acacia blossoms

acacia blossoms

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

mozambique and back

Mo-Zam-Beek – the name that ends in a smile.  How is it that when I am there, it all feels so real. Yet when I am home it seems like a dream?  Some dreams are very real after all.  But then I have sand in my bag, and in my shoes. That should tell me something. There is a bag of salty laundry too.

It is a two day drive, from the dry interior to our hideaway on the tropical east African coast. Mozambique has 2500kms of dazzling coastline – the stuff that dreams are made of. It’s a good thing because the roads are appalling – broken tar, with massive potholes and crumbled edges with vertigo inspiring drops. Much of the main coastal road is under reconstruction with no detours, so road space must be shared with construction traffic as well as giant commercial haulers.  But then the panoramic views that appear between the forests and villages, and towering coconut plantations from days gone by ; help to soothe shattered nerves. There is so much beauty here.

We arrive at sunset on the second day and let the gossamer view wash over our senses. Evening dhows glide silently past silhouetted by the sinking sun. We watch for the Dhow Jones crossing from Vilanculos bringing food supplies and friends to join us.

The week is ruled by sun and tides. The boardwalk through the mangroves has been battered by summer storms and needs some attention. Never the less, it carries us to and from the silver beach. It is our main point of entry and departure from our camp on the dunes.

On Monday we go to Matsopane Primary School in the nearby village.  Over the years, Geli from Letters from Usedom has been sending lovingly compiled boxes of school books, stationary, pens, toys and other scholarly tools to this little school in an acre of sand by a lake.  This time there are many more children to greet us . We are welcomed with cheers and waves, and young students race across hot sand. The teacher bangs a big metal triangle – the school bell.  It seems to me there are many more children at the school than at previous visits.  Perhaps more children are actually attending the school these days – encouraged by Geli’s good will gifts over the years?

The children line up according to age groups. For the first time there is silence – apart from some giggles, and nudges, as books and pens are dealt out along the rows.

This time we have some funds to hand over too.  Thanks to Mandy, Geli, Hans, Barbara,
Karen and Tienie, and Janet – we have together raised enough to build a schoolroom with a tin roof, cement floor, and brick walls.  The main school room was destroyed in the cyclone of 2007; and since then they have made do with a ramshackle collection of huts made of old tin, reeds and grass.  

It is steaming hot, and I have to keep mopping the sweat that runs into my eyes. I chat with Lucas and the Head Teacher about the new building. The children sing a song of thanks. Rain clouds bloom in the dark blue sky.  We turn to leave amid much shouting of boisterous children, who run alongside the vehicle waving and cheering happily.

The dhow jones is moored at the end of the boardwalk.  She is our main transport. I love to see her there. I have a crush on this boat – I don’t think its natural, but we set sail on her at least once a day. Somedays, we load up and spend the whole day exploring sand islands, and watching the colours of the sea for turtles, dolphins and dugongs. Other days the crew go fishing, and we join them in the evening for sunset ‘wiya-wiya’ under sail – not sure I have the spelling right but it means going nowhere in particular just about the place – messing about listening to the wooden creaks that sound like whale song.  Sigh.   

As relentless as the outgoing tides, the week slips away from me. I try to stand on its shadow – just to slow it down you understand – but it is useless.  I have unpacked all over the place – as if I came here to stay. Packing up makes me sad – hearing the Dhow Jones depart before sunrise,  makes my inner child anxious.  But life is good and with luck we will be back before too long.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

once in a blue moon

I stumbled accross this story i wrote in early January this year - and never posted to The Roof for some reason. Am I allowed to post it now?  was that a yes?

We arranged to meet friends in Gweta to spend the night on Makgadikgadi pans.  This year a full moon and a blue moon marked the end of the old year and beginning of a new decade. Makgadikgadi seemed an obvious choice of venue. Wide salt pans  on the edge of the central Kalahari desert.  So wide you can see the curve of the earth. Blistering hot and dancing with mirages on a clear summer day; biting cold and a theater of dust devils in winter months – it is a vast empty space that sets the stage of atmospheric dramas of every kind.

We spent the first night in Nata, a small town on the main northern route through Botswana.  At Nata Lodge we learned that Ben, an old friend, had passed away the day after Christmas.  He had worked at the Lodge for 25 years – since it started; and his ever smiling face and soft voice greeted us each time we arrived.  We have spent many an evening with Ben there over the years. How were we to know that the last time was truly the last time?  His funeral was to be on 2nd January – we would be there.

