My sincere thanks go to......
Dr Kate Evans of the Elephants for Africa Trust and her trusty team; the management at Camp Seba; Bristol Zoo Gardens; the generosity of people who bought paintings and prints to help towards my “Botswana Fund” in particular Mr R. Askew for his commission and my parents for their hefty donation. Huge thanks too, for all my family and friends, especially Julie, Viv, Marion, Anna for all their support and encouragement.
I start this journal on the plane at 33,000 feet on Tuesday 1st March 2011. A suitable place to start really, considering this was a “Pie in the sky”, “Head in the clouds” sort of dream.
I’m bound for the southern part of Africa where my great adventure will truly begin - four weeks of an experience that I have waited my whole life for and has been four years to realise from the original invitation to getting the flights booked. I’m so excited right now I can’t sleep, even though I know once we land I still have several hours of travelling still to do to do. My current destination is Johannesburg, South Africa where I shall land around 08:30am Wednesday, then I wait around for about 4 hours before my connecting flight to Maun, Botswana. From there I get picked-up and taken to Audi Camp, 12km to the east of Maun. I stay there for two nights on my own, where I can start to acclimatise and get my eyes 'locked' into the atmosphere and colours. Then on Friday 4th I get taken back to Maun airport where I then get on the staff flight out to Seba Camp in the Okavango Delta. Oh yes... the Okavango Delta….. how special is that?!
So here I am up in the sky and on my way. Everything so far has gone to plan, the taxi to the coach station arrived on time, a pleasant and quiet journey to Heathrow, easy check-in straight away because I had checked-in online yesterday. So it was literally a case of handing over my suitcase and then going through security into the Departure Lounge and then to quietly while away the hours to the flight time.Then onto the plane which took off about 1950hrs. I love the take-off bit... that rush of acceleration as the plane thunders down the tarmac and then lifts its massive hulk from the ground. Not just because it is an incredible feeling, but that is the moment the adventure really feels like it has started. All the preparation and excitement has been building up to that moment those huge wheels leave the ground.
I was in a 3 seat row with a couple; the female half of whom was constantly complaining about little picky things, on and on she went... non-stop; it didn't help she had a morose droning voice or that I had only been sat next to them for about 45mins since they got on the plane... but already it was driving me nuts! There was no way I wanted to be party to that for the next 10.5 hours! Also the row of seats in front had a woman with two young kids… I don’t have anything against kids flying and they have to be sat near to someone, but they can get bored and fretful on a long flight. So dreading the combination of the two, I looked for spare seats as we waited for lift-off and after take-off found a two-seater free right at the back. Great... I could have this to myself and be able to curl up across two seats to try and sleep. The inflight media screens weren’t working in this block of seats, but I wasn't worried about this as I have my little computer, iPod and a puzzle book to keep me occupied when I’m not sleeping or being fed by the Flight Crew. A lot of others moved as well once air-bourne, to the many spare seats practically all to where the screens were working. This left “my little block” nicely quiet.
It’s now coming up to 0330 and I can no longer doze/sleep. Too uncomfortable too chilly and too many obnoxious smells assaulting my hyper-dry air conditioned nasal passages. My quiet little corner has gained two men in the seats in front and behind me… both trying to sleep on these two seaters...they have my sympathies. The guy behind is a big tall chap and he’s obviously struggling with comfort as well, as he keeps shifting and knocking my seats… another reason why I have given up on sleep at the mo.
We’ve caught up with the dawn. It’s 0400 and the sky is getting lighter by the minute. There’s a heavy blanket of dark purple blue cloud beneath us and breaking through out of my window to the east is to a reddish orange glow.
The darkness went out of the colour of the clouds and it gave way to an almost polar landscape. The clouds beneath us were compact and looked like cotton wool balls all bunched together. Caught my first glimpse of Africa beneath, a river twisting and meandering; splitting into two separate flows crossing across each other and then fanning out into lots of smaller rivers and streams as we flew parallel to it. I wondered where we are passing over? Not sure where we are exactly as I don’t have a media screen near me that works to check… must admit I miss being able to see all the geeky info about the flight.
Breakfast was served at 0430 UK time. Just as we started moving through some high wispy cloud fragments, which then turned into more continuous light cloud; which then became darker and then it got bumpy!
I had just finished breakfast and thought it was going to make a return appearance, on me, as it had hardly got down my throat when we hit a number of “big pockets”. That horrible feeling as the plane 'drops' suddenly. Just as we hit one 'hole', I had been moving my left-over tomato juice to the tray to my right. I saw the liquid almost completely leave the beaker before settling back into it again as my hand shot up or did the plane and my body drop? I could only look with wonder as a column of tomato juice appeared to stay hanging in the air as the beaker dropped, leaving it behind. Phew! That would have been messy if it had come completely out of the beaker and all over me! We have had the odd bit of turbulence now and again, but this was the strongest of the trip. Quite fun; yet disconcerting at the same time. Lots of people gasped, one or two of the kids shrieked and a few, like me, laughed in a kind of amused nervous response.
It’s now 0500 UK time and the sun is bright and shining through my window… LOVELY. The clouds have almost cleared away and the land is dark with no distinguishing features beneath. We’re still heading south east.
The landing into Jo’berg was great… fab views over the city and it was fascinating to see the 'rush hour' from so high up. Had always wondered, when stuck in it in Bristol, what it looked like from the air. Looks pretty sad really… all these little specks of cars lining up on the major roads, one after another, after another.
