Saturday, October 25, 2008

Out on tour

I am leaving tomorrow for a tour. The tour finishes on the 12th of November. I am doing a birding tour on a freelance basis for Safari Wise Tours and Safaris.

This is the first tour that I have done with this company. It sound as if they really have a lot in common with what I plan for Frantic Naturalist, and so this is a great opportunity. I love doing birding tours as well, so it's a double bonus.

I will be back and blogging after the 12th of November. Look out for new posts and pictures from my tour.

Just to give credit where it is due, the last four tours that I have done, have all been for Namibia Track and Trails.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Finding my own bushman painting

Did you watch Indiana Jones? Sure you did. Do you dream of treasure hunting or finding lost stuff? It's exciting. Most of us don't really have the chance to do that in our lives unless we are academics or museum staff. But I have. I didn't find a lost city (Ark of the Covenant in the case of Indiana Jones)...I found one single, unclear bushman painting in the mountains near Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge in 2004. It's my lost city...I still love going back there and having a look at it. To the best of my knowledge, no people saw this painting between the bushmen who painted it (perhaps a hundred years ago, perhaps a little longer) and me. How special is that.

While I worked as a guide and assistant manager at Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge, I had the pleasure of meeting many interesting people. One of those was one of our guest astronomers who had a special interest in archeology and know a lot about bushmen. While he stayed at the lodge (around May 2004) he found an overhang with some bushmen paintings in it. I got excited. I learned what I could, and set out on a quest to find bushmen rock art in the surrounding hills. I learned a lot and found many other artifacts. For a while I thought thought that I would never find any rock art, but then one day in a ravine, I managed to spot a painting near a seasonal waterhole. It was faint, but there is no mistaking what it is, a single springbok painted on the rock. There is what appears to be a rhino above it, but that's it.

Interested in bushman rock art:

Bushmen Rock Art

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Amazing story

I am not going to tell a story in this post. I have just read an amazing wildlife story that you must go and have a look at

One of the most amazing wildlife encounters that I have ever heard of.

Enjoy it, it is one of the most amazing stories I have heard from the wilds of Africa!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cape Town by bike

I was, and still am when the urge takes me, a fitness fanatic. I am no super athlete, just like being fit. These days that mainly takes the form of climbing hills, or doing some workout at home.

But in my high school and studying years, these activities were almost as serious to me as conservation and my enthusiasm for nature (or girls and girl problems, but that's not a subject for this blog...very sad state of affairs in those days.)

No, I liked keeping fit, and my friends did too. So at the end of one semester, when we worked out that we had some transport issues, two of us decided to cycle from George (where we studied at Saasveld) to Cape Town.

Our route would mainly follow the main road, then veer off to the south, and end up coming around the coastal roads of the false bay. It would take just under 600km on our route. We had no idea. We thought we could manage about 100 in a day.

The decision was made over a couple of drinks one night, and then we set off. I struggled. Badly. I had a heavy bike. I didn't have panniers. I had a huge, heavy backpack on my back. I hadn't really been into cycling before in my life at all.

We set off. The first day to Mossel Bay. No big deal. We slept at a backpacker's lodge. Met some cool people. Then the next day we headed uphill, inland, into a strong headwind (bergwind as they are known.)

It was a struggle. My friend, Mark, was fitter and much more experienced at cycling than me. He left me behind. I eventually ran out of energy. I just toppled over into a ditch and actually fell asleep. I woke up a few minutes later, super hungry. I looked through my huge backpack. I found a thing of Knorr Aromat Seasoning (basically pure MSG.) I ate it all. My friend came back to find me. He got some chocolate, which gave me some more energy.

We carried on to Albertinia. We had only done about 60 km that day, plus only having done 60 the previous day. The trip was now looking like it was going to take us 10 days - and eat up all our holiday.

We were hungry and tired. We found a shop and bought a loaf of unsliced bread, jam and a two litre coke. After polishing it off, we fell asleep behind the shop like a pair of drunks, in the middle of the day.

When we woke up, it was almost night. We had nowhere to sleep. We started to look around. There is no backpackers in Albertinia. We were on a tight budget, and nothing was within our range that wasn't full.

My mom had always told me to go to the police if I ever got in trouble. So we did just that. They were quiet happy to put us up in the holding cells. But the cells close at night. So once we were in, we were literally in jail till the next morning. We didn't get any more food. In the morning they woke us early, and told us we had to leave. We were glad to have had a bed, but they certainly aren't accustomed to treating their guests as guests. It was clean and just fine, but I certainly wouldn't want to ever sleep in a holding cell again. Certainly wouldn't want to try the real thing. From that time on, we decided that if there was no accommodation, we would be sleeping in the bushes.

