Wednesday, February 14, 2007

On the road again

You should probably get a cup of tea and a biscuit. This could take a while. I probably won’t have internet access again until Cape Town.

I’m writing this sitting on the verandah of a thatch-roofed rondavel overlooking the Chobe River in Botswana. From here, I can see Namibia. There are two dust-coloured monkeys sitting on the verandah steps, watching me type. There’s another sniffing my drying boots and more of them galloping about the grass, fighting and rough-housing. I can’t see the family of mongooses that lives on the lodge grounds, but they must be nearby because I can hear them cooing and purring to each other.

Two things have happened in the past few days that I would never have suspected. I drank a whole stubbie of beer and I’ve learned to shoot. Who’da thunk it, eh?

Richard gave me a shooting lesson with his .22 rifle on our last day at Palm Haven. To everyone’s utter amazement, I wasn’t lousy at it. He must be the world’s best rifle coach if he managed to have a klutz like me shooting pebbles off the fenceposts in half an hour. The beer was Zimbabwean Zambezi Lager, drunk while cruising down the Zambezi River. If I can do beer and guns, that must make me an honorary bloke.

Oh, and I’ve also started saying "ja". That was inevitable, I suppose. I’m so suggestible.

We left Palm Haven early Saturday morning after a farewell braai (barbecue) on Friday night that lasted into the wee hours. Richard and Angela had set up the yard with tables and oil lamps and invited some of their friends and people Bloke works with at the base. An extremely pleasant and tiddly time was had by all – South Africans know how to entertain and they certainly know how to drink.

We hit the road just after seven (after going to bed at 3.30) and drove to Mapungubwe National Park, which has borders with Botswana and Zimbabwe.

The weather was shrivellingly hot on the other side of the mountains. It had been pleasant at Palm Haven, and in the early hours, even chilly. By afternoon, it had reached 39 C. It gets that hot in Adelaide, but I’m not usually stupid enough to go tramping around in the open.

Mapungubwe is not a game park, though it does have animals. It’s mainly known for its scenery and the ruins of an ancient civilization on top of a long, flat mountain with the same name as the park. It is all red dirt, red rocks and contorted, silvery trees. Dotted about the park are huge baobabs.

The Limpopo River flows through the park and yes, there are fever trees. They have odd, nobbly bark in a hallucinatory pale yellow. There is even a sign bearing the Kipling quote at the gate to a walk leading to a hide overlooking the river.

(That's a fever tree on the right.)

The water was looking suitably grey-green and greasy the day we were there, but the Limpopo wasn’t looking too great. When it isn't in flood, it flows mostly underground, but that leaves it looking like a wide sand flat with sludgy pools at the edges. Bright birds flew between the tree branches, a crocodile lazed in the shallows and in the distance, baboons picked their way to a small island of greenery. Four skittish waterbuck cantered past on the riverbed.

Our bed that night was in Alldays, a rough-and-tumble northern town that seemed to be made up largely of hunting lodges, game farms, taxidermists and "game capture" services (which I presume remove Large Bitey Things from places where they aren’t wanted). It seems that with a few exceptions, if a cashed up hunter has the right permits, he can shoot just about anything with feet.

The owner of the hunting lodge where we stayed was a noted leopard hunter in his day. His bar was still lined with photos of grinning hunters sitting with their catches and the front fence was hung with the skulls and horns of various antelope. But like Richard, he gave up killing. He decided he had killed enough.

The barman told off-colour jokes and poured shooters that he called Bitches, made of stroh rum and something red that smelled of aniseed. When the two were mixed, they smelled like a particularly revolting cough syrup. From the look on Bloke’s face when he knocked his back, a Bitch tastes pretty bad.

We crossed the Limpopo into Botswana on Sunday morning, arriving in Francistown in the afternoon with a monsoon on our heels. The next day, we drove 480km to Kasane, a town on the Chobe River.

We chased a watery silver mirage up the heat-hazed highway. Tawny grass lined the road on both sides. Bloke was driving and he spent most of his time dodging herds of goats and potholes that were deep enough to hide a goat.

And speaking of goats, if you’re driving to Kasane, don’t make a pit stop at the Shell station in Nata. There were people at the service station section and a sign boasted about a motel and restaurant out the back. A second sign pointed to public toilets. We picked our way through a post-apocalyptic yard full of weeds. A sign said the pool was free for guests, but 10 pula for everyone else, but the only water was some evil-looking sludge in the bottom.

Bloke said, "Oh. I think I can smell the toilets." He gave me a sideways look, because I’m notoriously fussy about loos and have been known to refuse to have anything to do with the Asian squat variety, especially if they’re awash.

