Monday, 31 December 2007

Moremi - Day 4

Water everywhere
A good night’s sleep last night despite the lions, and in the end it was a non-event, not even signs of the lions.  Breakfast of muffins and mangoes, which the baboons seem to love – one sat on a tree stump near us eating the mango pip.  Decided to go off exploring around Xakanaxa, basically check out the campsite and the area around there.  A local crew from Gabs told us that the Dead Tree Island drive was very scenic, so wanted to include that as well. 

Took a drive via the bridge at 3rd bridge – well, it’s the only way to get there… I think ;) It’s also the only bridge that hasn’t fallen or broken or is impassable.  The drive is very beautiful and scenic, so we took a couple of detours from the main road to the river banks, which is were we saw our first Lechwe of the trip.  He was just parking off sitting in the grass on his own, pretty unconcerned with us, along with a few hippos in the water, and a flock of Darters in the trees. 

Finally met with 4th bridge – we had been told it was down before we had even got into the park, and there was just a big pool of water next to the bridge, which is where you have to cross.  Got through it without much drama, despite water coming up to the bonnet.

Got to the Dead Tree Island turnoff sign – well, the first of a few signs.  Had a brunch of chicken rolls overlooking reeds and then started for the island.  Found our way around using the principle of sticking to the main tracks, saw quite a couple of guided tour vehicles along the way, which is understandable since it is quite a beautiful drive around there – very forest like, unbelievable to see it after seeing the dryness of the Kalahari.

We were wondering around when we came across a convoy of 2 cars heading in the opposite direction, so in true Dru fashion, had a quick chat finding out what, if anything, they had seen.   Bugger all in the morning, but that story isn’t finished yet… Strangely, they all seemed to be Sri Lankan, with the exception of the one driver, which is unusual, but more about that later…
Dead trees around Dead Tree Island
The drive to Dead Tree Island is really stunning – we saw a great scene at an open plain with a “billabong” (like a waterhole).  Stacks of baboons, impala, zebra and a few giraffes all grazing in the area.  A really nice and peaceful setting, with a couple of other buck which we hadn’t yet seen, like puku and waterbuck, and a whole variety of birds.  So hung around taking a couple of photos and enjoying the scene there. 

Went a bit further down the road, but hit some very slippery mud, and decided not to take the chance, so turned back down the road for a bit, then took some side roads… so much for sticking to the main roads ;)
Found an airstrip on the way to Xakanaxa – we were actually starting to wonder if we were going the right way when we stumbled upon it.  A few zebra were grazing on the strip and you can’t help but think of the tourists that are flying in – a real appropriate start to their African safari – landing next to a herd of zebra ;)

About 3,5 km from the airstrip is the Xakanaxa campsite.  There were a couple of things to see along the way, like our first Reedbuck, which was pretty cool – it was the first time I had seen them – probably wouldn’t have thought twice, but stopped to check them out cos they didn’t look exactly like the normal impala.

The campsite itself is not too bad, though it seems a bit tamer than 3rd bridge.  They have the sites a lot closer together and they have rubbish bins, which is a big bonus - next time we head towards Xakanaxa, we’re gonna take all our rubbish with to dump there ;)  And they have ablutions there that seem to be a lot better serviced than the 3rd bridge ones.  At ours it’s just easier to do everything at the campsite though, and it’s a lot more private.

Vervet monkeys

Met up with Dennis and Jurgen there – the 2 blokes that Dru had met at the South Gate entrance.  They had made it to Xakanaxa and were due to be at 3rd Bridge the night before but had got lost – with a GPS!

Apparently, they got to 4th Bridge but couldn’t find their way from there to the campsite, which is very strange as there are only 2 roads from there – and both lead to the 3rd Bridge camp… but they gave up after a few hours… So they were staying there another night and then trying their luck again in the morning… wonder if they ever found their way…

After chatting to them, decided to make use of the toilets, and there was another vehicle there which gave Dru the opportunity to chat to the people ;) Spoke to the wife first, they had come in from Savuti and were heading for 3rd bridge before heading into the pans.  And they were all the way from Cape Town.  They were a family of 4 – Barry, his wife and 2 young kids… it gives us great hope to see a single car travelling through Botswana like that.
Rules of the campsite
After checking out the campsite, decided to take a slow meandering trip back to 3rd Bridge, but take a few detours along the way and check everything in the area out.  We had just left the campsite, when we ran into the 2 cars of Sri Lankans again.  And they told us that they had seen a leopard stalking on the side of the road… 300 meters from where we had passed them!!! Couldn’t believe it – 300m! They were with the leopard for about an hour and a half – we were very jealous… 

After further chatting, found out this was the crew that Dru knew would be up here.  Dru had met a guy Chaminda, that works for UN Aid, on a 4x4 course, so they knew each other would be up there.  What Dru didn’t know was that one of the party was his ex-girlfriend from 20 years ago! Small world in the end.  Lengthy chat across cars, all the while one of the guys videoing the exchange.  Quite amusing really ;)