We took some pictures of the experience, only to find out later that we had no film. The lessons we learned that day were many!!!

Next day, with the good sleep (remember when we started out we had had exams, and then some post exams partying, hence the serious tiredness. Now we were good. And my butt was starting to come right. We did a good day, well over a 100km to Swellendam that day. From there we turned off the main road. I had a girlfriend in Napier at the time, so we passed through there, and had some good old Afrikaans food. Hermanus and then a big day's riding to Cape Town. That was the day that the South Africans were playing in the Rugby World Cup finals in 1995. We timed our ride of the thinnest peace of the road for when the rugby was on. It worked...almost no traffic to bother us...everyone in South Africa but two cyclists was watching the rugby.

It was a good trip, something we would remember for the rest of our lives. I did it again, alone in 1997. Then I was more prepared. In the mean time, I had started using cycling to do birding, often visiting spots 80 km from where I was studying. So the second trip was so much easier. I can hardly remember it.

One of the major impressions I had of those cycling trips was of the vegetation. It may seem strange, but when you are cycling you sort of watch the road verge all the time. I was busy learning southern and western Cape flora for my studies, and so was running these things through my head while I was riding. It was just amazing to me how much of the stuff one saw was made up of exotic vegetation. Namibia has just been the flip opposite.

Some of my friends are involved in cycling tours and if I have some time I will get back into it, and perhaps try one of those tours.

If you have any experience of cycling in Africa, please let me know your stories.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stalked by a sneaky elephant

Namibia is home to what have become known at the 'Desert Elephants.' The whole idea of desert elephants has been somewhat mystified by the tourism industry and others. But they are behaviorally special elephants, that do live in a hyper arid Desert.

The elephants are found in Namibia's remote northwest. Over the last 10 years of guiding in Namibia, I have come to learn a little about these elephants.

The desert elephants have seen their share of trouble. Namibia has only been independent for just under two decades. Before that there was fighting in the north, South Africa vs. Angola. The northwest saw a lot of trouble with troops shooting at wildlife, including rhinos and elephants. Since then, these elephants have had to contend with increasing human contact in the community areas, as well as the explosion of 4wd culture in southern Africa, and even things like Quad bikes (or ATVs) have had an impact.

Despite these issues, these elephants are not running as scared as the elephants I got to know in northern Kenya as a child during the bad poaching times. But they are wild and don't always like people. They deserve respect.

The story then...well, years ago I was doing a camping trip through the area. I was camping in Twyfelfontein. Those early years were such fun. I loved the camping trips at the time, I still love camping. In those days it was wild. My first year in Namibia I counted 99 nights that I slept outside (that doesn't include tents or in vehicles.)

On this particular night I was camping in Twyfelfontein area, in the Aba Huab campsite. Dinner finnished, my camp assistant and I cleaned up and went to bed. I had been busy, and didn't really take a good look around at the spot we were in.

I slept in my bedrole, on the top of the trailer that we pulled behind our safari adapted Toyota Dyna truck. I always find that I still lie awake a while on these nights. Often guests go to bed at about 8h30 on camping trips. I can't do that. So I have learned a little about astronomy and look around.

Now, I am not one of those people with sounds of the night paranoia (most of the time.) But as I lay there, I noticed a shape off to the right, far enough back behind my head that I couldn't see it. It couldn't be a tree - trees in this area are mainly Mopani trees, and they don't form a nice round shape.

I looked a little harder...was it? Must be? A large elephant standing behind me. A really big one. And it was close.

I got those short but heavy rushes that go through your body at these times. The feeling that you want to jump off the trailer, but the relization just as quickly that that isn't the right thing to do.

My mind went to work for a while. It was an elephant, surely. I have even seen elephants move through this campsite before. My firt time camping there, they had taken out the water pipes coming from the tank on the roof. Not showers that morning. I knew the elephants were here, and this, it was one.

What was it going to do? I didn't know. I thought, it is probably better not to move. I had a friend (or old boss) who was fixing a borehole motor one time, and while sitting there working, fully focusing on the porblem of the parts he was fixing, didn't notice the elephant coming up behind him. His back was to the fence, using the fence post as a back rest. The elephant stuck it's trunck in, smelled him, and then left him alone.

