Safari 2022 ~ Day Seven

Day Seven   23rd May

I heard nothing at all throughout the night. I heard no lions’ roars, hyena’s whooping, hornbills chattering, Malcom coughing and groaning with his busted rib cage… nothing.

But at 05:30am I was awakened by the sound of clanking buckets and camp staff filling up our wash hand basins with warm water. I was now feeling absolutely terrible. The idea that I had Covid 19 did occur to me but my senses of taste and smell were functioning normally, and so I suspected that what I had was simply a good going bout of man-flu.

I had half a cup of coffee and no breakfast and really just wanted to go back to my tent and sleep, and sleep some more. My whole body was shaking and shivering, and I was utterly frozen.

Even so, I was in the Okavango Delta, and this would be our last full day out in the wilderness. So, I hauled myself into the back of the Landcruiser and hoped I would feel better as the day progressed.

Malcolm, carrying a woollen blanket from his bed, climbed into the seat next me groaning in pain as his ribs protested at the effort. The Scottish contingent of this expedition were indeed a sorry looking pair.

This would be our last chance of finding a cheetah. The chances were not brilliant, but you never know. With this trip and my previous two trips, I’ve been lucky enough to see lions, leopards, African wild cats and serval, but never a cheetah.

Blue Wildebeest walking past a dozing Black Backed Jackal

The first part of the game drive, I tried wherever possible to stay in the sunshine in a vain effort to heat up. But the twisting, winding roads of the bush trails made it a futile endeavour. We stopped to see some impala, wildebeest and zebra before arriving at 07:00am beside a beautiful waterhole surrounded by trees.

1.5 horns

It really was a gorgeous location and we all climbed out to take some photographs. In the chill of the air, mist was rising from the warmer water and slowly drifting over the surface. Several hippos watched us, watching them, in that golden light of early morning. We stayed there soaking up the atmosphere and the view for about 15 minutes, during which time any video footage I took was filmed from a spot in the sunshine. I was grabbing every fraction of a therm of heat I could.

A magnificent African fish eagle perched high on top of a dead tree surveyed the waterhole for breakfast. But my suspicion was that it was just trying to get warm as well.

Reluctantly, we had to move on. This was not cheetah habitat. But this was such a tranquil and beautiful location, I would have happily spent the day there, in a deckchair, with a hot water bottle, a supply of Lemsips, honey and malt whisky. The vehicle could have picked me up on the way back to camp.

Leaving my dream day behind, we drove on in search of the elusive cheetah. Instead of the fastest land mammal, we found lots of the tallest mammals, and Africa’s heaviest flying bird, the Cory Bustard. Wildebeest and zebra put in an appearance, and then someone spotted a Tawny eagle perched in a tree. It had its back to us but kept looking suspiciously over its shoulder, almost as if it had something that it didn’t want us to see. Then in a move straight out of ‘Yoga for Beginners’, it balanced on its right leg and stretched its left leg and wing out to their fullest extent. Then, having managed that manoeuvre without falling off its perch, it didn’t risk stretching doing the same for the other side, and just flew off.

Up ahead in the long grass a black backed jackal surveyed the scene in search of any potential meal. As I tried to film it without camera shake from my ever-increasing shivering… over the VHF radio, “Cheetah!”

The other vehicle, about half a mile ahead of us, had found the elusive sprinter of the Okavango. Banda put the pedal to the metal, and we sped off at a speed hitherto unachieved on our safari.

The search was over. We found a cheetah.

The cheetah was a male standing next to the remains of a fallen tree at the base of a termite mound. The cheetah scanned the surrounding area, completely ignoring us. His tail stood upright like the conducting pole of an old dodgem car. The camera shutters whirred as hundreds of digital images were recorded. The whirring climbed up a notch when the cheetah stood on its hind legs and sharpened its claws on the top of the fallen tree trunk.

You have to keep your claws nice and sharp.

Claws having achieved optimum sharpness, he dropped back down to all fours, turned his rear to the tree and sprayed over the fallen trunk, marking it as part of his territory. After a brief examination of the termite mound, he slowly walked off along a line of scrub and bushes. He paused for a minute or so in the shade of a small tree, then slipped into the long grass and disappeared. The cheetah sighting was over.

A last farewell from our cheetah

About five hundred metres away a herd of male impalas grazed peacefully near a waterhole. We wondered if the cheetah was aware of this. It was certainly possible for the cheetah to use the scrub and long grass to get fairly close without being detected by the impala.

