Can a Zebra change it’s spots?

Yes, I know Zebra’s have strips and Leopards have spots but Zebra’s can have spots. I’ll prove that a wee bit later, can’t give away all the things right away now can I.

Uganda to Kenya border crossing is supposed to be a fast and efficient process taking about 30 minutes. That is if you are not me, it took almost 2 hours. Not sure what the hold up was but there is no point in getting upset, I’ve learned to just go with it. It’ll take as long as it’ll take. And of to Eldoret. A nice little campsite on the river. I was the only guest, that should have been clue #1. The food seemed really good but the chef was far to skinny, clue #2. No hot water only very cold water in the showers, clue #3. Ok, I was giving them the benefit of the doubt. But the parting gift….that was the last straw. We’ll get to that a little later too.

From Eldoret off to Lake Elenmentatia with a beautiful view and far in the distance the Maasai Mara. The wildebeest crossing was fast underway and I will not see it this time. All the more reason to come back and do a migration trip. Keep that in mind travel buddies! I was to have a bird walking tour with a local Maasai but I was usurped by a larger tour group. Guess it’s just me then for a little jaunt about the place. Do not fret no hairies and scaries out here. Only scenic views.

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The next day was to be the drive to Mt. Kenya. A not particularly long drive but a barren drive. Not much bush cover and Maasai everywhere with their cattle. Not the ideal situation for the Eldoret gift to present itself. It made for a drive fraught with danger…of a gastrointestinal sort. That’s all I’m saying about that.

Mt. Kenya, or at least the forest is wonderful. My hiking distance was limited thanks to the gift that kept on giving but plenty of birds that shouldn’t be there, according to the guide books anyway. And even a candid moment with a Colobus family. I had been sitting on the dirt road, as one does when shooting(with a camera) sunbirds, and had been quiet for sometime. I heard them making their way down the trees behind me. It was a lovely experience until the van blasted through. I will come back and hike Mt. Kenya one day. Add it to the growing list.

Cue the birds…

Mambo double collared sunbird. Should be in Congo but here we are.
Mambo double collared sunbird. Should be in Congo but here we are.
So cold he was all fluffed up.
So cold he was all fluffed up.
Tacazze sunbird. The colours are unbelievable.
Tacazze sunbird. The colours are unbelievable.
His good side.
His good side.
Cause it's just so pretty.
Cause it’s just so pretty.
This little bugger is a Turaco. I have been trying to capture one for you all and this is as good as it gets. For now. Green and all attitude.
This little bugger is a Turaco. I have been trying to capture one for you all and this is as good as it gets. For now. Green and all attitude.
Golden winged sunbird, also shouldn't be here but hey he hasn't read the book.
Golden winged sunbird, also shouldn’t be here but hey he hasn’t read the book.
Green headed sunbird - female as she is rather drab in colour.
Green headed sunbird – female as she is rather drab in colour.

After the bird splendor of Mt. Kenya I was finally heading back to the bush and camping. It has been sometime and I have missed it. But first a brief stop in Nairobi. Yup, Nairobi, the very city I said I would avoid and not drive in, I was heading for. Oh dear.

Turns out the key, like with most cities, is not to be driving during rush hour. Even without rush hour Nairobi was a beast. The GPS is calling on roundabouts that didn’t exist and the road splits before the GPS can tell me which way to go. I may have performed a few very illegal u-turns to get to the campsite. Jungle Junction. Nice place to park the car and relax for a day.

I met a very interesting women with her young daughter at the campsite. She is an artist from Holland and had, a few years back, come up with a great story. And decided to make the story believable she must live it out herself. What pray tell is said story? It’s a doozy. She wanted to drive a tractor, yes a tractor, a I can only go about 20 km/hr tractor from Holland to the South Pole to build a snowman. Yup, she’s for real, I can’t make this stuff up. She spent the next 5 years driving the tractor to as far south as Cape of Good Hope. Through Egypt and everything. She had an ice breaker ready to take her the final way but at the last-minute he was re-assigned to head north instead. Unperturbed she spent the next nearly 5 years finding sponsors until she completed her journey last year. She’s written a book about the first 5 years, but it’s in Dutch.

Just wow! A good night sleep and off in the morning for the bush that is Tsavo National Park. Well really Tsavo East and West, two parks divided by the Mombasa road. And then the bank phone alert went off.

Really, it’s surprising this hasn’t happened earlier but long story short someone in Kampala, as I have now discovered, had somehow obtained my ATM card number and racked up about 3 G’s in catering costs. I mean really…so card is cancelled and I’m without direct access to cash for the next almost 3 weeks until I can get the new card in Zanzibar. Or so I hope, will find out soon only a couple of days until I’m there. Anyway that kind of dampened the day and cost a fortune in cellphone conversations. Unfortunately, despite a long conversation the bank, in their infinite wisdom, 2 weeks later decided to approve the charges. Come on…they have since corrected their asinine ways. Off to Tsavo.

Mombasa road, a paved stretch of road that goes from Nairobi to Mombasa. I started later than usual to avoid rush hour and make it out of the city without too much bother. Mombasa road is not to be taken lightly. The trucks, and I mean trucks that wouldn’t be allowed on any road in North America, as they are about to fall apart and overloaded and well you get the picture, have I mentioned the lack of brakes. Anyway, the trucks go way to fast careening past you and towards you in your lane going the opposing direction trying to pass each other. You see one and think ok if I slow down he will make it and I’ll live. But then there are 3 or more behind him and now what?  Single lane highway, right the extra wide dirt shoulder, now I understand why it’s there. I’d like to say that was a rare occurrence but I’d be lying. Regardless I made it, granted a few more grey hairs and wrinkles but done.

Tsavo East and West are divided by this highway. But the topography despite being only separated by a highway is quite different. East was very savanna and open and west is where the lava flows and rocky outcrops are. But as soon as I enter East it’s spectacular. The contrast of the red earth with the hyacinth sky and fluffy white clouds and the animals and birds. I was back in the bush. Heart lighter, at ease, relaxed and at home once again. I have missed it. Enough of the cities for a while let’s play with the fuzzies and winged things.

One night on the East side and I crossed over to West for two nights before back to Tanzania and Marangu. I will preface this that I did not see any hairies or scaries but the rest was awesome. And the first sighting of the Gerenuk.

Gerenuk, yup it really has that absurdly disproportionate long neck.
Gerenuk, yup it really has that absurdly disproportionate long neck.
Because elephant butts.
Because elephant butts.
Morning on the East side.
Morning on the East side.
Superb starling, and the colours are superb.
Superb starling, and the colours are superb.
Von Der Deckens Hornbill
Von Der Deckens Hornbill
White Bellied Go-away bird. They say go-away, honest!
White Bellied Go-away bird. They say go-away, honest!
Blue-Napped mousebirds and they make a mouse noise when they chirp.
Blue-Napped mousebirds and they make a mouse noise when they chirp.
Golden-Bellied Starling. The colours are beyond.
Golden-Bellied Starling. The colours are beyond.

Off to the West and the Shetani Lava flow and other wondrous things. On the West side the elephants decided the water tank at the camp needed to be emptied into their bellies and thus ripped off the pipe connecting the collecting tank to the plumbing and proceeded to suck out all the water one night. It was confusing listening in the dark and trying to figure out what they were doing. Morning revealed all. They are so clever.

