acacia blossoms

acacia blossoms

Friday, August 29, 2008

Summers coming

Another monkey tale

Scene at old Chobe Safari Lodge, in Botswana:
There is always a chaotic scene when tourii are scrambling to climb onto game viewing vehicles in the after lunch haze. Somewhere in the jumble of camera bags and seat saving a monkey managed to grab hold of a pair of binoculars and took them high up into one of those giant trees.

Other tourists raced forward with cameras to record the scene. One frantic visitor was pointing furiously – completely unable to rectify the event. The monkey looked down with mild interest having discovered that the binoculars were not edible or really fun to play with – he started losing interest. However, the strap had somehow become hooked around his neck. He wanted to drop the wretched things that were now drawing far too much attention his way. He pulled on them this way – that way – but they wouldn’t leave him alone. To the anthropomorphic amongst us it appeared that he was looking through the binoculars – this caused much hilarity amongst the greater group, and a barrage of camera shutter noises.

Finally they came free. He dropped them and we saw them tumble in slo mo to the soft grassy lawn below. Luckily no damage.

Unlike the baboon who stole a camera from the camp site, and took it up into a tree leaning over the river. When he finally dropped the non food item, there was a loud sploshing noise and it descended into crocodile country. Irretrievable. No ‘sorry’ either.

But enough about our primate pals…for now

The last few days are showing signs of a change in seasons. Earlier this week is was clear and warm. Then it rained – well not in a real sense – more of a mist but enough to warrant putting the windscreen wipers on intermittent for the first time in months. Discovered that the rubbers have been baked hard in the relentless sun so they don’t work properly any more. Anyway it was all very exciting but over in about 5 minutes.

Since then it has been hazy and warm, suggesting Summer is on her way back in. Displacing the cool hard beauty of Winter. Tiny tiny buds of green are starting to appear on the ends of branches already. Like Carmen Miranda dressing for the party that is Summer but she is still selecting the right shade of green for her dress. No fruit bowl for a hat yet.

More and more of the wild animals are encroaching on the feeding spot. A lone Eland comes in at last light; nyalla are around all day – the whole family; giraffe have been browsing the trees nearby lending a touch of elevation to the scene, and last night a rhino at the waterhole. Warthogs are losing condition fast. The really thin one died yesterday. We cant keep pace with buying sacks of food for everyone.

Did anyone look out for that Mars thing? I did of course, being a dreamer of note. Checked on my Stargaze programme though and it looked like the four planets – Saturn, Mercury, Venus and MARS are following the Sun at the moment NOT the moon. So it figures that the action is happening up above at MIDDAY not MIDnight. Duh.

The fact that the four planets are in alignment is in itself unusual, and I think that if you see the evening star after sunset, then you should see the other three. Mercury and Venus are really close together; Saturn is closest the Sun and Mars is the fourth.
Anyone know the significance of this astrologically?

Lastly, I’ve noticed that buttons are coming off my clothing faster than usual…especially around the waistband. Is this a sign??

Monday, August 25, 2008

Baboons or Monkeys?

Monkeys are small and fast – more agile than cats, and prettier to look at than baboons; they make nice shapes in the trees with their rounded bodies and long long tails. In repose they have an air of innocence and vulnerability which makes us forgive them for trashing the house at every opportunity.

Baboons – well firstly I am glad it’s not a whole horde of baboons landing on our roof each morning, I am not sure the tin would take a pounding like that. Baboons make great ‘people watching’ opportunities and we so often relate to their inter troop interactions, dramas and alliances.

Baboons differentiate between male and female humans with ease. They will confront the female of our species in a threatening manner, but not the males – no matter how assertive the body language.

Both have big canines – but baboons inevitably have bigger ones.

Monkeys scamper – baboons run in a rollicking manner like a rocking horse that goes forward.

Monkeys go up trees for safety – baboons go down (how am I doing so far?)

Baboons voices carry further when there is a danger alert being broadcast to the troop. We can use these alarm calls when we are trying to find lions or leopards.

