dinsdag 31 januari 2012

30th januari 2012 - update

Struggling to remember what we have done since the last update....after our lion walks and a night encounter with captive hunting lions (who nearly ate the parks horses!) we then went to Bulawayo and were supposed to do Rhino tracking on foot. Our white Zimbabwean guide was hopeless and spent more time telling me he was on facebook than telling us about Rhinos. By chance we bumped into an anti poaching team who were learning to shoot poachers on sight, an interesting concept (and i wont be losing any sleep over shot poachers). These guys were really helpful and informative but only 2 people could go with them so the rest of us waited in the truck. It was also one of the best raptor sites in Africa, but the rain meant we didnt see a single raptor! We did see some rock paintings and Elephant shrews (one if the 'small 5')
That night Jules, Azusa, Chris and i cooked 'boerenworst', mash and garlic and tomato kale, i was so hungry especially after the night before when i had been so ill that i thought i would never eat again!
At Victoria falls we met up with Dan, who stayed with us for all of a week before he had to fly back to London for medical reasons, he is still awaiting the results of his tests but we wish him all the best and hope to hear how he is getting on soon.
From Vic falls we drove into Botswana. The days are a bit of a blur now but on one afternoon we took a boat trip on the Chobe river and had great views of hippos, elephants etc. I celebrated my birthday by waking up in a bush camp, and returnig to my tent to find it filled with baloons (that would explain last nights banging noises). That afternoon i saw my 2000th species, Meve's Long-tailed Starling, was treated to curry by Remkes cook group, a few beers, cake, a swim, some presents, a bottle of wine from Katka and Katie, African Baileys, a wooden bird and a book about Botswanan mammals and various monkey related things from Remke : )
The next day we left early for the Okavango, where we were 'poled' by our mokoro poler 'beauty', whose poling was bettered only by her howling when singing! The delta was beautiful and we spent our time swimming (the area was delcared croc and hippo free by our local guides), doing bush walks and trying our hand at poling, not the easiest!
After getting back to Maun we cleaned up our tents and cooking equioment from the delta and then drove to town for a scenic flight over the delta, sadly cancelled due to inclement weather (read - Botswana were playing Ghana in the African cup of nations?)
The following morning we took our flight and could appreciate the deltas sheer size. It was also possibe to see elephants, giraffes, hippos and crocs from the sky, in fact i could even make out Pied Kingfishers so we must have been fairly low!
In the afternoon we crossed the border to Namibia and slept at Ngepi camp with hippos calling at night and a lion roaring in the distance, apparently it was ok to walk off birding on my own, whilst 3 of the group went jogging.
That night we bush camped illegally (as it all is in Namibia apparently), our site was near a famous big baobab tree called 'the big tree'.
From there it was just a few hours to Etosha where we did a game drive in Gunga. Highlights were the Leopard that Brendan found, plus a pair of Lions mating, Gemsbok, Black-backed Jackals and lots of birds. We stopped for lunch at a campsite, with swimming pool and ice creams! That evening we arrived at our camp, complete with waterhole and spent from 1830-0130 sitting watching African Wild Cat, more Jackals but this time within a few metres, Verreaux's Eagle and Barn Owls, Rufous-cheeked and Mozambique Nightjars and 2 Common Genets at stroking distance, had we wanted to stroke them that is!
After dragging myself to bed i was woken at 0500 by an ever increasing Lion roar, sadly i didnt muster the energy to get up, others did and saw the lion drinking. The waterhole was amazing, floodlit, benches and tables etc. We even ate a great veggie coconut curry that Katka had made whilst watching the wildlife.
We left the park seeing more game, more Springboks (actually springing) and drove to Cheetah park where we were allowed to stroke their 3 pet Cheetahs as well as seeing other Cheetahs being fed. The latter have apparently been collected from the wild as the local farmers wanted to shoot them. Not sure what was really going on....a bit of an odd place!
Then we drove to Spitzkoppe, beautiful scenery, we cooked zuurkool stampot with more boerenworst and then slept on the sand next to our tent. Thankfully no snakes or scorpions found our sleeping bags to their liking and we could gaze at thousands of stars. Also lots of birds present but no sign of Herero Chat in 4 hours of searching.
The girls bush stop the next morning produced a small snake, the reason i was running towards the girls with my camera honestly! It was a young Horned Adder.
We are now in Swakopmund having visited Cape Cross Cape Fur Seal colony yesterday (30th). There we fulfilled our last cooking duty of the trip, followed by a group hug. Swakopmund is very German, with great food, some German beer and right on the beach. For Remkes birthday i have upgraded us to a room, with ensuite facilites, chance for laundry and internet before we do our last 3 nights camping. At the South African border we leave the truck behind (due to extortionate overland costs) and travel the last few days by bus.
Hope to get some more online tomorrow but for now here are a few photos of our last week or so.

