“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Friday, 18 May 2018

It's been a while - but I'm back from training and 100% ALIVE!

“I thought you said Makuleke was hot???” I screamed over the sound of the engine and the rain hammering down on the canvas roof of the game viewer. Everyone was wrapped in hats and coats and every spare piece of clothing they could find – soaked through and shivering we bounced down the tracks towards our new home.
The Makuleke concession is 24,000 hectares of land owned by the Makuleke people inside the Kruger National Park in South Africa and is nestled between the Limpopo river in the north and the Luvuvu in the south. A land of fever tree forests, wide open pans and exceedingly tall grass, it’s at the northern tip of the park accessed via the Pafuri gate – and is a bird nerds paradise.
New camp, new species, new faces and once again I was lucky enough to have a tent to myself (if you ignore the compulsory Acacia rats, geckos and tree squirrels). The tent could better be described as a chalet, with an en-suite bathroom and gas powered hot shower; pure luxury in a beautiful setting amongst enormous Nyala trees, Mangosteens and Black Bitterberrys.
I was unpacked in about 5 minutes flat and out wandering the camp to get my bearings and realised that despite endless studying over the previous months, there were an alarming number of trees, sounds and plants I could put no name to. But that would have to wait. Our first week was advanced rifle handling (ARH) – the week I had been dreading since booking the course last summer.
I’m not a fan of guns at the best of times, but a .375 bolt action rifle that can stop a charging elephant at 10m is something I was absolutely shit scared of. Thankfully the first couple of days of the course was spent getting used to the action, the weight, the safety procedures and generally drilling the loading and unloading stages as well as learning how to put the thing into a safe walking state.  After a couple of days I had gained a little confidence, despite awkwardly trying to get to grips with a right-handed rifle as a left-handed beginner. I had also learnt that a magazine was not something you read, a sear was not some kind of fortune teller and “short-stroking” was thankfully something one should avoid at all costs.
After endless drilling my arms were weak and I knew something would have to be done if I was to carry that thing for any length of time and then have a hope of holding it up long enough to aim and accurately fire when needed. Little did I know then what “Bushfit with Bruce” would do to me.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

The long journey home

After our last leisurely breakfast, we left at 11am with the couple from Essex. Zita was at the airport when we got there, waiting to say goodbye - I somehow forgot that she worked at the Air Force, which is of course based at the airport. D'Oh.
Got some gifts at Livingstone airport with the remaining Kwacha as it is completely useless once we leave the country and cannot be changed into anything elsewhere.
Boarded plane and set off staring out the window. We were sat next to an American guy who is a manufacturing engineer for McCain Foods; it seems however hard I try, I cannot escape my job. Grrrrr.
Uneventful flight and a despondent trek through Johannesburg airport to the now familiar gate A9 heading for home. Sadly we were in the standard cramped cabin seats for the way back and Tracey's headphone socket was broken, so we slapped a fabric elastaplast on it and tried to tire ourselves out with a couple of movies. I ended  up watching "Moanna" followed by "Lion" - and shed tears during both of them - such a wimp! Or maybe I can blame it on the incredible and emotional journey we have just been on.  It has at times been so unbelievable we have been lost for words and at other times so frustrating that we've blurted out too many words. But there isn't a moment I would change, or an experience I would have missed. We've reinforced friendships made last year, and started a whole bunch of new ones. We have successfully taught 30 people to boodle - 12 of which turned up at the boodle club's first independent session on Tuesday. They elected a captain and vice captain and set themselves some goals which will help them on their journey towards generating an income. I wish them every success and cannot wait to hear about their progress.
We've "sown the seed" as one taxi driver put it, and someday we "must return to see how it has grown". My bank balance fears he may be right.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A day of birding and buffalo

Up at 6am to go birding on the local sewerage ponds, followed by a short visit and breakfast picnic inside the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park, just outside Livingstone. We clocked up quite a few species and despite me not being able to tell the difference between a wood sandpiper and a ruff (even in the guide book!!!) we had a great morning.
The elusive Giant Kingfisher took a dive for fish right in front of our picnic area and of course my camera was still inside the truck at the time... I guess it was karma for the chance I completely cocked up earlier in the week. Just another excuse to return I guess.
We spent the afternoon walking the grounds, sleeping off lunch and packing up for the final time. We were back out on the river at 430pm and trailing a herd of Cape Buffalo as they munched their way across the river. So going to miss this place.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Finally a day of rest!

