Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Zanzibar Photos


We could not figure out why this man took his chickens swimming.

Early morning scene.
Rollin' down the beach.
Red Colobus Monkey.  Not many left.
School field trip.
Seaweed is grown for sale.

On the way home from the seaweed patch.

Sailing out for a snorkel.
Stone Town, a great mix of Africa and Arabia.

Doing a little ship building, the old fashioned way.

Stone town, a great place to wander.

Dried Octopus at the market.  Yum?
Stone town was full of interesting old doors.


We have spent the last week or so on the island of Zanzibar, which is located about 40km off the coast of Tanzania. Although politically it is part of Tanzania we got our passports stamped here when we got off the ferry - go figure.

As Zanzibar was controlled by Arabs for a couple of centuries (Oman, to be specific), the architecture and culture is quite different than we have seen in other parts of southern Africa, and makes it seem quite exotic to us. The other thing we noticed is that being a tourist area we were constantly being approached by locals trying to sell us things or offering taxi rides, tours, etc. With one exception they were all very polite. Then we realized that up until the point in our trip we had generally been in areas where people were simply going about their business and not paying any attention to us.

We spent a couple days exploring the old portion of Zanzibar Town, called Stone Town, which was really interesting with the maze of tiny streets and alleys, open air markets, and old buildings. Very easy to get lost in there.

We then headed off to the east coast of the island for a few days at the beach, which was really nice and relaxed. The people were extremely friendly (even the ones not trying to sell us something), and the scenery was beautiful. Did I mention that the ocean was as warm as a bath? Oh yes, our waistlines liked the food as well.

We went sailing and snorkeling on a traditional outrigger, and visited the local national park, complete with endemic Red Colobus Monkeys. Being the rainy season we experienced a couple of tremendous downpours as well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Kwa-Tuli Photos

Swing Bridge, the only access to Kwa-Tuli Camp during high water.

Storm's a-brewing.  Never seen so much lightning!

Elephant encountered on walking safari, looks much bigger when you are out of a vehicle.
Nice rocky terrain - we had not seen rocks for many weeks.

Hungry and destructive elephant.
Enjoying an afternoon cool-down.  No swimming in the river due to crocs and hippos.
Local river, nearly dry.
This Elephant was trying to sniff us out.

Kwa-Tuli Island Camp.

Kwa-Tuli Island Camp

Next we headed south and east to an area known as the Tuli Block, which is along the Limpopo River and borders South Africa. This is one of the few areas in Botswana where private land ownership is allowed. The land was originally used for farms. Many of these have now been converted to game reserves. We spent three nights at one of these, Kwa-Tuli Island Camp. This is a small reserve, only about 1000 acres, but is not fenced so the animals can move freely.

The camp is located on an island in the Limpopo River, about 9k from the main road, and is reached by a rather wobbly swing bridge. Each tent has a great outdoor bathroom attached. The communal area (kitchen/dining/lounge) is located in a grand thatch and stucco building with great views over the river. We spent lots of time there relaxing and watching the local impala, kudu, baboons, etc.

The dry season still had a very tight grip on the area. The river had been reduced to a group of disconnected waterholes. There was not a blade of grass to be seen and the animals looked very hungry indeed. The elephants were having their way with the trees, adding to the destructed look.

In spite of this there were plenty of animals around. Each day Jerrry, our host/driver/guide took us out on game drives or walks. We saw many impala, kudu, and elephants. We also saw waterbuck, bushbuck, steenbok, zebra, and wildebeest. We even saw some animals that we had not encountered before - kipslinger antelope, eland, rock hyrax, Bat-Eared Fox, python, and African Wild Cat. We looked long and hard for the local Leopard, but they kept well hidden, showing us only their tracks.

Each night elephants came to the camp to drink from the waterhole and assault the local trees. The first night I was awoken with a start to the sound of a tree being snapped off and pushed over very close to the tent - I almost expected the tree to come right in! Luckily it did not, though the elephants continued to snap off large branches for quite some time. Then the lion started roaring, so there was no sleep for awhile.

We enjoyed exploring the rocky landscape, which was quite different than anywhere else we had been in Botswana. In the late afternoon and evening thunder clouds would build, but little rain resulted. One night we were treated to the most intense lightning storm I could ever recall seeing. There was so much light you could have easily gone for a walk in the bush.

Khama Rhino Sanctuary Photos

Hornbill.  Its mate is trapped in the tree until the eggs hatch.

Rhino butts.  Bet you knew that.
Rhino spreading its dung.

White Rhino.  About 25 of these on the reserve.
Head-Butt-Head.  After Elephants, Zebras were our favorites.
Zebra Love.

This Giraffe was checking us out.

Baby Impala, left in the grass while mom is away.

Khama Rhino Sanctuary

After escaping Khubu Island we headed for the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. This is essentially the only place to see Rhino in Botswana. There have been a few released back into the wild, but you would be very lucky indeed to find them. There are in addition to rhino there are various antelope, zebra, wildebeest, and giraffe, among other animals.

After arriving at the campsite, Tana Zane and Nikki went to the pool while Glenn stayed behind. He found some very interesting tracks in the adjacent campsite. The others returned with a report of meeting some folks at the pool who had been in the campsite last evening setting up their tent when the Black Rhino arrived, got tangled up in the tent and headed for the bush. Luckily the tent stayed behind!

We did not have anything that exciting happen during our visit, but we did see several White Rhino, as well as the other animals previously mentioned. While the Rhino were impressively built, nice to see and very strange looking, we all agreed that we prefer the antics of the elephants.