Monkeys have soft grey fur that looks like rabbit fur – baboons have coarse brown fur.

Both are highly opportunistic when it comes to raiding parties at human feeding grounds. We were once on the Chobe River on a boat going past old Serondella camp site. Most of the campers were out on game drives. One highly organised mob had left a cook in camp to prepare lunch. The baboon troop was walking around the periphery picking up seeds and pretending not to care. One however was under the table partially concealed by the table cloth.

Now and then an accomplice would create a diversion by seeming to approach the table. The cook would race forward to chase him away, and the guy under the table would reach a long arm up and pinch a food item from the preparation area. The cook would turnaround having looked away for less than a few seconds, and be totally confused as to where the tomato/bread/ apple or whatever had vanished to.

This went on for a while and I must confess we did nothing to interfere as the whole scene had us crying with laughter from afar. So baboons can be very funny and gain points for this!

Baboons can trash your stuff faster and more effectively when they really get going. And its usually in pursuit of their own form of entertainment ….. or food.

We were besieged by baboons once. In our old camp in Linyanti, we just had a couple of Meru tents - large safari tents with strong frames and rip-stop canvas – hah.

We lived in one with our tin trunks of supplies, the other was for K to paint in. Camp was situated on a bend in the Linyanti/Kwando River and the end of a wide floodplain, and underneath a grove of tall ebony trees. Ebony trees produce a small round fruit that is pure sugar and vitamin C – delicious. The baboons think so too and took to sleeping above our sleeping tent. We fell asleep to their soft grunting noises, and other not so soft noises that indicated monkey business was occurring; and wake in the night if one of them had a bad dream, or got eaten by a leopard.

They woke us at first light as the sound of their morning ablutions rained down on the canvas fly sheet before they decended for a day of foraging in the forest.

As elephant pressure in the area increased, so pressure on the riverine forest intensified. Trees pushed down by hungry elephants, meant less food in the pantry for the baboons. Trees around safari camps were more protected.

Ultimately we found ourselves in one of the last remaining islands of forest that had trees loaded with fruit. Baboons spent more time in camp. During breaks in feeding, they discovered that the tents made great trampolines, especially when dropped on from a tall tree. It DID look like fun and I probably would have done that too if I was them. However the wear and tear on the canvas was accelerated to the point that whenever we left camp for a period of days – sometimes weeks – we returned to find a scene of wreckage. Tent poles bent out of shape or pulled out altogether. Canvas in ribbons etc The first few days were spent in repairs, trying to make the camp habitable again with what was left.

I should mention too that once K has prepared some pristine canvases that needed to dry in a bug and baboon free environment. We laid them out in the sleep tent and closed all the flaps before going for a drive to see what else was out there. Imagine returning to camp to find baboons had ripped open the zip, gone into the tent and found the tin trunk of dry food. Opened the trunk, and the rice and everything else they could - then had a party to celebrate. Canvases were liberally rollicked over, paint footprints were all over everything else – no need for fingerprint forensics here. Obviously this was all very exciting because there was a lot of poo too and all mixed in were the rice and staples.

Baboon poo is very smelly and all too human looking. Its annoying to have to clean up someone else’s.

Monkey poo is smaller and less smelly but still annoying if you step in a fresh one, in bare feet, INSIDE THE HOUSE.

Have I said enough? All things considered I think a monkey siege is easier to manage than a baboon siege. At Linyanti, the baboons finally won and repair time outweighed creative working time. We moved out. But hey, its good to live in a place where we have monkeys and baboons around us, and there are bigger problems in the world...... I think...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Selati Saturday

Its funny being back here – everything seems to be closing in again. The heady adventure of travel is followed by guilty feelings of bourgeoisie. First – trying to unravel the figures and paperwork gone wrong of a safari partnership. Emotions keep clouding the issue. Anger, fear and frustration become a war of words via email. Go to sleep thinking of it – wake up thinking of it. Trying to find a clear way through but smoke and mirrors get in the way.