woensdag 18 januari 2012

18 januari 2012 - Vic Falls

We are now on our 2nd full day by Victoria falls. On arrival we were told that there would be no bungee jumping due to the elastic snapping on New Years eve...thankfully the girl survived but there are now South African inspectors coming to see what happened..erm, the bungee snapped?
Dinner was at the Boma restaurant, with an eat all you can meat feast. Tried Kudu, Warthog, Impala, Buffalo and Eland as well as eating a Mopani worm (we both received a certificate for eating that!), before being given drums to play and do a bit of dancing.
Yesterday we took an early morning taxi to the Zambian border, walked through customs and were picked up and taken the short distance to a local airfield where we took microlights over the falls. Absolutely unbelievable, brilliant view, 15 mins of excitement ending with a low level flight over swimming hippos and crocodiles!! Within 2 hours we were back in Zimbabwe, talk about quality time in a country.
After that we watched Raoul and Claire do a tandem gorge swing (as far as i can tell just as scary as bungeeing), and Jo and Jules both did individual jumps....very impressed girls!
We then went to the national park for a walk around, great lunch and a thorough drenching from the spray.
Today we were up early again to go white water rafting, which was also brilliant. One of the rapids was level 4 but most were 2-3, which meant we only came out of the boat once. There were also times when we were allowed to jump overboard and just drift with the flow downstream until the guys picked us up again. All very well organised and followed by lunch.
For her birthday Remke received High tea at the Vic falls hotel, so we just ate our fill of cakes, scones and sandwiches and tonight Claire is doing a BBQ.
Tomorrow we go to the Chobe river for a cruise, followed by a bush camp, then to Maun where i will celebrate my birthday before 3 days (2 nights) camping rough in the Okavango delta. Hopefully my 2000th world tick will happen in the next few days, at 1990 now.
 We are up to 6 countries now, 3 to go....and all still fantastic. Oh and we found Dan at Vic falls, and he will join us until Cape Town, before flying to America (slightly different from his original idea of spending 2 months in SA!)
More when i get chance, and hopefully some more photos.