The following morning we took a slow cruise along the Maun road to Gweta to meet our pals. This strip of tar, made famous by many a safari tale, cuts across the northern edge of the great salt pans. We slow down for donkeys, cows and villages, and stop to watch a herd of kalanga horses drinking from a rainwater pan – manes and tales blowing in the wind.

Gweta lodge is in the middle of the village, surrounded by mud and thatch homesteads, general trading stores and lively drinking spots. Donkey carts have right of way here. We pull into the gates of the lodge, park in the shade and make our way to the thatched lapa.
Cool and shady – a retreat from the sweltering heat. The lapa in the heart of the lodge, in the heart of the village, is like a warren in the tallest termite mound.  The pool sparkles and chugs – bodies bob in bright water – foreign visitors lie roasting in the midday heat. We meet up with some pals, and catch up on lost time while waiting for the rest to arrive from Maun.

The sky is full of large ballooning cumulus clouds. 'so you are planning to camp on the pans tonght?' yip.  Well if you change your minds you can always stay here with us.' There is a big party planned for new years, and the mood is convivial.  The mercury continues to climb to new heights. Thunder crumps in the giant ballooning clouds creating atmospheric tension.  It breaks – rain falls, chasing the sunbathers into the lapa. But the shower is short and sweet filling the air with  that heady ozone smell.  

We had planned moonlight flights over the pans. Our pilot is sky watching. He blinks often and holds back on judgement. It looks like we are in for rain. Even I can see that. The others arrive – we decide to stay with our camping plan.

An hours drive over rolling spikey grasslands past sleepy cattle, and thorn scrub. The plains open out against a dark purple curtain of rain lit by flashes of lightening. The wind is blowing. The pans are too wet to drive on. Pools of water on the surface mean we don't even have to try. It looks inoccuous enough, and could be tempting if we didn't know just how treacherous that surface could be. Like sirens of the salt pans, a soft voice questions 'how bad could it be? It looks ok? Give it a try…'  at your peril – this crusty clay sediment is all that's left of an ancient lake bed. You can be driving along happily and then suddenly it will give way and suck up your entire vehicle up to the chassis. It is corrosive and cloying and there are no trees in site to attach a winch to even if you have one.

So after a cursory check along the edge – we abandon the idea of crossing the pans to camp at the two islands in a sea of salt. The purple rain cloud flashes lightening in the south.  We head back to the palm trees to set up camp. Heavy clouds roam the skies speeding across to the purple party.  We stop under a spreading camel thorn tree, make a fire, put up tents. A salmon pink splash in the west is the sunset banner in the sky; in the east a full moon rises through the palm trees, between the clouds heralded by bolts of electricity on either side. It is a blue moon. An awesome yellow moon. A fanfare for a departing year.

Billy makes a fire with much puffing and fanning of flames – puffing Billy. We cook potatoes in the coals, and beef fillet on the braai.  We stay up late – young people take the quad bikes for moonlit rides. It doesn't rain on us .  At midnight we open champagne, hug each other and wish happy new year. The moon spreads its silver light around us.

Happy St Patricks Day everone!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Chobe fields

It was a languid still late summer's day. We hung in bureaucratic suspension, unable to proceed any further with the paper trail of documentation due to procedural delays. We threw in the towel – abandoned the endless waiting in shabby corridors of power – and headed into the Chobe National Park.

This part of the Chobe NP runs along the river which forms the border between Botswana and Namibia Caprivi. The Chobe River essentially floods back from the Zambezi. At this time, with the Zambezi steadily rising in its annual flood pattern, the Chobe River is spreading out fast. Rolling over floodplains, here and there throwing an arm across the sand track – in places it is more like a vast lake than a river.

We saw leguaans (monitor lizards) exhausted from swimming to shore from their flooded island homes; hippos gleaming wetly in new shallows; buffalo bulls moving ponderously across the flooded plains. It was a scene as old as time itself.  So we pulled into the shade of a leafy rain tree and watched the pageant unfold.

In a nearby pool, a crocodile had an impala in its jaws. The fight was over, but he lay on the bank clamped onto his prey.  The impala herd wandered off, looking a little stiff necked, to find a way back to the forest.  A bull elephant stood alone on the floodplain like a giant monolith, as smaller beasts ebbed and flowed around him. He fed slowly on clumps of grass, stopping to brush the soil off each clump before lifting it to his mouth.
Behind him the river curved lazily away.

The midday sun shimmered off the dark water. One by one elephants emerged from the forest behind us hastening to the waters edge to drink thirstily. Breeding herds with young calves drank, and walked deeper and deeper into the water – until finally succumbing to the delicious cool.   They rolled and dived and pushed each other, ducking underwater with only the tips of their trunks up for air like periscopes; Climbing up on another's back and then sinking back in a spray of bright water.

