Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thank You China

I'd like to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to the People's Republic of China. Why? Because they have constructed a really good road from Nairobi to Samburu National Reserve in central northern Kenya.
It used to be a miserable seven or eight hour trip of dust and potholes which was only made worse while the new road was being built. However, now that it is complete you can scoot from Nairobi to your lodge in Samburu in about five hours if you don't stop too long at the craft shops at Nanyuki. This is great news for me because as I've mentioned previously, Samburu is one of my favourite wildlife reserves. It's classified as a tropical desert and has a wide variety of unusual flora and fauna. There are Doum palms - the only palms with split trunks. Very picturesque when seen against the high orange rocky mountains at sunrise with a couple of reticulated giraffes striding by.

It's a hot and dusty place, but there are many comfortable lodges in which to rest your bones. The Sopa Samburu is a lovely mid range lodge. the staff are fantastic. The head waiter knew my first name before I had introduced myself and Fred - the manager made a point of introducing himself to each guest. Everyone is so friendly and helpful. and don't get me started on the food - delicious doesn't begin to describe it. Try the crepes with maple syrup for breakfast, but all meals have a bewildering variety, and of course one has to try everything. The dining room overlooks a waterhole where animals can been seen day and night. Security staff escort the guests to their rooms after dinner to make sure they arrive safely - uneaten by lions. In short, it is a very well run establishment and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

You won't see the "Big Five" at Samburu. There are no rhinos, but the other four are present - elephants, lions, buffalo, and leopards and on my most recent visit I saw more cheetah's than you could poke a stick at. Hop out of bed at night to trot to the toilet and you're likely to trip over a cheetah. Well, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but there were a lot of these elegant cats strolling around the reserve. There are no hippos either. This is because there are no permanent waterways. This can be hard to believe at times when the Uaso Nyiro River is flowing. It can be a hundred metres wide at certain points and it's difficult to imagine it ever running dry. There are some very large crocodiles though so I'd advise against swimming and paddling.

As a marvelous bonus on our last morning in Samburu we came across four African wild dogs. I never expected to see them, these wonderful animals are so rare these days. Only about three thousand in the whole of Africa. These four were running up and down the far side of the river, excitedly eyeing a small herd of impala on our side. The impala were snorting their alarm call and stamping their feet. Fortunately for them the river was too wide and fast flowing for the dogs to cross, instead they melted back into the sparse vegetation to look for an easier meal. The impala relaxed and returned to their grazing.

Not everyone visiting Kenya goes to Samburu because it's quite a long way north of Nairobi and most of the popular National Reserves are to the south, but it is well worth the effort and with the new road courtesy of the People's Republic of China it's now a lot less effort than it used to be.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

East End Animals

Years ago it was possible to say that one could see more “animals” at a West Ham home game than on a safari in the Masai Mara. That was back in the seventies, eighties and nineties. The rougher element of West Ham United Football Club’s so called supporters had a fearsome reputation as trouble makers and punch-up merchants. These days however, it must be said that a much more pleasant atmosphere prevails at their home ground in London’s East End.

I’ve been a West Ham United fan since 1966 when the club’s three star players Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst formed the backbone of England’s one and only triumphant World Cup side. That glory has faded somewhat nowadays and West Ham languish in the second tier Championship, having been relegated from the Premier League last year. Nevertheless, they remain a well supported club and last Saturday my wife and joined almost thirty thousand other fans at the Boleyn Ground in the Cockney heartland suburb of Upton Park. There were many more families, mums, dads and kids and far fewer police around than I’ve ever seen at the ground before. In fact it was only after the game had finished that we saw any coppers at all. There were two watching the good natured crowd leaving stadium and perhaps a dozen monitoring the queues to get into the tube station.

All in all it was a terrific day out with a fantastic atmosphere inside the ground, and I can thoroughly recommend a visit to any England Premier League or Championship football match. West Ham did not play well on the day as it happened, but they still won so I was happy. My wife was happy too thanks to a visit to her favourite markets – Queens Market in Green Street . It’s a big undercover conglomeration of south Asian, West Indian and British stalls where one can buy anything from saris to sugar cane and pork pies to plantains. It’s a great place to kill half an hour or so before a game. Green Street itself in fascinating. Take a stroll west from Upton Park station and you are immediately transported to Karachi or Mumbai. The further west you walk the fewer white faces you see and the shops and restaurants reflect the ethnic majority. However, walk east from the station towards the football stadium and white faces prevail, it becomes more like any other British street. It’s amazing, the transformation is so abrupt that it leaves you slightly disorientated.

The day after the game we flew to Prague. We’d both wanted to see this reputedly beautiful city for years, so we pounced on a three day window of opportunity when it appeared. We were not disappointed in the least. Our hotel was the Hotel Clement in a quiet street only a few minutes walk from the heart of the Old City. And what an Old City it is. Some of the architecture is stunning and there are numerous atmospheric squares in which to wander or to sit quietly with a cold beer and simply partake in a little people watching. There are churches and spires everywhere you look. There’s a magnificent fourteenth century bridge upon which to stroll across the Vitava River and a stunning castle and palace to explore on a hill on the other side. The food is tasty and the helpings large, though not particularly cheap. The beer is good and so is the wine.

I think it as at night that Prague really comes into its own. Many of the old buildings are spectaculary lit, especially the Church of Our Lady before Tyn which towers above the huge Staromestska Square and lends the entire medieval scene a definite fairy tale air. Please, do yourself a huge favour and visit Prague at the first opportunity. It really has to be on of Europe’s most beautiful and friendly cities.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dubai Stopover

Dubai is a very popular stopover on the way to East Africa and many other places for that matter, so for those of you who haven't sampled the delights of this Emirate yet I will give you the benefit of my recent experience there; but remember, this is a personal impression. Try it for yourself one day and see if you agree.

I'd booked my accommodation through Emirates - the airline. Their land operator is Arabian Adventures and I found them to be super efficient. Passengers are met in the arrivals hall - before passing through immigration. Those passengers who require a visa (Aussies don't.) are assisted through the procedure. We were directed to the Arabian Adventures desk where we were handed our itinerary and an information pack and then given directions on how to find our transfer vehicle. It was all very impressive. What a shame the immigration department is not equally efficient. It seems to be the way of things these days. Australia's isn't much better and New Zealand's is worse still. No matter how many passengers are lined up waiting to be processed they only ever seem to have four immigration officials rostered on to deal with them. These officials are dressed in dazzling white robes that appear to have been bleached to within an inch of their lives. Each of their movements (and they are few and far between) are slow and deliberate. It seems to take an age for them to lift their rubber stamp and bring it down on your passport. It all happens in super slo-mo.

Never mind. Once we were through immigration the efficiency returned. On the other side of the customs hall we made our way to the Arabian Adventures office and from there we were led out to a brand new Audi for the transfer to our hotel. Within half an hour we were in a room twenty three stories above Dubai at the Pullman Hotel Mall of the Emirates with fine views over the dusty streets towards the spectacular Burj al Arab Hotel from who's helicopter landing pad on the roof Tiger Woods once whacked a ball into the Arabian Gulf. That was before his marriage fell apart along with his game. These days he'd probably miss.

We had a city tour the morning after we arrived. Once again the super efficient Arabian Adventures picked us up bang on time. The first half of the tour was mildly interesting. We were driven along the road that runs close the the beach, though we could rarely see it. There were many large houses and mansions and lots of smart cars. Dubai is a new city, so don't expect to see many old buildings. Before the 1960's it was a tiny fishing village. Then they discovered oil and ker-pow! The place exploded. One of the few old building is the fort which is now a very interesting museum. You'll enjoy that. It's very well done. We were ferried across Dubai Creek to the Gold and Spice souks. Don't expect anything like Fez or Marrakech. Both souks are relatively small and relatively uninteresting. The gold on sale there was the really bright yellow stuff and the jewellery that it had been made into was gaudy and tasteless. The kind of thing you might expect to find draped over the mistress of a Russian mafia boss.

The following afternoon a went on the Sundowner Dune Dinner Safari. This was fun. It's operated by Arabian Adventures. We were driven out to what they call the "Empty Quarter". except once we arrive it certainly wasn't empty. There were about thirty 4WD vehicles all containing up to six passengers. The expert drivers zoom up and down the desert dunes in what is quite a thrilling ride, but perhaps not one for anyone suffering from motion sickness. Finally the passengers are disgourged into a permanent camp amid some tall and very beautiful dunes. Here we were treated to a camel ride, a very good dinner and a particularly energetic belly dance show before being ferried back to our hotels. It was definitely worth doing.

One of the most interesting sights we encountered in Dubai was in the Mall of the Emirates. There amongst the designer goods shops was a four hundred metre ski slope with real snow. Yes, that's right. It was 42 degrees centigrade outside and -2 degrees on the slopes where women in black padded ski burqas were swishing down the slope at a rate of knots and Japanese tourists kitted out in indentical, specially hired snow gear were taking photos of everything and anything. Off the ski slope was a Swiss resturant called Cafe St Moritz. It served halal fondue and had an artificial log fire blazing away in the hearth. I couldn't help thinking that it summed Dubai up nicely. Artificial.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Serengeti

Flying into one of the dirt landing strips in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park is unforgettable, especially when the great wildebeest migration is there. As the aircraft banks around on it's final descent you can see great long strings of black shapes meandering towards the distant grey rainclouds and the promise of fresh green pasture. These herds, often in single file stretch for miles across the landscape, separating, joining up and then fanning out again like a river delta. There are forested areas, water holes, rounded hills and rocky kopjes amid the great grass plain. In the distance you'll most likely see the high mountains surrounding the famed Ngorongoro Crater. Clouds often cling to the peaks, lending it a mysterious, lost world appearance.



