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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Zambia (part 3)

We had heard reports of elephants at South Luangwa National Park campsites that break into cars to steal food, so I was ready to transfer all my fruit and veges into the camp’s storage. But when we arrived we were advised not to keep ANY food in our cars or tents as one particular elephant not only eats fruit and veges, but also bread, biscuits, chocolate, milk …anything.

I took the advice and moved garbage bags of food to the elephant proof storage.

In the evenings I made sure we had dinner early so everything was packed away by night.

On our first evening, the elephant had already visited the other side of the campground. He destroyed a tent and bent the door of a car, there might have been food inside them.

About 7pm the guard came to tell us the elephant was coming our way. We closed up our car and went to watch. There were 3 elephants browsing on trees and slowly making their way towards our camping area and us. Each time they got closer, we backed away to a safer distance and kept watching.

The naughty elephant walked over to a car, stood there and examined it, sniffing with his trunk – nothing. He walked over to check the next car – nothing. He then broke into the garbage bin, and examined a bag of rubbish I had disposed of, leaving slobber all over it.

Next was our car…. we held our breath. He stood there and ran his trunk across our roof tent window, then along the windows of the car – Nothing. Phew, he moved on to check a few other bins and to find snacks around the gardens of the campground.

We watched and kept retreating to safer areas of the grounds each time he moved closer. At one point Frankie found himself in the restaurant kitchen, he thought “maybe this is not a such a good place”, so ran back out to find an alternative shelter.

In the meantime, the other elephants were well behaved, browsing on bushes, and then moved onto the next campground. The naughty elephant made his way out too.

Later that night, Frankie woke me about 10:15pm when he heard the elephants again. This time 5 had come back walking around the grounds. We spied on them and went back to sleep with a smile after they walked right by our tent.

Next night around 7pm, the peace was broken by the guy next to us banging his pots. I looked across and there was the elephant! He was right there in their camp!! We jumped up and closed our car doors.

The elephant had come up the river bank, into their site. They were eating dinner, but it went for the open doors of their car. He put his trunk in the door and swept a load of their gear out. The guy kept shouting elephant!! elephant!! The elephant got angry and charged him. He ran behind the tree, it chased him around the tree. It was so fast!! so fast!! He fell but managed to escape (where were the guards?). Someone came out cracking a whip and drove him away, back into the bush.

Third night, the elephant visited again about 7pm. It was exciting but nerve wracking as we watched him examine each car in our area again. He found nothing thank goodness, however earlier that evening he was over the other side of the campground and did some damage to an Overlander Bus.

Our last night, and we were ready as usual, but he did not come, however we did get a bonus hippo grazing around the grounds and he walked past our tent at 2am.

We are very relieved that our car/home did not get damaged, but we have met other travellers with minor damage to their vehicle, trailer from the South Luangwa Elephant.

our nightly visitor

Here the elephant has just finished sniffing our roof tent and car. He looked over at the light we were shining on him and came walking towards us. We scattered.

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Posted by on October 19, 2013 in Africa, Zambia

 

Zambia (part 2)

Say ‘remote’, ‘back tracks’, ‘less tourists’ and you’ll have Frankie’s attention. He is often scouring different maps, satellite photos, any other sources for interesting or less travelled tracks to link our destinations. They take longer to travel, being rougher and slower, but are more interesting. It is how we usually holiday travel in Oz.

We were on our way to South Luangwa National Park. Following a faint line on the map, crossing some nice country, and then dropping down a rocky mountain escarpment onto the plains.

We stopped to watch some elephants cross in front of us and had our first encounters with Tsetse Flies. They swarmed the car; we could see them following and buzzing around the windows as we slowly travelled along. The ones that came inside attacked us so we kept the windows up.

We went through a number of village checkpoints carrying the flies with us; they needed to record our details, including how many firearms and ammunition we were carrying.

Around 4pm we pulled up to camp. Setting up camp didn’t even start. As soon as we stepped out the flies attacked, biting hard and drove us back inside the car, slamming the doors behind us. We just sat there, trapped in the car; occasionally zapping the few that followed us inside. This was absolutely horrible, horrible camping!

