Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Wind up of Botswana trip

So we survived Day 12 and were better for it.  We built character that day.  I think it left us in a bit of shock afterwards though, so it was good that we were then heading down the homestretch of our 2-week bush safari.  The morning after Day 12, our engineer group gathered in the maintenance area of the lodge where we were staying and welded (Im not kidding) the broken trailer back together.  We had only a short stretch of bumpy roads in front of us, then it would be tar roads all the way home.  A breeze!  While they welded, I sat on the front porch of our tent-home and wrote notes from Day 12.



We had the luxury of not having to pack up and leave that day, as we were there for 2 nights.  So towards sundown (when the animals are more active and come to the watering holes), I went on a sundowner with Viccy and Michael.  We drove back to the spot of their dramatic water-crossing the night before, and to see it in daylight, it was no less daunting to think of going across.  We drove further up-stream and found a slightly shallower place where we could cross, so down we went into the water:



And up we came on the other side.  We saw plenty of wildlife on our drive that day:

A (we think) pregnant elephant having a drink of water, http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/IMGP1770.jpg

A crocodile having a lazy sun bath (1k from our water-crossing point from the night before!), http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/IMGP1773.jpg

More hippos, http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/IMGP1776.jpg

A herd of 30+ elephants, http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/IMGP1779.jpg


We stopped for a glass of wine (the ever-present wine!) and toasted a spectacular sunset over the hippo pools:



Viccy and Michael:



On Friday, we left our lodge at Mankwe



and returned to real civilization, tar roads and all.  On Saturday we made the long drive back into South Africa



Our caravan of travelers did re-convene on the drive home at a sports bar along the way because South Africa played Australia in rugby in the finals of the Tri-Nations Cup that afternoon.  South Africa won the Cup for the first time since 1998, so there was much celebrating to do, and it made our last 3 hours of the drive quicker, feeling good about the win.  My South African friends kept asking me if I thought they were nuts for being so obsessed with the rugby and I would just say Oh please, this is nothing.  At home, we probably would never have planned a trip into the bush during football season anyway!  Cheering on the Springboks did make me a little homesick for some good southern football, I know that!


We arrived home at Stonehaven that Saturday evening.  The pub was still packed and rocking with rugby the celebration.  It was great to take a long hot bath and feel really clean when I climbed into bed that night.  I have great memories from Botswana and would do it again in a heartbeat, but man, was I tired!

Monday, August 30, 2004

Meeting Winnie Mandela, Aug. 28, 2004

Here is a picture of me with Winnie Mandela and her daughter, Zinzi. 



They were at Stonehaven on Saturday to attend a wedding taking place here.  It was an honour for me to meet such a person.  Although she is very controversial here, and doesnt always follow the rules, she seems to be an incredible survivor, if nothing else.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Day 12 of the Botswana trip

This day had loomed large over our heads the entire trip, in fact, since the itinerary was drawn up.  It was to be our longest travel day of the trip, (137 miles) and over questionable roads.  The estimate was 11 hours of driving, but we thought that would be a worst-case scenario.  It was possible the roads would be better than we thought and we would do it in 5 or 6 hours.  The long drive was necessary for us to complete our circumvention of the Okavango Swamps, and driving on that side of the swamps (the east side), there was no way to take short cuts or break the drive up.  It had to be straight through.  The Andersons and I had talked about leaving the group at this point and back-tracking the way we had come up into the swamp (the west side).  We were road-weary and very tired of very bad roads.  In the end however, we went ahead with the group for a couple of reasons:  one, we had been away from car-travel for 3 days now, on the Mokoros so were a less burned out on road travel, and second, we kept hearing how this stretch of the trip was teeming with wildlife (and it was).  So we stuck with the group.


It is important to mention that as the day went on and things didnt go our way, we did get very down and tired and hungry and thirsty, but we always always always kept our senses of humor.  Keep that in mind as I go through describing how the day unfolded.  Anyone who has ever traveled or spent time with me knows the importance I put in keeping ones sense of humor at all times.  And we definitely did!


We packed the cars the night before, and got an early start to the day, leaving Seronga just after 7am.  The first 43 miles were on decent road and we made great time.  We stopped roadside (middle of the road actually) for some breakfast about 9am and were feeling good about the progress we were making.  The roads worsened then, but by the time we stopped (mid-road again) for lunch around 1pm, we were over halfway there.  We had a great lunch and congratulated ourselves on our progress.


Pride goeth before a fall.


About an hour after lunch, the roads had become sandier.  We met a couple of travelers coming the other way who had gotten stuck in the sand.  It was one of those stretches where the road had split into 2 tracks, one track being better than the other.  They had picked the wrong track and had been stuck there about 2 hours when we came along.  (It was a nice couple from Capetown, and he was a psychologist on sabbatical and working on a dissertation about what happens to the human psyche when we are put out in the wild on our own, away from our familiar surroundings.  Boy could I write a chapter or 2 in that one!)  We got our sand mats down and worked with them for about 45 minutes before digging them out and sending them on their way.  45 precious minutes we would want back later.  But on we trudged. 


An hour later, we hit deep sand of our own.  The lead car (this was not to be his day) got bogged down and we all came to a screeching halt.  Out came the sand mats again.  And we dug and we pushed.