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Yellow necked Spurfowl
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White-Headed Buffalo Weaver. I personally think the orange butt is more of a give-away.
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White-Fronted Bee-Eater
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Vulture-Guineafowl. So spectacular.
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Tawny Eagle a dark morph showing off in the morning sunlight
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Rosy-Patched Bush Shrike
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Northern White Bellied Bustard.
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Nesting Lappet-faced vultures less than impressed with my driving skills.
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Martial Eagle all regal in the morning light.
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Martial Eagle in this gloomy but rather impressive image.
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Again a Martial Eagle, confused at what I was up to. I love when birds cock their heads to the side like that.
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The tail end of, you guessed it, a Martial Eagle.
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The Shetani Lava Flow. Over 300 years old I believe.
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Eastern Chanting Goshawk
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The view from Roaring Rocks. Have no idea why they are called roaring rocks but the views nice.

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The opposing view and that below and behind the clouds that’s Kilimanjaro or kili for short.

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And on my way out of the park I spotted (hint) something odd. A herd of Zebra with three that looked different. Much much darker and with well spots!

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Obviously darker. I think they are melanistic and the spots I’m open to explanations on that one. One little one so not sure if those are Mom and Auntie or who but related nonetheless.
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Butt view of the spots. See Zebra’s can have spots.

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And with that I was off to Tanzania. Which I hope to update in the next couple days whilst basking in the sun on Zanzibar.

Springbok vs. Boda Boda

Queen Elizabeth National Park. What can I say, the campsite was lovely. And that’s about it. Mainly due to the fact that they wanted 150 USD cash just to enter with the car not to mention my per diem fees as well. But when the car was local it’s 30000 schillings (~30 USD). So that amounts to extortion in my mind, especially since Springbok is in way better shape than any of the cars on the road. And it has to be cash, double whammy. Now double that since it’s the same for Murchison Falls which I found out is not drivable in one go either.

But I did get to see enough little things around camp to keep me occupied for a day. Doesn’t take much, lol! I drove to Fort Portal through Queen Elizabeth Park which is allowed on the main road. It looked nice enough. Maybe another time with a local car. And for those of you wondering why not rent a local car. I tried, it would cost just as much if not more than the fee for the car. Defeats the purpose. So I headed to Kampala for 3 nights. I know a city instead of the bush, something must be wrong!

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Pin-Tailed Whydah
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Golden-backed Weaver
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Brown-Throated Wattle-Eye
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The colours are unreal.

Kampala – well one must drive through Kampala to get to the respite that is Red Chilli Hideaway. And when I say driving it really isn’t. It’s a snails pace through non-laned roads where anything goes and the roads are full of boda-bodas. Boda-bodas are motorbikes much like the bicycles of Malawi, which are full to the brim. The only rule that I can gather is if you can hold it, it can go on the Boda boda. Goats, doors, building supplies regardless of how long or big or how much room it may take on the road, if you can hold it goes.

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Like this for example. I have the right of way, I’m supposed to be going straight but as you can see that’s not going to happen. I was stuck like this for about 20 min.

Believe it or not I enjoyed Kampala. At least staying outside the madness and taking one of those blasted boda-bodas to go to town. I met Aldeit, a young lady from the Netherlands teaching Physics about an hour outside of Kampala. We boarded the boda-boda and joined the madness venturing to the local craft market and coffee shop over the next couple days. Springbok got some minor welding done and repacking, a little respite for him too.

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That’s Aldeit holding on for dear life in front. Now imagine bumper to bumper traffic. I couldn’t let go to take a picture at that juncture as we weaved in and out and bloody close to all modes of transport around. And only the driver has a helmet!!!

And as luck would have it my birding has garnered some needed information. Aldeit and I were trying to identify some of the birds above when the manager/owner Katie walked by. And before long my route was reworked to avoid active spots with bandits. Bandits, in this day and age, well apparently so. And a few other options later I was ready to go and saved some money too. Always a plus at this point.

I left Kampala with Aldeit, as I was going to drop her off at her volunteer home. We picked up John, her local english speaking guide and ventured to her town. I had dropped them off and had made it no more than 5 minutes on the dirt road heading to the main road when I saw the boda boda. He was careening down the dirt road way to fast around a blind turn and down hill. As soon as I saw him shoot around the corner, I was slowly headed up hill, I veered to the left and braked. But he had already lost control of his boda boda at this time. He saw he was going to hit the car so to save himself he jumped off and in the process threw the boda boda into the car. Long story short, he’s fine, I’m fine, Springbok’s good looks took a hit but otherwise he’s good. After making sure everything was ok and the locals who saw what happened thoroughly lectured the young driver as I had done, I headed back to talk to John and make sure there was nothing else that needed to be done. Of course like most boda boda drivers here he is unlicensed and uninsured and without a helmet. The trifecta. Nothing to do. Called SouthAfrica 4×4 on the emergency sat phone and after a brief exchange and photos I was off headed for Mbale and Mt. Elgon.

Well that’s where the fun continues. According to the website the campsite I was headed for, Moondance, is at the base of Mt. Elgon and does hikes etc. and looks really nice. Kind of like Red Chilli. I was stoked to go for a nice hike after that mornings events. And then I arrive… to an indian restaurant. WTF. Turns out the camp is rented out behind the restaurant but the “owner” hasn’t been around for months. Which begs the question with whom have I been conversing by email. Eventually I convince the restauranteur to call the man in question. He looked a step away from death and the camp, well it’s not a camp. It’s a grass space behind the indian restaurant with the ablution block being the restaurant WC. Um, no! I peeled out as graciously as I could and went to the next lodging tracks4africa could find. Sheesh. I happily crossed the border to Kenya the next day. Even if the border took 3 times longer than it should have, I was done with Uganda.

Mzungu in the mist.

Uganda…much has happened but I shall divide this into sections, this one is all about Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. And Mzungu well that’s the word for European or white person in these parts.

The border crossing to Uganda from Western Tanzania was the easiest and most straight forward crossing in some time. Granted the original border I was hoping to use no longer exists and I had to add 4 additional hours and hundreds of KM to get there but it was all good. The goal was to make it to Mbarara so that I would make it to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Bush Lodge Campsite by the next day to prepare for the Gorillas.

I found a rather posh hotel in Mbarara, a treat for myself with a hot shower and good food. Sometimes a nice bed and shower are necessary. Had I know about the road ahead I would not have felt as guilty. The ride along Lake Bunyoni to get to Kabale and then to Muko to connect with the tarmac for a wee bit and get across to Bwindi NP conjured images of Chizarira. Luckily it was only for a about an hour. The tarmac was wonderful, but short lived, as I turned off to head to Bush Lodge. Up into the valley with the mist and hilltop farm lands.

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Morning mist.
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Misty drive to the camp.

 

Around the campsite I was amazed by the plethora of birds and the Colobus Monkey’s. The view was stunning. The hike up to the room and the restaurant was good training for the Gorilla hike a day later. So let’s start with the birds and the Colobus monkey’s. A little anticipation is good for y’all.

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Congo (Black-bellied) Sunbird
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Congo (Black-bellied) Sunbird. Hi there, hey there, ho there.
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Congo (Black-bellied) Sunbird.

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Congo (Black-bellied) Sunbird female. Look how delicately she’s gripping the petals.
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Rwenzori Double-Collared Sunbird (I think)

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Black crowned waxbill
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Speckled Mousebird doing his morning yoga stretches
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White-Eyed Slaty Flycatcher
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Colobus Monkey
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Windy day to be hanging out playing sentry.
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The Thinker
What are those teenagers doing? Hey cut out that monkey business! Lol!
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That fringe white fur makes me think of Elvis.

Bwindi means impenetrable so it’s really Impenetrable Impenetrable Forest. There are 808 mountain gorillas left in the world according to the last census from last year (2015). Up from the 700’s about 10 years ago. They all share the border with Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. Uganda has the largest population of mountain gorillas. There are many lowland gorillas that are often mistaken for the mountain gorillas.

