Kalahari and the Cape Cobra

As we left Aus and started the long drive (+\- 5 hrs) back north toward the center of the country, i couldn't help but feel a little glum knowing that our trip was in the 11th hour and we'd soon be headed back to the States and back to monotony. I hadn't done much research on the last location we were headed to…I just knew it was a game ranch 'on the way back to Windhoek'. Sounded to me like a stopover for the long journey and not really a destination in itself. And also we were back to camping for these two nights. I've thoroughly enjoyed camping in Africa but they've been having exceptionally warm weather and that's just not really fabulous camping. But we're excited to see the new area as we would now be in the Kalahari region. Yep, two deserts in Namibia, the Namib and the Kalahari. We were in the Kalahari in Botswana too … it's a pretty big desert. Anyway, we arrive at Bagatelle Kalahari game ranch and are greeted by one of the owners. She used her obvious sales skills and upsold us from a campsite to a chalet. We were pretty easy since I was already tempted to ask about any vacancies so we were thrilled to get a room … and it has AC! Also, there is a fairly tame oryx in the shade near the lodge, and just outside our chalet is a very tame springbok. She has what looks like lengths of garden hose on her horns so that she doesn't skewer anyone accidentally. As we unpacked she was sniffing around in the truck and following us around – though with a few feet of buffer zone… curiosity only goes so far! We hurried to catch the evening game drive and while on the drive we mainly saw antelope, it was just nice being on a game drive and taking in the scenic landscape. They recently had rain so there was a fine carpet of light green grass on all the plains, the trees looked lush and animals well fed and watered. Nice to see in the desert! After the drive, we came back to feed the cheetah – more on that later – and then drove to a picturesque overlook where we had sundowners – gin and tonic for me, thanks – and mingled before dinner. Dinner was another event, outside in the boma with a fire crackling nearby. The food and company were wonderful. We ate near a couple from London, a family from Zimbabwe and a couple from Germany. You'll find that not many Americans – at all – come to Namibia. We hadn't met any others until today when we found out that the astronomer they have on staff is from the US – Portland Oregon in fact. After dinner he explained where the Southern Hemisphere stars began in the sky that we obviously wouldn't see in the US. We clearly saw the Milky Way, the Southern Cross and two things that would appear like almost transparent clouds in me night sky…turns out – not clouds but huge and super far away galaxies. Unreal.

Bedtime for bonzo… so we start walking the 150 yards or so to our room which is a standalone chalet. As we approach, Cameron is leading and scanning with the flashlight when I see him freeze and call me over – with obvious alarm in his tone. And there it is… A snake. A big one. Greenish yellow and long. Have I mentioned that Cameron is reeeeeeeeally afraid of snakes? He nearly vomited in Botswana 2 years ago when we just DROVE BY a black mamba at about 40mph. So here he is, eyes locked with this 4-5 foot long snake. He tells me to go run to tell someone and he stays with it with a flashlight so we know where it is. I jogged (as best as possible in flip flops) back to the boma where the owners and staff were just sitting down to their dinner. Politely interrupting I tell them of our snake dilemma and the owner, the astronomer and the owners' 14 year old son accompany me back to the scene, quizzing me along the way as to color, size, etc. I hadn't gotten but a quick glimpse before being dispatched for help so I wasn't much use. Cameron had thought maybe green mamba because of the color but when we arrived Cameron said he'd seen it flare it's hood at some other passers by headed to bed. So there you have it – a cobra. Viper. Whatever you prefer. Technically I think a Cape Cobra but I'm going to make sure when I can get google to confirm. And yep, highly venomous. Not aggressive but not great to have in an area people live. Apparently they've rarely if ever seen a snake in the camp before… And only even rarely out in the bush on game drives. These cape cobras are known for entering the sociable weavers nest – a nest that can span an entire camel thorn tree – and eat the birds and their eggs. But this one was in the wrong place at the wrong time. So the heavy artillery showed up… Unfortunately for the snake, he had to be killed. And this was, of course, the only acceptable option for Cameron. Had that not been the eventuality, we'd have packed up at 10:00pm and headed on down the road. Not for any reason other than Cameron not being sure where the snake now was and of course when it would next jump out of the bushes and attack him. The owner made quick work of it and then we all gathered a little closer around to get a better look. Man was he big. Not fat but long…. And yellow. Cameron did his best to stay calm, even getting a closer look – once it was dead, duh – and just as he was leaning in to take an iPhone photo of the deadly beast, the owner used the tong thingys to fling the snake in Cameron's direction. I've never see him move so fast or scream so loudly. Once he composed himself, the laughing ensued. It was pretty fantastic. The owner apologized profusely the next day but even Cameron thought it was funny and all was well.