And we got dirty and sweaty.  But we got him out.  And on we traveled.  Now anyone who has ever driven a car pulling a trailer behind like our camper was, knows how when you go over a severe bump, the trailer bounces up and down and the back of the car goes with it until they balance out again.  We were doing that over and over and over, and had been doing it for more than a week now.  Our little trailers were tired.  (only 2 of our 5 vehicles were pulling trailers)  Suddenly when I hit one such bump, the bounce back didnt feel right, and everyone in the car could feel that the trailer had bounced off the hitch!  A safety chain kept it behind us, and I stopped immediately; in a matter of 5 minutes we were hooked up again and off.  Daylight was getting short.  We still had miles to travel.


Getting close to sunset now, and the lead car once again met disaster; a flat tire.  Another group effort ensued, and we had the tire changed and were ready to go again.  While fixing the flat tire, we noticed his trailer hitch had a loose bolt.  We made a mental note to check that and tighten it that night at camp.  Not such a good strategy, in hindsight. 


Flat tire fixed, off the lead car drove, about 30 meters straight into more deep, heavy sand.  Yes, stuck again.  Again the sand mats came out, again we dug and again we pushed.




The sun was about to set, we were dirtier and sweatier than ever, and our spirits were dragging.




Suddenly, this wasnt much fun.


On we trudged.  The sun set, darkness began to settle in.  We came around one bend and there was an elephant about 15 meters from us off to the side.  He was eating happily from a tree, and made good solid eye contact with us, but kept eating and didnt seem interested in charging us (they can get pissed off pretty easily).  We rode by some water pools and a river right next to the road.  We could see hippo heads poking up and yawning, as they prepared for their exit from the water to the grassy lands we were driving through. 



It really was a beautiful stretch of terrain, so it was too bad that it so quickly became completely dark.  Africa dark.  A sliver of a moon that was beautiful but provided no light.  And on we drove, on bumpy, winding, sandy, dark roads.  Until the road suddenly went into water.  We had come to a water crossing.


It was 7pm and I had been driving since 9am (except for our frequent stops, of course).


Water crossings are an adventure, even during broad daylight.  At night, they become dangerous.  We pulled all 5 vehicles to the water, lights shining, and all got out to discuss our options.  We could see the other side, it wasnt far at all, but we had no idea how deep it was to get there.  The water was still, not flowing.  In daylight, we could have waded through it to check the depths.  At night, we had no idea if crocodiles or hippos might be out there, or if a sudden drop off might be a step away.  And to make matters worse, out of the blue, an elephant trumpeted a LOUD screech from not too far away.  All 7 kids dashed for the nearest car and slammed the doors.


Now I should say at this point that the kids on this trip were incredible.  John and Storm were real troopers the whole trip.  All the kids were (they traded cars a lot, so I got to know all of them).  In some ways, they were all such typical kids, playing their gameboys (as we drove through AFRICA!), asking how much further we had to go, criticizing our driving and complaining.  Sheesh, you would have thought we were making them watch Gone With the Wind or something!  (Jennifer, Bryan and Patricia still hold that horrible thing we made them do over my head.)  But overall, the kids were typical teenagers and added a wonderful dimension to the trip.


But Storm was our worrier.  She worries a lot for a 12 year old.  Even when not on a safari holiday, worrying is just in her personality.  She worries about money, about using the right shampoo, about her dad wading into a pool of water where crocodiles might live.  Little things.  So she was pretty much beside herself over this turn of events.  But as usual, she maintained like a trooper.  I am afraid we have doomed her to years of therapy from this trip alone, but I think it was worth it!


Back to the water in front of us.  Basically, we had 3 options:

1. Cross here. 
2. Drive further up or down-stream and hope for a better (shallower) crossing, although in such pitch darkness, it was going to be hard to tell anywhere how deep it was.
3. Use our maps and GPS devices to find roads around the water, which would be about 28 miles out of our way.

Finally the decision was made.  We would try it here, car by car.  Our mother hen, Viccys car would be the first to try going through the water.  We tied a tow-rope to her car in case they didnt make it, so we could tow them back.  And off they went into the unknown.  http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/48180224.jpg


Down a slope into the water, we watched water rush over their hood (and its amazing how fast it got dark out there with their car lights under water), as we all screamed GO GO GO to them.  And finally, they were coming up out of the water, and were safely out to the other side.  The water had been about at the top of their hood at its deepest.  Thats pretty darned deep.


One down, 4 to go.  Do we look worried?




We were.


The next car to go was a Land Rover like ours, but no camper attached to it.  This would be a test as to how ours might hold up for the crossing.  Once again, down it went into the water, as we all screamed encouragement to it, and then it started up the other side and then bam, the car stalled.  Now rule #1 when your exhaust pipes are underwater is DO NOT crank the car.  So there they were.



Rule #2 in such a situation is do not get out of the car, but before any of us thought clearly, the driver was out the window and wading safely to the other side (leaving 2 frantic passengers!).  He grabbed the tow rope from Viccys car, waded back to his, attached it and got back out of the water quickly, where they then towed the Land Rover out to the other side.  You know those cartoon moments when a car has been underwater and the doors open and water comes flowing out with fish and other sea life flopping around?  Thats exactly how it looked when the Land Rovers doors were opened.  No flopping fish, but water poured out (along with the frantic passengers!). 


OK, thats it, game over, thanks for playing; we were not going in that water.