As the plane sinks towards the ground the pilot keeps a sharp lookout for vultures and you peer through the wind shield to try and pick out the runway. It's there. As the aircraft makes one final turn you see it. A tan gravel scar cut in the grass, the same colour as a lion. It seems so short, but the pilot knows what he's doing after a thousand bush strip landings and there's just a slight bump as you touch down you pull up in plenty of time before taxiing back to where your lodges transfer vehicle is waiting for you. Meanwhile in the trees nearby half a dozen giraffes are delicately nibbling at the upper branches and close to where the vehicle are parked there's a family of spotted hyenas lounging around outside their den. They take little notice as you disembark the plane and stride towards your vehicle with a cool breeze tugging at your hair. The air is thin and crisp, you're over five thousand feet above sea level. The empty sky is a milky blue and you've just been deposited on a vast plain filled with wild animals. Every moment here is special.


Flying out of the Serengeti is just as unforgettable. In a few days you've become familiar with the landmarks and the animals who inhabit this special place. Your lodge transfer vehicle does a quick sweep up the runway to make sure that it is clear of wildlife. There's a large male warthog at one end, he erects his tail and trots off into the trees. The only other animals around are the hyena family, still lolling in the dust outside their den. You wait with your driver, then you hear the drone of a distant aircraft. It's yours - a small, dark spot in the distance. It grows in size until it is recognisable. At last it touches down in a cloud of dust, thrown up by the wheels and it trundles over to where you wait. Ten minutes later you're rocketing down the airstrip, praying that an elephant doesn't decide to charge out of the trees. Then you're free of the earth again, above the Serengeti, and still the rivers of wildebeests are flowing slowly towards the distant rain.

     

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Join Me In Kenya & Tanzania In 2012

I've had a great deal of interest in a small group tour of Kenya & Tanzania that I've been working on. The group will consist of only 8 people including myself and my stunning (So she tells me.) wife Jacky.
We will be travelling in our own 4WD vehicle and our own driver/guide. In Kenya we'll be staying in 4 star lodges and hotels. Whilst we're in Northern Tanzania we will also have our own 4WD vehicle and driver/guide.

Here we will be camping in private camp sites in large walk-in ensuite tents which will be set up prior to our arrival by a crew of support staff who will be driving ahead of us in another vehicle carrying the equipment.
Each tent will contain either a double bed or two single beds complete with linen. No sleeping bags and uncomfortable thin foam mattresses on the floor for us thank you very much. All the cooking is done by the camp staff - and you'll be amazed at the quality of food.


In Southern Tanzania we will be staying in 4 star hotels and two of Fox's Safari's most stunning wilderness lodges. These lodges are beautifully located, supremely comfortable, and once again the food is excellent.
At Fox's Safari Lodges we will be treated to two game drives per day. In Kenya we will also be having two game drives per day and the same applies to Northern Tanzania. So as you can see, we'll have plenty of time to get up close and personal with East Africa's amazing wildlife. Both Kenya and Tanzania are scenically stunning too. You are going to love this trip of a lifetime.




So here's the final itinerary.

19 September 2012
Met on arrival and transferred to Southern Sun Mayfair Hotel, Nairobi for 2 nights accommodation.

20 September 2012
At 10am after breakfast we will have a day tour visiting Daphne Sheldrick's Elephant Orphanage, The Giraffe Centre, The Karen Blixen Museum including lunch at Carnivore Restaurant.

21 September 2012
After breakfast we depart for Amboseli National Park for 2 nights at the Amboseli Sopa Lodge. Lunch here and then an afternoon game drive.

22 September 2012
Morning and afternoon game drives in Amboseli National Park. Wonderful views of Mount Kilimanjaro. (Weather permitting.)

23 September 2012
After breakfast we drive to central Kenya and stay one night at the Serena Mountain Lodge in the shadow of spectacular Mount Kenya. Here we'll have the afternoon at leisure to view the wildlife as it comes to the waterhole in front of the lodge.


24 September 2012
Today we drive on to Samburu National Reserve for 2 nights at Samburu Sopa Lodge. This scenic reserve has four of the big five (No rhinos.) and some species that are found in very few other places. Gerenuk, grevy's zebra and vulturine guinea fowl to name three. We'll arrive in time for lunch and an afternoon game drive.

25 September 2012
Morning and afternoon game drives in the reserve.

26 September 2012
After breakfast we drive to Lake Nakuru National Park. After lunch we have an afternoon game drive. Here there are many animals in a small, very scenic area. Great game viewing. We overnight at Lake Nakuru Lodge.

27 September 2012
Today we depart for the famous Masai Mara Game Reserve with lunch being served en-route. We arrive in the early evening and will stay for 2 nights at Mara Ashnil Lodge. (See link below.)
http://www.ashnilhotels.com/masaimara/index.asp

28 September
Morning and afternoon game viewing. We will be seeking the vast herds of wildebeest and zebra that are present in the reserve at this time of year. An awesome and moving spectacle.

29 September
Transfer to the airstrip after breakfast. Today we fly to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania via Wilson Airport in Nairobi. We arrive early in the afternoon and will be transferred to the town of Arusha. (About an hour.) We'll spend the night in the very comfortable Arusha Hotel.

30 September
Nice relaxed morning, and then after lunch we drive to Lake Manyara and enjoy a short game drive in Tarangire National Park. We camp at a private campsite at Lake Manyara.

01 October
After breakfast we have a game drive in lake Manyara National Park where we will seek the famous tree climbing lions. other inhabitants include hippos, monkeys, flamingos and a wide variety of other birds and mammals.



02 October
Today we drive to the Serengeti, eating lunch en-route. This is one big game drive. We camp once again in a private campsite.

03 October/04 Oc tober
Two full days of the most amazing game viewing on the planet in spectacular surrounds. Both nights are spent in a private campsite. The Serengeti is a real highlight.

05 October
Drive to Ngorongoro Conservation Area via Olduvai Gorge - the sight of some of the earliest discoveries of the remains of man's ancestors. This is a truly fascinating experience. We the continue to the Conservation Area for dinner. Again we camp in a private campsite. This time near the rim of Ngorongoro Crater.


06 October
We descend 2000 feet to the crater floor for a half day tour. We'll explore the forests and lakes and search the open savanna area for predators. You will love the crater. we'll have a picnic lunch within the crater itself before returning to our private campsite for the night.

07 October
Today we return to Arusha where will will have lunch at the Impala hotel before being transferred to Kilimanjaro airport for our flight to Dar Es Salaam. In Dar Es Salaam we will be transferred to The Southern Sun Hotel for one night's accommodation.

08 October
Today you can choose to partake of your own further travel arrangements, you may fly back to your home city or you can join those of us who have chosen to explore Southern Tanzania. Those guests who choose to accompany me will be transferred to Dar Es Salaam airport. From here we will fly by light aircraft to Ruaha National Park. This is a scenic wilderness wonderland of wildlife experiences. We will stay for 4 nights at the amazing River Lodge. This will be our base while we explore the National Park with morning and afternoon games drives. Relax during your down time in front of your own personal hippo pool.
This is a special place indeed. Check out this link. http://www.tanzaniasafaris.info/Ruaha/accomodationbanda.htm

12 October
Transfer to the airstrip for the short flight to Selous Game Reserve for the last three nights of our trip together. I'll let this link speak for itself. http://www.rufijirivercamp.com/

15 October
Transfer to the airstrip for the flight back to Dar Es Salaam. Once again, everyone can either extend their trip or fly home from here. It's all over. Wow! What a fabulous experience.


Now then. What does all this cost?
If you invest in the entire trip - that's all 26 nights the cost is $10,680 per person twin share.
Or, you can partake in the first 18 nights only for $6840 per person twin share. In which case your final arrangement would be the transfer to Kilimanjaro airport on 07 October.

Almost all meals are included in the above price. 18 or 26 nights accommodation, all required transfers and internal flights. Professional guides are with us the whole except when we're flying obviously, and I will be there to iron out any wrinkles. (No, that doesn't mean I'm going to do your ironing for you.)

Not included are international flights from Australia, travel insurance and visas. Kenya visas are best obtained on arrival, but Tanzania visas must be obtained before departure from Australia. There are a few ways to get to East Africa. Fares for 2012 are not available yet, but I don't expect them to be much different from this year. I recommend Emirates as the best way to go. This September their economy class return fare to Nairobi/Dar Es Salaam is $2589. The other other alternatives such as Qantas/South African Airlines via Johannesburg or a combination of Thai Airways and Kenya Airlines through Bangkok.

Malaria tablets should be considered. Speak to your GP about that. Yellow Fever inoculations are compulsory, as is travel insurance.

To make further enquiries or to book please call Ucango Travel on 1300 822 646. Or, better still call me - Peter Emery direct on 0449 689 447. Remember. There are only 6 spots available.

To sum up, this is the chance of a lifetime to visit these famous wilderness areas and to do so in comfort.
It is a must for lovers of wildlife and wild vistas.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Safari Side Trip

Oh Boy! I'm so excited I have to walk around with my legs crossed. Not easy, you try it. Why are you so excited Peter? I hear you ask. Well, in October Jacky and I are taking a little side trip from Dubai to Kenya on the way home from Britain. It's easy enough to do, and not outrageously expensive. Less than AU$700 return per person. So, if you're on the way to Europe, or on the way back from Europe with Emirates, why not zip across to Nairobi instead of staying in Dubai. There are lots of wonderful adventures to be had there. Even if you only have 5 days to spare you can reach the Masai Mara in half a day's drive or an hour's flight. Plenty of time for a really good safari, and there are so many options, from budget camping to the most amazing five star lodges you can possible imagine. Of course you'll be going there for the wildlife. Time it right and you'll see the massed herds of wildebeest and zebras that migrate there every year from the Serengeti. If you're really super duper fortunate you might even get to see them as they cross the Mara River. I warn you though, this is not for the faint hearted.