Would this elehant do the same to me? It could just as easliy pick me up and throw me to the ground. But elephants usually show some bad feelings if they don't like you there. It's quiet manner made me believe that this elephant was just passing through and amazingly, had taken some time to sleep (elephants basically just stop for a while as their way of sleeping.)

I relaxed and actually started to enjoy the encounter. It hadn't killed me yet, I thought I would be alright. And in the morning I could show my guests the tracks. It would be really something if it did stick out it's trunck and smell me. I still didn't move. I lay still until I started to doze off a little.

I fell asleep. I woke up hours later. I was still nervous to lift up my head and have a proper look, but I was sure it would be gone. I looked. No, still right there. This was strange. I got scared again. Why would an elephant just stay there. I got worried in a way that one does only at 4h30 in the morning. I tried to crane my neck around. It still looked just like an elephant. But it hadn't moved all night.

Some time later, morning sounds as people were waking up in other campsites. People were walking to the bathroom like normal. Didn't they see the elephant. I risked it, with the first hint of light, and had a look....

It was a bush. A nice round bush. I even looked fro tracks. Nothing. I had been so sure in the night.

Desert elephants have been one of the great conservation successes of the north western part of Namibia, and this is especially so because of the work of many private individuals and ngo who have helped create areas like the Etendeka and Palmwag Concseions, as well as those who helped form the skeleton coast park and most recently, all the work to create community concessions.

Footnote: This post is entered into a competion on Problogger

Monday, August 25, 2008

Break down, down, down, down.

When on Safari, don't break down in the middle of nowhere. Don't do it. But if you do, it's going to fit in nicely there with your travel stories of Africa.

I was driving a Land Rover 110 TDI to Swakopmund from the south a number of years ago. I had three quests, very quiet people. And a heavy duty, 'Off-Road' trailer. Heavy duty, that is, except these little ridicules little axle stubs on it. While crossing the Kuiseb River and the canyon lands beyond it, about three centimeters (lets say an inch) of it broke off. This was enough to send the trailer's wheel, hub and all, forward and traveled along next to the car. I slowed to a stop. I was relieved to see the wheel was going to cross left and would hit an uphill, and probably fall over there and stop. As it started to slow on the incline, it started to fall over, only to be bounced up by a rock, and with fresh momentum, start down hill, over the road, and way down a little Canyon. I felt this to be a little problematic. I said very little (still using basic English words.) The quiet guests said nothing.

I stopped and started dealing with the turn of events. First, the radio. To far out to reach Swakopmund where we had our base at the time. Then I focused on getting the tire. This was some job. It really is a heavy thing just to life a large four wheel drive tire up. To get it up the side of a little canyon is a little heavy duty. Some nature conservation guys came past and gave me a hand. Dust, sweat, and a little axle greese. I smiled. The guests said nothing.

I already could see from the begining that there was no road side fix for it. I couldn't weld the axle, and wouldn't have taken a risk like that in any case. The Kuiseb road is busy, and so enough there were a number of cars passing us by, each with a solution to our problem. Eventually the plan became: 1. Remove the stuff from the trailer 2. Pack what I could on my vehicle. 3. Find a good person to take the rest.

Simple plan. Trouble number one. I had a mass of camping equipment. Nobody passing along had space for this kind of stuff. Finally a stroke of luck, a lady with an empty horse carriage thing. She took a lot of my camping kit on to Swakopmund.

Number two: The trailer didn't want to come off. This took time. Finally, with help from another nice dude, we got a trolley jack under where the old tire was, to level the trailer and using my jack from the car, we managed with effort, to get the hitch to come out. It half burried the jack. It was one of those jacks that was a really bad idea from landrover at the time - the screw mechanism one? Don't know it...well it doen't work.

Anyway, Land Rover free, we could continue. Now with extra stuff loaded inside and on top and now without a trailer and with the jack left under the trailer were it dug itself in with removing the trailer from the car. I figured we would be in radio range soon and we would be able to get some help from our office.

We packed up, the day getting a little late now, and moved on towards the coast. I explained what my plan was. The guests didn't say anything.

10 km started to radio. Nothing. 20 km, nothing. 30...sounded like I may have had a response? Couldn't say for sure. Just a little further and we could be in good radio range.

BANG!!! The heavy load was just to much for our tires and one send out a burst as it blew out. My words were not so English any more. The guests may have mumbled something.

