Africa Vignette Series

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At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from EarthPhotos.com.

20 Botswana

Some people in Botswana conjure an income from this tall white savannah grass. They gather it, dry it and take it to Maun to sell as roofing. They harvest papyrus reeds, thicker and longer than the grass, dry and tie them with twine to line fences. They’ve done that behind the tents at the back of camp.

Usually underwater, the grass and reeds are exposed now, and they tempt the working man since they’re extra long, longer than in a normal reed harvest. So people have walked here all the way from Maun.

It’s unsettling to watch reed cutters hauling bundles on their heads where at another moment topi or tsessebes or even cheetah might roam. It’s even more unsettling to know these people camp out through the night.

Grass and reeds are the main building materials in the delta – along with the aluminum can. You put down a row of reeds, a layer of mud, a layer of crushed aluminum cans, a layer of mud, a layer of reeds and voila! A wall!

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

Africa Vignette Series

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At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from EarthPhotos.com.

16 Botswana

Elephants self-medicate in at least a couple of ways. Pregnant mothers chew the leaves of a particular tree to induce labour. Humans have experience with elephants’ other method of self-medication, and O.P. and B. have a set piece to illustrate it. They discuss the things we learn from animals: How to spot predators from watching the herds, flight from watching birds … and alcoholism from watching elephants.

There’s this one particular tree, see, called the murula, that they take us to see. Elephants eat the little green fruit that falls from the trees’ wide crowns and if they happen upon naturally-fermented ones, they get tipsy.

This is the legend, at any rate. Some say that elephants are so big they would need to eat massive amounts of the fruit. Others counter that the fruit ferments in elephants’ stomachs, so the dozens an elephant might eat could prove sufficient for a nice buzz. You can find photos on the internet that purport to show drunken elephants, and some are pretty funny.

In O.P. and B.’s telling of the murula legend, Man The Observer has seen what happens to elephants and squeezed the juice of the fruit, added sugar, and produced bottles of Amarula Cream. It is de rigeur as an apertif around the proper Botswanan campfire.

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

Africa Vignette Series

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At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from EarthPhotos.com.

14 Botswana

Baboons are a lot like us. Unlike the big predators, who hunt in the pre-dawn and twilight, our fellow primates sleep in. Then they come down from their trees and groom one another, rather like we get ready for work, before beginning a foraging circuit for a few hours, pausing to rest in the heat of  midday, and then resuming the hunt for food. In the course of the day, depending on the availability of food, they may cover a half dozen miles.

This morning the baboons kick up a predawn storm up in the trees above camp, screeching and barking loud enough to rip their lungs out. We find out why when we pull away from camp. B shows us lion tracks in the sand.

After coffee Mirja and B. and I pile into the Land Cruiser and spot mongooses, two female ostriches, a giraffe, some kudu, two rooting warthogs, a zebra and a wildebeest who takes off on little skinny legs that look like they’ll never support him. All this before eight in the morning.

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

Africa Vignette Series

b4

At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from EarthPhotos.com.

11 Botswana

We’re motoring over a dry river and B. slows to bounce over a rut dug into the river bed. He explains it’s an old path dug by the water horse, the hippo (hippos in Greek, horse plus potamos, river).

Around a corner we surprise an elephant who stages a mock charge. B. hastens to reassure that this is not dangerous, but rather just a scare tactic. While elephants have their own personalities, he says, as a group only young males are predictably dangerous. They really might charge.

This guy flares his ears and whirls, stomps, grabs and tosses dust with his trunk, glares a while longer and finally lumbers off around the corner. During the mock charge he keeps his head in the air and his chest out, just like an aggressive human. In a serious charge the elephant pins his ears back and lowers his head and trunk.

Okavango termite mounds rival Burmese pagodas. Same shape and I’d guess sixteen feet high. Is that a giraffe? No, it’s a termite mound. That high.

Geese are always on the move, purposeful, sleek and making a beeline for point B. Marabou storks on the other hand, whose wingspans may approach ten feet appear to lumber into the sky amid a confusion of flapping and whooshing. One night they stalk the camp perimeter.

Stiff, dinner-jacketed birds, the marabou eat anything – fish, plants, another animals’ kill. Then they sleep in the very top of dead trees – above the fray. Any approaching predator, a leopard, say, will shake the tree and wake the stork.

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

Africa Vignette Series

b5

At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from EarthPhotos.com.

2 Botswana

The Okavango Delta is known scientifically as an alluvial fan, caused by sediment carried by the river and the smaller streams it forms. Alluvial fans occur in Death Valley in the U.S., the Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang, China and even on Saturn’s moon, Titan. The ones on aTitan may be caused by channels of methane.

The Okavango fan, caused by good old fashioned water, deposits two million tons of sand and silt every year and drains summer rain from a catchment area of about 58,000 square miles (150,000 square kilometers), something like the size of Nepal or Tunisia. At the top of the fan is Mohembo, near the Namibian border, with Maun at the bottom, about a hundred fifty miles away.

A labyrinth of channels, islands and plains brings forth papyrus swamps, forests and savannah, habitats for elephant, lion, crocodile, hyena, leopard, zebra, cheetah, porcupine, monkey, serval, baboon, wild dog, hippo, giraffes, buffalo, wildebeest, kudu, warthog, impala, tsessebe and countless more, some 80 species of fish and 400 species of birds, making it one of the world’s great bird sanctuaries.

In a normal year the flood waters course through Mohembo in December or January, pass through the middle of the delta around April, and reach Maun by the end of June. We visit in March, and the waters haven’t yet arrived. Last year they didn’t arrive at all. At the time of our visit the Okavango delta is cracking under a fierce, tenacious drought.

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

Africa Vignette Series

b6

At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from EarthPhotos.com.

1 Botswana

Gradually, sandy ground gives way to traces of green below. It’s the end of the rainy season but so far this year it hasn’t rained. It’s been seven years since a good, healthy rainy season.

By now the channels should be full and wildlife ought to be thriving and dispersed. Instead it’s dry as any dry season, which is good for game viewing because the game tends to concentrate around what water there is. It’s awful for the game, though, and a disaster for the people of Maun.

Over 5800 square miles the delta’s height varies only about six and a half feet. The ground is at 3100 feet. We cruise at 6500 feet, first due north to Shinde Island Camp. I search in vain for any landmark. Ron must be flying by experience, or the compass, or just the seat of his pants. Endless channels and water spits meander to nowhere.

Search as you will, there are just no roads, no landmarks. But after 40 minutes we angle toward a dirt strip where a lone elephant stands and flaps his ears in mock charge. Doesn’t bother Ron.

A Land Cruiser waits in a clutch of trees. Shorty leaves for Shinde camp.

“How do you find places like this?” I shout over the engine at Ron.

“You just get somebody to show you what to look for,” he shouts back, “then practice.”

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

Fabulous Destinations When Money Doesn’t Matter #2

Banner_home Put this one on your list:  Namibia may be better known as a desert destination than for game viewing. But up in the north the Etosha Pan and the Etosha National Park rival, and compete with, Botswana's Okavango Delta.

Top of the line up there, far as we can see, is the Ongava Lodge's Little Ongava, with a rack rate of N$8990/US$1116.96 (today's rate) "Per person per day fully inclusive of all accommodation, meals, activities, guided tours to Etosha and on Ongava" based on a double room.

Sure looks nice, though.

See the Namibian desert in the Namibia Gallery, and the Okavango delta in the Botswana Gallery at EarthPhotos.com. See also Namibia's Top Safari Lodges.

(Ongava banner from the Ongava website.)
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