If you only have a couple of days to spare you could instead visit Lake Nakuru which is even closer to Nairobi. I love Lake Nakuru. It has loads of wildlife crammed into quite a small area. You can't help but see some of the best fauna that Kenya has to offer. It's very scenic too, steep sided hills rolling down to a soda lake more often than not teeming with flamingos and pelicans. Here too there is a wide variety of accommodation. It is very easy to combine the two, both the Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru. If you have five nights, spend three in the Mara and two at the Lake.

Jacky and I will be heading north to Samburu National Reserve. This is probably my favourite reserve in Kenya. It's scenically stunning, has four of the "Big Five" (Rhino's are absent due to poaching unfortunately.), and also has some unusual species of animal that are seen in very few other places. The gerenuk, the grevy's zebra and the vulturine guinea fowl to name three. But, what's making me even more excited is that we are having a private safari. Just the two of us and our driver guide. This means that we don't have to stick to a set itinerary and if we want to stick around to watch animals in a certain situation we can do so without upsetting other passengers who might get bored, or want to do something else. We're looking forward to five wonderful days of animal and bird observation - pure bliss. We'll be staying at the Sopa Serena Lodge - a good quality three star lodge with thirty rooms.

The only down side of a visit to Samburu is that it can take six hours to drive there on somewhat indifferent roads. It's a scenic drive however as the road threads between Mount Kenya and the Aberdare Mountains and there's always plenty of other things to see besides. If you don't like the sound of six hours on dodgy roads you can always fly or stop half way in one or both directions. I can thoroughly recommend a night at Sweetwaters Tented Camp near the town of Nanyuki or perhaps The Serena Mountain Lodge which is tucked under Mount Kenya itself. We'll be staying at The Serena on the way back to Nairobi where there's always the chance of interesting wildlife sightings at the waterhole. We can do all this and still be back in Nairobi in time to catch our Emirates flight back to Dubai without having to spend another night there. It's brilliant.

So next time you decide to fly to Europe with Emirates, consider a side trip to Kenya instead of spending so much time in Dubai flitting from one air-conditioned building to another to avoid the 45 degree heat, or in my case avoiding the shopping malls. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Life Changing Experience

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog called "The Wildlife Adventure of a Lifetime". Since then I've had a lot of interest in the East African part of the trip, and very little in the Southern Africa part. I'm here to please, so here is what I suggest.

My gorgeous wife Jacky and I will accompany six guests on the following itinerary. We will fly from Australia with Emirates via Dubai to Nairobi in October 2012. We'll spend two nights here and visit the wonderful Giraffe Centre and the Karen Blixen Museum. Lunch at the famous Carnivore restaurant is also on the cards. Then we'll hit the road in our own comfortable 4WD vehicle with our own professional driver/guide for some serious game viewing. We'll visit Samburu National Reserve, The Ark in the Aberdare mountains, Lake Nakuru, The Masai Mara to witness the great herds of the migration and Amboseli in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. For this part of the adventure we will stay in comfortable 4 star lodges.

Then it's back to Nairobi for a flight to Arusha/Kilimanjaro. We'll spend one night at the Arusha Hotel before departing on our luxury ensuite camping adventure, again in our own 4WD vehicle and again with our own professional driver guide. He'll take us to Lake Manyara to see the famous tree climbing lions, the stunning Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge - The Cradle of Mankind and the unique Serengeti. On this part of the journey we will be followed by a service vehicle and staff who will set up camp in private camp sites and who will cook our meals for us. Each tent has either a proper double bed a single bed or two singles. There is also an ensuite shower and toilet.

Finally we'll fly from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam where we will spend one night before setting off on an incredible 6 night adventure with Foxes Safaris. Firstly we fly by light aircraft to remote Katavi National Park. After two nights there it's onto Ruaha National Park and then finally 2 nights at Selous - a very special wildlife wonderland. Southern Tanzania is less developed and wilder than the north. There are fewer tourists and Foxes Safari Lodges are superbly located, have excellent guides and great food. You'll love every moment. After Selous it's back to Dar Es Salaam and the end of the trip - unless of course you'd like to extend for a few days to unwind on the white beaches of Zanzibar.

If you find this blog interesting and want to learn more please call Ucango Travel on 1300 822 646 and ask for me - Peter Emery, or simply email me direct at peter.emery@ucango.com.au This is a unique opportunity and a life changing experience.  Join me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Books For When You Book.

This week I thought I'd point you all in the direction of some interesting books to read on the subject of Africa and African wildlife. Obviously if you looking for an adventure novel almost anything by Wilbur Smith will do, although some of his later works are a little tedious, but they're still good for squashing cockroaches with. If your looking for a good animal book to take with you on your Safari try to get hold of a copy of "Signs of the Wild" by Clive Walker (Published by Struik.) It's a conveniently sized book containing some excellent information on animals of southern Africa. It has good photos and brief descriptions of behaviour. However, the best thing about it is the clear depictions of animal tracks and even photos of their droppings. It really does enhance your safari experience. If you can't get a copy before you go, you may be able to buy one at Johannesburg airport when you arrive. That's where I got mine. By the way the book also provides the names of animals in local tribal languages - handy if you want to know what your guide is talking about on his radio.

For more detailed information on animal behaviour grab a copy of "The Safari Companion" by Richard D Estes. (Published by Chelsea Green Publishing Company.) It's a real text book and contains very comprehensive information on animal behaviour. If you are a serious animal watcher I can thoroughly recommend it. However, if you're just going to Africa for a standard holiday or honeymoon you can probably live without it. It's fairly big and heavy too.

For bird watching grab yourself a copy of "Birds of Africa South of the Sahara" by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan. (Published by Struik). It contains good, clear illustrations and distribution maps and the bird your looking at is easy to find in the index of common names. Again, the only disadvantage is that is is quite large and heavy. A good small bird book is "Pocket-Guide to Southern African Birds" by Burger Cillie and Ulrich Oberprieler. (Published by Sunbird Publishing.) It has clear photos and again the birds are easy to find in a hurry.

Now here are a few good books to read before you go to Africa. "The Leopard's Tale' by naturalist and presenter of TV's Big Cat Dairy - Jonathon Scott (Published by Elm Tree Books.) "Cry of the Kalahari" by Mark & Delia Owens (Published by Collins) It's a beautifully written and very readable account of a pair of researchers' experiences while studying the wildlife of the Kalahari Desert. "Sand Rivers" by Peter Matthiessen. (Published by Bantam Books.) This concerns a fascinating expedition into the Selous National Reserve in Southern Tanzania before it really opened up to international visitors.

One of my all time favourites is "The Wilderness Family" by Kobie Kruger. (Published by Bantam Books.) It's a memoir of a family's life in the bush. Be warned though, it's a real tear jerker. For history buffs there's "The White Nile" by Alan Moorhead. (Published by Penguin.) If you like historical novels theres "The Covenant" by James Michener. This is a sweeping epic covering the history of South Africa. It's a good read and can be used to hold open heavy doors when you've finished with it. Sorry can't remember who the publisher is.

Some of my other favourites are......
The Trouble with Africa - Vic Guhrs
Facing the Congo - Jeffrey Taylor
Bonobo Handshake - Vanessa Woods
Journey Without Maps - Graham Greene
Jock of the Bushveld - Sir Percy Fitzpatrick
I Dreamed of Africa - Kuki Gallmann. (Have the tissues at hand for this one too.)

Finally I'd like to recommend "The No1 Ladies Detective Agency" series of books by Alexander McCall Smith. I think there are twelve books so far. They are gentle, humouous novels about Botswana's only lady private detective. They are a delight. You might not learn much about African wildlife from them but they're a lovely, light, undemanding read. Happy reading everyone.        

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Clash of Spiral Horns

One of my favourite things in the whole wide world is to grab a couple of beers from the bar of whatever game lodge I'm staying in and take them, along with my camera, binoculars and bird book to the hide over looking the waterhole. Not all lodges have these, but if yours does, go there one afternoon while everyone else is sleeping off their lunch. Sit quietly and patiently for an hour or two and you never know what you'll see.  Idube Lodge in the Sabi Sands area of South Africa near Kruger National Park has a great hide (Or "blind" as they tend to call them in South Africa.) It was here that I saw two magnificent kudu bulls sparring.

For twenty minutes the bush echoed with the clash of their great spiral horns as they butted and fenced, seeking to impose their superiority. Finally, with neither animal gaining the upper hand they decided to call it a draw and have a drink at the waterhole. Just to their left a family of warthogs were kneeling and grazing on the new green grass shoots not far from the water's edge. It was a hot, still afternoon and I could hear them pulling at the grass. The only other sound was the incessant rhythmic hum of the cicadas and the equally rhythmic call of the yellow-billed hornbills from somewhere in the trees beyond the waterhole. It was a better and cheaper way to relax than having a massage.