The  morning of the trek I was excited and filled with some trepidation. Once you arrive at the park you get sorted, no sorting hat, into groups by the guides. Each group has a guide, 2 trackers and an armed guide to scare of crazy elephants. Some walks are 40 minutes others are hours. I was placed in the Kahungye group. First thing we get back into the cars and drive 20 minutes away. Weird, the other groups started right there. Have a funny feeling I’m going to be hiking for hours. And then we start the ascent. It’s hot and humid and the sweat just pours off you. I have yet to be so fully drenched in my own sweat. And yes it was up hill mostly for over 2 hours. We had a great group. 7 of use. The american’s name I can’t remember but he took off quickly on the way back to get to the DRC. The remainder we had the youngin’s at the front, leading the charge. That included Antonia, Dominic, Pascal and Evika. Sorry if I misspelled anyones name. Then the senior citizens in the back sweating to the oldies. That was myself, Dolly and her husband Stephen. A great group. We encouraged ourselves on and we did it. Yay Dolly! After making it to the area where the gorillas were we unloaded and just grabbed our cameras. I switched to a smaller lens as we are so close. Now I need to mention one small factoid. Half way I thought I had dropped my cellphone when I slid a wee bit after stepping on what I thought was solid ground. Nothing I could do, it was gone, hopefully we find it on the way back or maybe I left it in the car. Either way gorillas! Please enjoy I took hundreds of photos, no really, here are some of the favourites.

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Our wonderful guide.

They puled me in front of this silverback or that one and it was amazing. The trackers and our guide did a phenomenal job we had such an epic siting they were even taking pictures.

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The first view. Ecks!

The family has 3 silverbacks I think. This was the first one we met.

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I think this is the oldest one.

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Number two
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Looking rather sheepish after a bravado display that didn’t turn out. Basically I kept taking photos while the guide was pulling me backwards. Dedication!
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Nom nom nom
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So good. Who knew you could get that big eating green stuff.
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First glimpse of the baby of the group.
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Sucking its thumb.
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Number three enjoying the sunlight that broke through the clouds. Contemplating life, no doubt.
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That’s why I’m called a Silverback
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Lemme just move on over here
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Perfect spot. Such a tiny branch to hold all that.
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Cutie pie
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Mom and baby brunching.
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Baby commenting how good the food is.
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The elder chilling and feasting. A big boy but so gentile.

The hike was hard but so worth it. It is one of the best experiences I have had to date and worth every penny of the very expensive permit. Would do it again all in a minute. Beyond amazing. This group has some 19+ gorillas and we hung out with 10+. Meters away. Unreal.

Pascal and Evika joined me at the lodge and we headed to the same destination. Queen Elizabeth NP is next, sort of…Oh and the cell phone, left the stupid thing in the car charging.

Kitty-Katavi NP

Crossing into Tanzania was not to arduous, after which I stopped at Utengule Coffee House. It is situated, as you may have guessed, on a coffee plantation. Could there be a better place for me? Me thinks not. After weeks of instant coffee this was my bliss! I cannot wait to visit it again on my way back to SA and fill the car with wonderful coffee beans. And that is the best thing I have to say about the route to Katavi NP. We’ll leave the sketchy places out.

Katavi is on the western aspect of Tanzania, often overlooked for the east and The Serengeti, Ngorongoro etc. etc. But nonetheless a great park around Lake Katavi and Lake Chada. Mahale NP is another overlooked park but is strictly fly-in fly-out. Out of my budget for sure but that’s were the golden monkey’s and chimps are. At Katavi I managed to get a banda which is like a little cabin in the park. No real camping sites that I could find so this will do. Not bad, nice to have a bed every once in a while, but no real place to cook.

A quick trip around Lake Katavi, before sunset, was wonderful. Huge herds of Cape Buffalo as far as the eye could see and of course Southern Ground Horn Bills. Couldn’t be in a NP without them. But also a few new birds like the Palm-nut Vulture and an oldie, the Verreux’s Giant Eagle owl. The following day was going to be a rather full day, driving the length of the park to reach Chada Lake and then hopefully to Paradise plains.

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Juvenile Palm-nut Vulture
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Adult Palm-nut Vulture
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Verreux’s Giant Eagle Owl – note the pink eye shadow
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Now you can really see the stylin’ pink eye shadow

I had an early start the following day and was reintroduced to the Tse-tse fly. I thought I fared well the day before until I noted a modest cluster of bites on my muffin top where the seatbelt left me exposed. Dang it! I really really hate these things. I was extra vigilant and do not think I suffered any additional bites the following day. But the carcass load increased in the vehicle.

The drive to Lake Chada was scenic with plentiful Eland and Roan antelope and Impalas.The Hippo pools were teeming with hippos at least 60+ in the small bodies of water.

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Despite the small space and abundant hippos he looks rather pleased to me.

I had turned to go to Paradise Plains when I spotted this Crocodile in his cave. He backed up out of sight rather quickly for one so large.

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Set to continue on to Paradise Plains I spotted that the vultures started to circle. Not the typical circling when they ride thermals but the “I found something yummy” circling. I changed course accordingly and headed back to the main road.

Katavi is split by a main highway. So you can technically enter the park without paying if you stay on that road. Turning past the hippo pools and only a few meters north there was a large hippo carcass with trees full of vultures. I pulled over noting the unpleasant scent of rotting death and started to take photos of the vultures. I assumed the hippo either died by being hit by a vehicle etc or starved to death. I was occupied by the vultures for a good 5 or so minutes. I heard occasional leaf rustling and thought well that’s the vultures leaving their mark.

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This one is a gem, the rare and endangered Juvenile Egyptian Vulture.

But the rustling became more distinct. I was parked on one side of this almost two lane dirt road and looked past the heap of dirt on the other side to see the real cause behind the death of the hippo. Lol! You know you love birds when you note them before the pride of lions.

Turns out there were two males, not quite full adults as their mohawks revealed with 2 females. I could see one male doing what lions do best, sleep and the other panting. It was a sweltering day. I sat their with the car off so no AC being inundated with flies off the carcass. They don’t bite but man are they annoying. And the smell, oh the smell, the wind would change from time to time and the mound of maggots seeped over to reveal a new layer of putrefaction. I’ll spare you all that image.

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Sleeping brother
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Dirty brother
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Lady one
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Lady two

The one brother became enraged after one of the females, one with suckle marks, tried to feed and marched down for a bite himself. Probably for the best he looks rather skinny.

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The look he gave Lady one after she attempted to have a bite. He means business.
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He is pretty skinny. But that hippo, can you see all that white, those are maggots by the hundreds at least.

I had just finished remarking to myself that one of the females, Lady one, had suckle marks when this happened.

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I’m too cute for words.
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Sleepy cub.
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So that’s what we are supposed to be eating.

Yay, cubs! These two little rascals didn’t wait long to get riled up. From trying to eat the hippo to pouncing on everyone and all the trees. Too cute and how amazing?! I spent many hours with this pride and the shenanigans are great. So turns out Lady one is Mom and Lady two is Auntie. Eventually the Safari Vehicles showed up and I bowed out having had my private showing. It was time to go plus I had at least an hour drive back to camp with the sun getting ready to bid the day adieu.

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If there was a doubt who the daddy…
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Eskimo kisses. Daddy or maybe Uncle not as thrilled as he sneers.
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Auntie just wanted a little space away from these two…less then impressed with him. Face palm.
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And of course he’ll flop down right there. She looks like she’s trying to go to her happy place.
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Milk time, not quite weaned yet as they both sup on some momma’s milk.
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So innocent looking. Hooligans!
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My favorite shot. Speaks volumes.

