had been bravely coping with man flu but succumbed during one game drive and felt awful – a combination  of rain and our cryogenic traveling companions.  Nathan greeted us on our return and, noting my flagging demeanour, arranged for a herbal bath to be run for me and created a herbal and lemon concoction and vitamin booster tablets to help me.  What service….   

Lizzie – The general manager, was just so calm and friendly that you forgot she was running the ship.  Think of a swan serenely moving against a strong current: you don’t appreciate the enormous effort that is going on below the waterline, to ensure that everything runs smoothly. She seemed to notice everything and  sorted things before they became an issue. 
A great example of this was when we booked a canoe trip – the first evening we attempted it, strong winds meant it was not possible.  The following morning we woke to heavy rain  and we discussed with the guide that if the rain kept up it would be better to do a walk with the elephants. As it happened the weather cleared and by the time of our afternoon drive it was back to glorious blue skies. I spoke to our guide and asked, as the weather had changed, if he had arranged the canoe trip. His replied that it was not going to be possible. I might be wrong but I believe our German friends had put pressure on him which made it easier for him to leave us with the elephants rather than taking us out to where  the canoe trips started.  I voiced my displeasure: a combination of feeling a bit under the weather and having been worn down by our travelling companions, although not so much that it upset me. I actually found their rude  behaviour funny but I knew it upset Mrs B….Anyway, Lizzie must have overheard what was going on and a few minutes later, told us the canoe trip was ready whenever we were………………no fuss, just sorted quietly in the background.  Brilliant.

On meeting famous people

As we came into the camp we heard rumours that there were some famous people staying. These turned out to be -

Sue Flood, a wildlife photographer who has worked extensively with David Attenborough no less… My excitement reached fever pitch levels amid my fear that my simple photographic efforts would be shown up for what they are – the struggles of an opportunist snapper. As it was Sue was so lovely it didn’t matter.  As I prattled on about various things she never once made me feel awkward or intrusive.

Sue was guiding Harry Shearer (anyone who is a Spinal Tap or The Simpsons fan will be familiar with him) and his wife Judith Owen  (the singer). I must admit that I wasn’t familiar with Judith’s work but checked it out when we got home.  Very impressive.  I was chatting to Harry one night and moved the subject towards Spinal Tap….even insensitive old me could tell he wasn’t comfortable so I abandoned the subject. I’m glad I did as it meant  we could have a proper conversation and I got to hear his views on the problems in New Orleans where  he and Judith have had a home for years.  As a Simpsons fan (our house is called Springfield for a reason) it almost killed me not to talk about Mr Burns and some of the other 20+ characters that Harry’s  voice brings to life, however they were so lovely I would have hated to intrude on their holiday…..

If you thought keeping up with the Joneses was hard enough, forget it keeping up with the famous is in a different league altogether -   

Sue and Judith were discussing Sting one evening, I was about to interject that Sting was the first person I had seen in concert, back in 1989 at the Rainbow Islington when he was touring the Reggatta de Blanc album with the Police. I’m glad I didn’t,  their remembrances were a little bit more personal, being from the dressing room side of things rather than the clouded judgement of a 14 year old boy in the 25th Row…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               The final curtain

We ended up with a different guide on our last morning as the Germans (I wouldn’t mind but I hadn’t mentioned the war, towels on sun beds or even the 1966 World Cup Final) had complained about having to share with anyone.  Not that they were willing to pay out for a private tour…. It was just as well because their flight out of Abu camp was an hour before ours which would have curtailed our tour. 

We arrived  at the  airstrip to find there was a problem with our plane and so  there was going to be a delay while they sorted out alternative arrangements.  The plane arrived about half an hour late,  allowing us the opportunity to drive up and down the airstrip clearing the runway of a family of Wart Hogs who were determined to play Fly Piggy Fly …. A bit like playing "chicken" only with less feathers when the inevitable splatter happens...

Deja vu (Part 1)

As we made our way down the aisle, who should we find sitting in the front seats….? Only our favourite Germans.  Their flight must have been turned back to pick us up …which must have delighted them…. You will not be surprised to learn that they did not acknowledge us as we sat in the seats directly behind them.  I waited until we landed at Maun airport before I poked my head through the seats in front and with a big beaming smile and as cheery a voice as I could muster and proclaimed :

Can I just say thank you for being the rudest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  And whatever you do please, please don't change because you have provided such great entertainment for us...”.