My wife and I were at the bar one day at Idube lodge, (Have you noticed how much time we seem to spend in the lodge bars?) one evening. Our guide was with us regaling us with tales of daring-do with lions and elephants, when one of the gardeners ran up in a lather of panic. "Pardon me sir." He said in broken English  looking at my wife. Then he turned to our guide. "Dere is a warthog inside the pool." We followed the guide and the gardener across the lawn to the swimming pool, and sure enough swimming round and round, it's eyes building in absolute terror was a huge old boar warthog with very impressive warts and even more impressive tusks.

He was searching for a way out. One end of the pool sloped gradually to cope with just such events but standing at the shallow end, blocking the animals escape route was one of the other guests. An Aussie teenager of about fourteen. He was frantically pushing his fringe out of his eyes to get a better look at the action. We immediately saw that he'd get a better view than he bargained for if the warthog decided that it was better to run straight through him rather than drown. I dread to think of the mess those tusks would have made of the kid. With remarkable restraint our guide quietly told the boy that if he didn't want to be gored and bleed to death he might like to join us at the deep on of the pool. This he did with a grudging shrug. Immediately the warthog saw his chance and dashed up the slope, out of the water, his trotters skidding in all direction on the concrete and his tail bolt upright as he disappeared into the scrub.

Another lodge with a great hide is Mashatu Tented Camp. Mashatu is a wonderful private game reserve in Botswana, just across the Limpopo River which forms South Africa's northern border. I've mentioned Mashatu before in this blog. http://ucangoonsafari.blogspot.com/2010/05/leopards-galore.html
Mashatu Main Camp also has an excellent waterhole. It has no hide though. The lodge restaurant overlooks the waterhole, but even the low murmur of the voices of people enjoying their meal doesn't seem to put many of the animals off, and there are always birds and turtles to watch, not to mention a medium sized crocodile.

Whatever lodge you happen to be staying at, take some quiet time to yourself. Even if there is no hide. Just sit on your deck or veranda and observe. There's always something to see if you sit still and silent. Besides, it's good for the soul.

  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Wildlife Adventure of a Lifetime

In this week's Africa blog I am simply asking for expressions of interest in what will be the ultimate African wildlife and cultural experience. Join my wife Jacky and I in October 2012 as we, along with professional guides show you why we love the continent of Africa so much.

We'll visit stunning and historic Cape Town and the surrounding wineries and treat ourselves to some of the very best food and wine the world has to offer. We'll visit historic Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and journey to the Cape of Good Hope, amongst so many other wonderful attractions.

We'll marvel at the incredible Victoria Falls. We'll walk with lions and ride elephants through the African bush. We'll fly over the falls in a helicopter for some breathtaking photographs and we'll sip excellent wine as we cruise along the mighty Zambezi River at sunset, watching hippos yawn and elephants bathing in the shallows.

Next its off to the Okavango Delta. One of the world's greatest wildlife hotspots and truly one of the natural wonders of the world. We'll spend three nights here in a comfortable lodge before moving north to Tanzania. Here we'll spend time at Lake Manyara to see the tree climbing lions, Ngorogoro Crater and the highlight of the trip - The Serengeti. Accommodation for this part of trip will be in luxury ensuite tents.

For those who want to extend their trip there will be add-ons available for Kenya, gorilla trekking in Rwanda or Uganda or soaking up the history and the sun at Zanzibar. The basic trip will be approximately eighteen nights. Apart from Jacky and I there will be only six places available. The itinerary is entirely negotiable. If I find people would rather spend more time in one place than the other then that is what we'll do. You tell me.
Obviously the cost is yet to be finalised, but once we have settled on a final itinerary you can be assured that I will be seeking out the best possible value for money.

One thing is certain, with such a small, exclusive group you are guaranteed personal service and the adventure of a lifetime. So call me personally on 0449 689 447 or Ucango Travel on 1300 822 646 and ask to speak to me - Peter Emery. Or just drop me an email at peter.emery@ucango.com.au      

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cat Food

It's the day after the elephant stampede in Hwange National Park.  http://ucangoonsafari.blogspot.com/2011/06/stampede.html
My wife Jacky and I are at a small tented camp in the bush, not far from the park gates. One of the rangers - Elliott, a tall ebony skinned Zimbabwean who wears John Lennon spectacles which lend him a distinctly scholarly air, asks us and two other guests - Bill and Janet if we'd like to go for a walk. We all readily agree and he collects a heavy bore rifle and some ammo from the office before leading us out of the camp. It's late in the afternoon of a perfectly clear late September day - towards the end of the dry season. The sun is low and swollen and the air is beginning to cool rapidly. There's the spicy scent of dust and the crunch of dessicated, butterfly shaped mopane leaves underfoot.

We walk away from the camp in single file, trying to keep as quiet as possible. Bill brings up the rear and is somewhat clumsy by nature. Now and again we hear a crash as he drops a piece of equipment, his camera or his binoculars followed by a soft curse. Picking our way down the slope towards the dry river bed we come across a disused termite mound that has been taken over by a colony of dwarf mongooses. The feisty little brown animals, not much more than thirty centimetres long scamper about and then suddenly sit upright to glare at us and issue there sharp, high-pitched alarm calls. They're angry at having their preparations for the night disturbed by our unwelcome presence.

We continue down to the dry river bed and walk along for a while. It's darker here, shaded by the high banks that rise uo to five metres on either side, colder too as the sun sinks lower. The soft sand of the river bed pulls at our feet and makes the going slow and we follow the river as it winds to and fro through the dry scrub. Then, at the apex of a bend Elliott stops so suddenly that the rest of us almost crash into his back. He holds out one arm by his side, but keeps his eyes fixed ahead. His rifle is still slung on his shoulder. We look up to follow his line of vision. Not ten metres away and perhaps three metres above us are three lionesses, silhouetted against the twilit sky. We shouldn't be out this late. Predators are in hunting mode. The big cats are standing there peering down at us but showing no sign of aggression, just curiosity. At Elliott's bidding we stand stock still and silent. Even Bill manages not to drop anything. Then one of the lionesses crouches and looks for all the world as though she is about to leap into the river bed with us. Elliott turns and hisses at us. "Walk slowly upstream." Bill, Janet, Jacky and I look at each other. It's a dry river bed for Christ's sake. How are we to know which way upstream is? Elliott sees our indecision and hisses again. "Back the way you came - towards the camp."

We turn and walk slowly back the way we'd come. Elliott unslings his rifle and follows us a few yards behind. Up on top of the bank the lions follow, never taking their eyes from us, not exactly stalking us but showing an unnerving amount of interest nonetheless. Quite literally, the last thing you do in this situation is run.  http://ucangoonsafari.blogspot.com/2010/05/only-food-runs.html  Elliott reiterates this but we are all only too well aware that we're cat food if we do. So we walk slowly and casually back the way we came towards the camp along the river bed, with the lions walking equally slowly and casually with us. At last we come to the place where we'd climbed down into the bed. Fortunately it's on the opposite bank to where the lions are. They stop and watch us walk away and make no attempt at further pursuit.

Back at the camp Elliott joins us at the bar for a stiff drink and pronounces that he had been worried that if he'd had to fire even a warning shot he would have been severely reprimanded. If he'd had to shoot one of the lions he could possibly have faced the sack, and if the lions had eaten us he would certainly lose his job, and if he lost his job he would also lose his wife. We tipped him well when we left.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stampede!

A few years ago my wife and I were staying at a small tented safari camp just outside of the famous Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. The camp was situated high on a cliff overlooking a dry river bed, where a small water hole was floodlit at night so that guests could sit in comfy chairs at the cliff edge with a glass of Amarula Cream and watch the nocturnal comings and goings below. It was late afternoon when we arrived and having had a quick snack we were whisked out on a game drive into the National Park itself. As the sun was setting we arrived at a large waterhole surrounded by mopane trees.

Two elephants were drinking at one end and a small herd (or dazzle) of zebra were at the other end. The scene was idyllically peaceful, with a red, swollen sun resting on top of the trees, reflecting in the rippling water. It was the perfect place and time for sunset drinks. Then as we watch, clutching our glasses of wine, more elephants started to arrive. In ones and twos to begin with, then in family groups and then in entire herds. It was an awe inspiring site. Soon there were more than three hundred elephants crowded around the waterhole. they came through the bush behind us, ignoring our vehicle as they strode purposefully towards the water. We were surrounded by pachyderms of every size, enormous bulls, matriarchs, juveniles, babies.

Then a hundred metres away a zebra coughed, startling one of the elephant calves, who ran to it's nearby mother. This startled other elephants and soon the panic had spread to the entire herd. Suddenly we were in the midst of a stampede. Across the other side of the waterhole elephants were charging off into the trees, while on our side they were rushing past our vehicle, literally brushing the sides of the open landcruiser. Trumpeting and dust filled the twilight and we held on tight, expecting a devastating collision at any moment. None came, even in their panic the ellies were careful not to run into us, even though their already poor eyesight would have been further restricted by the clouds of thick orange dust. Then they had gone. It's simply amazing how three hundred elephants can disappear- just like that. All that was left was a pall of dust, the zebras had long since fled and the water now reflected a solitary scarlet cloud painted by the dying sun, now invisible behind the mopane trees. We sat quietly in the vehicle for a while, then someone suggested another drink. Everybody thought that a splendid idea, though it was hard to keep the glasses still in our trembling hands. Finally we drove in through the darkness back to the camp, our headlights picking out glittering eyes along the roadside. Back at the camp a member of staff greeted us with. "How was the game drive? Did you see anything?"
  "Yes." I said. "One or two elephants." Then my wife and I made our way to the bar.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Erection Problems? Chew Your Fingernails.