We watched them for hours.  Some of the herds climbed out on the far bank and drifted off to graze and mingle with the other elephants.   Some cows with very small calves, kept their distance, and after drinking returned to the forest. Their calves presumably too small to risk the crocodiles that moved between the basking giants.

We left them sometime later, still basking and playing in family groups. Driving on through the park at the rivers edge, we spent the entire day with elephants. Herd after herd were down at the river in the hot afternoon.  Some black from a good soaking in the water, others caked in mud from a happy mud wallow; some were frisky and wanted to chase us, others were mellow and calmly let us pass, gazing down at us through golden brown eyes.

Elephants and Chobe – two words that are synonymous with each other.  It has to be the ultimate elephant viewing in the world. We left the Park as sunset splashed colours of gold and vermillion on the dark waters of the river – with images of elephant fields playing on our minds eye.

For beautiful pics and more info on life by this spectacular River please visit Karen at

Please consider the elephants when the Powers That Be vote on lifting the ivory trade ban.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

no comment

Dear All
I want to reply to your comments on my last posting, but its just not
happening today. anyhow just wanted to say a big thanks for your kind
and caring messages.
All is ok, we are taking care, and will soon be on the road again.
There is a lot of scaremongering around and i am trying not to buy
into it - whilst being aware and whatever i can to stay out of trouble.
Lori - yes the ground hornbills 'attack' their reflections in the
glass and dont stop til every pane is gone gone gone. They are crazy
mad - a friend said Ground Hornbill sounds like a cooking spice!
Enjoy and blog on! life is beautiful and great

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sleepless in Selati

Well its the middle of the night and i am wide awake. Whats going on?
Most unlike me - I am not a natural insomniac by any stretch. So I
gave up pretending to be asleep - assisted by a very persistent
mosquito who had found her way into my net.
And now I am in the kitchen. I have been pouring over a map of
mozambique - planning a lovely road trip to exotic sounding coastal
destinations, and then accross to the Lake. Anyone have info on the
road to Lichinga? Its marked as 'scenic' but I know those mountains
are HUGE and the main roads are not that great so a mountain track
could be extreme.

There is a security issue in our area at the moment. A gang of four,
who strike at farmsteads in the night (usually but not always) and
shoot people while stealing their cars. Its not a fun thought, and for
many people living on farms here - there is no backup you can call
that could come to your assistance in time...if at all.

People have been phoning - warning us to be on the look out. How many
warnings can you brush off? Yesterday K was walking and came accross
the tracks of people. We checked if anti-poaching were in our area -
the Warden said not. So these are people who shouldnt be here. The
tracks went into the mountain behind our house. We called in a bunch
of anti-poaching trackers. They are sleeping in the old house just
down the track. A ruined building that the ground hornbills have
knocked all the window panes out off.

The lions have been calling all night from the plains infront of the
old house. Those guys are going to be sleepy later today when they
are on the trail of the poachers.
And so will i be probably...but I am quite liking this solitary quiet
time in the night. The fridges are humming loudly. During the day I
dont even hear them.

I discovered i can make coffee by the standby lights on the phone
charger! It is amazing how bright they are.

There has been a cheetah nearby for the past couple of days. I first
came accross it when i was driving to the gate in the rain. It had
killed a young impala next to the track, and was reluctant to leave
it, but sprang up and ran back a little bit waiting for me to leave
the scene. I didnt stay too long. Cheetahs need to eat fast, before
the birds or other predators arrive on the scene.

Yesterday morning the cheetah was in front of the house. K was on the
stoep talking to a pal on the cell phone, when suddenly - there
infront of him - a cheetah racing into a herd of impala. Impala
scattering in all directions. A cheetah giving chase - but
unsucessfully. It then stopped in the shade of a small thorn tree to
catch its breath and cool down. The sun was well up, and it was
already too hot to be burning so much energy.

Its funny but quite often, if we are talking on the cell phone
outside, the guinea fowl come and stand near us calling loudly. I
think they think that is what we are doing and they should join in? Or
maybe they think we have seen an eagle in the sky and are alarm
calling? either way it makes it very difficult to hear the other
person speak.

Did I mention it was full moon yesterday and outside it is as bright
as day?

Oh well, enough idle chatter. Dawn is around the corner and surely I
will be sleepy soon. Thanks for sitting up with me.

oh and if you would like to know more about mozambique try this website