Last night there was a robbery at a neighbour’s camp; vehicles have been stolen. We should be more alert. The fences are cut between us and the main road. JP saw a herd of impala on the road. We saw a bushbuck while driving home the other night. Escapees from a broken fence – traffic bait. They caught a poacher; he was interviewed on TV and claims to be a Traditional Hunter “that’s what I do”. Look if it was subsistence we would have more sympathy but nobody is starving around here. Issues of personal safety come hand in hand with this. We must lock cars at night; lock security gates; close curtains; be vigilant. Weekends are worse. Sigh.

Someone sent me an email announcing that next week Mars would rise and be as big as the moon! This stuff always thrills me and even when my more highbrow friends pour cold water on my dreams; I will still be watching at midnight on 26th or was it 27th? I like it when friends say ‘wow – I’ll be watching too because how amazing would it be if….”

Monkeys took one day to realise we were back. They are with us all day again and we are forced to live in a place with all doors and windows closed – something I swore I would never do… At the kitchen window particularly my every move is watched – especially after a trip to town to restock the fridge. Bags on the table, ok how many?
What is she taking out now…. Looks like bread – ok that lives over there… hmm fresh stuff goes into the tall white box against the wall; tins into the row of brown boxes on the other side behind the table. Here she comes rustling a packet!!! False alarm as it is dished into the rubbish bin.

We have an old Tupperware next to the sink which we call the monkey pot. All food scraps from plates and elsewhere goes into this pot and is then put outside for the various dependents. Yesterday K went to buy some food for the warthogs. We buy stuff called Hominy Chop which is coarsely chopped maize. This late in the season it is double the price and half mixed with woodchips! Wicked (in a bad sense). The molasses we buy at the local co-op is now so watered down they can no longer call it molasses but sweet syrup – shocking!

Warthogs are the first indicators of the state of grazing; the first to show bones and start falling to pieces. These guys have excavated every root in what used to be our lawn, and no doubt all the roots and tubers in the vicinity of their range too. Having been away we return to see them looking gaunt and tired. Sleeping warthogs are positioned all around the house. When K emerged with buckets of feed yesterday he quickly looked like the pied piper as about fifty warthogs came to heel, and the entire troop of monkeys dipped in and out of their wake – trying to convince him to drop the bucket their way first.

Oh well…. What you up to today?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Migration Mania

It’s hot. The midday sun pours its heat down on us – no shadows. Sweat dries before it cools; skin turns every shade of pink to red. Makes you want to crawl into shade under a tree, or rock – anything rather than jump in the river. Brown coffee coloured water tumbles and splashes over rocks, in a brightly joyous journey but it is full of crocodiles with backs the size of dining tables.

Vast herds of wildebeest ebb and flow, swirling in indecision. Dust drifts bovine smells; the air is filled with grunts and replies becoming a base rhythm to the scene – building tension. We have time to think about why we are here.

The annual wildebeest migration between Serengeti in Tanzania, and Masai Mara in Kenya is one of those ‘must see’ ‘life ticks’. River crossings are the highlight when thousands of wildebeest, and occasional zebra, mass on the banks of the Mara River in a time worn urge to follow the rains to new grazing. To get to the greener grass on the other side they have to swim across the crocodile infested river. It’s not a decision taken lightly and there are many tentative hooves in water withdrawn before the final leap of faith. Launching themselves into the air the first ones dive into the racing stream and barely keeping heads above water they swim for their lives, urged on by the pressure of hundreds following behind.

Safari vehicles wait in the blistering heat loaded with camera clad tourii, hanging back until the first brave ungulate takes the plunge. Then, as if he has pierced some invisible force field, the others pour through the same hole, widening and fanning out along the bank. Once the crossing starts vehicles race forward to claim vantage points. In the swirling waters crocodiles ease into position, sliding off river banks and moving forward barely perceptively ever watchful for a feeding opportunity.