We had to drive on, hoping to come to an area clear of them; but this place is full of Tsetse flies, and really hungry ones too. They were always out there so we decided to keep drive until sunset.

Eventually we pulled off and camped right next to the track, there was no need to move into the bush as nobody was going to be coming along this way.

I had also decided to abandon dinner. A bowl of cereal did us, and then we jumped into bed. One bugger followed us in and managed to bite me in the dark! Everything seems to be extra hungry and more desperate in Africa, even the flies ☹

We got up just before sunrise to get going before the flies, but a few had camped around our car and were ready for us at that hour! We shoveled in some cereal again and were on our way.

A few hours later we were driving through some lovely remote villages. Like the flies, they don’t get much passing traffic either so there were lots of waves and smiles rather than the usual frowns with begging hands held out (although we did not stop incase the greetings turned into begging). Some huts were beautifully decorated. There were lots of kids, neatly dressed in uniform heading to school. It was good to see there were many wells that residents could pump clean water.

The track got very slow and bumpy with stretches of track entirely of dried mud holes from elephant footprints. We crossed many arms of a river. A lot of these dry crossings were like very steep, deep dips; some were about 2 car heights deep. It looks like the water rises to the full depth in the wet.

We knew we had to cross the main river and wondered what the crossing was going to be like.

Finally we came to the main river and followed the track along it. We did not see any obvious tracks down to the riverbed to cross, but we knew we had overshot the area where the crossing was supposed to be. Further down we could see a massive group of hippos, so we went to visit them. What a fantastic sight! Lots of crocs together with them too; they’re all friends. Awesome, but it was a shame we could not stay longer to enjoy this sight, as the task at hand was how and where are we going to get across this river??? Obviously, not right here!

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We backtracked and found a very easy crossing area where we would normally just drive across without batting an eyelid, but this is croc and hippo territory. Being a lone vehicle, and there being no winch anchor points in the a wide riverbed, we would have a very tedious, nervous recovery if we happened to get stuck.

Ideally we were looking for a crossing that would be 100% ok (without walking it).

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“It looks so easy”, but we didn’t want to get stuck and have to fiddle around in the water. Standing there with these thoughts reminded me of similar situations that we have to deal with on our own, in the Top End of Australia (tho longer and deeper), in croc country.

‘Well its 99% LIKELY to be as simple as it looks’. We decide to do it and walked back to bring the car down.

Next problem, there were trees and bushes blocking car access to the river, and where there was no trees, the banks were 3 meter high vertical drops.

We are not into destroying bushes and banks so we continued driving back along the track looking for an area to access, getting further away from our crossing.

Finally we saw a track down to the river, which we had missed the first time, and this lead to the actual crossing point.

We looked at the crossings, and again we were not going to walk to check them. We just trusted the sticks marking the way; a diagonal crossing onto a sand bank; and then another crossing to the other bank.

The first crossing was fine, very shallow and firm. As we approached the 2nd crossing, 2 baby crocs scurried off the bank into the water. The 2nd crossing dropped off a bit deeper, but was also fine.

Now we were on the other side; we picked up the well-travelled main track to continue on to our destination.

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Posted by on October 17, 2013 in Africa, Zambia

 

Zambia (part 1)

“It is not safe to walk or cycle to Victoria Falls”.
“Do not stop at the viewing area (described) on the way to the Falls, you will get robbed” – says notices on the campground board.

Zambia was our first country after leaving “Africa Lite”. It was the start of a few things, which continue and apparently get worse the further north you go:

Unsafe trucks, buses and other vehicles – We drive past fresh crashes, fallen loads and broken down trucks/buses on a daily bases. Loads are not secured safely, drivers are unsafe, vehicles are mechanically unsound/un-roadworthy, and you see vehicles having major repairs done by the side of the road eg whole engine or diffs out.

Police man explain how to make mud bricksRegular Police checks along the roads/highways – They might want to check your license, rego, local insurance, safety equipment, where you have come from/going to, how much they can get from you. At one of our first checks we experienced some lovely Zambian hospitality. Not sure what this happy policeman was checking but we exchanged lots of lingering handshakes and smiles and I asked him what the peculiar large mounds we had been seeing for the last 50km were. He said they were termites, and that you make mud bricks from them, he then offered to show us. We followed walked to someone’s brick making site by the side of the road and he explained the process of how the locals make bricks from termite hills, an easy business to set up.