Our little band of travelers was now broken up. 2 vehicles had made the crossing successfully and would go on to our camp for that night.  The other 3 of us would go the long way and meet them later, whenever the hell we got there.  The place we were staying that evening was a lodge, but we were due to camp there (pitch tents).  However, being a lodge, they had planned to feed us dinner, so we hadnt brought any dinner with us.  It was dinnertime now, and we could have stopped to scrounge for food in our camping supplies, but at that point, we just wanted to keep driving, to get there.  So from lunch, we had no food, and from that sunset flat tire, we had no water or drinks either. 


The 3 of us went off our own direction, lead car with trailer leading the way again (GPS on and finding the way), and us pulling up the rear.  Rex took over the driving in our car, and I was in the front seat navigating (Watch out for that hole, oops, the one you just hit!), and Rosemary, John and Storm were in the back seat.  It was now 8pm (we had spent about an hour at the water crossing).  The drive was steady and rough until about an hour into it, when lead car stopped abruptly yet again.  Remember that loose bolt on their trailer hitch that we had noticed that afternoon and planned to fix at camp that night?  The bolt snapped.  But remember, we had 3 engineers with us!  Once again, they amazed me, and got out their toolboxes and went to work.  I held the flashlight.  A giraffe had crossed the road 10 meters in front of us a way back, and there was no telling what else was just out there watching us.  A new bolt was found and put in, and the mended trailer seemed to be stable and ready for travel again.  So off we went, once again us pulling up the rear in our shortened caravan.


Not 5 minutes had passed, when we hit one of those bumps where the trailer made the car bounce about 5 times.  It was only the zillionth time that day we had done that.  But Storm, ever our worrier, popped her head up and looked around to check on the trailer.  And she uttered the words that became the mantra and summary of our Day 12:


Daaaad, the trailers gone.


Rexs reaction was quick and to the point:  Oh shit!!!


Our heads swiveled around like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, and sure enough, no trailer.  Rex started madly flashing his headlights at our partners traveling ahead of us to signal trouble.  They were obviously not paying attention to their rearview mirrors and silently drove off into the darkness.  Gee thanks.  So there we were, completely alone.  Its funny how in a crisis like that, you just kick into another gear, and do what needs to be done.  Rex began reversing down the narrow track we were on, and we could barely make out the trailer in the distance, about 50 meters behind us.  It had gone nose-first into the sand, and as we reversed and approached it, it looked like the whole front apparatus had just snapped off of it.  Rex stopped the car and we all got out and ran to it like it was a fallen family member, which it basically was at that point.  Without even talking to each other, we just jumped into action.  Rosemary and Storm jumped on the back of the trailer to provide leverage to lift it.  Rex, John and I dropped to our knees and started digging in the sand like dogs.  We were frantic to see if our trailers hitch had broken or if it had just slipped off the cars hitch.  The only light we had was from our rear taillights.  We summoned incredible hulk-like strength and dug and lifted it out of the sand.  It was completely intact.  It had just slipped off of our hitch, and the safety chain hadnt held.  For once today, something went our way.  In mere minutes, we had reattached the trailer, jumped back into the car and sped off (as much as you can speed on a road like that, which isnt very much) to try and catch up with our dear, concerned (not!) friends up ahead.  The good news is, we eventually ran into one of them who had turned around to come look for us.  The bad news is, the lead car was dead again up ahead, his trailer hitch fractured.  Like I said, this just was not his day (or night!). 


(Im sorry for lack of pictures at this point of the story, but cameras had pretty much been forgotten by now.  Its funny how that happens.)


Our engineer crew set to work once again.  I held the flashlight once again.  Like something out of that old TV show (Night Rider?), they took a piece off of our one car that wasnt pulling a trailer and mended the fallen trailer enough that we could proceed forward, although only at slow speeds.  The rest of the night, we drove at 5-10mph, painfully eeeeaaasing over every bump we came to.  Which was fine with us and Storm especially, as it meant our trailer was less likely to disappear again (although we now rode in second place so no one would leave us behind if it did!).  We had to stop twice more along the way when the lead cars damaged trailer fell off.  Each time, our engineers patched things, and again we would be off into the night.  At 12:38am, after covering the extra 28 miles, we arrived at our camp where the others were waiting.  (They actually ran out to the camps gates to meet us, because through the clear quiet African night, they had heard us and seen our headlights in the distance over 20 minutes before we arrived)  Bless their hearts, they had made arrangements for us all to sleep in the lodge that night, and not have to set up our tents, etc.  We hadnt had food or drink since about 4:30 that afternoon, but a quick soft drink to quench our thirsts, and we were out like lights.  I slept on the floor of our room and have never slept better on a hard, wooden floor in my life.  I would have thought my adrenaline would have kept me awake, but as we all hit the sack, Rosemary and I got very tickled re-living the day, and had one of those laughing attacks where your stomach aches and you cant catch your breath.  I think that sent me right off to sleep.  Like I said, its important to always keep ones sense of humor.


Daaaad, the trailers gone.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Into Africa Phase 2

We left Maun that Friday (the 13th!!!) morning freshly showered and shaved, with all our gas pumps repaired, full bellies, full gas tanks, everything working well.  We shopped for more food in Maun, as we had more primitive camping ahead of us.  We were still heading northward, up the Okavango River, which flows south, creating a huge delta of wetlands.  The terrain actually didnt change a whole lot from our first week in the desert.  Botswana is a sandy, dusty country, even 30 meters from the river.  They dont seem to have any interest in irrigation or other ways of using water from the Okavango River.  We camped on the banks of the river that night and woke up to a breath-taking sunrise:




The next days journey required ferrying our vehicles across the Okavango where we could then drive into the heart of the delta (on more bad roads, ugh!). 




