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.
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      

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cat Food

It's the day after the elephant stampede in Hwange National Park.
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.  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.