Open-billed stork
Stayed in bed til 10am reading and dozing; our first and only lie-in of the trip.
Had a lovely lunch and sat down on the jetty with our binoculars watching Elephants and Kudu on the far riverbank.
Went out on the river with 6 others and saw more Elephants, an Open-Billed stork and plenty of baboons. Think I have developed an addiction to chilli-sugared peanuts and dried mango – can’t seem to get enough of either of them.
Back for dinner… yet more gorgeous food – struggling to work out where they get hold of sprouts over here but they certainly have an incredible chef.
Had a few glasses of wine round the campfire with an English couple from Essex and went to bed, wondering how the first boodle club went today at Linda Farm. Will email Rachael tomorrow and find out.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Day trip to Botswana

630am wake up call when a flask of hot tea arrived at our room, so we showered to wake ourselves up and headed out just as it was getting light.
Michael and Caroline were waiting by the van to see us off and make sure we had everything and Caroline commented on the "love letter" we had left... both of them laughing. With any luck I will have clean socks again by the time we get back.
Crispin, our driver, took us to the Kazangulu border port on the Zambian side, passing endless queues of trucks waiting sometimes up to 14 days to cross, one at a time into neighbouring Botswana or Namibia on flatbed ferries.
He handed a piece of paper over to a waiting boatman, who would take us over the river to meet another guide on the Botswana side. All being well, Crispin would return to collect us back in Zambia at 430pm.
I will admit, the border crossing was a little daunting, not only because it was the first time we were alone (and unsure what the plan was), but also because we were carrying large expensive cameras through the throngs of hawkers at the border wanting to sell us copper bracelets and soapstone animal ornaments. Thankfully there wasn't too much hanging about and before long we were clinging on for dear life, bouncing over the waves in our tiny tin boat heading for the opposite bank.
"Six", our wildlife guide, arrived soon after we did and after a quick dip in the foot and mouth bath and some more passport stamping, we were off to Chobe. To our amazement, we had the land-cruiser all to ourselves.
After sorting out park fees and more paperwork we headed into the Chobe National Park through the Sedudu gate and almost immediately stopped for a "dazzle" of Zebra and some Impala. We had heard there was a male lion down by the riverbank, so we sped off in the right direction hoping we wouldn't be too late as he was on the move. By the time we got there, a large number of trucks were curb-crawling him through the bush as he looked for somewhere shady to pass the heat of the day. Not the ideal time to be on safari we knew, but beggars can't be choosers. He was sadly too far in for us to get a glimpse, so we moved on, Six declaring we would find our own lion, and within half an hour we had. Two in fact. It was not a great sighting for me as our driver had unfortunately broken an ethical boundary to get it, so let's just say it was memorable.
We moved on again, stopping for a comfort break and a drink in a strange, unguarded picnic area not so many yards from shagging elephants; Three bull elephants had separated a young female from her breeding herd and taken her into the bush, where they basically gang-raped her before leaving her dazed and very confused to find her way back to her mother and aunties. Fascinating to learn about but pretty eye-watering to watch, especially as the bull was twice the size of the poor female.
We moved on again passing over 50
Giraffe grazing on the tops of the Acacia trees, heading out of the park and down to a boat jetty, where we climbed on board our own private river safari boat and headed out for lunch at a place called "The Raft". It was floating on the Namibian side of the river almost touching the bank, and we were met by the staff singing us a welcome song and helping us off the boat. They had the grill going with all sorts of meat being cooked and cold white wine ready and waiting. It was bliss, but the highlight for me was yet to come. We spent the afternoon out on a river safari back in the Chobe NP.
We saw a herd of buffalo chasing an Elephant across the river and Elephants running and swimming from a lion (slightly worryingly in our direction), and a Hammerkop being mobbed by two Lapwing.
There were Elephants, Buffalo and Hippos everywhere we looked... both in and out of the water.
Sadly, but thankfully before the wind burn got too bad, it was time to leave and find our way back to the Kasane border post. We had multi-entry visas, so getting back into Zambia should have been perfectly straightforward, however the only indication of the visa type in our passports were the letters "M/E" scribbled in biro by the airport immigration staff.  Without sufficient US Dollars on us to buy more visas we fretted a little. Noticing the time, we also started to fret a little more... we were 30 minutes early and would have to suffer the hawkers again whilst we waited for Crispin to collect us.
The tin boat for the return journey was over the far bank when we got there, so a colleague kindly offered to take us back across the stretch of no-mans land to the waiting hawkers. Clutching cameras and binoculars and ready to brave it out, we stepped up to get off the boat and were asked who we were waiting for.... after our reply of "Waterberry", the shout went up, and was relayed round the port until seconds later Crispin appeared from behind a boat smiling reassuringly at us. Phew.  He even had cold beers in the cool box inside the vehicle. What a team Waterberry are. Thank you thank you thank you.
An awesome day; we saw some amazing sights, had moments of adrenaline, moments of wonder, sheer joy and happiness and, apart from the bone-shaker drive back along the dirt track to our lodge, I couldn't fault the day. Definitely money very well spent and just goes to prove, you don't need Attenborough-style big five action to enjoy the wildlife here.