We got totally lost finding the ferry that morning, but we did have cell phone coverage still at that point, so could stay in better touch with each other from vehicle to vehicle.  And once again, thank goodness for those GPS tracking devices!



Rosemary got into a fight with the Botswanan army, who tried (and succeeded) to jump ahead of us in line for the ferry.  She put up a brave fight, but in the end, they had guns, so we let them ahead.


We were in a bigger hurry than usual traveling that day, because at 3pm, South Africa played New Zealand in rugby.  We were due to stay at a lodge that night in a small village called Seronga, and were hoping that they might have a TV where we could watch the game. We arrived shortly before 3pm, and they didnt have a TV, but the manager of the lodge had left a message for us that he had satellite TV at his home and we were invited to watch the game there if we wanted to.  So without even unpacking the cars, we dashed off to his house.  When we arrived there, it reminded me of a typical Fall Saturday at my place in Atlanta!  The manager was already drinking heavily, and his friends were already spread out all over the living room ready for the big game.  War Damn Eagle!  Ha.  Some of his friends there were Kiwis (New Zealanders) so it promised to be an interesting afternoon.  We timed our arrival perfectly to see the singing of the national anthems, and the NZ team do their Hoke pre-game war dance.  Once again, very moving.  South Africa played a great game and beat the All Blacks 40-26.  War Damn Springboks!


On Sunday morning we prepared to head off into the heart of the Okavango Swamps.  We boarded a truck, which took us to the edge of the swamp:



On the ride there we saw our first elephants of the trip.  At the waters edge, we were met by the Mokoros, small wooden boats carved from tree trunks (OK, the real Mokoros are carved from tree trunks.  Nowadays, because of doing damage to the tree population in the delicate ecosystem of the swamp, plus the tree bark makes them more appetizing to hippos, the boats are now made of fiberglass).  A poler, who acted as our guides and guards, steered and powered each boat through the swamp.  2 of us could fit on each Mokoro, and we had 2 or 3 Mokoros for our luggage, camping gear and food.  The boats were very stable, and low to the water.  Hard bottoms, and narrow, they were not very comfortable and required a lot of shifting around during the trip.  It was about an hour and a half ride through high grass to our island campsite, where we would be the next 3 days and 2 nights.  Along the way we saw more elephants on the shores, and heard the gruntings of hippos off in the distance (like big loud pigs, which is what they basically are).









We got camp set up, I took a nap,


(yes, jar of peanut butter by my side at all times), and later we went back out onto the Mokoros in search of hippos.  They are actually very aggressive animals and much feared by the polers.  The hippos stay in the water all day, but at sunset, head to grassland areas where they eat all night.  You do NOT want to get between them and their grass.  The polers know what channels they use through the grasses for their travels, so the trick is to get near those channels but not in them.  We could hear them munching and grunting in the grass, but we steered clear, so never got to see them (though we did later in the trip).  Which was fine with all of us, because we were not real confident anyway about meeting a hippo when we were seated about 6 inches out of the water there. 


That night when building the campfire, we found some elephant dung (there was plenty in the area; this was obviously a well elephant-populated island!) and burned it.  The smoke from it is said to keep mosquitoes away.  (at least thats what the polers told us … they were probably sitting over at their fire laughing at the silly tourists burning elephant crap)  It didnt smell bad, and seemed to do the trick.  This part of Botswana is full of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.  I have now been on malaria tablets for 3 weeks, and will continue to take them another 4 after being home, and am told if I get any flu-like symptoms at all, I will go to a doctor, tell him where Ive been, he will do a blood test and give me medicine, and it is quite treatable, as long as it is caught early.  In fact, the last morning we were there, one of our polers felt ill and probably had malaria.  We gave him what aspirin we had, to keep his fever down, and he would be going to a clinic as soon as we returned to the mainland and get treated for it.  It would not likely be fatal for him, an adult.  We also sprayed ourselves continuously with an Off-like spray, to keep mosquitoes away, bathed with citronella soap and burned citronella candles like crazy (along with elephant dung, of course).  I dont think I got bitten by one the whole trip, even though the air was full of them. 


As we slept that night we heard elephants not far from us, cracking tree limbs and munching on leaves.  We also heard the guttural call of lions off in the distance at sunrise, and baboons barking.  We woke up early and went for a 3-plus hour nature walk.  The polers talked to us about what to do if we encountered wildlife.  The 2 biggest fears out of the water are lion, of course, and elephants.  Evidently elephants can be very aggressive and mean if bothered.  We were told if an elephant charged us, to run up-wind (yeah, like Im going to stop and check that out) and hide behind a tree, because they have very bad eyesight.  If we encountered a lion, we were to stand very still and hope for the best (running would make him chase us, and then we would really be in trouble).  We did see a male lion, but so far off in the distance, Im not sure I saw him at all (didnt have binoculars on me, though others did and saw him).  We saw elephants from a safe distance too, but they werent bothered or interested by us.  We also saw zebra, impala and other animals.