Next we go on a horseback safari…can't wait! That's been on my wish list since we first went to Africa 3 years ago.

 

 

 

 

Update in pictures

Last sunset at Tuli: 

 
The road hazards in Botswana:
 

 
A small portion of the edge of the Magkadigkadi Salt Pans:
 

 
The animals on the sand track ‘road’ in the Central Kalahari:

 

 

A few of the lions from the pride that we met up close and personal at Dinaka:

 

 

This is the bird that cameron made me back up for on the way to Dinaka – it’s called a Black Korhaan and when it takes off and with every wing flap it makes this funny squawking noise:

 

 

 

Dave at his son Kyle making an awesome breakfast for us at one of the hides at Dinaka:

 

 

We must have been there during a butterfly migration – the sky was filled with these little guys- so much so that at times it looked like it was snowing!  They are called brown veined white butterflies and they predominantly fly northeast which is helpful to know if you’re lost in the middle of nowhere.

Central Kalahari to the Okavango Delta!

After getting to know the family that runs Dinaka, it was tough to say goodbye.  But of course we had to so we packed the truck up and headed out for Maun.   It was about a 2 and a half hour drive over deep sand tracks and rough ‘road’ but was pretty uneventful…other than Cameron freaking out after having claimed to see a black mamba along the side of the road.  I didn’t see it but he says I nearly hit it and he had the heebie jeebies for like 30 minutes – irrationally thinking it may have slithered its way into the truck and attacked him.  His description sounded pretty much just like the black mamba I saw last time so it probably was since we know they live in this area – along with puff adders, boomslang and a few other very poisonous snakes.

We arrived in Maun, dropped off the truck at the rental car company and headed to the bustling Maun International airport.  One ticket counter and maybe 2 gates.  As we walked across the tarmac towards the waiting planes, we tried to guess which one it would be. I had envisaged a tiny 4 seater tin can and wasn’t too terribly far off.  There were 9 passengers and 2 pilots though one only flew – the other guy just sat in the back and watched. Seemed a little odd? I counted only 2 spare seats … And when sitting down, the roof was just a few inches from your head.  I’ll have to admit – I had butterflies in my stomach.  It was a very smooth flight though and getting to see the Okavango delta from about 500-1000 ft up was pretty spectacular. We saw elephants, wildebeest and endless lakes and channels interconnecting through the maze of palms, sycamore figs, baobabs and other tall trees.  We landed at the Chitabe airstrip and were greeted by our &Beyond game vehicles and drivers – we would be with Steve the tracker and Gift, the driver.  About 40 minutes later we pulled up to the Sandibe lodge and were met with cool towels, ginger lemonades and many heartfelt smiles and waves.  We got the tour of the main lodge area and then were shown to our rooms to freshen up for lunch before the afternoon/evening game drive.  Wow, is this place nice!  It’s very remote, only has 8 guest houses and is just perfect.  Our chalet is the last one on the end with a thatched roof, screens posing as doors and walls, an outdoor shower and our own private viewing deck that sits on a channel where hippo and elephants tend to wander past.  Ahhhh, I could stay here a while!

The game drive didn’t disappoint either… Many new birds, antelope, wildebeest, elephants, giraffe,  lion and a big Botswana thunderstorm! The lions posed for us while we took pictures with the sunset and a rainbow in the background.   It couldn’t be much more idyllic.

At 5:30 the next morning, the wake up call of african drums came down the path and we got up to start a new day in the Delta.  During the night I heard a pack of hyena calling pretty nearby.  Kind of an eerie sound but in my opinion, not nearly as eerie as coyote. 

Sure enough, we start the game drive and not 10 minutes from camp, we found 5 hyena laying around and in a water hole after having just gorged themselves on something they were still protecting partly under the muddy water.  They rolled around like lazy dogs with big ol’ bellies.  Not far from there we found a gorgeous leopard in a tree – posing exactly as leopards are usually portrayed – splayed out across a large tree limb.

