Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mokoro by Marilyn

A mokoro is a dugout canoe used by the natives of Botswana for centuries. The Okavango Delta is over six thousand square miles of waterways, lagoons, small islands and papyrus swamps making a systems of roads not possible. The mokoro was the only means of transportation linking village to village. The canoes were traditionally handmade from select African hardwood, but the ones used on our outing are exact replicas made of fiberglass due to environmental concerns and regulations.

I felt relaxed and enjoyed silently reflecting on the adventure so far. It felt good to take the time to examine the little things as we quietly glided among the reeds into the scattered open patches of clear shallow water. A small green frog clinging to a papyrus stalk, a school of fish parting quickly as we effortlessly slipped through and a dragon fly hovering over a perfectly formed water lily held my attention as intensely as the lions had earlier in the day.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Buffalo for Breakfast by Marilyn

It was a gamble, but we felt the odds were in our favor and were betting the lions seen the previous night would be feeding at the carcass of the cape buffalo. The ride was long, made even longer by twice getting stuck in the thick mud. We were not disappointed!

What follows is a slide show filmed at the distance of about 15 FEET!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Nightlife of Marilyn

Due to extensive flooding our small plane was diverted to an alternate air strip changing our original fifteen minute jeep ride to over two hours before reaching our next camp. We decided to head directly to the resort after a brief sun downer and would arrive quite late for dinner. Darkness fell and even the millions of unfamiliar stars shining so brightly in the southern sky could not illuminate the land around us. We continued on , crossing poorly constructed, half submerged log bridges and bullied our way through the thick muddy expanses on either side of the water crossings. It was slow going as we cautiously worked our way through the thick bush on narrow rutted roads traveled more by animals than vehicles.

After a call came from another ranger reporting activity at the site of a downed cape buffalo we abandoned our original plan and took a detour to check out the action. It was so tight we needed to lean to the middle of the jeep to keep from being badly scratched by the thorny acacia bushes scraping all around us. We could not see the dead buffalo, but, we knew we were close and followed our noses. We were down wind and the odor of a fifteen hundred pound cape buffalo dead for five days rotting in the bush was stomach turning. We just couldn't escape this horrible, horrible stench. After hit or miss exploring around the clumps of bushes we came upon the site and were greeted by two male spotted hyenas, larger and heavier than I imagined, standing tall and broad protecting the carcass. We were so engrossed watching the two of them taking turns eating and patrolling the area we failed at first to notice the leopard laying a short distance from the kill waiting patiently for a chance to sneak in and grab a piece of meat. A leopard is no match for a pair of hyenas and it had to be content to grab what it could. We were about forty feet from the kill and watched spellbound feeling very fortunate to have such an experience.

Time was passing and we knew we needed to move on. We would arrive much later than expected and we took one last look and prepared to depart. Unfortunately in the darkness the ranger miscalculated and jammed a downed tree under our jeep. We were stuck. We were stuck at night with two huge hyenas and a hungry leopard forty feet away and no amount of horse power or four wheel drive could move us. We were "dead in our tracks", words I never wanted to hear while on Safari! While our ranger was thinking about Plan B, the other ranger was still close by, heard our tires spinning and returned to help. He parked between our jeep and the kill, close enough so Julie, Bett and I could quickly and quietly climb aboard then repositioned his jeep even closer to the kill in order to provide more space for our guide to jack up the vehicle and drag the tree trunks out of the way.

We were all watching. We needed to keep track of the three animals especially the leopard and constantly scanned the grasses for any sign of movement. Being on the ground is much more dangerous than being in the jeep and we had three men on the ground! We now had a level of apprehension and concern layered over the level of excitement and awe. I admit I was nervous. Adrenaline was criss-crossing haphazardly through my body and my mind was playing the "what if" game. What if more hyenas appear? What if the pride of lions that probably took down this beast returns to claim the prize? Could there be a food frenzy free for all and we are stuck in the middle with three men on the ground?

We were finally freed and the three of us crawled back into our jeep to continue to the road on a more direct path through the tall grass. We traveled less than one hundred yards and we saw them. We didn't stop. We didn't even slow down. We were tired, stressed, cold and hungry and had enough adventure for one day. But, there they were, hiding in the grass facing the location of the carcass, at least twelve lions just waiting and watching.

Most of the pictures did not turn out. The red glow is from the filter placed over the spot light to keep the animals calm and to protect their eyes. We all shut off the flash settings on our cameras because we didn't want to draw attention to ourselves. The hyenas moved constantly and are reddish blurs on all of the pictures.

This shows how close we were to the action!
The rangers needed to jack up all four wheels before the jeep was freed.
A few of the lions in the pride watching us.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Giraffes (by Marilyn)

It was our last morning in South Africa and we opted to set out earlier than usual to get one last game drive in before starting our trip to Botswana at eleven o'clock. The air was still and "see your breath cold" and we quickly bundled up in the wool blankets provided for the ride as we settled into our favorite seats in the jeep, our much appreciated hot water bottles balanced on our laps. It was still dark, approaching grey, as the day impatiently nudged the night to give up its darkness, It was time and the red African sun lay waiting barely below the horizon. It was quiet. The birds were just beginning to think about starting their own routines and not much rustled in the grasses. The day began as expected with the sunrise as breathtaking as the previous night's sunset. I secretly wished time to stay still for just a few minutes to prolong the vibrant colors of the morning sun before it would rise too soon into a warming, but not as impressive bright spot in a cloudless blue sky. It was so perfect I hoped to savor the experience as long as possible.

All seemed quiet. The watering hole was unused and still no sign of activity in the bush until we came across a large herd of giraffes. Our road cut through the middle of the herd giving us a 360 degree view. We watch fascinated as each giraffe unfurled its lanky legs to rise awkwardly from its night time resting position to resume its lofty stance, head high in the trees enjoying the bird's eye view of the savannah.

Just waking up. A slow amble. Heading towards the acacia trees to begin the day long browsing. A giraffe needs very little sleep, as little as twenty minutes to two hours a night and needs to spend all day nibbling in order to eat the seventy pounds of leaves needed to sustain it. Because a giraffe will chew its food, swallow for processing, regurgitate the semi digested cud, chew and repeat the process several times for each mouthful so that every bit of moisture and nutrition is digested. The mouth of the giraffe is very tough to protect it from the sharp thorns of its favorite food, the acacia tree, and its eighteen to twenty inch tongue is black to protect from sunburn.
The acacia tree has a built in defense system to prevent over browsing. If too many leaves are removed from the tree, extra tanin is produced making the leaves bitter. The giraffes will move on to other trees until the leaves have regrown and the tannin levels are back to normal.

The most gentle looking face on the savannah. Hard to remember its kick can break the skull or back of a full grown male lion.

Other sightings of the morning in the following slide show. We would be sleeping in Botswana that night!