That afternoon, the polers took us to a place in the swamp where the bottom was sandy and bright and clear.  No crocodiles would be found in an area like that, so it was safe for swimming.  We took our citronella soap and most of us got in the water for a nice bathe.  The water was frigid, but it was so hot out, that it felt wonderful and refreshing.  (we had been filling up water bottles every time we went out on the Mokoros, and the water tasted clean and sweet and cold!).  Bathing pictures:





Other pictures from our stay in the Okavango:

http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/48150194.jpg (group picture)

http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/IMGP1706.jpg (another group picture)

http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/IMGP1677.jpg (Rosemary washing dishes)

http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/IMGP1686.jpg (me at sunset in a Mokoro)

http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/IMGP1592.jpg (standing by an anthill on a nature walk)

http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/IMGP1597.jpg (elephant spotting from the Mokoro)

http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/IMGP1692.jpg (standing by a mighty Boabab Tree)

http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/IMGP1697.jpg (zebra, on our nature walk)


Every night when the sun went down (and it got very dark, very fast), it was like I was seeing the stars for the first time again.  They continued to amaze me and hypnotize me.


On the 3rd morning on our island in the swamp, we packed up camp, packed the Mokoros, and headed back to Seronga, where we spent a peaceful night at our lodge, showered, and prepared for the final phase of the trip.  We were optimistic, confident, rested, clean, and ready to forge on.  Then came Day 12.  Fasten your seatbelts fellas; its going to be a bumpy ride.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Into Africa, Aug. 23, 2004

The Shagpad Trans-Kalahari Okavango Express was an adventure from the beginning.  I should explain that this was never planned to be some upscale travel agent-booked Safari where we were coddled and taken care of.  There was an itinerary that we intended to follow, but that wasnt always possible, once we got out there.  The itinerary was a group effort to begin with, but most of the planning was done by Viccy.  What a woman.  She was our mother hen on the trip, usually traveling in the last vehicle to make sure all the baby chicks got through safely.  Viccy has done several trips like this, and in fact the Shagpad families on this trip had done 3 similar trips together before.  However, they tell me that this one turned out to be the most challenging of any they have been on.  The 2 weeks had its ups and downs, high points and low points.  The absolute rock bottom came on Day 12.  That story will take a whole blog posting by itself, but I will tell you now that if Day 12 had happened on Day 1 or 2, chances are we would have done a U-turn and headed home!  But I dont want to get ahead of myself.


Our first day was a lot of travel (over 400 miles), but on mostly good roads, so it went reasonably well.  We left Stonehaven at 5am to meet up with the rest of the crew, and our caravan of 5 vehicles (16 people) proceeded into Botswana and got to our campsite at the southern edge of the Central Kalahari Desert Game Reserve by 6pm.  The trouble started right away on Day 2.  First of all, the roads in the southern Kalahari were much worse than we expected, so the going was slow.  We were supposed to cover 173 miles that day.  We did 50.  Our first catastrophe hit when one of the vehicles (not mine!) busted a gas line and leaked half a tank of petrol before we realized it and fixed it.  As luck would have it, it was the only petrol vehicle (the rest of us were diesel), so right away, there was no way it was going to make it through the desert without running out of gas.  Still, we trudged on.  Obviously, we fell well short of our destination that day, so had to find a clear spot in the bush where we could set up camp.  (Our vehicle did get stuck in heavy sand once that day, which caused about an hour delay, but it happened at the same time we had to repair the broken petrol line anyway.)  By the evening of Day 3, we had made it (as the sun set) to where we had meant to be after Day 2.  There, we ran into some fellow travelers who actually tracked us down because they had seen the spilled petrol in the road behind us from the previous day and wanted to make sure we were OK and not still leaking.  Good Samaritans!  They ended up selling us what little petrol they could spare, which would mean our low-fuel car could make it a little farther, to a ranger post, where we were hoping more gas could be obtained.  Of course our luck stayed bad, and when we made it to that post on Day 4, there was no gas to be had there either.  So we were forced to split up as a group.  Viccy, in her vehicle, drove 4 and a half hours each way to a town outside the Game Reserve to get gas.  The drive back was in total darkness, on dark, sandy, unknown roads.  (That day on one stretch of road, it had taken us over 3 hours to go 31 miles.  And that was in daylight!)  They got stuck once and pulled out the sand mats strapped to the top of their car to get themselves out of it.  The petrol car stayed at the ranger post, and the other 3 of us went ahead to a camp where we could stay 2 nights and wait for the rest of our group to catch up with us.  So by Day 5, we were all back together and camped about 3 miles from a beautiful watering hole where we were lucky enough to see lions up close and personal. 


We had gone to the watering hole for a sundowner, where we took our drinks and sat quietly hoping to see animals.  Unfortunately, our social hour ended up being a pretty noisy chatty one, so no animals came near (at least as far as we knew!).  Just as it got dark, we turned on our cars to head back to camp, when suddenly our headlights caught sight of 3 female lions sitting not far away (30 yards or so).  They had probably been there the whole time we sipped our drinks, waiting for us to leave so they could get to the damn water!  They didnt seem interested in coming toward us, but also werent shy at all when we sat and watched them.  We think it was a mother and her 2 cubs, though the cubs were almost adults.  They were magnificent.  They frolicked and played for us a little, and even came over to check out one of our vehicles at one point, but lost interest pretty quickly.  When we finally headed back to camp, no one really slept well that night, knowing lions were so close by.  Fortunately it was an uneventful night.  We occasionally heard a lion roar in the distance (more like a guttural call actually), but we think they stayed pretty well away from us. 