The most exciting thing that happened to us here was when driving around the sanctuary, came around a corner to see nothing but legs in front of the car. Two young Giraffes had been standing in the road, perhaps the rain prevented them from hearing our approach. One scooted off into the bush. The other seemed very curious about the large white thing that nearly ran into it, and approached the car with head down, as if trying to look in the windows.

There was a hornbill nest located in a tree trunk in our campsite. These birds are noteds for their curious habit of sealing the female inside the nest during the incubation period. After the eggs hatch the male lets her out. We watched as the male spent all day foraging for food, returning often with a seed or insect which he passed though a very small hole to the female hidden inside.

We are also noticng the rainy season has definitely arrived. We had rain twice in the first 8 weeks in Africa, now three times in the past week. Trees, shrubs, and grasses are all greening up. Animals are dispersing from the few waterholes that never dry up. Also, we are starting to see very young animals appear. At the sanctuary here we saw tiny Springbok (had its own tiny "spring" jump), Impala, and Warthog babies. Believe it or not even the tiny Warthog babies are very cute!

Khubu Island Photos

The famous peeing tortise.

Typical Khubu Island scenery.
"Prehistoric" stone tools.
Zane at the peak of climbing.
Another scenic Baobab.  They each seem to have an individual personality.
Baobabs at sunrise.

Our campsite at Khubu Island.

Tana on the edge of the pan.

Khubu Island, Botswana

Next we headed to Khubu (or Lekhubu) Island, located on the southern end of the Sua salt pan, one of the two huge salt pans in the central part of Botswana. The "island" is actually a granite outcrop in the pan, and was actually an island long long ago when the pan was covered by a huge sea. This spot was shown in the BBC's Top Gear Botswana special if you are a fan of that show.

Reaching the island meant driving across part of the pan. All of the guidebooks and maps include dire warnings about driving across then pans when they are wet, as it can be very easy to get stuck and sometimes not so easy to get found. This was definitely on our mind as it had rained recently. It was more on our mind as we approached the pan and the track became more and more puddle-filled. Taking an alternate track around the wettest part, we managed to arrive at the island without incident.

Khubu island is eerily beautiful, with rounded granite rocks stained white with ancient seabird guano. This is sprinkled with some Baobab trees, some very large, and each with an individual personality. We were fortunate and camped beneath one of the largest ones we saw. Frankly the place kind of had the feeling of a Dr. Suess story.

After arriving in the late afternoon we climbed to the top (which is all of 10 meters high) to watch the full moon rise over the pan. We then went back to our campsite where we were surrounded by a herd of cows that kept us awake though the night with their movements, mooing, and toilet activities.

The next day we spent exploring the island, It was really nice to be in a place where we were allowed to walk around - without the fear of being attacked or eaten by wild animals. We enjoyed the scenery and explored the ancient stone walls in the southern part of the island. We also found some stone tools and arrowheads as well as pottery shards from previous residents.

That night, just after we went to bed, some major winds hit, followed by thunder and lightning, then a steady rain that fell through the night. Tossing and turning I wondered how this would affect our ability to drive out across the pan.

When we were getting ready to leave the next morning the camp host asked us if we would be able to take one of the employees to the village, as he was not feeling well. The village was 45k away, on the other side of the pan, and on our way. Happy to have some local expertise with us, we set off with an extra passenger. This turned out to be a very good thing, as the rain had significantly increased the amount of water on the track, completely covering it for several km, which we plowed through. Nectar, our passenger, provided some excellent advice and we completed the journey without incident, other than some frazzled nerves on the part of the driver. He noted that it became really challenging when water covered the entire pan (not just the track) so it became nearly impossible at times to find the track.

Makgadikgadi National Park Photos

Zane trying to concentrate on his homework.

Uninvited dinner guest.

This fellow came wandering through camp just before dinner.
Vulture party.  Not sure why they were hanging around.
The Boteti River, which rarely flows.

We thought this was a fine looking Giraffe, a credit to the species. 

Makgadikgadi National Park, Botswana

While we were in the Moremi Game Reserve we met a man who said that due to the high water levels this year there was water flowing in the Boteti River, which is usually dry. This was attracting lots of game to the area which was located in the Makgadikgadi National Park. This sounded like a plan, so we booked two days in the campsite there along the river. Since the river was flowing, the entrance gate just across the river from the campsite was closed. We used a different entrance and got to the campsite by driving about 35k on a sandy track through the park.

The two days of rain we had prior to arriving at the park made the sandy track well packed and easy to traverse. It also allowed the game to disperse into previously dry areas. We did see some animals there, but not in the great numbers we had expected. There was definitely signs that large numbers of animals had been there, and an impressive number of skeletons littering the ground, but we saw no predators. Nonetheless it was very lush and scenic down by the river where we did see impala, kudu, zebra, giraffe, hippos, a large rock monitor, and elephants. As usual we enjoyed hanging around the elephants while they drank, bathed, and swam in the waterholes and the river. It was also quite uncrowded, we only saw one other party of two vehicles in the time we were there.

The highlight of our visit was having elephant for dinner. Not on our plates, but joining us for the meal. The 2nd evening we were there a large elephant appeared in the camp while we were cooking. It was browsing on trees and eating the grass in the camp. It worked its way closer and closer until it was just 12-15 meters away. We moved our chairs for a good view, we ate our chicken and noodles while he continued to much on leaves and grass before wandering off into the bush.