Friday, February 28, 2014

Lightning fast

The only thing moving at lightning pace in Kasane this morning was ... well ... lightning. 

As usual the internet crawled at the speed of an arthritic snail. That is, when it moved at all. The power went down. Then came on, to everyone's relief. Then went off again. Several times. It's pretty normal, and I'm learning to accept it as just one of those things you can't change. It's good for me.

Thunder rolled ominously all morning, and by lunchtime the darkest storm clouds I've ever seen had moved in and shafts of vertical lightning lit up the sky. The rain, when it came, was something of an anticlimax compared to the dramatic build-up

Just after lunch came a phone call from the airport. CARACAL  (Centre for African Resources: Animals, Communities And Land use) is also known locally as 'the snake park' because we have many captive native African snakes on exhibit. Around here, if you find a snake you call CARACAL. The airport folks had a snake.

Sarah quickly grabbed her snake wrangling tools, I armed myself with my camera and a VERY long lens 😳 and Sarah's colleague Zach went along to help her because, goodness knows, there's no way I'd be any help!

Our snake was small, perhaps 40cm long and as thick as a finger, and Sarah and Zach both agreed that it was a Herald Snake. 

After being trapped under a traffic control post until we arrived, he had an injured back, but by the time we arrived back at CARACAL he had perked up and settled into his new surroundings quite readily.

These traffic control guys were very bemused to see a young woman handling a snake so confidently. 

Reading up about this fellow, it seems he's the kind of snake I've been afraid of all along - nocturnal, commonly found in gardens and 'bites readily'. Yikes! I'd run a mile if I stumbled on one of these in my garden at night, tiny or not.

By the way, I forgot to tell you about the spitting cobra that escaped from its case a few days before I arrived. Just like everyone forgot to tell me😜. The good news is that he was found two days ago. Phew! That's another snake I wouldn't like to have met face to face.

 I moved mighty fast on Sunday afternoon, this time as a pillion passenger on a motor bike! Sarah and I were taken for a spin, by two very kind friends, into Chobe National Park, and I actually surprised myself by loving the ride.

Sarah took this action shot with her iPhone as she and her friend sped past us.


What a thrilling way to see Botswana!

Pushing my boundaries

I've been spending most weekdays at the CARACAL Biodiversity Centre where Sarah does her field research. There's always something different happening, making it a great place to hang out. 

 I've even made myself useful in the lab providing a bit of unskilled labour labelling test tubes.

Life's never dull. The tyre on the work vehicle exploded while Sarah was driving us to work last week.  

It was 8 o'clock, in the morning, the sun was shining, there were 4 of us, and we were able to slow down and pull to the side of the road. No harm was done, and after Manager Mark came to our rescue with a tyre change we were on our way again. 

I'm trying not to think about the fact that the work vehicle doesn't have a spare tyre if we get another flat.

Right now I'm sitting at a table in the field lab with a tub of meal worms at my feet, breeding in raw rolled oats under a blanket of cotton wool, and destined to become snacks for mongooses Joey, Mary and the (mongoose) pups.

Apey the bush baby, a tiny bundle of saucer-eyed cuteness, is bouncing around the office next door. springing from one human shoulder to the next. Only an animal this sweet can get away with a questionable habit of urinating on his paws and leaving a trace of 'Eau de bush baby' on every surface he touches.

Outside the fence a troop of baboons is scampering past the gate.

There's a dead impala in the freezer and a live cobra in a locked bin waiting to be relocated.

And I've just eaten my first dried mopane worm. Actually its not really a worm, it's a caterpillar that lives off the leaves of the mopane tree, and it's considered a delicacy, eaten dried out of a packet, or fried up fresh with tomatoes, onions and garlic. While it looked gross, it tasted pretty ordinary and rather salty. I won't be doing it again though.

At the rear of the building not 10 meters from here, a black mamba, a boomslang, and a spitting cobra, along with many more of the deadliest snakes in Africa, are resting uneasily in their cages. They're a pretty evil looking bunch but I'm getting used to walking past them. I even joined the whole CARACAL team last week for an evening braai (barbecue) with a Gaboon Adder watching us from her cage (see picture below) as we tucked into our sausages and maize meal.

That same day I held my first (and possibly my last) python.

Then Sarah's house was broken into at 1.30 one morning, while we were in bed.

 It took us both quite a long time to realise that the noises we were hearing at the door weren't just (four legged) animals. Sarah's house is basically just one large room, and when she heard the security screen on the door being pushed back she bravely hopped out of bed and moved towards the door, mobile phone in hand. Our would-be intruder promptly disappeared into the night. Wise man.

There's been a spate of burglaries in and around Kasane over recent months, and the police seem powerless to track down the culprits. I'm not surprised, given their methods which discretion prevents me having a good rant about here. I wish there was a real life Precious Ramotswe who could take the case.

This is the closest we come to the No 1 Lady here.

Theories abound. It's said to be the work of a gang of four, some working in bare feet (one dubbed 'Big Foot' because of his large, but not too deep, footprint), always striking around the same time of night. They are extraordinarily stealthy, bold, and able to make a nimble getaway when surprised, but no-one has been hurt or even threatened. That is, if you don't count the intruder who Sarah's friend woke to find standing beside her bed. She promptly punched him in the face! Or the thief wounded in the knee last week by a pellet gun as he made off with cash after breaking into a parked car.