I slept incredibly well the whole trip.  Some nights I didnt even use an air mattress, but just snuggled into my sleeping bag on a hard ground.  Even then I slept well.  We would sit around the campfire drinking wine at night, but no matter when we went to sleep, I woke up about 6:30am and most mornings crawled out of my tent to watch the sun rise.  The nights in the desert got down to about 40 degrees or so (after all, it is Winter here).  The mornings were chilly to say the least.  But with the rising sun, the temperatures jumped fast, usually to the high 90s, though one day our thermometer did say 104.  So we learned to shed layers of clothes fast in the mornings (and put on sun block!), but the layers went back on as soon as the sun would set. 


(And the great thing about being a guy on trips like this … the world is our toilet.)


Nights sitting by the campfire were probably my favorite times of the whole trip.  We looked at the stars and learned to tell direction by them.  We talked of life and solved all the worlds problems.  Some nights the kids entertained us by playing charades.  We all took turns preparing dinners and lunches, and washing dishes, and other necessary duties.  (Rex and I had our turn at making dinner on night 4, and our curry was a hit with everyone.  More importantly, no one died.)  And setting up and tearing down camp was always a 2-hour ordeal, unfortunately.  Because of our petrol and road condition problems that first week, we were only able to have one day where we didnt have to set up and break down camp each day.  Still, we trudged on.  The roads got a little better in the northern desert, but we were pretty road-weary by that point.  Finally, on Day 6, we arrived in Maun, a reasonably-sized town that sits on the north side of the desert and the south side of the swamp.  We were due to stay in a hotel there, with showers, toilets, and real food, so were eager to get there.  Of course it took us longer than expected, so we arrived after dark, which made for a harrowing drive.  The roads were tar and in good shape, but the problem is there are very few fences in Botswana, so cows, goats and donkeys roam free and cross the road whenever they want to.  Night driving on open roads is very hazardous and not recommended, but we had beds and hot water ahead of us!  Nothing could stop us now!  Still, its not nice to be traveling on a pitch-dark road and see a herd of cattle crossing up ahead.  And even if the herd has just crossed, invariably there is a straggler who comes running out of the darkness at the last minute.  To continue our run of bad luck, we were within 3 miles of our hotel when the Maun police decided to stop one of our vehicles (not mine!) with a faulty trailer tail-light (it had been damaged on a road in the desert).  Ugh.  The rest of us proceeded to the hotel, but 2 of the group had to go to the police station and pay a fine before being allowed to proceed.  Hot showers and a good meal at our lodge made us all feel renewed though.  Rosemary and one other member had flown into Maun to meet us, so we told them the many stories from the desert.  Our group was now the full 18.


I should tell you, I marveled at Rex the whole trip.  His background is as a mechanical engineer (and in fact we had 3 other engineers on the trip), so his mind works in a different way than mine!  There is nothing he cant fix, especially with the help of the other guys on the trip.  These talents would come in handy in week 2.  His (Rex) packing and keeping us organized was amazing.  He was in his element out there!  If he were ever on Survivor, I would bet on him.


Also worth mentioning, 2 people in our party traveled with GPS tracking devices.  They saved our lives more than once.  They are clever little devices!  I had never seen one, but it is a hand-held device that talks to satellites overhead and tells you exactly where you are at all times.  It can keep statistics like miles traveled, altitude and other things too.  But the biggest use was that it knew the roads of Botswana (they downloaded them from the internet before we left) and we could always know what road we were on, and if it was the right one (that came in useful in the maze of roads we sometimes encountered).  The maps we traveled with were sometimes accurate and sometimes not, but the GPS devices never let us down.  I cannot imagine anyone undertaking a trip like ours without having a GPS device, and if we had not had ours, we might still be out there driving around in sandy, dusty Botswana!


From Maun the next day, we headed north, into the Okavango Swamps, where the second phase of our adventure got underway.


Some pictures from that first week in the desert:





http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/IMGP1438.jpg (Looking at maps and GPS.)







http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/aug04/IMGP1514.jpg (Biltong flavored potato chips!)




Sunday, August 22, 2004

Botswana! Aug 22, 2004

I am back!  I hate to disappoint some of my dear old friends (you know who you are) who expect strange, bad occurrences to follow me around, but we all made it safely through the journey, and there were no major calamities this trip.  OK, maybe a few semi-major ones happened to the Shagpad crew, but the Anderson (my) vehicle was mostly unscathed.  Mostly, I said.  I have long stories to tell.  But they will take awhile to write.  For now, I will just say that I have seen Botswana from one end to the other.  I saw deepest, darkest Africa.  I did true 4-wheeling through unbelievable roads (more like tracks) of sand and rock, pulling a camper-trailer.  Sometimes it was just me and 4 teenagers in the car, singing I Will Survive at the top of our lungs as we made our way.  I shoveled sand and pushed cars stuck in it.  I witnessed the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises I have ever seen.  I saw stars more clearly than I thought possible.  I saw satellites and shooting stars almost every night, not to mention the Southern Cross, which we cant see in the northern hemisphere.  I saw animals: elephants, lions, hippos, crocodiles, giraffes, ostriches, warthogs, wildebeests, springbok, gemsbok, baboons, buffalo, jackals, and more.  I did not see a single snake.  I rode in a small wooden boat (a mokoro) carved from a tree trunk, steered and powered by a poler, who took us on the boats to an island where wildlife ran free, and we camped for 3 days and 2 nights. 