Condensing now … More lion, more ellies, more antelope, several more leopard including mama with cubs at a kill, many hippo, lots of new birds and a really cool nighttime thunderstorm with tons of vertical and horizontal lightning on the way back to camp for a gourmet candle lit dinner.

Sorry everyone … But I don’t want to come home.


Lion pride – up close and personal!

After hearing that we had just missed the lion pride by an hour on the day of our arrival, we were a tad disappointed and wished we had been here sooner. Oh well… Africa waits for no one.  We got to know the lodge owners and their family over dinner and drinks and settled in quite nicely.  When our eyelids got heavy, Dave walked us (rifle included) to our tent.  This lodge is a luxury tented camp meaning that we are sleeping in a tent but it’s the fanciest tent I’ve ever seen. It’s on a raised platform with a thatched roof above and wooden doors on the front and back. The sink, toilet and shower are outside the back door but under the thatched roof.  It’s really pretty cool! We dropped our stuff, i hopped in the shower (outside with a roof but open to the bush with just a half wall) and while I was washing my hair, I heard a low rumbling “Ahwooh”. I thought cameron was messing with me but just then he popped his head around the corner with big eyes saying ‘did you hear that?’.  Yep, it was lions calling to one another less than a km away.  How cool is that?! So we tucked into bed and fell asleep listening to the lions. The next morning we got up at 5:30 and headed to the lodge.  No sooner than we were approaching the verandah, they motion us to come in quickly and point over across the open area to the lion pride emerging from the tall Kalahari grasses.  We were in awe. They came into the clearing and stopped at the watering hole about 100ft from the verandah we were sitting on. One large male, three females and four cubs. They drank for what seemed liked forever until the cubs started playing, affectionately nestling with the male and bouncing here and there. The lionesses decided to get a better look at us and moved in closer – each staggering their positions. The cubs tried to perfect their stalking skills on their mom, crouching low in the grass behind her and then pouncing on her back and eventually her head. So cute!

The lionesses grew bored and more curious and came even closer. At this point they were probably 40 ft away. Everyone slowly moved back off the verandah into the lodge itself. While still open, it had a half wall and offered a little more protection. The lionesses and cubs strolled even closer and we retreated into the office in the lodge where we could still see everything but it had doors so that we could be enclosed if the need arose.  The lions strolled around the lodge, checking us out, and then plopped down in the sand behind the Landcruisers.  We weren’t going anywhere! The big male had been still at the water hole but he then got up and headed over to the tents where we had slept and where the owners’ 83 yr old mother was still sleeping.  We didnt want her to come out of her tent unaware that there were lions enjoying the shade under her.  George hopped in one of the other landcruisers and headed over to warn her to stay in.  Meanwhile back at the lodge, Dave was trying to scare the lionesses from getting too comfortable in the camp. He tried several things including yelling, arm waving and then warned us that he was going to try the air horn to frighten her away. We plugged our ears while watching this lioness and HOOOOOOOOONK … Nothing, not even a muscle twitch or an eye flinch. Nada. She just casually laid there like that was a normal everyday sound in the bush.  George returned in the smaller Landy and had chased the lions off for now – maybe they chased each other actually from the sounds of it.  The lioness laying behind the Cruiser finally got up and meandered off to find the rest of the pride and we were able to continue our morning.  Quite the excitement to get the blood flowing in the morning though!

We took a drive through the bush, saw quite a few antelope varieties, birds, etc and then we wound up at one of the hides where Melanie greeted us with breakfast supplies. They made breakfast there while we all watched the waterhole – seeing mostly birds.  The Kalahari has just exploded into green since the rains came a few weeks ago so the animals have grass and leaves to eat and come to the water holes much less often. Breakfast was amazing and then we headed back to the lodge to rest for the days relaxation before the evening drive.

Everyone here at Dinaka is wonderful – including Dave’s two kids, Michaela (9) and Kyle (7). We have had a ton of fun with them – watching them play in the lodge and run around in the sand and the pool and having the best time I think kids could have. It doesn’t get much more fun than living at a safari lodge – barefoot about 90% of the time!

