Wednesday, August 17, 2016

It's all Fun and Games until Someone Pisses off an Elephant

Three dogs stay at the has obviously just had puppies. They keep trying to get into the garbage. They also get into a fight in the middle of the night and throw themselves against Felix and Alex's tent.

I am rather perturbed when a roar/ growl noise wakes me up. I think, " what boob is revving their engine in the middle of the night? "Then I realize,it's the hippos.

Cameron and Frank stay at the bar a little later and the bartender shows them how the crocodiles eyes glow red when you aim the flashlight at them.

In the morning we split up and get onto two boats for a two hour boat ride to the heart of the delta. We stop many times for crocodile sightings. Our guide says that many of the crocs  grow to be over 5 1/2 meters...that's meters not feet. The first croc is huge...and irritated by our presence. After a few seconds he opens his jaws, slides into the water and under our boat. Definitely time for us to go.

The papyrus and grasses reflect in the river in a Monet fashion. A rainbow appears in the spray of our boat. Birds fly along beside us as if attempting to keep up. We spot many Fisher Eagles along the way.

Arriving at the docks, we transfer to three jeeps and continue our journey for 45 minutes by road passing many small villages made up of round buildings with grass roofs.

I feel like I'm in a parade, people and especially young children wave and run beside the jeeps. One little girl is waving and running so fast that she trips and falls....quickly picking herself up. Being used to all the people waving to us, we wave to some teenage boys as we pass. One of them gives us the finger....teenagers.

We are in the last jeep. Suddenly a herd of elephants cross the road between us and the first two jeeps. Unhappy at having their crossing disturbed, one of the elephants charges the second jeep.

Elephants give warning by mock charging twice before actually charging for real.

There are easily over 30 elephants in the breeding  herd, half on one side of the road, the other half on the other. The half that haven't crossed are visibly agitated . They stand on the side, trumpeting their concerns. We stop the jeep cause it's really not a good idea to get between a pissed off herd of elephants.

Despite us being stopped, they still don't move; nervously contemplating whether it's safe to cross or not. Finally they take the plunge, single file, rushing to catch up to their buddies on the other side.

We soon reach our campsite, Jumbo Junction, which is located on the edge of the Okavango Delta World Heritage Site. The staff sing a welcome as our jeeps roll in. A big dog fan, Leonie is delighted to find that we have a resident two month old Jack Russell named Buddy.

On the Delta local people graze their farm animals and lions, elephants, hippos, zebras and other animals run free. A fence surrounds Jumbo Junction which keep the cattle out but often the elephants still get in by trampling the fence. The staff advise that if elephants get into the camp we will get instructions as to what to do- apparently running is not the best option.

The staff take us to the tents which are already made up with beds.

We head back to the bar where we have lunch, hang out and play darts and volleyball until we head out on our three hour dugout boat and walking safari. Sam takes this opportunity to snooze on the hammock.

There are fruit bats resting in the rafters, looking like dull brown Christmas balls.

For the afternoon we have an excursion into the delta by dugouts and then a walk at the end point before returning. The dugout type boats we go out in are called a Mukoro. Each boat holds two people plus a poler. Our poler's name is City.

Our flotilla of mukoro glide into a seemingly endless watery meadow of white, pink, purple and yellow water lilies. Gorgeous.

City picks a part of a waterlily ( the fruit) and invites us take a bite. It is bitter. Apparently you can also eat the roots which taste like potatoes.

We hear a snort, look to the right and there is a school of hippos. Awesome. We are told that we'll return to the hippo pond after our walk.

We land on an island where domestic and wild animals both exist. A herd of horned cattle roam the island.

Our guide, Navas, finds us some piles of elephant crap. Much to my horror he picks them up. The poop is so large he needs two hands to lift it. He says that there is no bacteria in the elephants poop because they only eat vegetation and they eat over 70 species of trees a day, 350 kg of food, drink over 150 liters of water and intermittently sleep only 6 hours a day ( the rest of the time they are eating). They run up to 40 km/hr and are one of the slowest animals (but are still a lot faster than people).