Finally I got a response from him – when what appeared to be a rather painful smile crossed his face and he curtly replied “Thank you very much.”  She, on the other hand, showed no emotion and just continued to move further up her own backside....I’m guessing that was where the smell came from on our first meeting that so put her nose out of joint..

Deja vu (Part 2)

As a bonus to lift our spirits as we tramped sadly through Jo’berg airport on our way home … Who should materialise through the travelling throng but Julie and Gil (from the Kings Pool camp).  It was so refreshing after the Sour Krauts and  wonderful to have the opportunity  to catch up on each other’s Safari stories since we had said goodbye just a few short days before.  Somehow it felt more like a lifetime….

I mentioned in the last post that Julie and Gil had a good sense of humour.  Thank god they did

We were talking about people we had met at our last camps – yes the Sour Krauts may have got a mention.

Julie – “We met this old couple who shuffled towards us and we thought “Oh no this doesn’t look good”, but fortunately they were really nice…”.

Me – “That’s exactly what we thought when we first ran into you guys….!!”

Don’t worry, Julie is more than capable of defending herself  and she gave as good as she got

We were discussing arranged marriages which seems to be all the vogue for the locals in Botswana

Julie “It works well because families can make sure that their children don’t marry the really stupid and time wasters in the village. ”

Me “So what happens to all the dumb ones that no one wants?”
Julie “Seemed to work out ok for you and Mrs B…..”

Touché Julie, Touché  …..


I had promised my favourite café – South Street Pantry - that I would bring them back something from our adventure . I found a wonderful elephant mug  which I felt would live happily amongst their wonderfully eclectic range of drinking receptacles …. They had offers to buy the mug from at least one customer, who was a huge  elephant fan.  They refused all offers and on my very next visit my single shot latte was served in my gift to them.  Imagine my embarrassment at finishing my drink only to knock it off the corner of the table and watch it shatter into a thousand pieces….. I guess the moral of this story is “Cash in your hand is worth more than bits of mug on your floor"
A big thanks to Edward at Africa odyssey for sorting our holiday itinery out.

Mrs B and I are heading off to Finland for Christmas in search of the Northern Lights - so wish us luck.
If you are interested in more photos from the trip feel free to check out my new Photo site
or if you missed any of the previous Botswana posts
Photo finish

Some pictures to end with,  if you want to see the full collection from Abu check out my photo page . BlackLOG and The Beast.

Mrs B reflecting on the perfect holiday
or would have been if the Bosch air conditioning units
hadn't shown up to cool proceedings ....

The view from our bed, I'm surprised we ever managed to get up....

Mr Burns - "Smithers bring me a new 
Elephant this ones almost full..."

Try not to get trodden on -
it will smart a little...
Like something from another age....

I can highly recommend a restorative bath
if you are feeling under the weather...

But check for Hippos before you get in, they don't
like to share the water and have a tendency  to
pee when confronted....

Judith & Harry enjoying the thrill of the hunt
without destroying the prey...

Lilac-breasted Roller
Synchronised Lions

Watching me watching you....

No point getting down when it rains best  
just to  enjoy the beauty of nature...

Even the flora looks stunning....
Messing about on the river...

Shame we didn't have someone
to take a similar shot of us... 
Eye got jealous of those lashes....

Young Hyena mistakes the Land Rover tyres
 for food and rushes in for supper.... 

Nate - trying to work up a health tonic without alcohol
I suspect not an easy task for a south African...

I can't express strongly enough just how
brilliant and friendly she and her team were..
Our new German friend - 
She was  like a cross between Truly Scrumptious
 and the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang....
While he was like Pierce Brosnan only this time
playing a Bond villain rather than 007.

Beautiful harmonies and dancing - what's not
to love unless you enjoy the miseries of life....

Really please with this shot which was taken
without flash - just the light of a camp fire
Claire - another member of the excellent Abu staff... 
Sue out to capture anything that nature
puts in front of her...
I was going to try and convince Sue to change over
from Canon to Nikon but figure she  has already
made her choice ....Plus she is a professional
Photographer with a lot more experience than me...

No I won't be going over the Dark Side

And so our tale comes to an end
although this look more like
 two tails and a double end...

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Botswana - Kings Pool camp

We reach the midway point of our trip and it was great to have fresh clothes*  as we made our way to our third camp - Kings Pool. I believe the name is due to King Leopold of Sweden who honeymooned in the area in the mid 1900's. If I'm honest I was a little disappointed in the camp, compared to everywhere else it looked a bit tired. Our outside shower (doesn't everyone have an indoor and out door shower?) was spread liberally across our veranda.