I tried the radio; surely we were close enough now. "swakop base, swakop base come in for Vernon"...."swakop base, swakop base, come in for Vernon"...

Finally the reply: "swakop base standing by for Vernon"

I started to explain my problem. The reply..."talk in shorter bursts...connection poor."

"I'm 130 km from Walvis Bay"
"I broke the trailer's axle"
"At the Kuiseb"
"I sent the stuff on"
"I am 35km from where I left the trailer"
"I have had a blow out"
"I left my jack under the trailer"

My boss, good man, who I think is hiding away in the bushes after the stress of managing five of us guides, got a flat bed trailer organized. I managed to stop a car with tourists and borrowed their jack and changed the tire. We moved slowly on to swakopmund. My boss passed us later. The only vehicle he had was a landrover forward control...very, very slow. He didn't throw anything at me. Good man

One last little thing happend. We had a flat tire in Etosha. The car was still loaded heavy and I was changing the tire with the guests still in the car... there had been lions around there. The screw bar of this silly jack bent out. I reacted fast enough to shove the new tire in to the wheel mound, ballancing the car on it. I had to stop tourists for the second time in the tour to borrow a jack. I felt a bit of a jack...

The guests said nothing. I was never to sure if they were a little freeked out by it, scared of me? Or were they just tough or super trusting that their guide would find a way out? I will never know...unless they return to do another tour with me. I'll have a good old bottle jack, with a high lifting jack for back-up, don't you worry.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Lion attack

I need to tell this story. I don't really want to, I need to. I have four main reasons not to want to tell it:

The first reason I don't want to is because I am a safari guide, who hopes that one day someone who reads this blog may be interested in visiting Africa because of what I have written. This post probably goes against all that.

I also don't want to, because I don't want to give lions a bad name. I don't want to make people scared of lions.

I also don't want to tell it because the story's details are now distorted by many years. But I do believe that I still have the gist of the story correct, after all, we have been telling it over and over for more than twenty years now.

Lastly, I don't want to get into a discussion over lion behavior or why lions do what they do. I am not an expert in lions. I know a bit, and I have learned things from experience, but I am not an expert.

Why do I have to tell the story...every time I sit and think what will be my next story for this blog, this one comes up into my head. So it's a kind of cleaning, get it out of the way.

It's a bit gory. Sorry about that.

1982 I was a little kid having fun as a 'home schooled' child. It was wild times. My mom, who was our teacher, was still learning how to live in an environment where there were people at the door all the time. Thousands of people came to our house some days...the result - we didn't do much schooling. As soon as she would get caught up, we would escape. We were wild kids and life was great!

But northern Kenya was a harsh place. There were bandits, there were famines (as we would go through in 1984,) and there were lions. There were what they would call 'man eating lions.' During those time my parents dealt with lion attacks several time. Not on us, no, on the people living in the community.

There was an incident were a little boy was carried off by a lion, and dropped deeper in the bush, and survived, there were some people who got killed, and there were some that were attacked and lived to tell the tale...and who had to be rushed to hospital first, before they could do much story telling...and one of these incidence one stands out in my mind. We'll get to that.

Now, I am not an expert on this, but I want to offer my thoughts on why these things were taking place there. Lions are very instinct driven. Lions don't recognize humans as food right away. If you encounter lions in the bush, most of the time they simply run away. They don't just run up to cars or houses and eat people. It is said that dogs kill the most people of any animal each year. Lions are right down the list. I think even in Africa, where the statistics should be viewed with caution (where there are statistics,) lions still aren't killing that many people.

The area where we lived was the Kaisut desert. It's like a bowl of desert in the middle of an area of mountains on most sides. These higher areas have some lion prides, as do the dry river courses that come out of these mountains into the desert. But the good habitat is limited. Once a male gets to old for maintaining it's territory, it gets pushed out... and in areas like the Kaisut, they are forced into the less productive areas - the desert.

Here there aren't that many animals to kill, and in general the condition of these lions starts to deteriorate fast once they come into the desert. So these aging lions turn to what's easy.

...In the middle of the night we woke up to a strange noise. Very loud too. At first we though it was gunfire. The house we lived in was build from corrugated iron, fashioned into a two story, A frame building, designed to let the head rise through outside walls. The noise, in the middle of the night was from a Rendille warrior running his staff along the length of the house.

After flying out of bed from the noise my mom and dad went down to see what was going on. There was just one young guy there, completely covered in blood. This guy was sweating profusely and in an almost trance like state.