What a complex business wildlife conservation is. I read that a rhino park has recently opened in China. At this park, which will hold several white rhinos, they will humanely harvest the horns by tranquilizing the animals and removing the horn. In this way it will grow back and the Chinese will have a sustainable supply of rhino horn to sell to those men who very misguidedly believe it will solve their erection problems.
Rhino horn is just keratin - the same as your finger nails, so if you'll pardon the expression - if you have a limp willy, chew your nails, it has the same effect as rhino horn. Now on the face of it you may think that the rhino park is a good idea, and that it will take the pressure off a wild population which is being decimated by poaching. Sadly this is not necessarily the case. I have a horrible feeling that all it will do is increase the demand for powdered rhino horn and therefore increase the poaching problem. I really hope I'm wrong.

Certain African governments have moved to have the ban on the sale of ivory lifted so that they can sell their huge stockpiles of confiscated ivory in order to gain much needed revenue. Where's the harm in that? You might ask. No elephants are being slaughtered. All they're doing is selling ivory from elephants that were poached long ago. However, once again, you run the risk of increasing demand. Unscrupulous people will take advantage of the fact that ivory is once again a legal commodity and will step up their poaching activities, and how can you tell whether the ivory you've bought is from a legal stockpile or an illegally poached animal?

Many parts of Africa - Chobe National Park in Botswana for example, have far too many elephants. The result of this is the destruction of habitat for many other species as well as for the elephants themselves. Authorities try to avoid culling, because with elephants you cannot just kill individual animals as this traumatises the entire herd and can make them wary and aggressive. Imagine someone coming into your house and shooting your brother. You'd be wary and aggressive too right? They would have to destroy the entire herd, including calves, and apart from the public outcry that this would cause, no one really wants to go down that path. So, the only option left is relocation, but again the whole herd has to go which is immensely time consuming and massively expensive.

When male elephant calves reach a certain age they are booted out of the family group which helps to prevent in-breeding within the herd. These boys often form a bachelor herd and do what most groups of young men will do - hang out together, chase girls and generally behave in an obnoxious manner. Old lone bulls that they come into contact with will act as mentors and will have a calming effect on the younger bulls. In addition the old fellows will pass on their bush wisdom, teaching the lads the proper way be behave and where to find the best grazing and water holes for example. Hunting concessions usually sell these old bulls to hunters who pay thousands of dollars to shoot an elephant. Why anyone would want to kill such a magnificent animal is beyond me, but a lot of that money is then ploughed back into conservation. Of course the problem with that is that there are then a shortage of old bulls to teach the youngsters in the bachelor herd how to behave, and so they go a bit "feral" as kids without proper adult guidance will. They then start breaking down fences, raiding crops, destroying water pipes and painting graffiti. Of course this is not tolerated by the human populace and both animals and humans are often killed in the battles that break out. This problem is not confined to Africa either, India has similar issues to deal with.

So, whatever you do, don't go thinking that African wildlife conservation is a simple issue. There are so many things to consider, and an action that may be taken for the good of one species of animal in good faith can easily backfire with unexpected disastrous consequences for another species. These things have to be thought through and researched. There is no quick fix, but as long as there are people who care about preserving wild Africa we will at least be heading in the right direction.    

Monday, June 13, 2011

Africa With Emirates

I recently travelled to London with Emirates, and quite frankly I wouldn't fly with anyone else now if I had the choice. I'd flown with them a couple of time from Brisbane to Auckland, but that's only about three hours. This was my first long haul experience with them.  It seems to me that they have at least two inches more legroom in economy than most other airlines. I'm six feet two inches tall (or whatever that is in this new- fangled metric system - 4 billion nanometres or something) so I really noticed the difference. They have a superb, easy to use personal entertainment system, friendly cabin crew and edible food - a rarity in economy class these days.

The other thing I really appreciated was the various cameras that gave you views of what was happening outside. They have a camera mounted on the tail, one on the nose and a downward facing camera which I don't recommend for those of you suffering from vertigo. All you have to do it touch your personal screen and you get the view from whatever camera you want. The reason I like this is that I get a little claustrophobic when I can't see out of a window when the aircraft is on it's final approach. In other words I like to be able to see what we're about to crash into. The trouble with having a window seat on a long haul flight is that you can't stretch your legs or visit the toilet without climbing over and disturbing two other passengers and probably spilling hot tea in their laps. However, due to the forward facing cameras I was able to see where we were going and have an aisle seat to stretch out in too. I loved it.

What's all this got to do with Africa? You ask. Well, Emirates service many cities in my favourite continent. Naturally, you have to travel via their hub in Dubai, but the extra comfort on Emirates is worth a couple of extra hours flying and in any case they are the most direct option to some African destinations. Below is a list of African cities services by Emirates.

Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Entebbe, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Luanda, Addis Ababa, Khartoum, Accra, Abijan, Dakar, Casablanca, Tunis, Tripoli (I'd probably avoid this one at the moment.), and Cairo. They also service Mauritius and Seychelles.

As well as being my first long haul flight with Emirates, my latest trip was also my first flight on an Airbus A380. Emirates economy class configuration on this monster is 3-4-3. The same as a Boeing 747-400. Indeed it doesn't seem that much bigger on the inside than a 747, except that you have to remember that there's another cabin of roughly the same proportion above you. Emirates have the lower cabin as economy class and the upper cabin is a mix of First and Business class.

Try them on your next trip wherever it may be. They may not always be the cheapest, but they're very rarely the dearest and in any case, it's value for money that counts and I think Emirates certainly give you plenty of that.      

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Forest Elephants of Dzanga-Ndoki

Okay. Quiz time. Name three countries bordering the Central African Republic (C.A.R.). Answers at the end of this post. No cheating by looking at the map on this page please. Give yourself five points for each correct answer and fifty points if you've actually been there. It lies within Africa's steamy equatorial belt and is largely covered with rain forest. C.A.R.'s capital city is Bangui. It is the nation's main gateway and is most easily reached by air from Nairobi.

A fascinating if somewhat bumpy ten hour drive or a less interesting short charter flight from Bangui lies Doli Lodge, tucked away in the a remote, pristine part of the country. Located beside the Sangha River, Doli lodge is a wooden construction raised on stilts. There are just eight bungalows, ensuring a personalised safari experience - very important in my view. The highlight of a stay at Doli Lodge is a visit to what is known as a "Baai". It's a clearing in the jungle visited by highly endangered forest elephants as well as other animals like the beautiful bongo antelope - a personal favourite of mine. You'll see these rare elephants interacting and displaying the natural behaviour that they have developed over thousands of years visiting baais like this which contain minerals vital to the well being of the animal. You will also have the chance to meet world famous field biologist Andrea Turkalo, who over the twenty years of her research has become the first to decipher elephant vocalisations and to compile an "elephant dictionary".

You will also have the chance to trek to see lowland gorillas, beautiful, endangered and impressive, though a little smaller than their better know highland cousins. In addition you'll also track the colourful mangabey monkeys.

Doli lodge is in the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park and is a very, very special place. I probably wouldn't recommend it to first time visitors to Africa unless they have a special interest in gorillas or forest elephants, but for second, third or veteran "Africaphiles" it really is a fascinating experience.

The link below will take you to the Doli Lodge website for further information. If you are interested please drop me an email peter.emery@ucango.com.au or call Ucango Travel on 1300 822 646 and ask for me.

http://www.dolilodge.com/

Meanwhile, here's the answer to the question above.
Chad, Cameroon, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan.
How did you do?  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wonderful Wild Dogs

One of the most exciting sightings on any safari would have to be a pack of African wild dogs, also known as painted dogs. To see a pack of these big, black, tan and white, blotchy, rangy canines on the hunt is a spectacular sight.  Twelve months ago I was camping in Botswana's Moremi Games Reserve. It was a bitterly cold morning with a vast, pale blue dome of sky above the trees and a frosting of sparkling ice on my tent. The barking alarm call of an impala alerted us that something may be afoot. Then in one's and twos the graceful antelopes started running past our camp less than a hundred metres away.

Moments later the entire herd was streaming past us, oblivious to our campsite, obviously seriously panicked. Then the African wild dogs appeared through the trees, moving rapidly but still only loping along in a gait that they can keep up all day. They run down their prey over great distances, unlike the big cats they don't usually ambush their prey. They are the most successful hunter, with 80% of their hunts ending in a kill. A single lion has an average hunting success rate of only 15%. If two or more lions hunt together their success rate rises to 30%. Leopards - solitary animals have a success rate of only 10%.

Once the herd of impala and the pack of dogs had passed, we followed in the vehicle, hoping to see a kill. But over the rough ground we couldn't keep up and in any case the dogs split up amongst the trees in pursuit of the antelopes. Nevertheless it was an exciting chase, and such a tremendous privilege to get so close to these magnificent animals. Sadly it is estimated that only between 3000 - 5000 remain in the wild. They suffer from the diseases of domestic dogs transmitted when the two come together and they are persecuted by farmers for killing stock.

They have incredibly powerful jaws, with a bite force quotient measured at 142 - the highest of any animal in the order carnivora. They have 42 teeth, specially adapted for ripping and tearing to allow for a speedy consumption of their prey before larger and more powerful predators can chase them away. Two places where these wonderful animals can be reliably seen are Madikwe Private Game Reserve in South Africa and in Botswana's Okavango Delta, including the Moremi Game Reserve. If you do manage to get a glimpse of the African Wild dog remember to take lots of photos, there's a good chance that they won't be around in the wild for very much longer.      