The cost of the hippo supper became evident and the reason for Brother one looking so lazy and sleepy. Hope he recovers from his wound, it looks bad to me. Can’t tell how bad it is as he never moved more than rolling from side to side. At least the meat is close by to help him keep his energy up as he heals.

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The cost of a good meal for the pride.
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Brother two had no issues getting down and dirty for his share.

Here’s one to give you an idea of how close I was able to get. It took a little patience but ultimately they didn’t care that I was there. They chilled, ate, and slept as if I was a fly on the hippo. Once the safari vehicles showed up they became a bit more testy, can’t blame them.

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That’s the driver side window that’s down and yes I was that close. Notice the male lions in the top left corner rolled over.

Katavi was amazing. I ventured further north to Kigoma and Jakobsen Beach for a day of swimming in Lake Tanganyika and oh the views, and a quick wave at the Congo. Rested I headed for the Ugandan border the following morning.

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View from the guesthouse.
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Beach 2 and 3 are my favourite. Paradise! In the distance, DRC – wave to the congo cause that’s as close as I’m going to get.
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Never too old for a sandcastle. Not my best work but it’ll do.

And prepare yourselves because Uganda = Gorillas!

Malawi

Malawi as stated before is primarily for the birds and the beaches of Lake Malawi. But I was pleasantly surprised. But a Prince well that one was something else.

So we start in Lilongwe, city, loud, gritty, enough said. I quickly dashed off to Liwonde National Park. I had completely forgotten about the 500 Elephants project. They are moving 500 Elephants from Liwonde NP and Majete Game Reserve, slightly overpopulated, to Nkhotakhota NP were Elephants had been poached out. Now a national park and protected they are hoping to re-introduce not only the Elephants but Cape Buffalo, Wart Hogs and many more herbivores. I managed to get the tail end of the capture. They darted small family groups to make the transition a bit more acceptable. On my way out I even managed to see them load some of the elephants. Of course no photos but that was do to the presence of a certain prince, who knew. Mvuu Lodge was right on the river and the campsite was great. The birds were brilliant even a few endangered. And as a bonus on my way in I purchased some homemade Baobab Jam. Pretty good, tart and great with meat.

(And for those of you so inclined here are a couple good organizations to check out. H.E.L.P http://www.helpchildren.org; http://www.childreninthewilderness.com; and one of the staff members at Mvuu has her own organization http://www.angelsacrossafrica.org).

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Info on the 500 Elephants Program
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African Darter
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Little Bee-Eaters, love the blue eye-shadow.
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Swallow-Tailed Bee-Eater
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Böhm’s-Bee-Eater. Can almost hear him sining, I feel pretty oh so pretty…
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Böhm’s-Bee-Eaters
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Endangered Love-birds, black-cheeked I believe.
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Because Ellies
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Pool party
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Genet, sneaky bugger
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Giant Kingfisher
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Such a beautiful bird
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The tiny yet colourful Malachite Kingfisher gently perched looking for brunch.
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I think a Mangrove Kingfisher but I’m open to more expert opinions.
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Pied Kingfisher, just beautiful
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That look your co-workers give you when you are about to chow down on a beloved snack, lol!
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Eyes bigger than his beak.
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Green-backed-Heron
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White-backed Night-Heron

From Liwonde I headed further south to Lengwe National Park. Again full of wonderful birds and ample opportunity to just sit and watch. No driving was necessary the camp was full of life and laundry. Had the camp to myself for a couple days was great. And just in case all the bird watching hadn’t completely relaxed me from 2 months of driving Cape McClear on Lake Malawi would certainly do the job. It was a nice break from the at dawn wake ups to catch the cats before they fall fast asleep.

Cape McClear most people stay at Fat Monkeys but I chose Eagle’s Nest and had an exceptional time. I mean my camp site was right on the beach, can’t complain about that. And no matter the request Martin, Sam at the bar or Isaac would happily help out. Like Kapenta, a local small fish. Often served deep fried in corn meal. A great lunch snack Sam managed to procure and the chef fried fresh with a twist of lemon. Oh this little buggers are addicting and go great with a beer or cider!

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I couldn’t avoid swimming in Lake Malawi or go on a catamaran trip to swim with the cichlids. I joined Pauline and Bruce and we enjoyed a great morning on the boat. They swim right unto you and nibble on pieces of bread. At times they get a wee bit overzealous and take a nip at your fingers. Alas I left the water camera on shore, not my brightest moment! But I managed a couple above water shots. They have hundreds of variations and remains protected as part of the National Park around Thumbi Island.

Lake-Malawi---Cicladsweb

The other amazing thing are the African Fish Eagles. Normally they come when whistled at and grab a fresh fish as a token of appreciation. The wind was not cooperating and as such neither were the birds. But thanks to Martin and his faithful Red Patches, the little dingy boat that could, I was able to get some amazing photos nonetheless. Thanks Martin!

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The mating pair. They mate for life. Note the size difference with the male being the rather smaller of the two.
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Lucky to catch the take off

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Then there are the small and large crawlers around camp, lizards.

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And the sunsets. I left fully refreshed and the reigning Tsoro champion, Isaac keep practicing, lol!

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The only bad thing about my time there were the blasted vervet monkey’s. Again I was robbed of a breakfast. Perfectly soft boiled eggs in a kettle. I just turned around to grab the salt and the little %*$& had cracked on open, as it was still hot and had his filthy grubby paws all over my perfectly soft yolk. He took of with the other egg tossing it between his paws as it was still hot. Not a fan! They may look cute and all that but they are on my naughty list.

I began my way up along the coast of Lake Malawi with my next stop at Bua Camp in Nkhotakhota NP. Again didn’t make the connection until I arrived that I was going to were the elephants were being released. Amy arrival the whole of the 500 elephants were settling in at a sanctuary before they were to be released into the NP. The local herd of 28 were in for a rude awakening! A beautiful park that will no doubt thrive with more herbivores and the elephant. The camp has numerous sitting spots along the river. It will be no doubt an amazing site to see all those elephants coming in for a drink. And they do great walks around the park. I joined Natasha for a great morning walk and conversation with our guides. Bushbucks and trumpeter hornbills and of course crocodiles. The trumpeter hornbills were too quick for me to snap a shot but I shall see many more in Tanzania, I hope. From Bua I headed to Chinteche with a quick stop in Senga Bay to check in at Cool Runnings if Vincent/Nikita or Pierre/Trisha had made it that far up. Sadly the only two campers that had been there left prior to my arrival that morning.

Chinteche is in the norther aspect of Lake Malawi and to my surprise after I settled in and enjoying a glimpse of the Olympics Nikita and Vincent appear. Yay! Quick catch up and off for a swim. We also run into Thomas and Barbara whom I had met in Mvuu. Austrian duo of a quartet that went their own ways after a wonderful hike from Nyika to Livingstonia. The added benefit to meeting up with Vincent and Nikita is that Nikita is wealth of travel information. Although my plans had to be altered due to her info it was better to know before hand then once there that many of the roads and borders I had planned on didn’t exist. Especially since I had planned on going to Nyika NP via route that turns out was a hikers trail. Don’t think Springbok would be welcome, I have no doubt he’d make it though.