* Although with my luggage now safely returned I felt like a pack animal and had a real fear, with all the extra weight, that the small planes we were using might struggle to take off. How embarrassing if we had ended up trundling between camps ....

I discovered the cause on our second night when I woke to hear loud noises emanating from  the corner of our now trembling tent. I pulled back the window blind and shone my iPhone torch (fantastic invention) into the eyes of a huge wild elephant.....I decided there was nothing to do but go back to bed, working on the basis  that if my world was about to end I might as well be comfortable....So this was why they asked you to stay in your rooms after dark, they weren't kidding when they said wild animals freely wandered through the camps....

I now know  exactly how the 3 little pigs felt with the wolf at the door....(I wonder how the story would have gone if the pigs had built one of their houses from canvas?).  By the way I'm not writing this blog from beyond the grave, our world didn't end in a trumpeting, ear flapping blur of wrinkly grey stampede** .  Proving my soon to be patented ostrich defence mechanism, burying my head under the covers, is a real winner ....What do you mean kids have been doing this for years???

** Incidentally if you ever find yourself trampled to death by elephants, do your best to preserve their foot prints***, so that CSI Savannah have something to go on in order to catch the miscreant pachyderms and bring them to justice ...

*** An elephants footprint is just like our finger prints**** only a tad larger 

**** With elephant numbers on the increase it can only be a matter of time before Apple release a Loxodonta***** Touch ID Iphone. It will come in a grey wrinkly finish and have a 7 metre screen. 

***** This will be marketed as a Maximus for the Asian market and will come with much smaller speakers....Sorry for my pitiful attempts at the Latin based humour, I suspect rather like my English attempts it probably doesn't translate that well...

Considering the high levels of service we had received at our previous camps I'm sorry to say  that some of the staff at Kings Pool proved to be a little underwhelming. One lunch time I waited for over an hour and still my order wasn't taken. In the end I had to go up to the chef and put in my order, very disappointing...

On more positive notes....

Our guide was excellent, possibly lacking a bit of a sense of humour (roughly translated he didn't really get my jokes, but to be fair not many people do),  his tracking ability and knowledge of conservation was most impressive.  The animals were plentiful and varied, I was just as excited to see my second wild leopard. A little briefer than our first encounter but this was a younger more attractive male. When we came across him he was perusing his lunch menu, which unfortunately for him took flight upon our arrival, running full pelt into the bush.  Considering his obvious disappointment he was remarkably calm about our imposition and it was only the arrival of a second Land Rover that finally proved too much for him....

We also met some wonderful people i.e.  they either got my sense of humour or were very adapt at faking it.  Julie and Gil proved excellent travelling companions even if it was just for a brief moment in time.  It was great to share a vehicle with them on a number of drives (keep that statement in mind if you ever get around to reading the final instalment - Abu camp) taking it in turns to sit in the front seats and generally enjoying swapping banter with fellow travellers. 

It was at Kings Pool that I performed my most stupid act of the holiday

Mrs B handed me a little bottle of spray for refreshing tired eyes.... highly recommended for relieving  dust filled eyes... The next time she handed it to me...

Me "Ouch that really stings"

Mrs B "Why are you spraying mouth wash into your eyes??"

Damn you manufacturers of similar-sized bottles designed for very different purposes...

That was almost as good as the quote from a Canadian woman who was admiring the wonderful star-filled African skies.... she came out with

"Oh my god honey this is almost as good as being at the planetarium"

I had to walk away and stifle my guffaws of  laughter

A big thanks to Edward at Africa odyssey for sorting our booking out.

tune in next time for the final instalment at Abu camp...

Photo Finish

Some pictures to end with,  if you want to see the full collection from Kings Pool check out my photo page . BlackLOG & The Beast.

We came across this beautiful boy
watching his supper disappear
stage left...

The sun taking a last look around
before  heading off for bed....
Has any one got any wet wipes, things would appear
to have got a bit messy around here.....
Less of a Dragon Fly and more of a Dragon Land...

If you think downward facing dog is a good Yoga
position you should try the outstretched cat.....

As a retired eye surgeon, you'd think he would  have
warned me not to spray mouthwash into my eyes.......

Who says you can't see exactly what
someone else is seeing...

What's wrong with a "little" monkey business?

lilac breasted roller 

I do like a complimentary buffet breakfast...

The Lens caddy

"I think for this particularly tricky shot we will need
the 600mm,  at F8 and  a 200 ISO and fade in from the right..."
I'm feeling a shadow of my former self....