Victoria Falls (in the dry season)The famous Victoria Falls – It’s dry season, the falls on the Zambian side are not really running, but we still did the walks around the park. Clouds of mist did not leave us soaked, and as expected, the falls were quite underwhelming. However, because it is an unusually dry, dry season, we were able to walk right across the top of the ‘falls’ to Livingston Island. The rocks would normally be submerged in mega-tonnes of water flowing over the cliff. That was pretty surreal.

Frigella Farm Lodge – have had their post office, bakery, butchery, medical clinic since the times when a working farm had to be self-sufficient.

They offer camping, and food in the restaurant is very good and cheap

The meat and veges come from the farm or surrounding farms (rice in Zambia is good, unlike Namibia and SA where parboiled rice is served).

A cart comes around to collect the garbage every day and is pulled by 2 nice bulls. They know the routine and respond to verbal commands (like ‘come and get back under the harness’). I went and talked to the goats and chickens, and fed my food scraps to the pigs.

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IMG_3743There is a viewing window to the bakery to watch what’s being made. Fringella Pies are the best! This is the beef pie, but the chicken pie was my favourite.

 

You can also stock up on meat and smallgoods from the farm butchery.

Mutinundo Wilderness Lodge – we had a sensational camp on top of a hill with wonderful views. The huge shelter was great when a storm came through and we kept warm in the evening by the open fireplace. They have canoes to use on their river, horse riding and we walked to one of the larger granite mountains. Sensational 360deg views! You’ll want to descend pretty quickly if you see a storm coming as the many areas of burnt grass and bushes indicate lots of lightning strikes up here.

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Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Zambia

 

Caprivi Strip / Zambezi Region

Just before we entered Namibia, the president announced that the names of some Namibian regions and towns were to be changed in recognition of the tribal people of Southern Africa.
Lüderitz was re-named as !Nami≠Nüs (the symbols represent different click sounds).
The Caprivi region was renamed as the Zambezi region. 

Hippos in front of campAt this point, we had to make up our mind whether to go into Botswana, then to Zambia; or cut across the formerly named Caprivi Strip to Zambia. We had heard much about Botswana and were very tempted to drop in for a couple of weeks. However, the wet was coming down from the north, and we wanted to be out of Zambia when we met it, so we chose to take the Caprivi Strip option, as we could do this faster.

Ngepi, an environmentally aware campground with imagination and a sense of humour. Bathrooms and toilets were all open air, some with themes, some with river views. We stayed 3 nights, on the 2nd morning we woke up with a family hippos out the front, who hung out there for most of the day.

Mahango National Park, a nice and very compact park. We drove all the tracks in a few hours and saw giraffe, elephants, various bocks, zebra, monkeys. This elephant showed us how he held food in an ‘elbow’ of his trunk while he took small amounts at a time to feed into his mouth.

Elephant eating snaking from his stash

Nambwa Conservacy – seemed to be popular however there are only 7 campsites, therefore pre-booking is a must! There are a number of lodges in the area that take their guests on safari drives, we did a couple of self-drives.

We spotted a hippo, which sunk down as we drove by the waterhole. We stopped the car to sneak back on foot and hid behind some bushes and trees. After a while, the hippo surfaced and walked through the water comfortably and weightlessly, unaware we were spying on him. He then turned and disappeared up a channel through the reeds. Being one of our first hippos sightings, we were pleased with our stalking.

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We also had our first Buffalo sightings but they were quite shy and kept a big distance.

Not so happy to see us!We came around a corner; up ahead was a big group of elephants next to the track. I stopped not wanting to upset the elephants. The alternative track was a long backtrack, and a long drive around. I got out to tell the South African man and son that where following behind us.

We let them go around us and they continued and drove on, pushing through them, so I followed too, hoping that we would not come around a corner to face some upset, angry elephants. There were elephants left and right standing under the trees, every corner more elephants left and right …. a big group. We drove through steadily trying not to disturb them, only one felt he had to flap his ears to scare us ….sorry elephant, it always seems to be the young boys trying to prove themselves.