 

I went off on my way to Nyika prepared for a road like no other, which it was not. The road was great. Some sections not the best but the climb up 2.5 KM was stunning. Now the weather that was not great. I left Chinteche with a light drizzle. Thrilled Springbok would get a decent cleaning the drizzle quickly turned into a torrential downpour and the roads turned into rivers. I had a stop over in Mzuzu for diesel and meds to prevent and Schistosomiasis after swimming in Lake Malawi, just in case. The rain finally started to let up leaving the dirt trail up to Nyika unmarred. Thankfully, those roads would have been rough and muddy and I’m sure I’d be stuck if it had continued to rain. Nyika NP is a mind boggler. Yes it’s in Malawi, yes Malawi is in Africa but they have Lupins and alpine flowers and conifers and mist over the damns and scottish highlands with gazelles. Needless to say I had a hard time wrapping my brain around what I was seeing. But the rain brought a mist over the rolling hills. Many had been recently burnt as controlled fires to prevent poachers and bee-farmers from burning sections unnecessarily. But the tall grasses that remained with the hills and the mist and the damns. It was all amazing. Oh and bloody cold! Not enough layers. Again I had the camp to myself and the attendant. Hot water at the ready and a fire every evening and morning. Not to mention a wood burning stove. I arranged for a night drive to get the lay of the land. I was losing a day as I had to back track to go further north and spend a night in Livingstonia in order to make the Tanzania border is a timely fashion.

My quick drive before the night drive I managed to find Stanley’s Bustard, Jackals and Zebra’s. Nyika plateau is swimming with life and continues to grow until all the alpine flowers are in bloom at the end of September and all the herbivores in hundreds come back up to the plateau. They started their journey as the large groups of Zebra, Eland, Roan, Bushbucks and Reedbucks. The Zebra are identical to the Cape Mountain but are called something I can’t remember. The night drive yielded, you guessed it, birds. The night jar in particular. Que the photo montage.

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Lake Kaulime. It’s waters are to be healing and lucky. The only natural water source on the plateau. Locals still bring chickens, live chickens, as offerings for rain or health with much success apparently.
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Perturbed Nightjar
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Pallid Harrier
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Eve’s Starling, I think.
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Male Reedbuck
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The ladies
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Roan roaming
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Cool in the morning light.
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Not sure but it’s a bird.
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I will look brooding into the distance next to this fluffy white cloud.
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Irish twins me thinks
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If I stay really really still maybe she won’t see me.
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Damn, better hide.
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Francolin
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Eland
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Because they are so elegant
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And that face
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Baby Eland
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The male Stanley Bustard
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Displaying his prominent throat bubble
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The lady in question, no where near the presenting male. He’ll figure it out.

My full day I drove all over the plateau and was lucky to catch a Bustard in full display mode with his throat balloon and booming call to woo the ladies. Too bad he didn’t realize the ladies were across the dirt road and about a block away. That evening I enjoyed dinner as a small herd of Zebra with a very young foal come into camp and get within 10 meters of me. Followed by Reedbuck and Bushbuck, all aware I was there sitting next to the fire but felt assured enough to graze peacefully. I fell asleep listening to the Zebra graze and a not-so distant Hyena whoop. I only found tracks of Hyena. As much as I wanted to find them they did not appear. The hyena on the plateau are hunters as there are no lions to steal from. And then there are the leopards. Nyika has a healthy population of leopards but those cats are truly elusive and hide in the bush as there are few worthy trees. Pine forests are plenty from when the British had plans to turn the area in to a paper mill. The country acquired it’s independence before it happened and now is cutting them down. They are a encroacher species and endanger the indigenous species much like the fern that has popped up everywhere after the fires. Apart from the pine forests the British also built damns to fish.

My last morning I was up at first light to make the arduous journey to Livingstonia. I had just finished recalling how at Mana Pools when I had to leave a day early a leopard presented itself. I laughed to myself at such  thing happening a second time. But as I made the next turn I quickly saw a disappearing leopard butt and tail. Unbelievable. Again. What are the odds. I drove slowly to where it had crossed and starred longingly to find any sign of it. Binoculars at the ready I sat for a minute. Then without reason I thought well lets back up a little bit just in case. I glanced at the rear view mirror and then the side mirror and their he was. Behind me starring as if to say, bugger she turned around. At that moment he stood there watching me watch him, again I think it was a him. I quickly snapped a few photos as he crossed the dirt road and disappeared again. I mustered the fasted 10 point turn I could in the hope of just catching one more glimpse of this magnificent animal. I stopped where he had hopped over the dirt and looked through the binoculars. At that moment the light shone upon him and his golden pelage was illuminated, stunning as he looked straight at me. What a moment. I blindly fumbled for my camera and he quickly trotted away. Just wow! I sat there for a few moments just taking it all in. How lucky, how unbelievable lucky.

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Alright well you turned around, I guess I’ll let you take a couple photos. But no funny business. Note the gaping wound on his right inner leg.
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Into the morning he disappeared

That leopard high kept me in good staid as the road to Livingstonia was the funnest road thus far. A rocky then dirt climb up the hill side with endless hairpin turns. Love these types of roads. You just have to take it slow and wide turns and no worries. It was a fun ride up and the few from the Camp was worth every turn. You could see the falls from the swing. And the food, all locally grown in their own garden, amazing. And to make things better Vincent and Nikita with two new friends showed up again. Fun night ensued and plans laid out for my crossing to Tanzania and their eventual crossing with hopes of meeting as out paths crossed with me heading west to east and them east to west across Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Here’s hoping.

And this picture was a surprise when I was reviewing photos. Is it just me or does this look like one of the angry birds characters?

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Tsk-tsk

Hello from Lake Malawi! Let’s catch up on Zambia. And I forgot to mention a rather large milestone from the last post. Somewhere in the middle of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Springbok (I have since renamed him buckbeak) and I have hit the 10K mark. Though since that time we are up to 15K driven. But I digress.

Well the border crossing from Zimbabwe to Zambia happened. What transpired I will plead the fifth to and…moving on. Lusaka, probably the biggest city I have visited in some time and it’s crazy full of people randomly walking everywhere. In front of cars, behind, besides  regardless whether stationary or moving. And then you add the bicycles and the crazy bus/van drivers, a-eish as the locals say. Quick supply run to the local shopping center and off to Pioneer Camp. I should add I cast away my favourite travel jeans somewhere in Zimbabwe as they received that final fatal blow and suffered irreparable damage. I am now a proud owner of a fine pair of Zambian skinny jeans. If nothing else it’ll entertain the masses. Also a new bird book. My bird book is serving me well in Canada! Really smart of me to leave it on the table. Anyways I will happily buy a new one, all birds of subsaharan Africa. Yay!

I adore Pioneer Camp, the owners are great, the food is awesome and the fur babies all 4 are there for extra snuggles and ear scratches. 3 Jack Russel terriers and one Bull Mastiff cross. And as a bonus they have a washing machine. This may seem like no big deal but to me it’s huge. Here is my philosophy, thus far, it may change as we go on. If anyone is to hand wash my clothes, and I know how dirty they are, it’ll be me. I got them that filthy I will therefore cleanse them. But a machine, oh the sky opened forth and the choir sang down as the beam of light hit the washing machine. I unloaded all my laundry even things I had hand washed just so it’s good and clean. Hand washing and rinsing in various sources of water I’ve had to let go of rinsing completely to clean water status. I now whole heartedly accept chia latte colour water as clean-ish. After all, this is Africa, dust and sand is everywhere.

Laundry sorted, belly full of rump steak that I will dream of for days, that good people, that good. And some quick road advice and off to Kafue National Park. I’ve looked forward to this for a while and am spending 3 nights in the south and 3 nights in the north. Wild Dogs, Leopards, the lot, I can’t wait. And enter uncle murphy, of course!

There are two ways into the park, a questionable road through Choma and the Spinal road (long way round). After some discussion the spinal road seemed like the better option. And it’s a single lane road, can’t beat that. One way in one way out…right. Great drive but long, I sped up as time ticked on and the sunset was drawing near to make it to camp in time.