Time to go – more soon…

Tuli to Central Kalahari – the drive across Botswana

We said farewell to Tuli and set off on our journey across Botswana to the Central Kalahari region for our safari at Dinaka. Not knowing what to expect for roads, traffic (ha!!), speed limits, etc we estimated about 10 to 12 hours of driving to get from one place to the other. So, we set off at 6:30am from Tuli and it took the full 12 hours to pull up to the lodge at Dinaka.  For the most part, the drive was pretty uneventful and I dare say a little boring.  We had been warned by people we have met along the way that large game animals just stroll into the roads or jump out in your path and going the speed limit may be difficult.  We were also duly warned about the donkeys. Very little of Botswana is fenced so the farm animals just graze along the side of the road. This mainly includes Brahmin type cattle, donkeys and goats with the occasional horse or dog mixed in.  By and large they stick to the grassy areas alongside the roads and peacefully graze and pay very little attention to the cars whizzing by.  However, some of them pay very little attention to where they are standing … Also with little to no regard for the cars going by – or coming directly at them.  This was why we left so early in the morning – driving after dark is a pretty ridiculous idea when trying to make good time to a destination.  Sometimes the cattle would decide to cross the road just as you are approaching them – in no apparent hurry whatsoever.   Our favorite though were the donkeys. The roads are mostly long and straight so you’d see for miles ahead. Since I was the driver, Cameron was the animal spotter. He would call out a dark figure way down in the road ahead and as we approached we thought sure it would scurry off the road knowing its fate if it was hit at 120kph. No, that was silly of us. The donkey would be staring down at his feet, er hoofs? Or the blacktop road? Who knows? Maybe it was asleep? Either way, he just stood blocking a full lane with zero interest in anything around him. Once we got used to that, the drive was fairly monotonous. The distant hills gave way to nothing but a dry flat pancake terrain with some of the biggest sky we’ve ever seen.  And that’s something since we live in Texas!

As we got to the turn-off to the lodge, we left the tarred road and onto a sand road.  That sand road soon turned into a sand track that we were on for 110 kilometers. That’s a loooooong way on a sand track.  Just off to our left was a fence that marked the end of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and off to the right were privately owned ranches that were once cattle farms. As we passed 3 other lodges, we continued on the path to Dinaka. Just about there, we discovered large ‘puddles’ along the track that we had to drive through. This was my first 4×4 driving experience.  And I didn’t do too badly if I don’t say so myself! There were a couple of hairy moments when I thought I’d get us stuck but we never did. Once the water came up pretty high – to the bottom of the passenger door – while I was on the high side with the right tires on the grassy bank. Eek! All was well though.

Oh as an add on to the Bird Nerdery blog post, we saw a very unique looking bird on the side of the road and Cameron made me stop and back up so he could take its picture. Yep, he’s a real twitcher now – as bird watching folk are affectionately called here. I can only assume that has something to do with the twitchy nature of those trying to spot, identify and photograph every bird they pass.

After that we saw a large Gemsbok in the track ahead but he jumped away pretty quickly. That was our first Gemsbok though – also called an Oryx.

Just cruising along now… Trying to arrive before sunset and cameron spots dark figures ahead… Too large to be birds, too small to be antelope.  Just as he says ‘could that be a cat?’, we get close enough and see that it’s a leopard with two cubs!!!!! She scattered to the left of the road and one cub follows her and the other cub runs right. The little guy was stranded now and just watched us for a while as the mama and other cub waited on the the left side for him to follow. We got to watch these 3 leopards for about 10 minutes as we backed up and gave him plenty of room to rejoin his family.  He was timid at first and then walked behind the truck for a drink in a mud puddle and then toddled off to the rest of them.  We watched for a little longer and then they ducked under the fence and into the CKGR.  Such a cool moment.  We were pinching ourselves that 3 leopard just strolled out in front of us.  Not a bad way to be introduced to the Kalahari!

Shortly later we arrived at Dinaka where we were greeted by George and Kyle and then Dave, Melanie and Michaela. We had made it – 12 hours later almost exactly. George and Dave quickly informed us we had just missed a pride of lions that had taken a liking to the water hole right by the lodge. They had only just left about an hour ago after having been there all day. Oh well, we missed them but we hoped to see them later during our stay.

Dinaka is lovely… Rustic yet elegant and very comfortable. Truly peaceful and 100% Africa. Unfortunately I can’t get the photos to load at the moment but hope to post them as soon as possible.

Take care!