HippoWe had been driving all morning so stopped for lunch at horseshoe bend where we could watch a hippo grazing on the grass a little further on.

The South Africans continued on but then returned to parked right near it. It retreated into the water. He was enjoying that grass, and waited by the edge to come back out and munch on the lovely grass again.  Eventually he did come back out after about and hour.

Meantime after our lunch a group of elephants can down to the water for a drink.  I think if we were not there they would have stayed longer to swim and play.

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We took another drive and when we came back there was a group of elephants enjoying themselves and playing in the water.

Elephants having their afternoon bathA lodge safari vehicle was driving around to them. The elephants started leaving the water and making their way up the beach to the safety of the bush. The safari vehicle raced on to cut them off. The protective elephants did their best trying to scare the car back (giving the tourists spectacular photos), and making a shield as the young elephants, babies and others passed behind. When all the elephants had passed, the car parked and the driver and tourists got out laughing their heads off – Bloody Muppets.

Elephants having their afternoon bath

On our way out another group of elephants were at the water. We stopped to wait for them to finish as the road went between them and the bush; but more groups of elephants started arriving, waiting for opportunities to have a drink. We could have been waiting for hours and hours, so we left and drove though as calmly as possible so they could drink in peace.

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2013 in Africa, Namibia

 

Number 96 – Have we hit the highlight of our trip already?

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Khaudum National Reserve was marked as a destination for us as it is said to be the wildest park in Namibia.

Lonely Planet ref: Few tourists visit Khaudum as the tracks are unmaintained, hard on the vehicle and facilities are “rudimentary”. Elephants have destroyed what look like were once nice campsites.

We only had Elephant

After coming from Etosha where the elephants are used to visitors, we had to re-adjust back to wild elephants again. We were given accounts of elephant and hyena attacks on people in the park.

The Khaudum elephants tended to move away as soon as they saw you, or let you know your presence is not appreciated. We tried to keep our distance, with an eye on escape routes, but fast exits would be impossible if trapped by thick scrub in the deep bumpy sand tracks.

To get to the park, there is a 3hr (60km) sandy track. It is soft and deep immediately as you turn off the bitumum. The deep sand tracks continue throughout the park (take plenty of fuel).

*Namibia Wildlife Resorts asks visitors to travel in a two-vehicle convoy and be self- sufficient in food, water and spares. Caravans, trailers and motorcycles are prohibited.

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We spent hours driving in the self steering sand ruts being thrown side to side to side to side, plus kangaroo hopping resembling donkey kicks when judgment or concentration lapsed.

Go slow…., try fast for a while…., try going slow again…..; it was long and hard going on the poor car.

Over the last few weeks we had driven tracks with miles of horrid Namibian bulldust, some as wide as 6 lane highways! Whilst the bull dust bogs were shorter in Khaudum, the dust plumed out from the wheels then ran down the windows like rain. Others threw dust clouds that completely blocked daylight, temporarily turning the inside of the car into darkness – wow! Extinction of the dinosaurs went through my mind.

We turned into a track, the wheel ruts were very wide and deep from trucks. Our car could only travel in one wheel rut at a time, the other wheel up on the sand mound.

This made the car lean either left or right and scratch along the bushes on the side of the track ☹. It was thick scrub so we kept going on the lean and scratching the car, Frankie said “I hope this is going to be worth it”.

Finally we came to a clearing, where we saw a helicopter. They were spotting elephants for relocation to Erindi, a private game reserve. They invited us to join them the next day to capture 2 bulls, they even brought extra fuel for us so we could join in the unexpected adventure ☺.

Khaudum National Park, with 5000 – 10,000 elephants, is overpopulated for its area. Erindi and the park have been negotiating and planning for 7 years to relocate 200 of these elephants to the game reserve.

We had to be at their base at 7am, therefore we had to leave camp at 5:30am.

Rule#1 – Do not drive in the dark – Broken.