Here’s the thing, apart from the initial gate I never saw a single gate. Which is odd because you need to pay park fees as you are in a national park. Somehow I managed to drive down the one road, the only road, and make it to camp without seeing a single gate. The camp guy was as confused as I was. It was a well developed road and I didn’t pff road or steer from it. Granted the GPS has nothing, I think tracks4africa on GPS is a little outdated in comparison to the app (I think the app gets updated more regularly. It’s a theory). So how I got to camp without seeing a single gate I have no clue. You’d think that should be a reward for not having to pay, finding a free way in, right?! Nope, and oh do these park fees hurt. The next morning I paid the ridiculous, and honestly it is ridiculous, fees. Previously you paid once for a lump sum of days now I’m paying daily. There was a whole extra digit I was not prepared for, A-eish indeed.

Having been robbed of many a dollar bill I set forth back tracking the 30 minute drive to the nearest gate taking close to 2 hours photographing every single thing with a heart beat to ensure I got my pennies worth, lol! A little excessive I admit but I soon settled done. The view from the camp site is amazing. Overlooking the water and the plethora of elephants, hippos and birds. And you know how I love my birds. The wild dogs have been around and I cannot wait to run into them. And then my first introduction to the many things that will sting on this part of the journey. Tsetse flies (pronounced, or so I’ve been told, with a tongue flick like tsk-tsk). I loathe these MF with all my being.

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Little Bee-eater
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Lesser striped swallow
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Lilian Breasted Roller (LBR) in flight
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And preparing to roll. Like the top of a roller coaster he slowed to a near mid-flight stop….
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And roll on roll on
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Hammerkop
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Crowned Hornbill
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Blue Waxbill all puffy in the cold morning air

I love driving with the windows down, you hear, smell and feel where you are. Plus you can catch alarm calls and find wicked animals just by listening. But these little shits made that impossible. They love white cars and more they love me. And no amount of deet, burning elephant dung or any other remedy will keep them off you. I almost drove off the road trying to kill the bastards that snuck in the car. I quickly learned to stop before beating them to a pulverized dust with the savage anger of Thor! My outdated paper map of Zambia served as my hammer. Yes I really, really despise them that much and took maybe a little too much pleasure in eradicating their being if they happened upon me in the car.

For those of you lucky enough not to know their sting let me elucidate. Mosquitos as annoying as they are are tiny pricks, literally and figuratively. But Tsetse, they are flying dull 10 G hypodermic needles. You can actually feel them chomp down. They hurt and oh do they itch. I’m still scratching 3 weeks later and the heat does not help. I am also convinced they all took an anatomy class prior to becoming the totally A-holes they are because they know exactly what dermatome to bite. Bastards!

I pity anyone cleaning the car after me because the carcass load will be vast. As you can tell we do not get along. The first day was pleasant apart from the flying menaces. And the following day I ventured into the wooded area. So, the tsetse flies love white cars. As soon as you see one on the hood. Close the windows because within seconds you will have 20-30 minimum. Really. And then wooded areas, aka homeland of the flying menace. Bad, bad, bad idea. Now the animals I saw were almost worth the beating I took. The shits discovered if they hang out by the foot pedals I can’t get them and they are free to savage my ankles to oblivion. A-eish and a whole lot of other profanity laden words.

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Eland all regal doing his attempt at dressage
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Bushbuck and Vervets in camp
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Waterbuck, without the white ring around their derriers, Defassa sub-species
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Bateleur in flight. Claws past his stump of a tail.
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Juvenile Bateleur.
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Look how his claws just touch his tail. He has yet to get his adult plumage and red face.
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African Fish Eagle. They throw their heads back when they call, even mid-fight! Amazing they can fly with their heads back like that.
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African Harrier Hawk or the more fun word Gymnogene!

That night I met Anna and Tyce, a lovely Dutch couple and turns out they are heading to the same camp as I am next. Nice! They also found the elephant sanctuary . I remember vaguely seeing something about it on one of the documentaries but it had completely slipped my mind until they reminded me the day after. Next time.

And sting number two, the bush fires. Not sure if they were deliberately set by poachers or accidentally started but the bushfires came. Unlike at home when a forest fire happens these fires basically burn the shrubs and leave matter on the ground. The trees survive unscathed. But all the animals go running. Elephants, hippos, leopards and wild dogs. So sorry guys no wild dogs or anything with teeth and claws in the south. As the food runs off and the bush is burnt, ambush predators have nothing to ambush or hide behind. And it brings out the flies in droves. Birds it is. The road to Mayukuyuku and into the north of Kafue only enforced the extent of the fires as the north was not much better which is the third sting. We tried a night drive and we were somewhat successful. As a self-drive you can only be out in the park from sunrise to sunset. In order to see the things that go bump in the night a sundowner or night drive is a must.

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Verreux Giant Eagle Owl. Note the pink eyelids.
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Saddle billed stork in a tree in the morning light. Stunning.
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White fronted Bee-eater
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Sunrise at Mayukuyuku camp

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Although no leopards, lions or wild dogs we did manage to see a civet (too quick for a photo), genet x3 and a porcupine which is rare. Not to bad. Sadly for Anna (despite having been to Namibia and Botswana) no lions making her still lionless. The following morning Tyce found a quill from the porcupine and that my friends is a lucky charm. And it was, but that later. Not much more luck the next day. More of the same herbivores including the waterbuck but the defassa (ringless) sub-species. That night we were also visited by a rather brave and large hyena. It did not scare easily. We parted ways in the morning as I headed for the Lower Zambezi NP and they were off to South Luangwa.

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Scrub Hare
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Grysbok
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Peek-a-boo lesser spotted genet

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Porcupine!!!

Lower Zambezi, the land of leopards, just look in any sausage or mahogany tree and spot a leopard, if only. And the road to LZNP, well at first I couldn’t understand why the GPS stated the road I was on was not recommended. I mean it started as well grated gravel and moved to newly paved. Perhaps it’s just outdated. And then it switched back to well grated. Not bad but doable. As I plotted forward the other shoe dropped. The roads went from well grated to gravel to chunky rocks that chew up tires to the mountain pass with hairpin turns one after the other with a raging bushfire on one side. The worst lasted only 10 KM but that 10 KM took over an hour to do. Again the road turned to merely a suggestion of a path through implausible obstacles. And come on the hairpins on the ledge of a mountain back to back. Really, really is that necessary the road was bad enough. I managed to stay on the road and not go over but I know understood why it was not recommended. If you are going to try it go in a convoy. Nuff said.

 

Camp site was wonderful on the Zambezi looking almost directly where I had stayed 2 weeks prior at Mana Pools! I was to stay 2 nights and then make a hail mary run to South Luangwa in one day. On a map it looks plausible. I’m not sure how I envisioned getting to South Luangwa in one day in reality. I mean the road to the T4 (the Great East Road, aka paved and easy going) was hours via treacherous routes to get to. And enter Pierre and Trisha. I had chewed on what to do and which way to go all night. Do I play in the park for a day burning diesel and return the route I took burning even more diesel to get to a possible diesel station and then set the 11+ hours to SLNP or do I go a day early or do I  burn diesel back tracking etc etc. I finally decided I will go through the park and head forward to Bridge Camp on the other side. Instead of south west, where I was I would be heading to the north east to Bridge Camp.