woensdag 11 januari 2012

11 januari 2012 - stil loving Zimbabwe

Since leaving Harare we headed up into the eastern highlands of Chimanimani. This was a new route for Oasis and the scenery just got better and better. Im now spending most of my time on the 'beach', a cushioned area on top of the truck, with the best view, fresh air and rather a lot of sun. It does provide a great place to bird from and by midday it's usually too hot for other people to want to sit there!
Once at our camp, who didn't know we were arriving, we chose our camping spots (tent set up is now a very fast process) and checked out the facilities. These ranged from a toilet to a shower with no water. The bar was set behind a cage and the 5 locals in the bar all pretty much hammered by 1800.
After dinner we got an early night in anticipation for a free day hiking/birding.
The next morning we paid our $10, sorry no maps available, and set off for the local landmarks of 'pork pie' and 'bridal veil falls'......several hours later we had seen no such sights, a few birds and picnicked in Miombo type woodland. It was then time to walk back as i was on cooking duty. On the way home we saw Jules, Jo, Asouza and Mika in the beer garden (a garden where they could drink beer), and we headed to camp.
Tonight we we were cooking veggie curry, and as it was so early Remke offered to help me. By 1600 the curry was made and it was time for a beer, a game of cricket and a few hours later the beer garden people rounded the corner, singing 'my heart will go on'.....seems like a wise move cooking early as 1 of my cooking group soon passed out, and the other wasn't much use : ) There is a 4th member of our group, Chris, but he isn't very keen on cooking. In fact on 3 occasions he has stabbed himself in the finger whilst cutting veg, and we all think it's deliberate. What Chris lacks in culinary ability he makes up for in charm and making cups of tea!
Some of the more serious walkers had been off for hours and they arrived back just before 2000 in time for dinner. Curry went down well, one of the 'meat 3 times a day guys' even going back for more.
The next morning we were on omelette duty, although Chris thought we should just offer everyone crisps for breakfast!
After breaking camp, thankfully after no showers for 2 nights, we drove through more great scenery, finally ending up in Great Zimbabwe. A few hours were spent checking the ruins (the largest and oldestin sub saharan Africa). Personally they were a bit of a let down, although the view was great.
Back at camp, a nice spacious site, we were treated to warm showers (although there were 4 showers there were only 3 doors, 2 shower heads and 0 locks!)
I was just making Remke a cup of tea when Alan came to tell me that there was a bird in the toilet....i kind of thought this might be a practical joke but once in the cubicle sure enough there was a kingfisher species about to drown. He has since been put in box, with some dirty clothes (those white t shirts of mine will never be clean again) and after dinner he has at least stopped shivering and is dry. The box is now in our tent and at first light im going to see if he has survived the night. Fingers crossed.
Before dinner we also spent some time by the tent, lay on the fly sheet, watching Jupiter and the stars getting brighter. We saw one shooting star, plus Katka told us she had just seen an owl. I forget how casual non birders are when it comes to birds, and when i asked her if it was still there she told me it was and within 30 seconds i was watching my first Spotted Eagle Owl. As i type from my tent, it seems that everyone is asleep, the moon is very full, there are hundreds of insects calling and what i assume are my first Fiery-necked Nightjars calling. Sadly have mislaid my speaker so no hope of luring them in.
The last few nights have been a bit cooler although i haven't yet slept inside my sleeping bag.
Tomorrow (11 jan) we drive about 3 hours to Gweru, where i hope to put this online. We will be staying at Antelope park, famous for its Lion breeding programme. There we will get the chance to walk with Lion cubs (up to 18 months), and if i can round up 4 more people then we can also follow older animals as they are allowed into the park to feed at night. Eventually they will be released into the wild, or at least that's what we have been told....may have to ask some questions when there. Apparently the camp is nice, so 3 nights of decent facilities, and Remkes birthday whilst we are there. This is also the place where it is possible to do a horse ride safari, which surely puts you in the realms of 'prey item'? The camp also has a bird guide, who for $15 can show me a selection of local birds.
Neither of us can believe how fast the time is going, we have been away for 32 days already and just 43 to go, but that includes Victoria falls, Rhino stalking, the Okavango delta (2 nights taking local canoes, our food and tents into the delta), Namibia (Etosha, Swakopmund etc) and nearly 3 weeks in South Africa.
A great morning, our kingfisher, a Brown-hooded, woke us up at 0530 by calling and rattling around in the box. There was another calling outside so we placed him in a branch and he flew strongly away, such a great feeling!
I also found my speaker this morning, had a healthy breakfast and the theme has been set for Remkes birthday....friday 13th....i wonder if there will be a bird theme for my birthday? Yellow-bellied Sapsucker anyone?
Mid afternoon update, we stopped in town to allow the next 3 cook groups to go shopping.....after getting my lunch i then went to the local department store to ask for white and black make up so i can paint my face for friday.....where the assistant decided to call the town clown and ask him to meet me to tell me where he buys his make up!!! Anyway he didn't turn up (never trust a clown!) but Claire has make up i can use.
Now at Antelope park and we have signed up for walking with lions, lion feeding and tracking lions at night. I am also the only person signed up for the bird walk and the snake walk, but we will both do the bush walk.....basically it sounds like we eat poop and decjde how long ago it happened?
Great location here, tent on river shore, bar, laundry (no underwear for health reasons - their words), Remke is cooking, cold beer and lots of birds, bliss!

zaterdag 7 januari 2012

7 januari 2012 - Zimbabwe

Just a brief update now. We travelled from Malawi through Mozambique and are now in Zimbabwe. What a beautiful country! Stunning scenery and great people. Today we walked to the botanic gardens, nice birding and really peaceful. Walked a good few km in total and we have stocked up for a picnic by the pool later. Most of group are going into Harare for dinner but breakfast is at 0630 so we are having an easy night. Tomorrow to the Chimanimani mountain range, supposed to be stunning and a free day for hiking (read birding).