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Chuckling Elephant

I've just spent two nights at Nguni River Lodge in South Africa's Eastern Cape, about an hour an a half's drive from Port Elizabeth.  I liked the lodge, the staff were friendly, the food good and the rooms luxurious.
Yet there was something missing, and it's hard to put my finger on what it was. I think it may have been the feeling of remoteness that one finds in game reserves like Madikwe. Nguni River Lodge is in a private concession adjacent to Addo Elephant National Park.  While the concession has dangerous animals species like buffalo, elephant and black rhino, it has no large predators which somehow distracts from the game viewing experience. You don't always see predators in other reserves, but knowing that they are there lends a sort of heightened anticipation, a titillating sense of danger.

To see lions one must leave the concession and travel to the national park proper, and the driver steers his four wheel drive open game viewing vehicle through the gates, across a fairly busy road and a railway track onto a nicely sealed road, which then winds past a visitors centre and restaurant. It's all a bit zoo-like. Once you're in the park you share the road with other private vehicles, the drivers of which generally have no idea of how to read the body language of large animals like elephants. They have no concept of an animals comfort zone - when it is happy to tolerate the vehicle and more importantly, when it isn't.

So you share your game viewing with Mr and Mrs Pienaar and their 2.3 kids from Durban. They get impatient with an elephant blocking the road and in trying to creep past, getting too close, disturbing the animal so that it either shuffles off into the bush so that you lose the sighting, or they make it angry enough to turn their Toyota Corolla on to it's roof.  We followed a huge bull with the biggest tusks I've ever seen as he trundled happily along the road. He was in must and dribbled urine copiously down his legs as he walked, yet he was happy to tolerate our presence as long as we stayed about twenty metres behind him. Then as he rounded a corner a brand new, gleaming four wheel drive vehicle appeared in front of him. It was clear that this car had never been driven off-road. The look on the driver and passenger's face was comical. They looked as though they had driven onto a railway line only to become stuck and see a locomotive bearing down on them. All they had to do was to pull over to one side and stop to let the big bull pass.  But they had no intention of getting their new car's wheels dirty by driving onto the gravel shoulder. No, they just reversed, and reversed, and reversed for about a quarter of an hour while we followed the elephant at a respectful distance. Our driver turned to me and said dryly "These guys are going to reverse all the way back to Port Elizabeth." Finally the old bull ambled off the road into the bush, probably chuckling as he went.

Later we found a large male lion making his stately way across the road. We stopped to watch him and he just lay down on the tarmac, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun. Before long a young couple drove up in a minuscule FIAT 500. Their arrival mildly disturbed the lion and he stood and stretched, taking a couple of steps towards the FIAT. At this point the occupants realised that the lion was bigger than their car and tried to scramble to the safety of their back seat - not easy for two people to do simultaneously in a FIAT 500.

All I'm saying is that places like Nguni and Addo are nice places to relax for a couple of days after a few days Garden Route tour or self drive, but my recommendation is that you don't make National Parks including Kruger and Pilanesberg your main game viewing experience in South Africa. Rather spend a little more and spend at least three nights in a "big five" private reserve like Sabi Sands or Madikwe where the only drivers are professional guides and you won't have to share the road with Mr and Mrs Pienaar in their Toyota Corolla.   

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Talk to the Animals

You don't just have to sit in the back of a game viewing vehicle and watch the animals in Africa, you can touch them and interact with them too. Don't get me wrong. I'm not recommending that you leap out of the vehicle, run over to the nearest lioness and give her a big squeeze. Neither am I suggesting that you try to share your morning tea with a spotted hyena.

What you can do though is visit Moholoholo Wild Animal Sanctuary near Kruger National Park in South Africa. On my last visit they had a baby hippo that met you at the entrance gate and followed you around like a dog until he got too hot and tired, at which point he flopped down in the middle of the path and went to sleep. There was also a baby white rhino being cared for by a pair of Aussie volunteers. We were able to stoke him and watch him being fed with an enormous bottle of milk.  You could also have vultures perch on your arm (very heavy), and you could pat a honey badger, which I've always thought would be a little like patting a chainsaw. This one was quite friendly though. The animals they have there vary all the time depending on what has come in and what has been re-released. They rehabilitate wild animals that have been injured or orphaned due to human activity. Go and take a look, it's a great place.
http://www.moholoholo.co.za/index.asp?pgid=5

Further north at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe or Livingstone in Zambia there is the "Lion Encounter." I guarantee you'll love this. You are able to walk through the bush accompanied by two or three lion cubs. You are able to stroke them, pat them and watch them interact with their natural environment. Of course you are escorted by their handlers but the lions are free to wander and do what they want - sniff, climb trees, flop down and sleep etc. You have to do this. It really is magical.
http://safpar.com/lion_encounter.htm

Also at Victoria Falls and Livingstone you can do an Elephant Back Safari. Here you assemble at a bush lodge early in the morning and are introduced to the elephants and their mahouts. Next you climb aboard for a lovely peaceful walk through the African bush with some stunning views of the Zambezi gorge close to the Victoria Falls itself. After your elephant back safari you hand-feed your elephant his or her breakfast before sitting down to your own cooked meal.
http://safpar.com/elephant_back_safaris.htm

Then in Nairobi there is the wonderful Giraffe Centre. A day trip here enables you to see eye to eye with these beautiful creatures. You can feed them too. Watch out for their amazing eighteen inch long blue tongues which seem to have a mind of their own. getting licked by one is like being whipped across the face with a sheet of sandpaper. The Karen Blixen Museum is nearby too so why not visit both - especially if you're a fan of "Out of Africa."
http://www.giraffecenter.org/
http://www.karenblixen.com/   

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Life's a Beach

Fancy relaxing on a beach after your African safari? Here's a few ideas for you. Air Mauritius fly from Australia to Johannesburg, so you can stop in Mauritius in both directions, both pre and post safari. Mauritius has many great resorts to offer.
http://www.beachcomber.com.au/mauritius/beachcomber_hotels

A great combination would be to utilise Air Mauritius' offer of a free night's accommodation in Mauritius on the way to Africa because their flights do not connect. Then travel on to Johannesburg, spend some time in Cape Town, then visit Madikwe private game reserve before shooting up to Victoria Falls for a few nights. Then back to Johannesburg to pick up your flight to Mauritius for a few days R&R on a beach before heading home.

Alternatively you could fly straight through to South Africa with Qantas or South African Airlines, have a sensational safari in South Africa, Botswana or Namibia (Don't forget to squeeze in Victoria Falls.) and then take a side trip to Mozambique where you will find some absolutely stunning beach resorts.
http://www.mozambique.co.za/Popular_Selections-travel/mozambique-romantic-holiday-packages.html

You may prefer East Africa of course, in which case you could combine a trip to the spectacular northern game viewing areas like the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and Tarangire with a couple of nights in Zanzibar's historic Stone Town before moving across to the eastern side of the islands for a beach break at one of the many resorts there. Baraza Resort Camp; Spa for example.
http://www.baraza-zanzibar.com/

For something a little different you may like to visit the game reserves and National parks in Southern Tanzania. There are generally less visited and are wilder and woollier. There's a string of them like stepping stones reaching westward from Dar Es Salaam. Mikumi, Selous, Ruaha and Katavi. Foxes Safaris have great camps in each and you can relax at the end with a few nights at Lazy Lagoon, their beach resort on their own island in the Zanzibar Channel.
http://www.tanzaniasafaris.info/LazyLagoon/accomodation.htm

Last but not least Kenya. How about a 10 night safari visiting Samburu, Lake Nakuru, Masai Mara and Amboseli topped off with a few nights relaxation at somewhere like the sensational Manda Bay Resort in the Lamu Archipelago of Northern Kenya.
http://www.mandabay.com/

It doesn't matter in which part of Africa you plan to have your safari experience, there's a great beach resort waiting for you at the end, with great food, icy cocktails and white sandy beaches. The perfect way to end your trip.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I'm Excited!

I'm a little excited today. In fact the last time a Pom was this excited was at about 5.15pm on 30 July 1966.
Google the date and you'll know what I'm talking about. The reason for my current agitated state? Well there are two actually. Firstly I'm heading off to Tanzania in October to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, leading a small group on a 9 day professionally guided adventure.
http://ucango.com.au/_webapp_765339/9_day_Mount_Kilimanjaro_Adventure

This group is filling fast. It promises to be an amazing, life changing experience for all of us, so get on board now. All the details are on the above link. Safety is paramount and we even provide porters. There is no technical climbing involved, but let's be honest, it is a tough climb so a certain standard of fitness is required.
Having said that, the climb is suitable for a wide range of people. The youngest ever climber was 7 year old Keats Boyd from Los Angeles and the oldest was 82 year old George Solt from Buckinghamshire, England.

The second reason for current state of euphoria is that I have managed to secure a private departure exclusive to Ucango Travel on Wilderness Dawning's 11 day/10 night Okavango Wildlife Safari departing on 16 May 2012. This tour (8 passengers maximum) will be lead by ornithologist and author Jan Lewis. It is a non-participatory camping trip through the wildlife hotspots of Botswana. This mean, no cooking, no putting up of tents, in fact no discomfort whatsoever. Your tents are large, two man, walk-in tents with camp beds and all linen. No sleeping bags required. You even get a nice fluffy doona. You will spend two nights on a houseboat in Namibia on the Okavango River before visiting the Okavango Delta itself, Moremi Game Reserve, Savute and Chobe National Park.  I can promise you the most amazing wildlife experience you've ever had. Apart from Jan's knowledge you will also have a professional driver/guide and camp attendants to cook and erect the tents for you. All you have to do is enjoy the trip. Just click on the link below for all the details.

http://ucango.com.au/_webapp_647368/Okavango_Wildlife_Safari

So there we have it. Two incredible adventures to choose from. I only hope that I don't have to wait another 45 years for experience this level of excitement.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dung is Fascinating

More and more companies are offering walking safaris, and it really is an amazing experience.  You'll get to see nature close up. You walk in small groups, usually no more than six. You have a guide and often a guard, both of whom are armed in case of emergency. Don't let that alarm you though, reputable companies have highly professional guides trained to avoid dangerous situations. Guides who get their guests into a situation where they are forced to fire even a warning shot will get into all kinds of trouble with the authorities.