He was to zonked out to talk. My mom got out here first aid things, heated up some water, started to clean the blood off. He still couldn't talk. My mom carried on cleaning him up, looking for his wounds. There were none. This guy was completely covered in someone, or something, else's blood. And he was in such a state he couldn't tell my parents where his injuries came from.

They sat him down, gave him some tea (to Rendille super sweat tea is very good stuff.)

He started to calm down and told us the story:

There was with another guy in the grazing area (about 10 kilometers form the town where we were.) The animal enclosures were made from small Acacia bushes, cut and put into a circle with the top, the thorny bit, facing outwards. Inside this circle went all the animals, mainly sheep, goats and camels.

Two warriors were alone at this site. The so called 'warriors' were often no more than kids who had been circumscribed. They would be warriors for just over a decade before marrying. These two guys were still young, the younger must have been in his early teens, the older one, who came to our house that night, not much older.

The older guy had gone out to the toilet when the lion came in. From my recollection of the account, the lion had broken into the first enclosure, and, unable to even catch sheep, it broke through to the people part and when for this young guy.

He held up his spear, but the lion had a good swipe at him. It really did a lot of damage. It took off most of the skin from his face, damaged his eyes, and cut deeply into his chest.

The older of the two boys had no real trouble chasing the lion off back into the night...probably to die.

Now there was a problem...hyenas. If the older guy left his friend to go for help, the hyenas would surely get him. He was a big guy, and decided to pick up his friend. He ran/walked with him to a water pump. Here he could lock the injured boy into a small pump building where hyenas couldn't get at him. He had already done some distance with his bleeding friend slung over his back, and now he ran to town. When he reached our house he was severely dehydrated and in shock.

When we got the full story out of him, we (me and my brother and sister,) were garbed, jumped into my dad's GMC Jimmy, and raced off to go and pick up this guy. Everyone already feared for the worst. There was hardly any reason to even think he could make it. He had to be dead...

We got to the bore-hole pump station. He was alive, but only just. My mom didn't do much in the way of first aid...we had to get him to hospital fast, and hospital was more than 70 kilometers on bush tracks. My dad drove that Jimmy really fast through the bush. My mom did what she could. For us kids, I can clearly remember that I only looked at him once properly. It was really shocking.

He was covered in blood, completely. His face didn't look like a human at all. Big sections of skin hung down from him.

When we got to Marsabet my mom went in the hospital with him. The staff didn't want to look after him. The desert nomads were very looked down on (and still are today.) And everyone thought he was dead. He looked dead at that point. Even my parents thought that he would be dead any minute. So my mom took over...she's the forceful personality in our family, just get's on and does what needs to be done, and doesn't usually stop to consider who is telling her that she can't or shouldn't.

My father, the more quiet, methodical one, went off to find out if we could fly the boy out to a better hospital. We were in luck, a flying doctor service was just on it's way. It's not geared up to be a medivac aircraft, it's mainly a flying clinic. But they didn't hesitate to fly the boy out.

His recovery was slow. First they though that he would loose both eyes, but gradually managed to save them. Lots of skin grafts and a lot of time in hospital. It was also depressing and scary. This young boy had hardly seen any sort of town, and here he was in the busiest hospital probably in East Africa. He was terrified. Couldn't understand what people said. But, with visits from my parents he pulled through. Till today he still knows my parents and his family are still grateful to have him after that incident.

That's my story about lions attacking people.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Desert Nomads to Frantic Naturalist

My childhood started in South Africa, but I moved to Kenya at the mature age of 8. The location, Korr. Where is Korr - in the middle of the Kaisut desert in Kenya.

It was here, growing up among the Rendile people that I grew my deep love for the bush, for wildlife, for deserts and for Africa as a whole.

The Rendile are a people group who live in the desert area between the bottom of Lake Turkana up to Mount Marsabit.

Rendile people are nomadic pastoralists that keep sheep, some cattle, and camels. There whole way of life revolves around the camels. Since they are nomadic in a dry area, the Kaisut Desert area where I grew up was wild. There was a lot of wildlife around, and no fences, restrictions, just open space.

I learned to speak some Rendile as a child, and spent a lot of time out walking, climbing mountains, tracking wildlife in river gullies and learning about the bush/desert from the people.