You could see so much elephant activity in the area, I was worried we might encounter elephants on the way and be delayed, but we were lucky none were on the track at that time and we only saw 5 big hyenas. Many of the animals in this park seem to be bigger than ones we had seen in other areas.

(The elephants here are said to be the biggest in Africa. In fact, Erindi found their standard elephant transporters were not big enough to accommodate the Khaudum bulls and they lost a few days production, in the beginning, as they had to pause operations to get height extensions added to the transporters)

We travelled with Ruan, who is the game manager of Erindi. I had the best seat (but forgot my camera☹) and was sitting up front with Ruan (whoops I had pushed Paul, the owner of Erindi, into the back of the ute). Ruan was coordinating the operations, so we were the first truck in the convoy! He was like an octopus, talking back and forth to the chopper on one radio, then the other trucks on another radio, plus driving (shame I cannot understand Afrikaans).

As we were coming up the track, we could see the helicopter herding the darted bull towards the track. The elephant crossed the track and the chopper stopped him going too far, trying to keep him close to the track.

The elephant was ready to lie down so we pull off the track towards it, with all the other trucks following. The elephant had now stopped. We were first to him and parked right there and got out. Wow! He was standing there leaning backwards with his front legs out straight, slowly leaning further back more and more. We took some photos. Then he dropped to a sitting position with his front legs still straight. I wondered if they all go to sleep this way. Once he had sat down they pushed him over onto his side.

Sitting down, just before going to sleep

It was all go! Guys were clearing bushes with chainsaws, the 2 vets were attending to the bull, a stick was put in his trunk to hold it open, measurements and data was being taken, and he got “95” graffitied onto his bum. It’s a 2 crane job, the 2 cranes and a flat bed were already in position, straps were put around #95 and the 2 cranes simultaneously lifted him. The flat bed backed in and together they all skillfully positioned, lowered and laid him down so he was lying on his side, centered across the flat bed. He was tied down and Job Done!!

The largest Bull measured 3.7 meter shoulder hight and  weight 8.2 tones whilst under anaesthetic

The chopper took off to find #95’s friend. It was herding him but this time the elephant needed to lie down before they could get him close to the track so we had a bit of a bush bash to get to him.

This time Ruan pull up to the side of the elephant and jumped out. The chopper had dropped off the 2 vets and they were already attending the elephant, which was sitting in a crouching position. Ruan had put some straps around the elephant and jumped back in, he then pulled him over onto his side. Wow, everyone knows what they have to do and the team can immediately deal with every situation (Elephants have to be lying on their side or they could crush their lungs).

Same deal, the chainsaw guys were clearing, the cranes and flatbed backed into position, data recorded; #96 is lifted and expertly laid down onto the flatbed. Impressive coordination!

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With #95 and #96, the convoy was ready to make its way back to base for wake up and transfer. I was on the flat top with #96 and Maria, one of the vets. I was looking around for a secure hold for the journey, they told me it was ok to sit on him! Heheheh, I wondered if #96 would mind, and thought I’d better just lean against him to brace myself. But his body was really relaxed and wobbling so I had to be careful not to step on his ear with each bump and gear change. He was having a wonderful snooze and SNORED VERY LOUDLY all the way! Pretty funny.

Once back at base there was another display of no fuss coordination as they smoothly transferred sleeping #95 into the wake up crate. Here the vets administered the anti dote and he was helped to his feet, and then moved to a transport crate for the trip to Erindi. Same procedure for #96.

It was a sad day for the team, as Sept 30 was the last day of the relocation season as the weather starts to get too warm for the well being of the animals. The teams smooth operations had transferred 96 elephants in just 6 weeks. The only down time they had were a few days at the beginning of the season to add the height extensions to the crates. The remaining 104 elephants will be collected next season.

Number 96 coming in for relocation

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For Frankie and I, it was a privilege to watch firsthand, the professional collection of #95 and #96, and we thank Paul and the Erindi team for the extraordinary opportunity and experience.

Staff and guests of Erindi were already reporting seeing the other elephants as they were settling in well.

There has been quite some media interest about the whole project by the likes of BBC, National Geographic, etc so hopefully we may see some programs about the project.

http://www.erindi.com

DSC_0236 Big Foot

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Africa, Namibia