The one that got away
The distance the motorboat can go is limited by time and accessibility as some channels between open stretches of water are blocked with vegetation. This morning we asked if we could see how far we could go. There were only the two of us in camp so getting back for lunch was not a problem. We suggested that they just stand down the kitchen staff and throw a few sandwiches at us to take for lunch. When we got to the boat the cool box was on board but no food was apparent. We were not concerned as we knew that the last thing that is ever going to happen on one of these safaris is for one to starve to death. As Joyce had missed out on the walk the day before we had asked if she could come with us which was agreed. We set off along the usual channels and wide areas of water then into narrower channels where they don’t normally go. In fact Master is the only guide in this camp that knows these channels. It would be very easy to get lost as they branch out all over the place.
We eventually came to a dead end, there was no way we could get the boat through, the channel was completely blocked. Wrong! I wondered why we were carrying a machete. They hacked their way through foot by foot. As we progressed the branches that had been cut fell back behind us. The propeller kept getting jammed up with vegetation. The outboard motor had to be lifted out of the water every boat length to clear it. If we had lost the machete overboard or the engine had broken or even more likely the shear pin had broken (no spare) we would have been completely stuck. We asked if they had ever done this before. Master said he had. We asked, ‘with clients?’ He replied, ‘you must be joking, but we knew you guys would be game for it’. Was this a compliment, an indication of their assessment of our sanity or were they just trying to get rid of us?
‘Oh my God, Oh my God’
So, there we were in the middle of this channel, engine out of the water being unravelled, no way forward, no way back and what should come around the corner? And we were in his channel. Correct, 2 tonnes of angry hippo with half metre gnashers. ‘This is another fine mess you have got us into’, I said to Master. He seemed cool. The tracker was standing on the bow of the boat, we were in the middle trying to remain cool, Joyce was cowering in the stern muttering, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God’. And we didn’t have a gun. ‘It’s okay’ said Master, ‘there is another small channel just ahead, he may turn down there instead of confronting us’. In times of life or death we didn’t like the word ‘may’! The only word I could think of was ‘Mayday’ which was not much use to us. God had listened to Joyce, he branched off. Eventually we broke out into open water, rivers, lagoons, islands, trees, it was wonderful. We did some fishing, enough said about that. Master did however catch two fair sized fish. We broke open the cool box and enjoyed just drifting with the current. That was the limit of our exploring for the day and we were getting out of radio contact so we prepared to return. ‘Which way do we go back’, I asked? ‘The same way’ replied Master. ‘THE SAME WAY?’ we all shouted. ‘Oh my God’, said Joyce. So we did. Same procedure, a boat length at a time. Only this time we didn’t have to use the machete too much, it was just a case of un-jamming the propeller and at times poling the boat through. Fortunately our hippo had gone.
An African hippo pod
We were into open water again and whizzing along on wide-open water. We were going to stop on an island for lunch but we still hadn’t seen any evidence of our sarnies on board. We whistled around a corner a kilometre or so away from the boat station and the camp’s other boat was pulled up on the shore of an island with an oil lamp standing on the beach. We pulled ashore and tracked the homo sapiens by following the size ten boot prints in the sand.
A Botswana BBQ
Under a palm tree around the corner lunch had been prepared. A table had been set up for us complete with cloth, cutlery and wine glasses. Another table was set up as a hand-washing centre. Of course a table was there groaning with a full bar and cool boxes full of beer and cider. The outside catering manager was there, a chef, a waitress (Masego), a barman and the boat driver. They had set up a full buffet for us and a gas fired skillet ready for the fish, It was a good job they hadn’t relied on me for the fish course.
A Botswan fresh fish lunch
This was yet another great surprise and this time just for the two of us. The other great thing was that the staff really enjoyed themselves as well.
We did a ‘bar safari’ that evening and a little vervet monkey came to join us. Vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethios) are much smaller than their relatives, the baboon. They weigh only 6 kg and are about a metre in length, over half of which is the tail. Troops can contain up to 20. They are very agile and pick fruit and berries and can even catch insects in flight. The young are very reliant on their mothers in their early months and can be seen hanging by her fur underneath her belly or riding on her back.