But it wasn’t the toilets he could smell. It was the puddle of dead goat in front of the men’s room door. It was still identifiable as a goat, but much flatter and surrounded by a circle of fur. It looked like it had died where it fell and just melted there. I looked at the door to the ladies and found it was crusted shut with cobwebs. We elected to hold on and left with the smell of decomp clinging to our nose hairs.

Luckily there was a nice clean servo across the road. It was a pay toilet, but hey. I’ll pay for no dead goats. Bloke said he thought the place might have been cursed, which explained why it had been abandoned and no-one had removed the corpse. Bad juju.

Botswana must have a hell of a lot of donkeys. All along the highway, there were donkeys grazing by the road, donkeys pulling carts. It’s just donkey heaven.

I also got my first sight of an elephant on the road to Kasane. Bloke pulled up near where a big, bull elephant with a broken tusk was standing by a tree. He was huge. He got a bit grumpy, though, and started waving his trunk and flapping his ears, so we decided discretion was the better part of valour and drove on.

We arrived at Kasane’s Chobe Safari Lodge at lunchtime. It’s amazingly beautiful. There are signs on the trees near our rondavel that read, "Beware of the crocodiles" and "Beware of the hippos". Both of them have been known to come up onto the river banks at night. There are also signs asking that we don’t feed the monkeys, but it doesn’t matter whether you feed them or not. They just help themselves from the dinner table. One leapt onto the breakfast table this morning and snatched a banana from a plate, then retreated to a tree to eat it. If a monkey can gloat, then this one was gloating. It was almost as if he were saying, "There, I licked it! It’s mine! Nyaa!"

On our first afternoon at the safari lodge, we went on a cruise on the Chobe River. I don’t think we’d gone more than 50m before we saw an elephant on the bank, and that was just the start.

We saw lots of these:

A couple of these:

(It's a kudu bull.)

A couple of these:

A few of these:

And a shiny, red arseload of these:

The Chobe is a very pretty river. Trees grow down to the banks and there are fields of aquatic grasses that the elephants love. If the Limpopo is grey etc., the Chobe is more the colour of stewed tea. We cruised down the low channel, which on the Botswanan side. In the middle is a grassy island that belongs to Botswana and on the other side of the island is a deeper channel and then Namibia.

It was actually rather funny, watching all the tour boats loaded down with whiteys, all ugly shorts and sunburn, beer bottle in one hand and camera in the other. Yay for tourists, eh? The boats race each other to get to the animals. The guides have hawk eyes and can spot a little kingfisher from 75m away, but they also follow each other. If one boat pulls up to the bank, the others will follow to see what they're looking at.

After the cruise, Bloke took me to a ripping little bar on the riverbank called the Sedudu Bar. We drank vodka and guava juice in tall glasses that clinked with ice and watched the sun set. As the sun went down, masses of dragonflies came out and their hovering bodies were black against the fiery sky.

Yesterday, we went into Zimbabwe to visit Victoria Falls. I can’t find a word good enough for these falls. I’ve already thrown aside astounding and spectacular and wondrous. The spray is visible as soon as you pull into town. It looks like low cloud, or from a distance, smoke.
The falls are fed by the Zambezi, which is in flood at the moment and still rising. The water is swarming over the falls, thousands and thousands of litres every second, bringing with it tons of sediment from upstream.

Bloke warned me that we would get wet and we certainly did. We were soaked to the knickers by the time we finished the walk. The spray ranges from a fine, wind-blown mist to soaking rain. The vegetation around the falls is sub-tropical rainforest, just from the constant spray from the falls. We hired raincoats, but soon shed them because it was too hot. I ended up tucking them over my camera bag, trying to keep that dry.

Some people will go to any lengths to stay dry. We saw some rather sweaty-looking Poms in yellow macs and sou’westers. I think I’d rather be drenched in spray than in my own sweat, thanks very much. Besides, my jeans needed washing.

After the falls, we bought a few souvenirs and a cup of coffee that cost $6500 Zimbabwean dollars (US$3) and went on a Zambezi cruise. Cruises have dropped off along with the tourists, since Zimbabwe isn’t the best place to visit at the moment. Thanks for that, President Mugabe. No wonder your people are all praying for your death – not only is there no sugar and bread costs $1000 Zim dollars a loaf, but you've destroyed a thriving tourist market. We did manage to get a boat, though, and had a two hour cruise on the river. The surface was like glass, with palm trees on the banks and hippos in the shallows.

This morning we got up at the crack of dawn to go on a game drive through Chobe National Park. There were animals everywhere: elephants, puku, wart hogs, impala, hippos, crocodiles and all sorts of birds. We even saw a giraffe, which was rather exciting. Tomorrow, we fly to the Okavango Delta.