woensdag 4 januari 2012

4 januari 2012 - African update

So much to write and so little time to write it! Here's a summary of what we have done so far. After leaving the Masai mara we met up with the rest of the group in Nairobi. They have been on the road for 2 months already, from Cairo, and we really are the new blood. In total there were 4 of us 'newbies'. Two people left the group in Nairobi, so there are 22 of us in total, plus Brendan our driver and Claire our guide. Well actually we are now 21 as Dan decided to stay in Dar es Salaam.....we hope he might rejoin the trip in Zimbabwe as he was only here for 10 days before he departed!!
Anyway, we first headed to Arusha, and were based at Snake park with several other overlanding trucks (not to be called buses as i keep forgetting). From there we headed out for a 3 day Serengeti safari. This was superb and quite different from the Masai mara. The views of the animals weren't as close but the scenery, especially Ngorongoro, the vastness of the plains and the sheer numbers of wildebeest were amazing. I can't remember ever seeing so many mammals of one species in one place, just wildebeest right to the horizon. We also saw more Lions, yet another Leopard (one of the single most impressive pieces of field skill i have ever seen - picked up by our driver at great distance, whilst driving, with just it's tail hanging down from a tree), another Cheetah and we completed the big 5 in a day with Black Rhinoceros. Bird wise it was also good, too many things to mention but Heuglin's and Two-banded Coursers were great, plus loads of raptors.
At snake park we checked out the snake collection....not sure who thought the idea of deadly snakes next to a bar was a good one, but i got to see a Black Mamba at less than a metre distance, which was very cool. Also some great looking vipers.
From Arusha we headed towards Dar es Salaam, stopping to bush camp along the way. In fact it was supposed to be a basic campsite but it had been closed a while. I was also on cook duty that night, so the 4 of us used our budget wisely to make veggie pasta sauce. The next morning we were up at 0430 to make breakfast.....20+ omelettes and no casualties!
Once in Dar we camped at a beachside campsite and had our first swim in a very warm, and dirty Indian ocean. The site also had a saltwater pool, and saltwater showers, the latter didn't work. It was a very warm, humid night and not used to there being so many tents in close proximity. We were up early again to take tuc-tucs to a ferry, then another ferry for the 3 hour boat to Zanzibar. Caught up with one of my main targets on the trip, Crab Plover but too far for photos. Also my first Brown Noddy. Once on Zanzibar we headed to our hostel, luxury of a double ensuite room for $40 incl breakfast. We spent the afternoon shopping for 'secret santa' before bumping into Dan and losing ourselves in the actual town market. On the way back we found Mercury's bar and it seemed rude to not to call in for a xmas eve drink. That evening we headed to the fish market, where it was possible to buy just about everything. Unfortunately i think i just chose badly as everything i ate was pretty bad! Others enjoyed it though.
Xmas morning - woke up early and opened my presents (Remke had hung stockings at the end of the bed) and then we had breakfast on the roof with a few of the others who were up early. Remke then set off for a day spice tour, whilst i opted to transfer to the north, and the beach, which was to be our home for the next 3 nights. So xmas day was spent with a bit of swimming, a bit of lazing about and in the evening we all went out for dinner. Im sure that we didn't disturb the other diners.....as we dished out our secret santa presents, and received gifts of equal value back. The food was excellent, especially the seafood...so im not sure why i ordered beef?
The next day was a really lazy one, swimming, reading, sleeping, drinking cocktails, etc. Dinner was late, slow and not great.
10 of us arranged to go snorkelling today, and we were joined by about 20 other tourists and set out, in the rain, to Mnemba atoll. As the rest of the group huddled under a tarpaulin to stay dry i was loving seeing more Noddys, Lesser-crested terns and best of all 2 Red-necked Phalaropes battling through the rain. Great to see this species on its winter quarters.
The sun did come out in the end, and it was scorching, nothing better than to jump in the inviting water, where Josh, our resident marine biologist told us that the jellyfish shouldn't sting too much.....and 10 minutes later we were nearly all back in the boat, sting after sting. They weren't painful but there just becomes a point where they are a pain in the ass! Before i got out of the water i did see some amazing fish and having never snorkelled over a coral reef before it was a great experience.