A young wildebeest slips on a rock, and in the chaos of hooves and horns becomes separated from the crowd. Gnarled yellow green heads motor towards him. It is a matter of seconds before a gaping tooth studded jaw closes on him, and with unstoppable force pushes him under the water.

A time warp flashes to mind and we are in the Colosseum urging some super predator to despatch a hapless victim. What is it with the human race that attracts such gruesome fascination to horror from a safe vantage place? Its all around us – formula one racing; CNN; Hollywood….

A herd has crossed. A calf is left behind on the other side with a small group of zebra.
The mother calls entreating the calf to cross. He doesn’t want to. One look at the water and he turns back repeatedly. More wildebeest start calling him on. The zebra turn back. Finally he must answer the call of the herd. He leaps into the current and bravely (am I anthropomorphising?) gives it his best. Another green yellow head eases up and casually takes hold of him more than half way across. He is gone. The herd mill about in confusion. Should they go back?

A hundred cameras have recorded the event – myself included. Yes I know crocodiles have to eat too but……

An adult wildebeest is taken but manages to break free. On reaching the far bank
The audience cheers – more Colosseum flashbacks.

Finally in a riot of emotional highs and lows, the drama is over for the day. Tourii fainting from heat head for safe places to have their picnic lunches. Check the bushes for buffalo first – wouldn’t want one to charge out and gore anyone.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Catfish Cruising

Off the road for a couple of days. Coming to the end of this mad schedule soon.
Just catching up now on sleep, laundry (beware the contamination bags!) emails messages and the rest – probably in that order!

Did a cool river trip this time. The boat we put together in Shakawe last month had to be moved to a better, safer, friendlier, mooring spot south of Sepupa.

Shakawe is a small friendly dustbowl of a town situated on the western panhandle of one of Africa’s most famous rivers – the Okavango. Spent a whole day here sourcing supplies and vital pieces of equipment for the trip. With only three jerry cans it took several trips to the fuel stop to load up 220 litres of fuel. Days end found us ready for a good sleep. Too tired to make food, we sat and sipped sundowners as darkness fell softly around us, and the river swirled on its tireless journey to the Delta.

Awake during the night to look at a sky full of stars. The amber smile of new moon had long since slipped below the horizon. Stars reflecting on the water made dashes of light – stars and stripes. Loud snapping noises punctuated the stillness. Crocodiles? The noises increased, and with the aid of a flashlight, we discovered that a barbel run had started. Barbel are the big catfish after which the boat is named. As the river levels start to drop, they force each other into the shallows and flip and slap around in a sort of mating ritual. Fishermen get excited by this.

Sunrise in Rasta colours over the dense reed beds. Mist rising off the water like golden smoke. Time to emerge from bedrolls, make a small fire for coffee and cast off to follow the mainstream down south. Birds taking flight in the cold air, and spiders webs laced with dew in glistening colonies.

Motored for ten hours downstream, passing lush palm islands, walls of papyrus and reeds. Lagoons filled with water lillies and secret channels enticed us to explore but not this time – until we knew how far and how much fuel we would need.

Pulled into a palm island just before sunset. A small opening on the bank on which to moor the boat. Inside the island a tall dark cathedral of ebony trees and monkey vines. One small window showed a sunlit grass plain on the other side. Made our cooking fire on the site of an old fireplace. Hammerkop and Eagle owls nest watched over the boat. Sleep to gentle shunting of boat on mooring ropes.

Morning mists and cold air cast off for Sepupa. Caught sight of town but still took several hours as horseshoe bends in the river took us first towards then away.
Fish eagles posing and skimmers on sandbanks, occasional crocodile slide into water and swim away in clear waters – African aquarium.

Arrived Sepupa midday having used only 60L of fuel! Well done Catfish.
Picked up rest of mob and continued on to island. Adventure over far too quickly but to be resumed – much exploring to be done as delta fans out into Kalahari sands.
Watch this space…