These thieves seem to be only after money and saleable goods like computers, mobile phones and other portable valuables.

Sarah's timely action prevented a break-in becoming a theft, and again plenty of helpers came to our rescue very quickly. The radio and mobile phone support network works well here and word spread quickly that we had (almost) been the latest victims of these scoundrels. 

With the house unsecured, we were taken in by kind neighbors, and after a week the door has now been repaired and modified to Bank of England standards😳.

As someone called Dorothy once said, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas any more!".

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Super-cool Sunday

It's Sunday night, we've just enjoyed a home cooked meal of fish cakes, gem squash and fresh boiled beetroot, and now we're ironing our underwear to kill the putzi flies.

After a week of information exotic animal overload and excitement it was relaxing to just put my iTunes playlist on at top volume, bop to the strains of tunes like "Happy", "Riptide" "Corner of the Earth", "Night Fever" and "Get Lucky", and become acquainted with this little gadget.

We weren't alone in the garden as we washed our clothes. There was a camera shy warthog. Probably just as well since warthogs have faces only a mother warthog would love.

A pretty little bush buck and her mate who were quite happy to graze nearby.

This one just stood and watched me, even when I walked back and forth past him.

Families of banded mongoose scurried through from time to time.

Finally the cheeky baboons had to get in on the act, checking out the washing on the line.

Sarah lives in a very basic little house in the spacious grounds of a safari lodge, well away from the guest accommodation. The lodge is currently closed, this being the quietest time of the year for tourism. So in the afternoon, with no one around, we walked down to the river front.

It's ok, Sarah's house is well back from the water where neither crocs nor hippos wander. Still, I don't think I'll be venturing down there after dark.

We walked back via the Nature Trail.

I didn't get bitten by a snake, but I did step on a prickly acacia branch and managed to skewer my foot on a long thorn, right through the sole of my joggers. Not a problem (so far).

You're wondering about those putzi flies, aren't you?

It seems these nasty bugs like to lay their eggs on washing left out to dry on the line, and the only way to kill them is to iron every piece of clothing that will touch the skin before wearing it. If this isn't done the eggs burrow deep into your tissue where they cause boils. Then the larvae hatch and move around beneath your skin causing you grief until they're mature enough to dig their way out (or can be excised).

Nice 😟

More creatures, great and small

It's Sunday morning and we've woken to the sound of baboons playing catch on the roof.

While I'm enjoying my muesli and coffee they're breakfasting overhead on fruit from a big tree growing beside Sarah's house. They don't seem to want to sit still, though, and as they leap they land with a crash that reverberates like someone tossing railway sleepers onto the roof.

It's the first morning this week we've been able to have a lie in. Yesterday at the camp it was breakfast at 5.30am then into our safari vehicles for a four hour game drive.

I was beside myself with delight at the effects of the early morning light on both the animals and the landscape.

Baboons on the road, with a single impala.

Nom, nom, nom...

Impala, looking photogenic as always.

Black-backed jackals.

Buffalo emerging from their morning bath.

Crimson breasted bee-eater

A baby chameleon

We kept our eyes peeled for more lions, but though we saw their tracks it seemed they hadn't received our SMS and were otherwise occupied.

Dung beetles on a pile of elephant poo.

These tiny yellow butterflies like to dance over piles of elephant poo too.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Living (just a little) dangerously

On a late afternoon game drive in Chobe National Park, just when we had all but given up hope of seeing a lion, there she was, majestic and beautiful. Our safari guide was the first to see the lioness, making her stealthy way down the hill through the long grass, towards the road.

We stopped, and our guide Kembo turned off the engine. She seemed oblivious to us, her eyes firmly fixed on this distant giraffe, otherwise known as 'dinner'.

We sat watching her in silence for around twenty minutes. The only sounds were our whispers and the clicking of our cameras. She would advance a few steps, then sit, then advance again, never for a moment taking her eyes off her prey.

As she padded across the road in front of our parked safari truck we could see that she had recently given birth, though a later search for the cubs was to prove fruitless even though others had sighted them.

She sat down in the shade of the thicket where she would be less noticeable, still holding her head high, and waited, keeping her eyes fixed on the giraffe. At one point she rose to stand, tail up and pointing like a dog, and we thought she might have been ready to attack, but we were wrong.  

She settled down again and turned to look straight at us. Look at that photo in the middle of the bottom line of my collage. Doesn't she look as if she's grinning at us?

 "Just kidding", she seems to be saying.

It was time to move on, but shortly afterward, in the last rays of daylight, we came upon this big male watching the sun go down. He looked right out of Central Casting, rolling and posing his magnificent physique for the cameras, and at around 6 meters away he was so close!

When our eyes met my knees went to jelly - and not in a good way!

This was our campsite for the night. No fences. Just a canvas floor and a zippered opening between us and the lions, buffalo, hippos, elephants, snakes and bugs.

How did this city chick find herself sleeping on a bedroll in a tent pitched on the red African soil under a sky lit by a million more twinkling stars than I've ever seen before?

I blame thank this 'Hokie girl' for opening my eyes to the wonderful experiences I can have if I just grab a little courage.

Camping purists would scoff at a camping experience like ours, with Kalahari Safari Tours, where the tents were already pitched and the bedrolls fitted with fresh sheets, the meals were cooked, and there was a canvas water receptical between every two tents for washing our faces.

For me, though, this was just perfect.

Except, maybe, for the bush toilet 😊🚽