Sunday, 28 February 2016

No Images ? Normal Service May Resume Shortly ...

It seems that our latest blog posts, published from here in South Africa, are not replicating very well across the internet, with variations from region to region.  While people in some regions are unable to see the images, they are viewed perfectly well in other countries.

We understand this is a problem related to Google Images, and the way that images are replicated on multiple servers in different regions.  All our images are hosted on the Google Photos site, so right now there is little we can personally do to rectify the issue.  However we do apologise, and ask that you return in a day or so when Google may actually allow you to see the photos we have so carefully prepared ... image replication (globally) can apparently take some time.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Botswana Safari #3 - Travel Details

Some readers have asked for details on our recent Botswana trip, so here is the information on where we went and how we traveled.  The map is interactive - click on the icons for images from that site. On the map below, we started at the top and traveled anti-clockwise.

We specially wanted to see Botswana because of the fantastic book series we had read - The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith.  Those books spoke vividly of the spirit, courtesy  and graciousness that is everywhere in Botswana.

The best game viewing was in the Chobe National Park (right at the top) and in the Moremi Game Reserve, in the south west.  However, you will see game wherever you travel in these regions - baboons and warthogs run around the towns, and elephants have right-of-way corridors between the towns and the farms.  Giraffe run along side the highways even 200km from any national parks - the wildlife is everywhere.

We flew in and out of Kasane in northern Botswana, which is only a few hours drive from Victoria Falls. It would have been more efficient to start in Kasane (or Victoria Falls) and finish in Maun, had we known the state of the tracks when we booked.

4WD Truck Rental - Bushlore

There are many companies offering 4WD rental vehicles at varying prices, the cheaper units being not so well equipped. Our truck was a Toyota Land Cruiser long wheel base utility, with a six cylinder diesel and a custom camper rig fitted into the utility tray. It came from Bushlore in South Africa, one of the more substantial hire operations, who provide excellent equipment. They have bases in Kasane, Victoria Falls, Johannesburg and Windhoek (Namibia). We saw many broken rental vehicles on our travels, but none from Bushlore.

The vehicle was well prepared and completely reliable. Fitted with a spacious fold out tent on the roof, it also had a 12volt refrigerator, second battery system and 100 liter water tank. Folding chairs and a folding stainless steel table stowed in the rig. We carried additional water and fuel on the roof rack. A comprehensive kit of bush travel equipment was included - two spare wheels, tyre repair kit, tow rope, compressor, tyre gauge, high-lift jack, rubber sand tracks, first aid kit etc etc.

On the back of the truck was a cunningly effective Braii plate (BBQ) that strapped to one of the spare wheels. The camper rig included compartments for everything, including massive slide out drawers for food and supplies storage.  Dual gas bottles with stove tops handled the cooking when we didn't have a fire burning. Setting up camp usually took about 20 minutes after arrival.

Detailed specifications for the truck and equipment can be downloaded here.

The Bushlore vehicles are priced from the base in Johannesburg - we paid additional fee's to take delivery in Kasane, but it saved us one or two days of highway travel to make the drive north into Botswana.

The truck was supplied with basic maps and comprehensive wildlife guides. GPS navigation and satellite telephones are options - we carried our own satellite phone, and used our iPads for GPS navigation running the Tracks 4 Africa application. With this free application we were able to purchase just the maps we wanted (Botswana) for US$29.00.  Included with the maps was a complete interactive database of the parks, reserves and camps, plus special features, viewing spots, shopping and fueling locations etc. The camp database included photography, service and contact details, so we were able to contact the parks and camps in advance for bookings and confirmations.

Detailed GPS navigation was an essential tool on our travels in Botswana - we found many other visitors lost or unsure of their travel options, as they did not have good mapping or position information.

What To Wear - And Not To Wear

It may seem bleeding obvious, but you do need to wear the right clothing.

For example, if you want to wear thongs in the showers, don't even think about wearing them to and from the shower block. The African undergrowth is full of spikes and prickles that will make you regret your decision.