I have to say, though, there’s a lotta shit in Africa. And if I keep going the way I am now, I’m on target to leave a size eight-and-a-half boot print in a bit of everything. So far I’ve stepped in elephant, baboon, goat, donkey, cow, unidentified antelope and a couple of other things that I can’t name. There have been quite a number of near misses and there’s probably other crap that I’ve stepped in without knowing it. We’ve also driven through a fair bit of it, because in between potholes on the road to Kasane was a hell of a lot of elephant crap. I'm sure the tally will rise, because if there’s one thing you can count on me doing, it’s stepping in poop.

It's elephant. Of course.

Here endeth the second instalment.

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At 10:51 am, February 15, 2007, Blogger actonb said...

Oh wow!


Amazing. So jealous! But also, what a fantastic time you're having!

At 11:11 am, February 15, 2007, Anonymous Teddy said...

You really didnt need to post the photos----your words described it all----a great adventure and now an authority on the varieties of shit.
And a beer too---big adventure---you have always been "bloke acceptable"
But still no news on the bathing costume

At 12:08 pm, February 15, 2007, Blogger Lonie Polony said...

Fantastic! Really enjoying your travelogue, and hope for more :)

At 1:03 pm, February 15, 2007, Blogger audrey said...

Ah red, I can't wait to catch up for a beer (or maybe we can concoct a bitch?) when you get back and here all about it again!

Also, I totally relate to picking up on words and accents. It's embarrassing sometimes how chameleonic I can be. God help me if I ever go to America.

At 2:00 pm, February 15, 2007, Blogger Scorpy said...

Red..that was brilliant...I didn't want it to stop. The big bull elephant must have been amazing. I can't wait for the next installment :)

At 2:05 pm, February 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And you didn't want to go to Efrika.
Yes, I'm reading. It's bloomin' marvellous stuff, complete with pix that come over well.
Gawd, you annoy me. So frigin' accomplished.
Love from one of your envious former bosses. Hugs to the Bloke too.

At 3:12 pm, February 15, 2007, Blogger killerrabbit said...

That sounds so amazing Red, you almost make me want to go to Africa before South America.

I hope the rest of your travels are rotting goat free

At 3:47 pm, February 15, 2007, Blogger gigglewick said...

so. jealous. i. can. hardly. breathe.

At 7:55 am, February 16, 2007, Blogger londongirl said...

Sounds like quite an adventure. And you definitely win the worst public toilet story!

Glad some things don't change though - beer is still marvellous and those of us who are clumsy, will still step in poo.

At 12:22 pm, February 16, 2007, Blogger foodkitty said...

from now on, all dubious loos encountered (and aren't there a lot) will be called dead goats in honour of redcap..

At 3:59 pm, February 17, 2007, Blogger Steph said...

You are having such an amazing adventure. It makes all other travel stories seem rather lame in comparison.

At 8:38 am, February 20, 2007, Blogger Ariel said...

Wow indeed. What gorgeous photos (and words, of course). It's so amazing to think that you've seen all those animals so close up. And the falls ...

All sounds brilliant and fascinating, and like you're enjoying yourself immensely. A fellow beer hater, I've sampled and not hated Mexican beers, but not managed a whole drink to myself.

And thanks to Audrey for reminding me to check up on you!

At 1:38 am, February 21, 2007, Anonymous vitt said...

Hey mate,

those are pretty amazing photos, looks like you are having a fabbo time.

At 5:03 am, February 22, 2007, Blogger Marcheline said...

Jealousy is such an inadequate word... and yet it's the only one that comes to mind.


- M

At 5:10 am, February 22, 2007, Blogger Marcheline said...

I lied... something else came to mind. Various great lines using the "bitch" cocktail as the subject.

1. Let's get together and share a bitch after work, eh?

2. I'll be right there - just have to lick the bitch off my lips.

3. If life's a bitch, I'll take a double.

4. Bitch, bitch, bitch - it's always the same with you!

5. What you call it when the shot glass is slammed against the bar after doing the shot - Bitch Slap.

6. The little-known valley girl version of this drink, called "the biotch".

7. I had these two bitches last night, one after the other...

8. Left my bitch for two seconds to go to the can, and when I got back, that bitch was drunk.

At 12:00 pm, February 24, 2007, Blogger Ms Smack said...


So glad to hear you're safe too

Watch your back over there and have a great time...


At 6:58 pm, February 26, 2007, Blogger Miss Natalie said...

Must be one of the best travel posts i've ever read! What an experience. Great images too :-)

At 11:05 pm, February 26, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

Thanks everyone :)

At 3:39 pm, April 19, 2007, Anonymous Arveecee said...

Have been on many of the same places as you and thoroughly enjoyed the Zambezi Lagers, while writing postcards in the magnificent garden of the Victoria Falls Hotel back in 1993.
Enjoy the remainder of your trip.
Unable to open the picks though.



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