Having said that, don't expect to get as close to the animals as you would in a vehicle, to which they have become somewhat habituated. Nevertheless, your guide will get you as close as is safely possible given cover and wind conditions.
Our guide at Rhino Walking Safaris at Kruger National Park in South Africa took us to within twenty metres of a white rhino by skillfully using the wind direction and by keeping us behind a fallen tree which had the animal charged, it would not be able to jump over. Rhino's not surprisingly are not great jumpers. It was incredible to be so close on foot to such a huge animal - a real adrenaline rush.

Being on foot within a hundred metres of a herd of elephants is quite a buzz too. Even at a distance you can feel the power and size of these wonderful creatures, and you'll hear the rumbles and squeaks of their communications. Lions are good fun too, though they'll see you more often than you'll see them on foot. They're not going to attack a group of people, but will stay warily in the distance watching you intently as you pass by.

You will see some wonderful insect and bird life. You'll learn the importance of termites and dung beetles to the environment. You may find a hornbill nest - a hole in a tree, sealed by mud except for a narrow slit by the male bird. The female lays her eggs in the hole and the male feeds her and the chicks through the slit. The female then goes through a complete moult and loses the ability to fly. Once she has regrown her plumage she breaks out of the nest opening which is then resealed by the chicks. Both adults then feed the chicks through the slit until they are old enough to break out and fly themselves.

Your guide will also show you the various animal tracks and teach you how to identify which animals have passed by looking at their dung. Giraffe droppings are very small for the size of the animal and the droppings of male and female are different. You'll be looking at poo in an entirely different light by the end of the walk.

So don't be afraid, be a little adventurous, do a walking safari and see the real Africa. Here are a few examples of some companies that offer professionally guided walking safaris.

Rhino Walking Safaris - Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Norman Carr Safaris - South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.
Robin Pope Safaris - South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.
Wilderness Journeys - Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

There are many others. Call me for details, Peter Emery 1300 822 646.   

Monday, April 4, 2011

Brothers in Arms

It was a cold, drizzly morning in the lowveld of Sabi Sands abutting Kruger National Park. Just the sort of morning when you can drive for hours and not see a single animal. In weather such as this they seek shelter in the midst of the thorny scrub. Then as the landrover breasted a low ridge and emerged into a clearing we were confronted by two dead bodies, their killers still standing over them. The corpses were buffaloes - a calf and its mother. Their slayers - two young male lions - brothers in arms, their tawny manes glittering with beads of rain, their rancid breath condensing into clouds in the cold air. We had only just missed the kill, the brothers had yet to start feeding. I could imagine the scene a few minutes earlier. The lions ambushing the  buffaloes, narrowly avoiding the mother's horn and taking down the calf first - a relatively easy kill.

The mother would have been much harder to bring down. She'd have refused to leave her calf even when it was dead and she'd have kept the lions at bay for a while. She would have tired though, and one of the lions would have jumped onto her back, risking a jaw shattering kick that would have condemned the big cat to a lingering death by starvation. Meanwhile, the other brother would have clamped his jaws around the Buffalo's windpipe. Perhaps the first lion would have severed the beast's spinal cord, causing her to collapse. Death would have followed swiftly then.

Now as we drew to a halt at the edge of the clearing the brothers snarled at us, taken by surprise at our sudden appearance, a shockingly loud guttural rasp in the drizzle dampened silence. They settled then, realising we weren't a threat, but unnerving us all by staring straight through us with their cold amber eyes. Eyes that oozed arrogance and confidence. Eyes that said "I can kill you anytime I like."  Then they started to feed, tearing a hole at the mother's rear end, ripping open her tough hide as though it were cotton. But all the time they watched us. Even while their muzzles were buried deep in the gore their eyes were fixed on ours, daring us to try to steal their meal. Now and again they raised their heads to show us their bloody faces - another threat?

Finally we left the brothers to eat their breakfast in peace and returned to the lodge for ours with mixed feeling about missing the kill. They are exciting events, but not for the faint hearted. The kills you see on nature programmes on television are usually very clinical affairs and often the editor will cut away once the pray animal has been caught. There's no squealing or screaming and very little blood to be seen. It must be remembered though that lions kill to survive and are not deliberately cruel - unlike humans. Indeed lions will kill as quickly as possible, usually by suffocating the animal with a bite to the windpipe. The last thing they want is a potential meal that kicks and waves sharp horns about, so they try to make it quick, less chance of being injured themselves that way. 

Hyenas and African wild dogs? Well that's another story.

  

Monday, March 28, 2011

No Gnus is Bad News

One of the most moving sights on this earth is the great wildebeest (gnu) migration of East Africa. Sitting in an open vehicle on Tanzania's Serengeti I was brought to tears.  Our guide had driven into the midst of the herd - two million animals plodding along, following the smell of the rain, knowing it would lead them to green pastures where they could raise their calves. The vast African sky was a blue dome and the only sound was shuffling hooves and the soft "nooo, nooo" of the animals as they flowed around us like a black river. In the distance was the high, hazy rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. Only here did the clouds linger, adhered to the mountains. I defy anyone to to remain unmoved by such a scene.

Prides of lions lazed nearby, some on their backs, legs pointing at the sky. Their bellies bulged and their muzzles were red with blood. So much food. How they must love it when this great herd passes their way. For a while hunting is relatively easy and they don't have to trek miles through the heat and dust in search of a meal. How fortunate for the human race that a small biting fly has preserved this wilderness for us. If not for the tsetse fly this part of East Africa - the Serengeti and the Masai Mara would be grazing land and the wildlife would be long gone. These little insects, whose bite feels like you're being jabbed with a hot blunt needle killed the domestic cattle which had no immunity to sleeping sickness and eventually the settlers gave up. Sleeping sickness is no longer a problem in either the Mara or the Serengeti but the tsetse flies remain, mostly in the wooded areas where they will swarm around anything large - like a landrover, making life uncomfortable for the occupants. Just remember that if it wasn't for these little flies you probably wouldn't be there in the first place.

The migrating herds are always in the region, so no matter what time of year you visit you will have a good chance of seeing them. Just remember that it is a natural phenomenon and the location of the animals depends on the rain and where good grazing can be found. However, here is a rough guide.  From November to May the animals mass in the plains of the southern and eastern Serengeti and it is here in February and March that they drop their calves. By the end of May the rains finish, the grass starts to die and the great herds head north west in search of better pasture and by July they begin to mass on the southern side of the rivers that form the border with Kenya's Masai Mara.

Then as if by an unheard signal they begin to cross the rivers. This is what you see on those amazing wildlife programmes on television. Wildebeest and zebras struggling through the swirling brown water pursued by enormous Nile crocodiles. Amazing to see, though not for the squeamish. You have to be very lucky too, as obviously there is no set day - it just happens, usually in July. Then between July and September the great herds settle for a while in the Masai Mara, though many always stay behind in the Serengeti.  Then as the rains start to fall once more in Tanzania in October/November the animals once again begin the long trek south, and so the whole cycle begins again.

So, now if you are interested in seeing this incredible spectacle you have an idea of how to time your trip. Remember though, that even if you do miss the great herds, both the Serengeti and the Masai Mara have so much more to offer. Both are a must for any wildlife enthusiast at any time of the year. For further information please call me - Peter Emery at Ucango Travel on 1300 822 646.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Isn't Nature Great?

Have you ever been watching a wildlife programme on TV and thought to yourself "Why don't zebras have better camouflage if nature is so smart?" You'll have noticed that they stand out a mile on the great plains of Africa.  Well, the fact is that their stripes aren't meant to be the usual sort of camouflage that blends in with their surroundings.  A predator, let's say a lioness, will approach a herd of zebra in an attempt to panic them, making them run so that she can pick out a weak individual. The herd will run, but to the lion's eyes the zebras' stripes blend together to form a great amorphous mass, making isolating an individual animal very difficult. Not for nothing is a group of zebras called a "dazzle."

Lions themselves have an interesting adaptation. Examine a close-up photo of a lions face and you will see a distinct white line under it's eyes. Being predominantly nocturnal hunters this gives the big cat an added advantage over it's prey in the pitch black African night. This white line reflects any ambient light from the stars or moon into the lion's eyes enhancing it's night vision.  Prey animals like the impala for example don't have this, so while they can smell danger as the lion approaches in the dark they are unable to see it. imagine how terrifying that must be. The lion of course can see the impala as though it were wearing night-vision goggles.

You will often see prey animals such as impala or wildebeest approach a predator like a lion when they have spotted it.  This isn't as stupid as it might seem.  Many predators use ambush as their primary means of catching prey. The prey animal will be quite relaxed as long as it can see the predator. It knows it can out-run and out-turn a predator in order to escape. Once the predator disappears from view however, the prey animal will become very nervous.  It can be fascinating to watch lions hunting as a pride. It's as if they use telepathy to get into position. You'll see the pride watching a herd of wildebeest, seemingly quite relaxed and uninterested when as if at some unheard signal they suddenly become alert and move into hunting mode. Some of the pride will crouch and begin slinking through the grass, circling around behind the wildebeest herd, where they will hide in the undergrowth, superbly camouflaged by their tawny coats. At another silent signal other lions who have remained behind will charge at the wildebeest herd, panicking them and making them run........straight into the ambush set by the lions crouching in the long grass. It is an incredible thing to watch such a lion hunt develop.