To this day, I believe strongly that those experiences have given me a perspective that can't be taught. It was a very special way to grow up.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Birding Pel's Fishing Owl

My memories of finding the 'tough bird'

In birding circles in southern
Africa, there is one bird that has remained a bird of mystery and intrigue in the guiding community...The Pel's Fishing Owl.

Many stories have been written about twitching this bird. Peter Borchert keeps telling his readers (Africa Birds & Birding editorials) that he hasn't seen the bird yet despite several tries.

So it has it's mystery
. And it has it's place as well. The hot-spot for us on the Namibian side is the top of the Okavango Delta - the so called Pan Handle area, where the Okavango river first splits into channels as it becomes the famous Okavango Delta. The Delta itself is a good place to go and search for this bird.

Despite the legend, the bird is very big, but they sit still in the high in the think trees, where the bright light shining through the tree tops makes it hard to see them.

As a new guide I was all keen to see this bird. In those early years I was a bit bedazzled by birding. I suddenly had ample opportunity to see birds that I couldn't have gotten to before as a student.

I had done a lot of my birding by cycling out from where I studied in Saasveld in George. It was a little crazy. It's rainy there, and I had to do big distances. Sometimes I took my projects with me to bird hides. So I would cycle, unpack my study work, and sit there, work and occasionally look up to see if anything had flown in. Magical times, but birding was hard work.

Suddenly in Namibia I was paid to take people to see amazing places, and these places held birds I wanted to see. I needed to see. And it was infinitely cheaper and easier than before! Nowhere was the intensity felt more than in shooting range of the legendary Owl. If you were a non-birding guest of mine in those years, well I am sorry. I have learned a lot about guests since then. I was all passion.

I tried in Chobe, all along the big trees lining the river. I tried in Lianshulu in the Caprivi strip. To no avail. They would often 'have had a sighting' the day before I arrived. Then it was Mahangu. This is an amazing small little park on the border between Namibia and Botswana, right were the first splitting of the river happens. It's only a little over 10km but the river enters a river and exits the Okavango Delta. Here I found feathers. You couldnt' walk to much - the lions/elephants/crocs/buffs problem.

Then I got to go down through Shakawi and round the Delta itself. Finally on a tour with a new guide we were in the Delta itself. I had been birding with him on the island we were camping on (had an encounter with a black Mamba on the walk - without insident

Then he carried on looking around by himself while I went to go help prep for the returning guests - who had been out with the Botswana guide. When our new guide came back he had a guessed it, Pel's fishing owl.

So, after giving the guests brunch we went out to try. After some time of pearing into the top of the tree tops it happened - we cought sight of this beautiful owl.

I found an image searching Google of the Pel's Fishing Owl in a tree, so that you can get an idea of what it is like to see it

It really looks a bit like a child's over sized Teddy Bear, stuck high up in a big, dark tree. Strange and amazing to see for the first time.

Later that year I also managed ot see Pel's fishing Owl's hunting on the open water in a lodge in the Pan Handle of the Delta. But till today, those early sights remain a wonderful memory to me.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The art of Story Telling & it's relationship to my job

An Art Form: Story telling should be, and is often considered an art form. Writing, or putting stories on blogs (like I do here,) is really a watered down form. What is more important is verbal story telling. As an art form, it is not merely verbal, but interactive.

I read rather a nice description of what story telling is on a website called storynet.

In Guiding: In my approach to guiding, I believe (from more than 10 years experience in the field,) that my guests, to a large extent are not there to have a lecture. That could be done elsewhere. Good guides are the ones who are telling stories, both of the environment they live in, and in the social environment in which they live and work.

Are you interested in Storytelling: Visit the flowing sites: lessons and history. Nice looking website too.
Links to other storytelling learning sites

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Be careful where you pee!!

Serondela again. This is not my story, but one that did the rounds in Botswana in 1998/9. When camping at Serondela it was customary for the guides to warn guests that lions and elephants came into camp at night, and that nobody should walk all the way to the bathrooms in the night.

The drill was, simply slip out of your tent and have a good look around, then slowly move around the back of the tent and have a quick pee right there. We would explain that here in this camp any form of shyness about peeing had to be forgotten in order to keep you alive!

Well the story goes, a guide, his camp assistant and the guests on the trip had finished their dinner. One of the guests on the trip was a slightly larger lady traveling with her husband, Germans I think? All the guests went off to bed after the 'pee to stay alive' lecture from the guide. The guide and camp assistant stayed up to wash the dishes for a while. There were also many Hyenas around the camp and this night while washing dishes the Hyenas were around the back of the camp. The guide made a point of being careful to store the left overs in the trailer so as not to attract the Hyenas. He went to bed a bit worried that the Hyenas would get into the food or carry off a pot. They can bit into ANYTHING.

