Monday, April 11, 2011

Drive-by Botany

Kafue, Zambia

Our guides notice animal tracks, I notice blooming plants.

We don't usually stop for flowers since I am the only one in the group who is really interested but the guides are helpful with identifications, even looking things up if it's something they don't know.

I am very impressed by our guides, their range of knowledge and how much academic preparation and practical training is required for this prestigious position. Guiding is far more than being able to safely negotiate terrible roads and guessing where we might spot one of the Big Five**

Sometimes we'll stop to look at trees, like the sausage tree with its strange pods.

They tell us that these are used to make a cream that is effective in treating skin conditions, including skin cancer. There are many plants with medicinal and other  uses, my favorite being the native fruit that is used to make a delicious liqueur called Amarula. Mmmmm....

Our guide Lexan points out a young baobab tree. Ancient baobabs are common enough but young ones are rarely seen.

On a nature walk in camp, we learn about other plants with medicinal uses including a tree whose bark is used to make a tea that has Viagra-like properties.We learn to roll a leaf from another tree to make a whistle with a sound like a young animal in distress, a favorite plaything of small boys. We have fun trying to get our whistles to work, enjoying a great sense of accomplishment when we can produce the sound.

**The Big Five: Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino

Enchanted Forest

Kafue, Zambia

What landscape images come to mind when you think of Africa? Golden grasslands, vast savannahs punctuated by dramatic silhouettes of flat topped thorn acacias?

But this too is Africa:

Especially now with the rains just ending so that the grasses are still green and water is present everywhere. In April, in addition to the marshy, watery places teeming with birds, we pass through lush woodland glades, sometimes populated by giraffe or elephant or antelope. Not what I'd envisioned but enchantingly lovely.

This makes for beautiful vistas but it also means that the wild residents of the park are sustaining themselves in places where they are not so visible to us. It's a bit of a trade-off. During the end of the dry period from August through November, animals are easier to spot as they gather around the few remaining water holes but then the landscape resembles dry toast and daytime temperatures can be over 100 degrees.


Kafue, Zambia

The Puku is a new addition to our antelope collection. Rare in that Zambia is one of the few places where it lives, but abundant here in Kafue National Park.


Kafue, Zambia

Wait till my friends at Agua Fria Nursery see these! The nursery offers many interesting varieties of euphorbia but when I see them, I usually mutter something less than complimentary about "succulents".

These giant "Candelabra Trees" (often growing out of old termite mounds) are spectacular-I have to admit even I am impressed.

This one is beginning to flower


Kafue, Zambia

"You're welome" is the polite response we were all taught. These days, thanking someone often elicits only a casual nod or a "Sure, no problem".

Here in Africa, if you thank someone, say for bringing you a cup of tea (prepared just the way you like it), they are likely to respond to your "Thank you" by saying "Pleasure" (and saying it in that wonderfully accented English so sensuous and delicious you could eat it with a spoon).

Pleasure indeed!


Kafue, Zambia

If you can call these roads:

Occasionally, temporary bridges are constructed of sticks to get over the really bad spots

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Languid Lioness

Kafue, Zambia

On our first game drive in Zambia, we came upon a languid lioness, basking in the late afternoon sun, looking something like a meatloaf** but a meatloaf with incredibly muscular shoulders!

Unlike our previous lions, she was neither skittish nor coy but was content to nap or pose, caring not at all that there were 14 humans excitedly pointing their cameras at her.

What a pro!

You can tell from her nicked ears and the scars on her coat, that she isn't always so laid back.

**Cat: one hell of a nice animal, frequently mistaken for a meatloaf." B. Kliban

Wilderness camping

Kafue, Zambia

Roughing it in Zambia.

We are at Lufupa, a wilderness camp on the bank of the slow moving Kafue River.My tent has a veranda with a river view

The tents are constructed of canvas and wood from local trees with the aim of creating a minimal ecological footprint.

Solar panels provide hot water and electricity but here we have to have our electronics recharged at the office.