I heard elephants munching and breaking trees near our camp in the middle of the night.  I bathed in the waters of the Okavango Swamp, and I drank the water too.


It is good to be back home at Stonehaven.  Hot water, a toilet, no dangers to worry about when I have to get up in the middle of the night.  The little things in life.  But it was quite an adventure I had.  I will write more as soon as I can.  I took hundreds of pictures, but obviously wont be able to post them all, but will try to get a good selection posted.  A lot of video was also taken by fellow Shagpad travelers, which they tell me they will put on a DVD for me, so I should have plenty to show when I get home next year.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Off to Botswana, Aug. 7

No internet on Safari, as we'll be out in the bush.  I'll be back and posting after I return to South Africa, Aug. 21. 

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Thanks for the Recipes! August 5, 2004

Thanks to all who sent recipes for us to try here at Stonehaven.  They got around to trying 2 of them this week.  Pumpkin Pie will definitely be served on the upcoming Sunday buffet.  Their pumpkins are a slightly different color than ours (less orange, more yellow), but it tasted great and everyone loved it.  Then they tried sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top and they flipped out over them.  Once again, the look was less orange and more yellow, and the taste was slightly different from what I have had back home, but it was delicious, and after the kitchen staff and restaurant staff all got their tastes, there was none left.  It went fast!  However, they have decided the sweet potato casserole is more of a dessert than for a main course, so thats how they have decided to place it!  I wont be here for their big debut on Sunday, but will report back after Botswana on how the customers take to the new items.


And then there was banana pudding, which I tried myself (couldnt trust a delicate thing like that to the kitchen staff!).  I came to South Africa armed with my mothers hand-written instructions and a box of Jello vanilla pudding mix, which she uses to make hers.  We figured surely they would have all the other ingredients here (cool whip, vanilla wafers, bananas), but that we might have to find a Jello substitute (or god forbid make it from scratch, like I think my aunt does --- that might be beyond my culinary abilities).  Well, it turns out its going to be more of a challenge than just Jello.  They do have bananas here!  I sent Rosemary to the grocery store looking for cool whip and vanilla wafers.  She also looked to see if they had the Jello pudding in the store.  Well, next time I will need to go to the store with her, it seems.  Never send a woman to do a mans job.  Or whatever.  She brought back some instant caramel pudding.  She brought back some stuff called redi-whip in a box, that youre supposed to mix with cream to make whipped cream (I think).  She brought back these wafer things that said "vanilla" on them.   Our project was not looking good.


Now once again, I hate to shock my friends, but my kitchen talents are limited.  Its true, I have stopped denying it.  Hello, my name is Lee and I cant cook.  However, we decided to give it a go anyway, using her ingredients for the grand experiment, saving the Jello pudding I brought with me for another time.  We whipped up the caramel pudding, and Storm went to the Pub next door for some whipped cream, and we mixed that in.  We used these wafer things that said vanilla on them, and lined the bowl like my mother had shown me, then layered on the banana slices, then pudding, and repeated.  It filled up a big bowl nicely.  Here is John and me with the final product:




John and I did most of the work, as Storm decided early in the process that this was going to taste terrible, and found something else to do.  I kept saying How bad can it be?  Everything going into it tastes good, so together they should taste great!  And even though this wasnt strictly my mothers banana pudding, it might turn out good.  Rosemary was bent double laughing over in a corner of the kitchen for most of the making.  The kitchen was a mess; John and I had stuff all over the counter and our clothes and some in my hair (I have no idea how).   But we made it.


So, we had dinner later that evening while the pudding set in the refrigerator.  We all saved room for dessert, and gathered around the bowl, scooped up the pudding and had a taste.   I have to say, it wasnt half bad.  It certainly wasnt as good as my aunts or mothers banana pudding, but for what it was, it wasnt half bad.  We let some of the staff taste it, and lets just say it wasn NOT the success that the sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie were!  I will give it a go again with better ingredients after Botswana.


Once again, thanks again for all recipes.  The kitchen staff still have a few items they want to try, so I just keep passing them recipes.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Preparing for a Safari, August 4

On my 46th birthday, I will be heading north to enter Botswana for the start of our 2 week Safari.  Cant say that Ive ever done anything quite like that on my birthday.  We are having a busy week getting ready for it; making lists, checking them twice, buying supplies, getting the car checked, deciding what to pack, planning meals and drinks.  There will be 19 of us in all.  A French girl, me the lone American, and the rest South Africans, Shagpad members.  7 of us will be kids (between 12 and 17 years old, I believe).  We will be in 5 vehicles.


We have decided Sarah-Pat will not be making the trip with us, as they dont recommend children under 5 going into an area where malaria is a threat.  Since Rosemary has seen the desert, the plan is that she will fly up and meet us on Day 7, for the second part of the trip, the swamps.  Here is a brief run down of our itinerary:


Day 1, August 7: Drive about 9 hours north into Botswana, to a campsite just on the south side of the Kalahari Desert.

Days 2-3, different camps in the desert, about 8 hours traveling time each day.