This photo shows the spikes I collected on just one visit to the shower - the real problem is that some of the spikes are long enough to go right through the rubber sole. Both Ley and I suffered "spiked foot" from this silliness!

Do wear light cotton or synthetic clothing for the daytime, but be prepared to rug-up in the evenings. You certainly don't need to visit a safari outfitter - just be smart about it. The organised tour groups in brand new co-ordinated safari clothing stood out so clearly at the airport - it really did feel like Disneyland - they were all so clean and shiny. Of course they stayed in electric fenced hotels and ate in restaurants every evening... no spikes in their shoes. Those groups fly with guides into the Okavango Delta in light aircraft, no dirt tracks for them.

You can have a fine time touring in Botswana that way, but you won't have your own personal travel experiences - it wouldn't be half the fun! And you will never sit by the river in the moonlight, watching the elephants graze just meters away ...

Part 1 of our Botswana Land Cruise is here.

Part 2 of our Botswana Land Cruise is here.

Ley Preparing Dinner, While In The Background The Elephants Head For The River

After Watering The Herd Moves Toward Our Camp to Graze In Front Of Us

Friday, 26 February 2016

Botswana Safari #2 - The Wild Life Cruising Continues

This is Part 2 of our Botswana safari adventure ... if you missed Part 1 you can read it here.
Valentine's Day - These Lovers Were Celebrating

At this point I have to say that WE DID ask the park ranger at the north gate of Moremi Reserve about predators, and he said, quote, "No Lions, but maybe some hyena chasing antelope through the camp in the evenings". OK... so just an hour later I read on the national park incident log board that two lions were in the camp ground four days ago. Later we learned that the hippopotamus also come through the camp each night, and we heard them clearly close by. So, ignore what the local people say, and be prepared. 

At around 8:30pm that evening we both froze in our camp chairs as a very large predator stalked silently past our camp fire, just a meter from our camp table and maybe five meters from us.  Hyena.  Big hyena. Like a Shetland pony on steroids, but with a large wolf's head.  Beautifully spotted shaggy fur, her (the females are larger) shoulder was a foot higher than our camp table. The head was of course much higher again.  Silently gob-smacked is a good way to describe our reaction. A magnificent predator right at our dinner table. Thank god she didn't stay.

So we quickly moved our chairs closer to the truck (hyenas can work in packs), put more wood on the fire, poured a last glass of wine, gulp, and went to bed. This place is amazing. Sorry no photos of that incident ...

Next morning we talked to the resident ranger about the hyena and he said they have never been a real problem. "though sometimes they do come too close".  "How close?" we asked. "Oh well, sometimes they might walk up and sniff you ... best you don't move, just sit still" he said.  OK, we get the picture.

We found the hyena foot prints all around the camp fire the next morning, plus a deep set of rear prints where she probably sat and watched us for a while.  Smart critter, she sat on the other side of the fire, shielded by some bushes.  Read on for our progress into the Okavango Delta ...

The Work Continues - At Royal Cape Yacht Club

Ley Cutting Vinyl Stiffening Panels For The New Sail Bag
The biggest job for us this month - manufacturing a new sail bag or "stack pack" for the main sail.

Royal Cape Yacht Club have been generous with a great working space - a regatta function room that has good light, power and even a raised work platform.  Perfect.

The bag is over 5 meters long and slides into bolt rope tracks that are fitted to the sides of the boom.  Ley has been collecting the necessary materials for some time, and we found a great local canvas shop (B Canvas) who provided the missing parts for us.

It took a full day (yesterday) to mark up the fabric sections and do all the cutting out. Today we'll start the sewing, which we expect will take a couple more days. 

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Botswana Safari - Land Cruising & Wild Life

On February 5 we flew from Cape Town to Kasane, a small town in northern Botswana. There we collected our rental vehicle and set out on a sublime adventure - 10 days of camping and cross country travel in northern Botswana. Our earlier game park visits in Kwa Zulu Natal had given us a real taste for this type of touring - we wanted to be independent travelers and to maximise our opportunities for wildlife viewing.