He then brings the poop around for us to look at and smell. I chicken out but Anita smells it and says that it doesn't smell much at all. Anita even picks some up! The poop consists of grass, seeds and sticks.

So this new discovery that elephant's poop doesn't smell means I need to correct my comment from a few days ago about the stinky odor at the watering hole....I said I suspected the elephants. I was wrong, it must have been the rhinos.

Navas then tells us that elephant poop is used for medicine because of all the different tree leaves they eat. They put the poop in a glass of boiling water and let it soak and settle to the bottom...then drink it to help upset stomachs. Hmmm, I think I'll stick to Tums.

Navas demonstrates that if you are thirsty and find fresh elephant poop, you squeeze it and water comes out. He digs under the largest pile of poop to get a handful of still wet poo from the bottom, forms it into a ball between his hands and squeezes it wringing out a trickle of water. The information seems to have the makings of a practical joke ( imagine tourists all having elephant poop tea that night) but Navas seems totally serious.

He then shows us two types of elephant poop; one large and then a bunch of small ones in a line ( about a few feet between each plop). He asks us to guess which belongs to the male and which is the female's. The female's is the big one cause she stops to poop ( often while waiting for her baby), the male just poops while he's walking.

We next move on to hippo poop which is about the same size as the elephant's but only has grass in it.

We check out the termite hills and the little poison apples. While standing and listening to our guide, a cow with large horns runs determinedly past us and around the corner. Shon says, " Oh,oh. Anita is sitting over there. " Anita comes from around the corner where the cow disappeared, looking totally unfazed.

Getting back into the mukoros, we drift towards the hippo pond ( keeping well out of their way). There is usually one strong male hippo and his harem of females and young. Often a younger male will come and challenge the head male which ends in one of two ways; one of the males die or the young male leaves to find another harem to fight for. A challenge takes place as we watch.

The sun is starting to set as we leave the hippos. It bathes the delta and lilies in a golden light and disappears in fiery splendor, leaving a magenta horizon in its wake.

After supper at the bar we listen to a expert explain the plight of lions in Africa. Their numbers are dwindling. The problem in the delta is that livestock and wild animals share the same living space. The livestock is free range and often doesn't go into a safe space at night. Although the government pays full price for any livestock that is killed by a lion, the people are outraged when the lions go into villages and kill their animals. They feel as if they've been burgled. Although they collect their compensation, they still want revenge and try to kill the lions.

The world was outraged when Cecil the lion was killed by a dentist in an illegal hunt. It got all kind of press but within a week of that incident,  a whole pride of lions were poisoned and almost no one took notice.

What the " Pride in our Prides" organization is doing to help is educating the people, helping and encouraging them to build kraals ( like barns) and putting the animals in them at night. They are also putting collars on the lions in order to locate where the lions are at all times. If the lions are heading into populated areas, they can warn the people to gather their animals and plan their days to be in different places than the lion. So far it is working.

We hung out in the bar chatting for the rest of the night.

All this hanging out in bars makes us sound like we drink a lot but the bars at these campsites are really more of a common space where people gather and sometimes get internet. It doesn't matter if you order drinks or not.

We hear the hippos, elephants, owls and some unidentified growls in the night.

We are up and showered by six and leave in the mukoros at 7:00am. Today is our 24 th wedding anniversary. What a wonderful way to spend it.

Dawn over the delta is beautiful. The yellow night waterlilies are closing and the bluish/ purple, pink and white day waterlilies are just starting to open. Birds are busy, starting their day.

We land on an island and break up into two groups. As we are walking in single file behind our guide, Filter, we hear a loud trumpeting. He immediately stops us. A short distance away, a herd of breeding elephants come out of the trees. Filter talks quietly on his walkie talkie. Breeding elephants are the most sensitive. Filter tells us to walk quickly in a parallel direction. We stay down wind. He says we need to get further past the elephants. He asks if we can run fast. Federica and I quickly say no...we don't want to run. We continue walking, nervously looking over our shoulders.

By the time we find a herd of zebra, there is no more sign of the elephants.

I can't believe how close we get to the zebra herd.