Back on land we went back to our xmas day restaurant and this time enjoyed a good fish meal.
28th dec - ferry back to Dar es Salaam. Uneventful until Katka and i offered to take Remke and Katies luggage back for them as they were doing cook group shopping. It was only 15 minutes walk to the ferry, so with my luggage on my back, my hand baggage on my chest and Remkes bag on my head we sweated our way to the ferry. The fact that Katka had to carry 2 bags made me wonder if the local guys thought i was a wimp for not offering to carry hers as well?? This feat of human endurance saved us $2! That night was back at the beach camp, this time some pool swimming, showers working and the news that we are leaving at 0430. Roll on through a warm, humid night, a tent full of things that bite and it's time to leave. Our guide is somewhere passed out on the beach apparently and Dan tells us he's staying behind! Rumours abound about who he has met, and most of us assume he was joking, but sure enough he stayed in Dar! Hopefully he will catch us up later, otherwise we will never know!
So early start, long drive, great scenery (as most days have been, forgot to say how amazing the water colour on Zanzibar was) and some heavy traffic meant we missed our hoped for bush camp and set up at a quiet campsite with no power but some water, and loos!
Next day another early start and we cross over into Malawi. Stopped en route to do our cook group shopping, and buy bits for our 'animal' theme party. Remke and i wanted to go as dung beetles but settled for leopard, zebra type hybrids. Due to conservative local customs i (the group) was saved from me wearing a leopard print mini skirt! Although it fitted perfectly and was nice and airy in the humid climate.
After dinner we all dressed up, had a few beers and before i know it's 3am....i had sacrificed my shirt to a beach bonfire and at the same time lost my headtorch (the single most useful item i have with me). Now using the wind up torch Renate gave me until we get to the shops. Somewhere during the night my ipod was also used for the disco, and thankfully no one played 'african bird sounds' by mistake.
Woke up on new years day with a slight hangover, which when inside a tent, and 30 degrees is really not to be recommended. Still some people looked worse and some were still drinking til lunchtime. The sight of others swigging neat rum for breakfast, followed by vodka and beer at the bar made me realise that my alcohol consumption really was very tame by comparison!
That evening we were on cook duty, made all the easier by Claire ordering a spit roast, so we made some side salads, chucked some sweet potatos in the fire and our job was done.
Today, 2nd of jan, is a day of doing nothing, writing this blog post, maybe a swim later. Dinner tonight is at a local house in the village, which should be fun. Tomorrow we leave for Lilongwe, where we have 2 nights. This will give Claire time to sort our Mozambique visas (just a transit visit), on our way to Zimbabwe. I can also buy a head torch, hopefully find wifi, stock up on supplies etc.
Still no internet and now 4th jan. Our evening meal in a local village was ok, food was good, and local kids did a few dances before us. Before it was our turn to dance with them.....had they been Masai then my dance style of jumping up and down might have impressed them. However they weren't and i didn't. We also sung for them, old macdonald seemed like a good idea at the time : )
Back at camp i tried playing thr ipod for African Wood Owl (Brendan had seen 2 owls in the daytime yday). Sure enough after 5 secs of playing 4 flew in, and then called above our tent for an hour.
After leaving camp on 3rd it rained most of the way to Lilongwe (did see Southern Ground Hornbill along the road) then we had 2 free hours to do some shopping. First port of call was a local grill house to use their loos.....where i couldn't help but notice 'giblets galore' on the menu, maybe tomorrow?
I also found a head torch, Remke found muesli and now we are heading back for a whole day of shopping, blogging etc whilst others post their shoppingr home, chairs, tables, etc!
Last night there there were 00's of small falcons flying over the town in the twilight. They looked like Amur types but hope to see them in better light tonight.
Tomorrow we reach Mozambique, a night camping in the bush along the formerly infamous 'gun corridor', before reaching Zimbabwe the next day. We have a few days in Harare, plus chances to track rhinos on foot, feed lion cubs, and then we reach Vic falls.