Touched down at 0624 UK time, but now, of course I am two hours ahead. Have to admit that I got a little choked up on landing… it felt quite emotional to be here. Funny that. Is it because I am on a dream of a trip or do I really love being on this continent? Each of the trips I have made here over the years, have all pulled the same involuntary response from me.. a great welling of emotion. I have visited other places in the world, but do not get this same response.
As the plane taxied in along the runway I had my eyes peeled out of the window… already looking for wildlife. I spotted a colony of weaverbird nests hanging from some trees – not too dissimilar looking to weeping willows and what I reckon was a red bishop (bird to the uninitiated) in among some reeds, also alongside the runway. The whole bird looked bright orange red in the sunlight. Lots of martins and swallows are cruising round the sides of the buildings hawking for butterflies and other tasty flying titbits. A delight already on the wildlife front and I'm not even out of the plane!
First stop after going through Transfer Check-in and Security was to get a drink. I felt decidedly dehydrated and a little light-headed after the flight. So I had a bite to eat (a BLT sarnie - for some salt) and a cold lemon ice tea; oooooh that went down very well.
Walking through the terminal was a feast for the eyes… African knick knacks, souveniers and clothes everywhere… colourful and fun, I certainly could tell where I was now! Having checked out where my departure gate was, I found a quiet thoroughfare in which to sit and chill for a couple of hours.
Left Jo’burg on an ATR 72 twin prop. It was 17 seat rows long… and quite plush. On the lookout again just before take off for wildlife and saw some ibis and a very large dark heron. Took off at 1313hrs…. a little late.. found out that a couple that had flown in via Namibia had been informed their luggage had got lost in transit! Poor them… it made me think what I would do and how I’d panic if that happened to me on this trip. Had a great flight and seeing interesting stuff out of the window, but to be honest I am feeling very tired now. About an hour into the flight the clouds started building up and I wondered if it was going to continue to Maun. Had a tasty snack lunch of peppery beef and rice salad but I was really too tired to eat and enjoy it. In the landscape below I can see frequent groups of communities and lots of very straight line roads. Almost ramrod straight off into the distance in a no nonsense kind of way. There were also numerous smaller roads that had more sympathy with the lie of the land, I wonder if the really straight roads are in fact fence lines as quite often the vegetation to either side is different – one darker than the other. There are a number of huge fence line stretches in Botswana that are there for veterinary purposes to separate livestock from wildlife limiting the spread of diseases. They are somewhat controversial as many occurances of wildlife deaths have occurred along them where animals fleeing fire get caught up against them and cannot escape the flames or they die from hunger/thirst in drought situations where they can't get to follow ancient routes to life-saving food and water sources. I can also see riverine tree-lines snake in dark forms among the paler vegetation. Fascinating stuff, but my eyes really can't stay open anymore.
Woke at just gone 1430hrs after drifting off to sleep for a short while. I think the flight attendant may have reclined my seat whilst I was snoozing, ‘cos I sure don’t remember doing that. The landscape is now quite different in the noticeable absence of human settlement; just miles and miles of bush with the odd road running through it. Saw a few airstrips cut into the trees and shrubs, standing out a mile with their stark bare earth. There’s not a cloud in the sky and the flight is beautifully smooth.
Just before we descend to Maun the pilot warns that it will get “a bit bumpy” due to hot air turbulence… well it was slightly bumpy but certainly nothing to get excited about. Touchdown was at 1505 and I was into the small building for the airport in just a few mins. A quick fill in of a form, passport stamped and out! There by the door was the driver from Audi Camp to meet me with a big smile. Got outside and hell! Is it hot! Fantabulous!
There was a short drive to the camp, with me in silence as I peered out of the window trying to take it all in, still feeling incredibly tired. Housing can be pretty basic here it seems and everywhere in between there are termite mounds standing like little pyramids in the long grass. The soil colour is very pale here compared to the tawny and at times orange red soil that we had just flown over coming up from Jo’burg.
At Camp I was quickly signed in and shown to my tent. The temptation to go to sleep now is enormous, but I must stay awake until this evening... then maybe have an early night. I did have a little 5 min feet up before texting my parents to say I had arrived safely and then going for a short walkabout to get my bearings on the camp. I am loving this place so much already.. tree squirrels about the size of chipmunks with very long tails.. very cute… lots of intriguing bugs… just a visit to the loo is a feast for the eyes on the invertebrate front.. beetles, dragonflies, butterflies, moths, and other critters I haven’t a clue what they are. Down by the pool I saw a wall lizard and in the trees there are doves and long tailed starlings. Also saw a southern yellow billed hornbill near my tent and have heard a fish eagle a little ways off.
The temp is cooling a bit so I think I will have a very welcome shower before going for the evening meal.
Seems I’m going to have to get used to sharing my showers and loo visits with not just invertebrates. Whilst enjoying a cooling and very refreshing shower I had grey lourie birds flying back and forth overhead of my open top shower cubicle.
Had a fillet steak with veg and a lemonade for my evening meal in the open air restaurant. A high thatched roof covers the open kitchen and seating area. The meal cost just 98 pula. There’s about 11 pula to the £ or just under. So that meal was under £9… not at all bad. Didn’t hang around this eve as I really do feel like I need a good night’s sleep and I’m bound to wake up early.
After my evening meal, when it was dark, with a last trip to the loo block I found there was a good sized toad/frog checking out the loo cubicles on the hunt for a prey. There’s quite a choice of feast for it as the bugs were even more prevalent after dark. Good job I don't mind them.
It is now just gone 2000hrs and I’m to bed, at last.
When I first arrived here at my tent, unpacked and had got my temp gauge out it shot up to 89.9F. The forecast is for rain tonight tomorrow and all through to Friday… I wonder?