The guide awoke to a sound around the tent. Something was moving between his tent and the next one. He reasoned that this was a chance to give the Hyena a bit of a fright and got back on his bed-role and, lying on his back, booted the Hyena with both his legs.

There was a big howling noise......but not the right one. Not the Hyena. The German lady had got out of her tent, and scared to go all the way around, had decided to pee between her tent and the guides. When she squatted down she scratched the guides tent...AND GOT BOOTED, PANTS DOWN, ONTO HER OWN TENT.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Catching Hippos

I studied Nature Conservation through Saasveld. Saasveld is in George and was the old forestry collage. It took on other large land management courses, before growing even bigger. When I went there it offered a great Nature Conservation Diploma course.

Part of the course was spent at the collage, but we had two six month practical periods as part of the course. I did my first one at Addo Elephant National Park. It was a great learning experience.

Most of my time at Addo I was posted at a remote ranger's station in the Zuurberg section of the park. In that part of the park Hippos had been released into the Sunday's river. The hippos caused a lot of trouble, getting out of the park frequently.

One hippo had left the park to the south and entered a prison farm (outside the town of Kirkwood.) The Sunday's river went through this prison area. When the hippo was discovered in the area, a fence was put around the section of the river that it was in, and a trap build to catch it.

Catching hippos is problematic! They are a little on the big side, and are known to be very aggressive. One way to catch them is to dart them. But if one wants to dart a hippo, it needs to be chased away from water. If they are sedated in water, they could drown, not to mention the problems of collecting them out of the water.

At this location, chasing around a hippo to get it away from water would present a whole range of problems, mostly the risk it would pose to people and structures.

So it was decided to trap it. About one kilometer of the river had been fenced in, with the hippo inside. Then it was a waiting game. The hippo had to be loured into the trap with bait (grass or some other feed.)

While I worked there, we were getting closer and closer to trying to catch the hippo. But the hippo also got more and more intelligent. We tried many things, but the hippo would eat everything till just outside the trap, and go no further. We even tried to through some very expensive drugs on the bait, to get it to calm down, all to no avail.

They way it worked was that we would have a ranger posted in the area all the time. They would check that the hippo was still there, and how close it was coming to the trap. Then there would be the occasional 'capture' nights, when the whole capture team had to come and camp there, and we would watch the hippo through the night.

The rangers took turns to do the looking. I often got a slot at around two o'clock till four o'clock. I would have to sleep in my tent with the tent open, sleeping bag open, and boots on. And it was cold, very cold. Then we would get up for our shift. We would move to an area just outside the fence, hiding behind bails, and watch for two hours. The hippo often seemed to be watching us back. It was sometimes a little scary being out there.

On one occasion I had heard that a leopard had been seen nearby in the day time. No problem, in the day time. But come three o'clock at night, cold, staring at a hippo in the night I started to think about that leopard. I had a Winchester bolt action .375 h&h magnum rifle (that's a big gun to those who don't know firearms, something with which you could shoot an elephant.)

As I lay there, watching the hippo, most of the sounds were far away. But then a scurrying sound came from nearby. We didn't use flashlights, because it would frighten the hippo, and the capture attempt would be ruined.

The sound grew closer. There was a little moon, but it almost made it worse. I could see a shape moving around. I was kneeling on the ground, keeping myself low down (not to scare the hippo.) From that angle the shape looked remarkably like a.....Leopard!!

Suddenly everything went badly. The shape started to charge strait for me. I stood up, chambered a round in the rifle, and was just about to shoot........

Fortunately I was very slow with the rifle. As it came closer I suddenly saw it was a porcupine. It had been moving along the road, and since I was hiding behind the bails, it had also been surprised by me.

When I stood up it turned and ran into the bush. If I had shot it with the .375 it would have been all over the place. And I don't know what the Addo management would have done with the rookie student?? I did ruin the capture for the night, but that was it.

While I was at Addo we never caught that hippo. It's baby, already a fairly big hippo also left the park. They managed to catch it. I wasn't there that night when they caught it, but did get called to watch the release. That was amazing - after seeing the damage this hippo could cause to the truck, I gained a new respect for these animals.