Because we are so close to the river, we have been warned about hippos, especially at night when they leave the water to feed. Although they are very big, they can be hard to see in the dark and many Africans die each year in accidental hippo encounters. After dark we will be escorted back to our tents by a hippo-alert member of the camp staff.

Airport Security

en route to Kafue, Zambia

Security at the Okavango airstrip is provided by local zebras. They showed little interest in our gels and liquids. This first aid/fire station is the only structure for miles.

It was a short flight by bush plane and "big" plane (12 passenger) to Livingstone, Zambia where we went through immigration formalities and made our share of compulsory "I presume" jokes before flying on to Kafue National Park.

There were some stunning views along the way.

Including a preview of Victoria Falls

Our landing at the Kafue airstrip was observed only by a bored giraffe. A few warthogs were supposed to be there to check that the baggage was properly unloaded but they were on a break.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Okavango Delta, Botswana

Every evening at sunset, the jeeps rendezvous at some scenic point for a "sundowner:"  the entire group  gathers to enjoy a drink and watch the spectacular colors unfold across the sky.

As tonight was our last night at the camp,  we returned to a boma. We sat around the fire, enjoying  a presentation of singing and dancing by the camp staff and learning about local customs and etiquette. The women of our group were instructed to serve the food to the men as is traditional in this culture. There was much protest and joking but we all did it.

As a single woman, I had no responsibilities of this sort but took pity on one of the single men. I agreed to serve him but it was going to cost him dearly, I told him. I wanted cows.  "No cows, Smitty," I said, "no food". He promised to give me all the cows he had. An empty pledge I think.

Here are some sunset images from the Okavango Delta  accompanied by the singing by the camp staff as they bid us goodnight.

Lion in the Headlights

Okavango Delta, Botswana

When my camera battery ran out, I joked that now we had a better chance of seeing lions. Sure enough, there came a radio call from the other jeep about a lion sighting, followed by a breathless race ("mind the branches!") through the sunset landscape.

The lion was walking casually through the the grass along the track although by the time we got there it was nearly dark. I was able to capture this image with the camera on my iPod.

Termite Mound

Okavango Delta, Botswana

All the books I've ever read about Africa mention termite mounds but I've never really understood what they were.

Termite mounds are often the most prominent feature in the landscape. They can be quite large, constructed and maintained over several seasons by their termites inhabitants. The towering mounds function as a kind of air conditioning system to maintain the temperature and humidity levels of the subterranean chambers where the termite colonies actually make their nests.

Mind the Branches!

Okavango Delta, Botswana

The risks and dangers of safari- you might think these would involve confronting wild beasts, but no. The real threat is from thorny acacia branches which attack at every opportunity. The guide (and soon, everyone else) calls out "Mind the branches" as we sweep past yet another aggressive acacia attempting to reach deep into the interior of the jeep.

The problem is intensified since elephants make a practice of snapping acacia trunks in order to feed on the cambium layer under the bark, leaving "elephant roadblocks" across our track. There may be several of these in a single short stretch. We either drive around them or drag the branches out of the way.

Not all trees are vicious. Some provide communal nesting space for the Social Weaver Bird

 perches for other birds,

or just spectacular landscape for us to enjoy.


Okavango Delta, Botswana

The handsome boatman/guide presented me with the waterlily necklace he had just made and said that it meant that we were engaged. The same for Beth,the other passenger in the low riding mokoro canoe. We joked about the houses he would build for each of us.

Becoming engaged in Botswana is more than a matter of waterlily necklaces.In order to marry, a man must pay a brideprice of cattle to the woman's family. When I got back to camp, I announced my engagement and, with a great deal of laughter, had a discussion with our group leader Pricillah and my friend Letang about how many cows I should ask for. The norm here is 6-8 cows but since I am a special woman, I was advised to ask for 12.

This led to a more serious discussion about the custom of lobola. I was surprised to learn that cattle are still a part of the marriage arrangements. Letang-  a young professional, city dwelling Batswana woman- told me that she and her boyfriend had decided that if they marry, they will do the cattle thing because of tradition but then return the cows to his mother and get cash for a deposit on a house instead.