Days 4-5, staying at a camp and doing day trips to explore and see animals.

Day 6, we will be in Maun, a decent sized town where we will also replenish gas, food and water supplies.

Day 7, drive up into the Okavango Swamp to the Shakawe fishing lodge

Day 8, drive more into the swamp to a campsite

Days 8-11, on the water, in Mokoros, small wooden boats.  The nights, we will set up camp on the riverbanks.

Days 11-13, back to the cars, but hit more campsites. 

Day 12, we cover 136 miles, but it takes 11 hours, due to dirt and sand roads

Day 14, head to Nata, another decent sized town.

Day 15, August 21, drive 12 hours back to Stonehaven.


Here are maps of Africa and Botswana, to give you an idea of where I will be.  I have tried to highlight in yellow some of the areas on the Botswana map that we will hit.   Hope it is readable.




We will be heading north most of the trip, towards warmer weather.  The desert will likely be hot during the day, but frigid cold at night.  The Okavango water is higher this year than it has been in 50 years, which they say will make for a once in a lifetime gaming experience.  We have been on malaria pills for a week now and will take them during the trip and for a few weeks afterwards.  Sometimes the pill can make one sick a little bit, but so far (knocking on wood), I have felt zero effect. 


Each family is responsible for certain meals throughout the trip.  So for instance, we (the Andersons and I) have 2 dinners and 3 lunches where we are responsible for feeding the whole group.


I am making up booklets for the 7 kids with maps and daily journal pages, so they can keep a log of their trip as we go.




I have tried to learn the names and locations of the places we will be going, but its all totally foreign to me right now.  I have a feeling that by the end of the 2 weeks, I will be intimately familiar with deepest, darkest Africa.


I am not counting on having Internet access in deepest, darkest Africa, so no blog entries from 7 August to 21 August.  Hopefully I will have plenty of stories and pictures to share after that.  Keep the home fires burning!

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

A Links page for July's pictures

Want to browse through my pictures referenced in the blog without paging back to past chapters to find the links?  I have built a links page so you can get to them all in one place.




I will try to do such an index page once a month or so.  The page can also be linked to from my South Africa index page at:



Just trying to make everyones life easier.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Potjie and Mampoer Festival, July 31

3 things I tasted on Saturday that I had never tasted before:


1. Fried mushrooms.  Called Crumbed Mushrooms here.  Breaded and deep-fried and put on a shish kabob stick.  Sounds like something we’d do in the South, where we fry anything and everything!


2. Ox tail.  I had an ox tail potjie, one of the potjies that was entered into the big competition.  Interesting meat, somewhat like rib meat.  And it looked just like an ox’s tail that had been chopped up into nice neat slices.


3. Mampoer.  Its the Afrikaans version of our moonshine, except its legal and it comes in flavors.  Like hazelnut, prickly pear, PEACH(!) and coffee.  They were all pretty nasty except the coffee one, which I might have to try again sometime!  After my taste test that afternoon, I needed a nap pretty badly.  Potent stuff.


Over 3,000 people poured into Stonehaven Saturday for the all-day-night Afrikaans cultural festival, to celebrate all things Afrikaans.



There was a stage with performers (singers, comedians, competitions, Afrikaans fashion shows), and the potjie competition of course, and numerous small booths with vendors pushing mampoer, biltong, potjie cookers (witches cauldrons), arts and crafts, and other items Afrikaners might want to buy.  There was a Fear Factor competition with guys diving into freezing pool water to do a stunt with a key and a balloon.  When the sun went down, they built a huge bonfire to gather around and sing some modern and older Afrikaner songs.  A full moon came up over the bonfire (By the way, here is a question: when its a full moon here in the Southern Hemisphere, was it also full in the Northern Hemisphere?)



Rosemary and I stayed warm by the fire for awhile.



Massive quantities of food were sold and more massive quantities of adult beverages were consumed.  Later in the evening, the crowd moved inside to the River Terrace (the white building on the right in my panoramic picture, above), where there was a band and then DJ for dancing long into the night. 


Other pictures from the day:

2 of my coworkers, getting ready for the crowds, http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/july04/IMGP1203.jpg

Flipping pancakes to roll up and stuff with cinnamon! http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/july04/IMGP1211.jpg

15 Minutes of Fame competition, http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/july04/IMGP1224.jpg

Mr. Photogenic, http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/july04/IMGP1226.jpg

More of the Stonehaven staff, http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/july04/IMGP1229.jpg

Thats my room up there on the left (with the windows wide open, it was a beautiful warm day!), http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/july04/IMGP1252.jpg

The Fear Factor competition.  Brrrrrrrr, http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/july04/IMGP1273.jpg

A popular Afrikaans singer, who also looks like he could also play a little rugby, http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/july04/IMGP1278.jpg

These girls look like theyre having way too much fun to be working so hard, http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/july04/IMGP1280.jpg

The view from my room.  Had to close the doors as the sun was going down, it got chilly fast, http://www.leebryan.us/sapics/july04/IMGP1285.jpg


The staff worked from 7am till well after midnight that day, only to get up the next morning to clean up for the Sunday Brunch.  As all my friends from the hospitality industry know, some days like this you just have to get through, but they can also be a bonding experience with your fellow workers.


Next big festival at Stonehaven is the Beer Festival September 4th.  Spring will be here by then and they say its bigger than Potjie Festival.  Anyone want to fly down for that?