I don't know the end of the story with the hippo. I loved my time at Addo, and learned a lot from the people there. As a guide now, it is so useful to have seen the other side, conservation on the ground.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Memories of a great tour gone by

In high school I already knew that I wanted to be a safari or wildlife guide. I grew up in the remote bush, and loved it. When we were in town (Nairobi) I would long for the bush.

As I grew up, I started to have a little more freedom to go visiting the wilds of Kenya on my own, with friends, or to do some organized tours. Many of these experiences were treasured experiences.

One such tour sticks out in my mind. My best friend at school was Chuck. Chuck and I shared two great passions, sport and the bush. My parents lent us their Land Rover for a few days while they were in town. Chuck and I set off for Tsavo National Park.

We drove out of Nairobi on the Mombasa road. That road was insane. The poor design of the road meant that the trucks heading from Mombasa Squeezed the hot tarmac into a molded shape. Mombasa is a very important port, not only for Kenya, but also several land-locked countries in the interior, such as Uganda. It was a crazy road, and you had to keep your wits about you.

Once in the park we drove to the self-catering place we were staying. It was such fun. We had buffaloes outside almost constantly, in huge herds.

Each morning we were there, we would head out early. We did our best to stay away from the crowds and get off the beaten track.

We had amazing wildlife sightings, took photos and talked way into the night, while listening to lions in the bush. We got amazing views of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Those experiences have had a big influence on how I operate tours today. More personal, more about creating the emotional attachment to the experience of the African Bush.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Family in the mud and African Wilddogs

Growing up in the wilds of northern Kenya, the travels of the family on small dirt roads have always remained as important family memories. On one occasion in the early eighties we had been visiting in a town about thirty kilometers from where we lived.

There had been a little rain, and the two track road had occasional spots filled with water. My dad had been missing most of them as we drove, but at one point my brother and I, keen for some fun, asked him to drive through a long track with water. The rain had filled the track, but not yet softened the ground in the middle. This meant that it was really easy to get stuck, with the middle of the car sitting on the harder ground. You guessed it, we got stuck.

There was no big issue with time, and we had some food in the vehicle. So when it got late we decided to spend the night in the car, in the puddle. It was my parents, my brother and I, my younger sister and a couple of people who worked with my parents. We cooked on a fire (without any pots or anything, it was somewhat challenging.) Not much light meant an early night.

The next morning we were up early. While we were busy getting the water away from the wheels by making little channels, a family of African Wild dogs ran up to behind the vehicle. We had a fright for a while, but soon they moved on from us. About three hundred meters on they killed a Dik Dik, and then moved on. This was such a special sighting, as we have never seen Wild dogs in the are since then.

We soon got out of the mud, with the help of a passing car, and made it home without any misshapes. To this day, this remains a special family memory.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Lions and small tents

Many years ago I was doing camping tours in Namibia. We would spend a little time in Botswana in those days. In Botswana we often camped at a wild campsite called Serondela (don't know spelling???) It was a great time.

We would come from Namibia, pick up a Botswana guide before going into the park. For the new two days the guide would do all the guiding, and I would be left with my camp assistant to manage the campsite.

In the mornings we would prepare coffee/tea/etc for the guests before they would leave for game drive. They would be out for about 3.5 hours before coming back for a brunch.

After the guests would leave, we would quickly work to prep the brunch, then pack it away in a trailer (there were legendary baboons in those days - they got to everything.)

After that we would have a couple hours to kill, and we were seriously into birding (still am.) My camp assistant and I would start working our way through the campsite, looking for birds.

On this particular day we noticed that there was a small tent people still in it. We noticed that there were lion track around, but that's normal for Serondela.

As we walked closer the couple in the tent called out to us, saying we should not be walking around. It was now properly daylight and there had been a number of vehicles driving past. We told them it was fine. But they insisted. Finally we went to chat to them to find out what was going on.

It turned out that in the night a lion had been walking along the road through the campsite. A kudu had come up from the river, through some bushes on the edge of the campsite and literally walked into the lions right next to their tent!

The lion had killed the kudu and spend the rest of the night right next to these peoples small tent. In the morning it dragged what remained of the kudu away into the bush as people woke up. It took us some time to convince the couple in the tent that it was now safe to get up. When they came out of their tent they gathered it up, without packing anything - still with the sleeping bags and their personals inside, pushed it into their car, and left.

I seriously hope that they overcame that shock to return to Africa, but it was certainly an amzing experience for us, and a bit of a reminder to be a bit careful in the African Bush!!