We chose Botswana because of its reputation for great wildlife experiences, plus the understanding that in Botswana the local people are generous, respectful and law abiding. This was a country we'd wanted to visit for some time. We chose our vehicle supplier because they had the best truck for us - a Toyota Land Cruiser long wheel base utility, with a double cab and a custom camper rig fitted into the utility tray at the back. The truck had a 6 cylinder diesel engine that pulled us through thick and thin without fuss, great ground clearance and significant capabilities when it came to deep sand and even deeper water. Our tent unfolded from the roof of the camper rig.

Ihaha Camp, On The Chobe River, Heaven On Earth
Kasane was bigger than we expected, it's people infected with the graciousness and courtesy that we had heard is normal here in Botswana. After some quick provisioning we drove out of town to a private camp ground on the river, where each site had its own shower, toilet en-suite, plus a Braii (BBQ) pit and benches. A five star camp ground for our first night...

Next day we provisioned in Kasane for 10 days of "back woods" travel, frankly without realising just how far off the beaten track we would be. We had a good GPS navigation system plus an efficient 12volt refrigerator and a suitable supply of beer and wine - what could possibly go wrong? Fact is, we had under estimated the truly four wheel drive and remote nature of our chosen route - mainly deep sand and muddy tracks - and we drove for six days without seeing a fuel station or a town. With much of the driving in second gear, almost always in four wheel drive, the fuel situation was actually our biggest concern. Fortunately the truck had a 160 liter main tank, but the 20 liter fuel cans on the roof were a very welcome insurance policy. Oh, and then there was the wild life...

About two hours into our trip Ley spotted our first lion - a large and healthy looking female who stalked out of the bush ahead of us and completely ignored us as she pranced by about 30 feet away. Talk about regal - clearly the attitude of the apex predator in these parts. It was a breath taking moment - we looked around for the rest of the pride, could not find them. The lioness was beautifully spotted (look at her belly) and on the prowl. She ignored us completely, emerging from the scrub and marching past us with considerable purpose before we lost sight of her.  This is when you realise that all those Tarzan movies and the Jungle Jim TV shows are just so much crap - no, I will not get out of the truck to wrestle with her.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Back Working In Cape Town, After A 10 Day Safari In Botswana

Winch Servicing - Haven't Lost Any Parts (Yet)
On Monday night we arrived back in Cape Town after a 10 day adventure in Botswana. Walking down the dock, it was a nice little buzz seeing Crystal Blues shining in the evening light - all that work polishing the stainless steel certainly paid off.

Almost immediately we dived into the list of service and maintenance jobs we have in front of us. Number One is winch servicing - we tackled just one of the primary winches before we went away, so now we have only six more winches to strip, clean and re-assemble.

The weather in Cape Town has moderated a little, though yesterday it blew at 30 knots all day.  We're also finishing off the installation of our new Mastervolt / Masterbus electrical management system, which we started back in Malaysia 12 months ago. Somehow, no matter how many jobs you actually complete, more keep appearing.  At lunch today it occurred to me that one of our next stops may be in Suriname or Guyana in South America - just what is the AC power supply there? Ley quickly checked online, and sure enough they are 120volt / 60 cycle. Which means I have to complete the AC transformer installation that I started more than 10 years ago. The work list grows longer...

Yoda, A Little Younger & Smaller Here
On a happier note, we are still in communication with some of the wonderful folk we met in Botswana. Our safari was a fantastic adventure, not for the faint-hearted, but if you like the bush and the wildlife then Botswana is the place to go.

This image shows Yoda, the smallest creature we met, a Bush Baby (Lesser Galago) that has been raised by Sarah & Wayne at Drifters Camp outside Maun in northern Botswana.

Yoda was all over us one evening, jumping between Ley and I, hanging on with those impossibly human (but miniature) hands and wrapping his tail around everything. Wonderful large eyes and ears, certainly affectionate, the only animal I've met that gives really cute tongue kisses. Just think about it ...

We'll have the full story on our Botswana safari online soon. Meanwhile it's back to the winches.