I was paying the extortion fee, I mean park fee, to drive through the park and get some road advice from the rangers. They also agreed this was a far better idea then doing it all in one day. And Pierre overheard and stated they too were planning to go the northwest passage. Convoy created. Thank heavens for that. Now Pierre and Trisha are amazing. Or as Pierre puts it NFA NDJ – no fixed address, no discernible job. Having worked quite hard the majority of their lives they are now retired and travel in a rigged out land cruiser. And as luck would have it more or less in the general direction of my whole journey. Hopefully we can keep connecting along the way. I really adore these two. So we spent a couple hours looking for anything with teeth and claws.

It is true LZ is teeming with leopards. We were just not lucky enough to spot any on our way to the north passage through the mountains. The northwest passage, as I like to call it, is unreal. Unlike the previous passage which had 10 KM of badness this dragged on for over 60 KM. Sharp jagged rocks that want nothing more than to tear the tires and the up hills that would not qualify for a road anywhere. So low range, second gear and slow as slow can get we muddled on. But we made it, how I’m not sure. You’d be done with one seemingly impassible uphill and enjoying a brief straight pass only to come upon yet another. Even after traversing the mountain range and in sections where there should not have been more ups, there were more up’s. You have to implicitly trust your vehicle will get you through. Buckbeak (formerly known as Springbok) has that from me in spades.

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Along the Northwest passage.

And finally the T4. Well sort of. Yes it’s paved and yes highway speeds are great but what they leave out of the brochure are all the blasted speed bumps with every village. So you really can’t go to fast or for very long. Thus dragging out the path all that much more. How on earth I thought I could do that trek in one day I have no idea. We drove for well over 10 hours without really stopping and just, and I mean just made it to Bridge camp. Sorry Vincent and Nikita I had no time to stop at Katete, hope Tikondane.org  served your volunteering wishes well.

But luck was on our side and we meet James and Sharon. Newly weds, sort of, on a similar journey but on the way down back to SA. The conversation ran well into the night and the company was greatly enjoyed. We all begrudgingly said good night well after midnight. James and Sharon hope you enjoy the rest of your journey.  The morning, a late start and well deserved we quickly stopped at the bridge to buy a couple baskets from the local weavers and off to South Luangwa NP. Here we would separate into different camps but hopefully we shall meet again in Malawi.

Have you ever had one of those morning were you wake up in the most fowl of moods with no real reason? Try as you might you cannot shake it. Well that was my first day at South Luangwa. To make it worse I inflicted the second driver induced injury to Buckbeak. Reversing into a fallen down block and making it rather obvious what transpired upon the rear bumper. I may need to invest in a rear view camera. Sheesh. And no anything grand to speak of that morning and I sheepishly returned to camp to lick my wounds. After a little time out I had just crossed the gate and was about to cross the Luangwa River bridge when I spotted two familiar faces. Anna and Tyce with big grins. The had seen over 20+ lions and even witnessed a leopard kill. Wow! That porcupine quill was a lucky charm after all. I was not so lucky. The 2 hours I milled again in the park yielded herbivores and birds. So yes there are tonnes of bird pictures people.

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Mating African Fish Eagles
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Tawny Eagle surveying the land
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Striped Kingfisher
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Glorious knob-billed duck
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Green winged pytilia
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Greater blue-eared starling

I had been advised that if a night drive should happen anywhere it should be here. My first night drive was a little slow. We had Rose, as she proudly proclaimed, the only female guide in all of Zambia. One lonely hyena and 2 lions. Brothers. Wonderful specimens pacing right by the car. The problem with having a telephoto lens is when they are that close there are no pictures. Instead I get to enjoy the moment. It was unbelievable, a good old head rub right next to me. They were fine specimens.

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My paw.
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One of the brothers glaring at his brother who was still sound asleep.
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Doing what lions do best.
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You, still, really.

Whatever funk I had found myself in the night before had lifted by the following morning. Despite the monkeys stealing my breakfast. They are cute from a distance but with their grubby paws in my Jungle Oats not so cute. A fine pelt they would make if I could catch the one responsible. Having been robbed of my breakfast I headed to the park. Saw a bird I was hoping to see, the Grey Crowned Stork and something rather unexpected. A little leucystic baboon. Not albino as the eyes retained colour. Never even thought that was a possibility. I ventured far to the east of the park and happened upon a hyena that was heavily panting after chasing a leopard off it’s waterbuck kill. And the night drive continued the train of plenty. He had stopped for a quick drink and popcorn when a impala darted across the river with something running after it. Rose shouts Wild dogs. Bugger where is the camera? I ran to the safari vehicle grabbed the camera steadied and as zoomed as I could and yes we have a pseudo-blurry but you can tell what it is picture of a wild dog. The same Rose had seen on the morning drive on a kill. And to make the night better a leopard!

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Why I did not eat my breakfast. That’s poop people, they dig through poop. Would you eat your breakfast after that paw went through it?!
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This is one of the 8 subspecies of giraffe. This one is the shortest with a long neck that only occurs here.
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Grey-Crowned stork. How regal!
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Unimpressed hippo glaring at the paparazzi.
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I’ve heard of dreaming of food but to dream on your food, well. To hot to eat but it’s mine!
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I’m cute and innocent until I eat your left sandal!
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Leucystic baby baboon. Too cute!
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Hello, my name is indigo montoya….lol!
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My good side
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Really haven’t you had enough.
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Slender mongoose
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Water-thick knee or dikkop
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WILD DOG
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Baby Zebra. Note his strips go to his toes also known as the Cape Mountain Zebra.
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White tailed mongoose.

Grinning and relishing in the events of the evening I all of a sudden realized my cellphone that had been in my pocket at the previous hyena sighting is now gone. And it’s on vibrate so calling it is useless. I ask quickly make the declaration and we turn round. Luckily the spotter is awesome and within a few minutes it’s found. What an awesome night, leopard, wild dogs and cellphone. I was heading to Malawi the next morning and awoke to a parting gift from the bastard Vervet monkeys of fecal matter on the car. Want to piss me off mess with Buckbeak. The perpetrator was long gone, good thing as I would have skinned him for sure! Ok, maybe not but menacing verbal lashing definitely.

I will prepare you all for Malawi. Malawi does not have a great abundance of hairies and scaries it’s more for the birds. So if you have had it with the birds you may want to skim the next blog, lol!

Enjoy the photos.

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White-headed Vulture
White-headed-Vulture_1web
Cause why not one more.

Oh Zim!

Zimbabwe…hmm….well it started with the border crossing which was by far the most confusing and convoluted one I had yet to venture through. Luckily South Africa 4×4 has an agent there to help. If it weren’t for Emmanuel I’d probably still be there filling out forms. And then there is the matter of being Canadian. Usually that affords a little kindness from every other country, but not Zim. Zim penalizes you for being Canadian, not sure why. So basically double the cost for Visa’s and most park fees. And it’s all US dollars so let the monetary exsanguination begin!

Victoria Falls was nice, I have not been on the Zimbabwe side before. Somehow didn’t seem as grand as from the Zambian side but the last time I saw it, it was rainy season.

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Double Rainbow
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Small portion of the falls

At the rest camp I met Nikita and Vincent. A young couple doing the same sort of trip as me but they are already 6 months in. Nikita and I ventured for a little souvenir browsing and ended up having fried Mopani worms and warthog croquets for brunch. I preferred the worms myself, the warthog tasted like they smell. Protein is protein, a little hot sauce always helps, lol! Hopefully we will meet up again north of here.

Hwange National Park was the first stop after the falls and the numerous police stops. If the last 4 didn’t find a reason to give you a ticket well maybe this one will. The new rear light seems to have been wired incorrectly, as the 5th police women told me. She was so close to giving me a ticket but I managed to talk my way out of that and the fact that my fire extinguisher is too full, really?! Once at Hwange, the first camp overlooked the valley below. A nice herd of elephants slowly made their way across. Not a bad place for the night. I attempted to figure out the problem with the light. As luck would have it the camp was full of engineers. They took the light on as a challenge and pretty soon disassembled, re-wired, and soldered it back together better than before.