 After that we headed off along the way, but because it was only 15km to the camp, decided to take a detour – a very lengthy one in the end – we got lost…  Basically we were working with the principle of taking lefts every time there was a fork in the road. There are no maps of the area, with new roads appearing all the time because of the seasonal flooding.  So lefts it was, until the right hand turns starting looking more interesting…

I have no idea where we ended up, but we had to go through reeds about a meter high to get there.  Finally got to a plain where there was nothing much except a few dead trees – I say that was Dead Tree Island, but Dru disagrees – guess we will never know, since we wouldn’t be able to find it again ;)

What was cool though, was seeing some hippos relatively close up out of the water grazing.  Since normally all you tend to see are 2 eyes and a nose in the water, it was great to see the whole hippo – and there’s a lot of hippo ;) And boy, can they run on land! A lot faster than I thought, considering their size.

Used the old system to find our way back – using the sun… no GPS for us ;) And it actually worked.  We eventually found our way back to the lodges and from there we could figure out where the Xakanaxa campsite was.  We did pass a few tour vehicles, who told us that 3rd bridge was towards the way we came, but stuck to the way we knew – that way we missed the bad patches of mud as well.  So finally got to the campsite and then headed off to 3rd bridge. 

We caught up with the tour vehicles again – they had stopped all their cars right in the middle of the road to watch a couple of giraffes – a cardinal sin in the laws of bush driving – if you see something, pull over!  We finally got past them and about 50m down the road, we saw about 5 times more giraffes than the tours had stopped for.  So we stopped to watch the big herd – almost in the middle of the road, but pulled over just in time ;) The tour vehicles came roaring past and half drove into the bush to get closer… As Dru said – you don’t want to deny the dollar paying tourists from getting a shot of a giraffe ;)

 Carried on a while longer, before I shouted at Dru to stop suddenly – a big snake was moving onto the road – about 2m long.  We think it was a python, but it’s something we’ll have to check when we get back.  The snake stopped in the middle of the road and then refused to move. 

After photographing him, Dru tried to sneak past the back of him, but he suddenly whipped around and back and disappeared under the car! Frantic reversing in time to see him go back the way he had come, but not before almost giving a poor bird that was sitting on a branch a heart attack by slithering past ;)

Was driving back when we saw the same 2 Sri Lankan cars stopped – and they were watching a lioness – wow – they had had some good luck for the day! So headed in that direction and got some good shots of her.  It was quite amusing to watch – she started to walk on the road and eventually there were 6 cars all following her.  Just showing all of us exactly who the king of the jungle is.

We hung around with her for a while before slowly heading back to camp.  We didn’t want to leave it too late and then find it more difficult than we thought to find our way back.  But there really is only one way to the campsite – who knows what Jurgen and Dennis were doing with their GPS… 

Follow the leader...
After checking how much damage the baboons had done – basically they had jumped on the tent again – we started a fire and then went down the road to check out the first good sunset of the trip.  It was awesome sitting on the roof of the car, Dru with his camera and monopod taking photos of the setting sun.

While we were sitting there, 5 people rocked up on foot from the campsite next to us – brave we thought, but of course they didn’t know about the lions from the previous night.  They were travelling in a convoy of 3, and had come through Savuti, but had taken the Marsh road instead of the sand road, basically suicide in the wet.  And they had got stuck, 12 times the one guy told us.  They had to actually spend a night sleeping in the marsh.  And they chose that road deliberately… these mad Saffies ;)

After being done with the sunset, we were back in camp to make our New Year’s Eve dinner – and what a dinner… Rump, topped with bacon, cheese slices, sun-dried tomatoes and olives, topped with more cheese and bacon and another rump – all wrapped in tinfoil and put on the coals for an hour – pretty bloody delicious.  
Preparing New Year's dinner
Strangely enough the hyena didn’t seem to be around, so we were wondering if the lions were still in the area.  Needless to say, we were done and in the roof tent pretty early just in case ;)  Were busy having a drink of Tia Maria to toast in the New Year when suddenly there were flashlights around.  Thought it was the next campsite that had spotted the hyena, but it was actually 2 guys walking to our campsite… at that time of night...  Couldn’t believe it – what is this???

They were from the campsite next door, but 2 younger guys that came to ask if we would mind if they set off a couple of fireworks to celebrate at midnight.  They told us that the hyena had been in their camp earlier scavenging and they’d smacked it over the head – definitely a lot braver, or a lot more stupid, than us!  They set off a couple of fireworks at midnight, which of course in turn set off the baboons, but luckily not as much as we’d thought they would.  So we toasted in the New Year with fireworks, screeching baboons and Tia Maria in the middle of Moremi.  Thousands will be partying in the New Year in the big cities around the world, but there are only a handful that can say they’ve done it at 3rd bridge – we’re the luckier ones…

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