Filter pulls off a branch of a plant and asks us who cooks. When Flor doesn't put up her hand he asks why she doesn't cook and states that all the women cook cause the men are too busy taking care of the farms or working. We smell the plant which is wild sage, used for cooking and medicinal purposes such as treating gonorhea....who'd have thought?

After brushing our teeth with the toothbrush plant ( I can't remember the plants real name) we head back to the boats and glide our way to Jumbo Junction.

The rest of the afternoon is spent relaxing, playing darts, petting Buddy and reading. The younger folk play volleyball.

At 3:30, our mukoros glide us once more through the lily pads, stopping to show the guys how to make us gals water lily necklaces and making the guys lilypad hats.

The party begins as we land on an island. The poler's challenge us to pole the boats ourselves, in teams of two per boat. The first person poles to the reeds and the second person poles back. It's not as easy as it looks. Cameron poles a boat with Lukas and Graham goes with Annet. Shawn and I go together. Newlyweds, Ieuan and Cat do fine but Federica from our second pair of newlyweds falls in while Fabio remains firmly emplanted in the boat. Surprisingly, Maddie, an experienced Australian sailor falls in ( James just goes in up to his knees). Shawn falls in but only gets his legs wet. I surprise people by poling well and keeping my balance. It's easy to surpass expectations when people set them so low.

We then enjoy our drinks while many of our younger guys challenge the poler's to a game of soccer. The poler's win.

At sunset we watch a couple of herders bring their cows in and go back to our mukoros, returning with the last light from the vanished sun.

I try to get a picture of the fruit bats who, despite the darkness, still remain in the rafters. My flash goes off and they scatter in a wild flurry.

After supper we sit around the fire. Shawn and I exchange anniversary cards ( and he gives me an African kissing stone) then recites our engagement poem. We then discuss the Zimbabwe part of the tour.

I'm exhausted, so I head back to the tent before Shawn. Unfortunately, on my way back from the bathroom, I get turned around in the dark and end up wandering the trails in the wooded tent area, eventually finding my way to our tent. It is a bit scary cause animal sounds are all around me.

The stars are stilł very clear in the sky when I get up for our early start this morning, (5:30 am). I pick out Orion's Belt and the Little Dipper. We need to leave by 6:30 because we have a long way to Chobe National Park where we are staying tonight. Gift says we really need to boot it if we want to get our tents up before dark.

We load the two jeeps and bounce along the road to Seronga, passing people performing their morning duties; letting livestock out of kraals,sitting by a bonfire, women carrying things on their heads and kids going to school ( many of them running). The mornings are cool so many of the locals are well bundled.

Gift says that to stay on time, do not stop the boat to take pictures of wildlife unless it's a crocodile trying to eat a hippo. We agree. We pack the boats and off we go.

Suddenly we hear a loud "crack!" And ominous cloud of smoke escapes the motor. Our driver opens the motor's  casing and douses the flames with water. The second smaller boat comes up beside us, the driver throws over a rope and tows us back to the dock. Fortunately we hadn't travelled too far.

Within an hour ( of which Graham and I walk over to check out a herd of horned cows who were aimlessly wandering around), Gift organizes another boat to take us back to where Brenda is.

Along the way we zip past crocodiles, a hippo and all sorts of birds.  We discover a poisonous boom slanger snake at the dock. It just sits there as we load up Brenda and take pictures of it.

We stop little and move quickly in an attempt to make up time. We get through the immigration exit in Botswana and enter the border of Namibia in good time, only to stop for gas in Namibia and find that they don't have diesel. The next Namibian gas station is 200 km down the road. We don't want to go back across the border again so Gift contacts the Nomad (that's the company we are using) Spanish tour group, ( the group that was really loud when we were in the same campground as them  in Spitzkoppe) and they bring us a container of fuel.

Gift and Alfons drop us off at a picnic site beside a game reserve and we make and eat lunch while they take Brenda to  get the gas from the Spanish group. While we are eating, a lone, huge bull elephant crosses the road a few feet away from that's something you don't see every day.

Gift warns us that we will be getting into camp very late ( translation: we'll be putting up our tents in the dark). Our night time game drive will probably be changed to the morning.

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