Hwange had much to see, alas no cats, again. I did come close apparently as one of the research assistants told me. I was a stones throw from a pride of 11 lions, he saw me drive carefully by. I wasn’t sure if I could go onto the airstrip where the tracks lead and I couldn’t see the team nor the pride. D’oh! Birds and other herbivores it is.

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Cape Buffalo with a Yellow-Billed Oxpecker
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Cape Buffalo have words with the local hippo family.
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Cape Buffalo, Hippos and Marabou Stork
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Adult Southern Ground Hornbill
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Juvenile
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Hooded Vulture
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Ostrich – he’s so fluffy!
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Purple Roller
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Red-Crested Korhaan being coy
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Goliath Heron inflight
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Blondes, Brunettes and Gingers. Take your pick.
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Frozen steenbok in the morning light
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Not sure, could be a male steenbok but I think it’s an Oribi. (Update it’s a Steenbok)
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UNICORN – Ok a unicorn Roan Antelope.
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Yellow-billed stork with an itch
White-Backed-Vulture---I've-go-tmy-eye-on-you_1web
White-backed vulture, keeping an eye on me.
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Tawny Eagle devouring breakfast
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Blackjacked Jackal trying to be inconspicuous.
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Elephant Parade

Chizarira NP is next then off to Kariba. I had originally planned to go to Matsudona NP but a friend, Will of Will of Africa, strongly recommended not going as he has lost 1 or 2 specialty tires on that road and for one night he did not think it was worth it. He hasn’t lead me astray so far and his wife is from Zimbabwe so I will heed their advice.

Chizarira is beautiful but getting there is anything but. To call the only way in and out a road is exaggerating. It’s more a collection of suggested pathways that converge in a like direction. Between sand, to straight bolder climbing and old paved portions you come to a gate. Which is locked. Really!!! There is no speedy getaway here. I signed in and noticed I’m it. I’ve been the only camper before but not the only person in a whole national park before. Apart from the rangers I was the only visitor for the past few days. Hmm.

The campsite is basic, way over priced but that’s a Zim thing. The camp over looks the Mucheni Gorge of the Chizaria Mountains. Down below is a small pool of water, or what’s left of a river. The noises echo throughout the gorge as the occasional trumpeting elephant reverberates to the campsite above. I was starting to wonder why on earth I scaled that road, and will have to do so again, when they appeared. A small herd of elephants, 6 with one little one. Surely they aren’t going to climb down the mountain side just for that small pool of water?! They began their precarious journey down slowly, cautiously. Amazing! That’s why I’m here. The sun was starting to set and I was eagerly watching and silently cheering them on. I was desperate to see them reach the water before the sunset. I trip over my own feet in broad daylight, in the dark on a cliff face probably not the best place for me. They finally reached the water, passed it right by. Totally confused and unsure whether to stay or go, I watched on. They tried to climb the other side, my side of the gorge. It was far too steep and they turned about, stopped for a quick sip and set off down the bottom of the gorge to find a better way out. Dusk was fast approaching and being stuck in a gorge at night is not place for man or beast. Hope they made it.

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The start of the way down.
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Slowly they make their way down.
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Had no idea they could even do this. Makes me love them even more.
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So close to the water as they edge along the cliff face.
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Victory, briefly.

The following morning I repeated the same “road” back down. I arrived at Warthogs in Kariba on the lake and settled in for the night. Couple Savannahs later and all was right with the world. I was chuffed I made it out in one piece, down that road, and without much ado. An entire large bottle of dish detergent had exploded in the back of the bakkie! Explains that nice scent I picked up about 30 minutes from Kariba. Could be worse, at least it’s clean.

The morning held more surprises and I didn’t fair as unscathed as I had thought. The morning checks revealed a torn CV boot. The manager directed me to the only repair shop in town. Kevin, cheers pal you are a prince, quickly assessed the problem and felt 30 min and you’ll be on your way. We’ll just adjust the remainder and you’ll be good to go. That is until he hears I’m headed to Mana Pools. Full stop. Nope, can’t do it, those roads will destroy what ever temporary measure he tries. So there goes my first day in Mana Pools and add another day in Kariba on the Lake. Can’t complain the view was great and he managed to get the part from Harare despite the strikes. Fixed and off a day late but safely.  He did let me watch as he dismantled the drive shaft to get this rubber cover on. The Mana roads were fine. The corrugations I was warned of had been grated and not much trouble. On a scale of nothing to Epupa Falls it was a 2.

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Is it just me or does this young lady have a little mustache?
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Almost got it
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Green Woodhoopoe
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Malachite Kingfisher
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White-fronted Bee-Eater
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Duo
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Brown-hooded Kingfisher
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African Pied Wagtails, because they continually wag their tails.
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Bee-eater perhaps, but a dragonfly will do in a pinch.
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Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah. How it manages to fly with that tail…
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Marabou stork in flight
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Landing gear down
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Touch down
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Sunrise at Mana Pools overlooking the Zambezi
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Sunset, glorious

Elephants, the whole reason I am in Mana Pools. It’s one of the few places large bulls will rear up on their hind legs and reach up with their trunks to strip the good leaves off the trees. After finding my campsite, or rather left side of the tree (not the right as I had parked), I headed out. Within minutes they were up and eating leaves. It is a sight to behold. These behemoths up on their hind legs. Just wow! I watched in awe. Sorry guys didn’t get a picture. I just enjoyed gobsmacked at the feat before me. I figured I’d see it again, should have known uncle murphy was in town.

Not to fear I managed to get a repeat performance, sort of, the next day. Although he wasn’t quite as committed to the cause. Only up on one but still it’s pretty amazing.

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Stretch, almost.
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And up we go. Nom nom nom.
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If I could just…
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A little bit more

Almost forgot, the Canadians! In the middle of camp I spot a vehicle with a Canadian Flag waving proudly in the window. I stop them quickly and learn they are from Red Deer. One family is from Lacombe and the other Wetaskiwin, the remainder from SA. Small world indeed. That evening I joined them and their large family/friend group of 29 for dinner and frivolity as well as an impromptu ear-piercing of one of the ladies. Between the multiple nurses and physicians, I think we had it covered but it went smoothly. Wonderful group, safe journey until you all come together again in 2 years. Liné has my info. Thanks!

And as I left after two days of fun in Mana Pools I was rewarded for slowly ambling on my way. On the road in front was a figure. A spotted figure. Wait is that, can’t be, really just like that after looking for 2 months. Yup, a gorgeous, can’t believe you are crossing the road in front of me, leopard. I came to a stop and he hid behind a wee little scrub bush. This is when logic and the inner photographer have a go. The logical part of me says, snap a picture before he runs off, at least you’ll have a photo. The pseudo-photographer goes just inch your way up slowly you’ll have a perfect shot. There you have it, a common predicament, I often lose the shot altogether. But maybe just this once. I inched my way up slowly and he took off. Blast!!! Quickly snap a few parting shots. And as quickly as he darted he stopped and turned around, eyed me up for  moment and sauntered on his way only to pause once more to ponder his route. Yay! Ladies and gentleman we have leopard! Mana Pools, thank  you, so coming back.

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Fleeting glimpse.
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Battle scared face with those piercing eyes. Looks like he’s missing a part of his upper lip and nice scar over his right shoulder. At least I think it’s a male. Couldn’t get the full monty to be absolutely sure.
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Pause for effect, fade to black.

 

Zambia you’re up. Lusaka for a couple days to get supplies and well shower.