"Jeez, this "pretending that British bloke with the
  big camera is funny" lark is really hard work...."  

When we asked to see giraffes I was
expecting a slightly more lively version... 

Dusty always wondered where he got
his nickname from.....
When the sky is this beautiful who wouldn't
want to make it a double ....?
If you missed our first camp Meno A Kweno

or our second Camp - Mombo camp

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Botswana - Mombo camp

After an excellent if ,comparatively, basic start at Meno A Kweno we moved on to a camp at the other end of the scale at Mombo*. This involved a short flight in a 6 seater plane or it would have been short if the plane had not had to make a couple of stops first to drop off guests at other camps in the local area – This gave the flight a feeling of being on a bus journey, all be it one with  the alarming prospect of losing your last meal as you got buffeted around by the turbulence. This time we made it intact, unlike my luggage which was still missing in action. The latest news I had on it was that  neither Air Botswana nor British Airways had the foggiest idea where it was. Apparently not a good sign and so the prospects of ever seeing it again started to fade like the orange tan on a low rent wag….

* To describe our room at Mombo as a tent is a bit like describing Buckingham Palace as that cottage at the end of the Mall.  

Possibly the most fantastic day of my life

It started off with your average  everyday lions frolicking in front of the camera – like it was an everyday occurrence down Bishop’s Stortford high street

The queen of all she can see
Next we ran into a leopard - the first one we had seen in the wild.  My excitement levels went through the roof. Our guide spotted him and told me to get a shot in, in case it was the young male which is quite shy. As it turned out  it was the older male (nicknamed Killer, for his habit  of eradicating any leopard offspring who were not his progeny) who allowed us to not only trail him through the bush but didn’t bat an eyelid when Doc (our guide) got ahead of him and just padded towards us and then passed us as if we weren’t there… simply a magical experience. 

I just hope that's not Killer eating
 someone else's  offspring...
Still floating on cloud nine we went off in search of crocodiles and came across two groups of rival hippos squaring off against each other over a water pool. Doc asked us if we wanted to get off the vehicle, to get some better shots.  My feet hit the ground before Doc had finished asking the question and before I had thought through whether being around 10 metres from some rather aggressive hippos was actually sensible. Mrs B was a bit more hesitant and it took Doc to explain to her that while hippos are one of the most dangerous animals when you meet them out of the water, once immersed they feel secure and while happy to attempt to kill each other can’t be bothered to get out and trample innocent bystanders to death.  This makes them sound like pensioners, lethal if you get between them and  their packet of  Garibaldi biscuits but relatively safe once they are ensconced in a Parker Knoll  chair, with a cup of cocoa and the Daily Mail. You’ll be fine as long as you don’t succumb to the smell of lavender, extra strong mints and cat pee (probably not cat but out of respect I wanted to give the elderly and incontinent  the benefit of the doubt).
This is my pool and don't you forget it...
Thunder and lightning – Is it meant to be frightening….I was loving it…
To finish off the day as the light faded we ran into a huge storm – We seemed to be at the centre of it all as  lightening flashed from all different directions and then our guide got excited as we found ourselves being pelted with hailstones (he had only experienced this once before and it was probably the highlight of his day).  I managed to amuse Mrs B and Doc as I chased the lightening around the sky with the camera, desperately trying to capture the perfect flash… It was only after I returned to our room and sorted through the day's shots did I realise what I had captured:
You can imagine how stoked I am with this shot....
– And for the icing on the cake, my bag had finally had got fed up on its solo travel  and turned up totally intact….
Has anyone else got a contender for a better day???

To Quote Mrs B

This is the only type of holiday I want to do in the future….
Next week it is off to Kingspool but until then I'll leave you with a few more shots
A big thanks to Edward at Africa odyssey for sorting our booking out.

Photo Finish

Some pictures to end with,  if you want to see some more check out my photo page . BlackLOG & The Beast
If you missed our first camp Meno A Kweno

Hyena - enjoying the midday sun

"Just a bit of sunscreen on my shoulders please..."

Not a bad sight to wake up to...

"Please don't move - it's taken ages to find this shade..."

Nothing to see here leopard on a mission

The rather beautiful lilac breasted roller 

Yellow billed stalk - fishing for supper...

Doc - keeping an eye on Mrs B

Just a little word in your shell like....
Classic Delta shot
confusingly this is the dry season when you get  rain while
during the wet season there is little chance of rain??? 

Mrs B in the co-pilot seat

I just hope her non-flying skills are not required....