Rhino's too have some interesting behaviour patterns.  White (or wide mouthed) rhinos heads are held much lower than their Black (or hook lipped) cousins. This is because they are grazers, they eat grass. Black rhinos are browsers and eats shrubs and leaves hanging from low trees. You are more likely to encounter white rhinos in open ground and for this reason an alarmed female with a calf will always run away behind it's calf in order to protect it's rear. The black rhino is more often found in scrubby areas and an alarmed mother will run ahead of her calf in order to clear a path through the undergrowth.

I think perhaps my favourite adaptation from the natural world is that of the flat-topped acacia thorn tree of the Masai Mara and the Serengeti. These trees will allow giraffes to feed on them for just so long before sending out chemical messages to other trees in the immediate vicinity warning them that they are under attack. The trees then begin to produce extra tannin which the giraffe's find distasteful and so wander off to find another group of trees to feed on - and so it goes on. The animals get a feed but don't decimate the trees. It's all wonderfully sustainable. I just love nature. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Great Thirst. Part Three - Leaving Timbuktu

The camel ride to the camp took half an hour.  Going up the dunes we had to clamp our legs tightly around the camel to prevent ourselves from toppling off the back, and then on the downward slope we had to lean back as far as we could to stop ourselves tipping over the animals head.  It wasn't a comfortable journey in the searing heat, but we reached the Tuareg camp both uninjured and unmolested.  Rubbing our battered backsides we were ushered towards the nearest tent as the rest of the group arrived.  The camp consisted of half a dozen semi-permanent large goat skin canopy tents.  The sides were pegged up to allow the free flow of air and as we stooped to enter Ahmed shooed away a few goats to make room for us all.

There were several indigo clad men already inside, their dark skin stained blue by the dye.  These were true blue men of the desert. There were no women but Ahmed assured us that they were making themselves useful collecting water. I had thought theirs was a matriarchal society.  Having settled cross legged on the sandy floor, hot, sweet tea was served in small glasses.  Those of us who could speak French chatted politely with the tribesman, while those of us that couldn't just sat patiently and enjoyed the shade and the tea.  Then, pleasantries over, it was down to business. With a nod and a quiet word from Ahmed a blue robed youth left the tent and returned some minutes later with his arms full of souvenirs that we were obviously expected to buy in return for the tribes hospitality.  These items were placed on a rug in front of us.  There were long, curved knives encased in black, camel leather sheaths, silver bracelets, rings, beads and other basically worthless trinkets.  We all purchased something after what seemed like hours of tedious haggling but I still treasure my Tuareg knife.

Back in town, our backside still numb from the return camel ride, we trooped off into the dusty streets to explore.  Shin and I were soon accosted by a group of small boys whom we employed as guides and we didn't regret it.  They gave us a fine tour, showing us the houses where early European explorers had lived including Rene Caille, who in the eighteenth century become the first white man to reach Timbuktu for many years..  His was an especially hazardous voyage for he had travelled disguised as a young Arab studying the Koran with a group of Mohammedan tribesmen who would certainly have murdered him had they discovered his true identity. His house in Timbuktu was no different to any of the others except that it bore a plaque bearing his name.  It was mud built and had carved wooden shutters on the windows.

The boys then showed us the main place of worship - The Mosque de Sankore. Anywhere else it would have been considered tiny and unimportant, tucked away as it was, down an unimpressive side street.  Yet the boys were proud of it and we tried to appear suitably impressed as we took photos of the short, stubby minaret that pointed towards the blue sky like a brown thumb.

And so that was Timbuktu.  There was a hotel without guests and a supermarket without stock where a slow fan stirred the turbid air, cooling the flies that searched in vain for something to eat or lay their eggs on. An attempt had been made in the early eighties to make Timbuktu a destination for French tourists in the same way that Tamanrasset in Algeria had become popular until the troubles started there.  In the early eighties one flight a week flew in from France with tourists and UN staff, but one day the plane crashed on landing, killing everyone on board and nothing had landed at the airport since.  The town was dying a slower death than the poor souls on the plane.

By the time we returned to the truck, preparations were under way for our departure and soon Timbuktu was behind us.  We passed the airport on the way out of town, and there was the blackened wreck of the jet that finished Timbuktu's short stint as a tourist mecca. Then as suddenly as Timbuktu had crept up on us, we were back in the desert, stuck up to our axles in soft sand, cursing as we heaved the sand ladders about and wearily dug the wheels free for the hundredth time.  Timbuktu, I reflected as I sat by the camp fire that night had pretty much lived up to my expectations. It was desperately poor, unlovely and totally forgettable and yet I was excited at the thought that for the rest of my life I could claim to have actually visited this legendary place, and let's face it, there's no doubt that the name Timbuktu still conjures up a certain enigmatic aura.        

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Great Thirst. Part Two - Timbuktu

I awoke to a still dawn.  The wind had died peacefully in the night and the dust had settled, leaving me to admire a clear, crisp, salmon pink sunrise from my sleeping bag.  Carol and Susan were already up and had produced a welcome breakfast of porridge and bananas.  Once we'd consumed that along with buckets of hot, strong coffee we set off once more along the Niger river towards Timbuktu.  The morning proved to be one of delight and frustration in equal measure.  Without the wind the river was glassy smooth and there was plenty of bird-life to keep us entertained.  Pelicans glided along the water in stately procession, yellow billed storks poked about in the shallows and majestic black and white African fish eagles gave voice to their eerie "kyow-kow-kow" call from some of the taller trees.  Best of all were the Abyssinian rollers with their stunning sky blue, navy blue and rich chestnut plumage.  They flew all around the truck, skimming the ground and swooping for insects.  There were carmine bee eaters too, emerging from their nest holes in the river bank.  They too were out for a breakfast of insects.  Flocks of them perched in the trees at the river's edge, their red, orange, yellow and green feathers glowing like exploding fireworks as they caught the sunlight.

The frustration came later that morning when we encountered a series of soft dunes that the truck couldn't cope with.  Every few hundred yards we'd have to unload the heavy steel sand ladders, dig the wheels out of the axle deep sand and shove the four ton truck with all our might while the wheels spun and threw hot sand into our sweating faces.  Seven or eight episodes of this later I was beginning to doubt that we'd reach Timbuktu that day.  We did though.  Actually we didn't so much reach Timbuktu as it seemed to ambush us.  One moment we were struggling through low dunes, the next we were driving along Timbuktu's main street, which funnily enough also consisted mostly of low dunes.  There were a few tawny coloured buildings.  Single story affairs made from mud and straw and corrugated iron.  This was all that remained of a once mighty trading centre.

Deeper into the town we found a modern hotel, built in what I assume was meant to be traditional Dogon style.  The portly French manager told us that we were welcome to set up camp in the hotel grounds and we spent the evening drinking expensive warm beer in the air-conditioned comfort of the lounge.  Two Aussie lads and myself decided we'd get a triple room for the night, thinking that we'd sleep better in a real bed with air-conditioning.  However, half an hour after we'd turned in the generator failed, the air-con gave a death rattle and the room quickly grew suffocatingly hot.  I gave up on the dubious comfort of the bed and went to sleep the rest of the night in the truck with some of the others who hadn't trusted the generator from the start.

Shortly after we'd arrived that afternoon the Frenchman had appointed a tall, indigo clad Tuareg (predictably called Ahmed), to keep inquisitive children away from our camp.  Ahmed was an intimidating character.  Well over six feet tall, wiry, with piercing black eyes and a long hooked nose.  I saw him demonstrate his strength to the kids by picking up a large goat by the throat with one hand and rendering it unconscious but still alive with just the right amount of pressure with his powerful fingers.  The children were suitably impressed and kept away from our camp all night.  In the morning he was still awake and alert and looking much more dignified than anyone who has been awake all night has a right to.  Over breakfast he invited us to his camp a couple of kilometres away.  We accepted and he told us to be ready in one hour and then walked away into the white dunes to the west.  Exactly an hour later he returned and beckoned us to follow him.

In a hollow beyond the first dune five camels were kneeling in the sand.  A small group of Targui tribesmen milled about impatiently - all dressed in the same indigo robes at Ahmed.  It was going to be two to a camel.  Ridiculously, the two heaviest of our group, Shin - a quiet Japanese and I were chosen for the smallest camel and as the poor beast laboriously rocked itself to it's feet with the two of us clinging to it's bony back a fight broke out amongst some of the other Targui.  Apparently it was over who's camel should carry whom.  Punches were thrown, guttural threats were made and all the time our Tuareg was leading us away from the group into the Sahara, under an empty blue sky .  Inevitably I was reminded of the treacherous reputation the Targui of the past had earned themselves.  They'd lied to, cheated and butchered hundreds of infidel explorers and missionaries who'd tried to cross or settle in the Sahara, though it has to be said that many had only themselves to blame for their fate, for they'd tried to exploit the tribesmen.  Occasionally they'd play along with the missionaries, letting them believe they were being converted to Christianity before falling on them and slaughtering them.  A comforting thought for Shin and I as we swayed across the dunes away from Timbuktu towards a Targui camp that was somewhere out there in the desert under a broiling, glaring sun.