In the hope of a dramatic chase and kill, we drove down to a vantage point where, if things did kick off, we would have a grandstand view of the action… and action is exactly what we got.

Sadly, it did not involve the cheetah. A hormonally charged herd of male impala suddenly let their testosterone get the better of them, and mayhem broke out. Impalas charged around in all directions fighting with whoever they ran into. They snorted and barked, and dust flew in the air. If anything was going to attract the attention of the cheetah, this hullabaloo would.

Impala mayhem

Then, a new character entered the arena, not the cheetah, but an enormous male hippopotamus. His huge bulk suddenly burst out of the undergrowth at the trot. His appearance had the effect of a head teacher suddenly walking into a classroom full of unruly children. The impala stopped charging around and quietly went back to grazing, throwing the occasional glance at the head teacher as he passed through their midst.

The hippo entered the waterhole and slowly disappeared below the surface, sending his passengers of oxpeckers into the air, and creating ripples that spread out across the water’s surface, sparkling in the sunshine.

The cheetah didn’t make the appearance we had hoped for, and so we drove off in search of more cooperative wildlife.

Banda stopped the vehicle and picked up his binoculars. He was looking at a tree in the distance. How he spotted the lioness laying underneath it remains a puzzle. Even with the help of binoculars I struggled to pick it out. Banda thought that it might be injured or sick. The lion was beneath a tree but not in the shade. She wasn’t sleeping and she was on her own. There was just something about her that made Banda think all was not well. But there was no way of driving over towards her, so her condition remained a mystery as we moved on.

Then we saw a sight that reminded us all of the amorous warthog we had seen the previous day at Black Pools. Here was a boar following a female warthog very closely indeed. Although I’m sure it wasn’t, if it was the same pair we had seen the previous day, he had followed her for many, many, miles. Whatever the identity of this pair, as we watched on, we witnessed the conception of a new litter of wart hoglets.

Warthog intimacy

As we approached noon the heat of the day was increasing, as was my shivering. I was now feeling really unwell. We stopped as a breeding herd of elephants crossed the track ahead of us and even that did not distract me from how sick I felt.

I was grateful when we stopped for lunch. Our camping chairs were set out in a circle in the shade of a large tree. I grabbed a chair and moved it into the full glare of the sun. Wearing fleeces and a jacket, I sat down, tilted my hat over my eyes, and descended into a semi-unconscious doze. I didn’t eat or drink. I just wanted to sleep.

For an hour, the African sun beat down upon me, completely failing to warm me up. I don’t recall much of the journey back to camp apart from when it was interrupted by a stroppy bull elephant. We were driving around the beautiful waterhole that was shrouded in mist at 07:00am when the elephant came charging out of the undergrowth at the side of the track. Banda slammed the brakes on, and half turned the vehicle so that we had an escape route if required. The elephant was obviously agitated making all sorts of threatening gestures. Thankfully he opted to take his frustrations out on a tree at the side of the track rather than us. As he headbutted the trunk of the tree, which was now leaning at a forty-five-degree angle, Banda sprinted past him. The sudden acceleration caused the elephant to go crashing into the bush, but we were safely by, and I could return to feeling sorry for myself.

I recollect seeing half a dozen ostriches and thinking, that is another tick on the bird watcher’s tick list. After that I don’t remember much at all.

One final Lilac Breasted Roller

Back in camp, everyone busied themselves packing in preparation for the long trip back to Maun in the morning. As I stuffed things into my bag, I was worrying that I might not be allowed onto some, or all, of the three flights home the following day. I undoubtedly had a temperature, even though I was shivering. But I still did not think it was Covid 19.

Because it was the last night we would all be together, I made an effort to join everyone around the camp fire for a final drink. In an attempt to inject some humour into the occasion, and to distract myself from how I was feeling, I recited the ‘Tale of the Cormorotterant’ to the gathering. It is a story of a strange creature that Malcolm and I encountered whilst enjoying a dram in the Outer Hebrides.

The Cormorotterant

My contribution completed, I slipped away to my tent and crawled into bed.

We did see some wildlife on the long drive back to civilization, but I don’t recall much about it. We could have encountered aliens and I doubt if it would have registered with me.

So, on that note, I will bring this series of Sunday Safari blogs to a close. Malcolm’s rib cage was causing him some serious pain and distress. Aware of how he was struggling, I took his ridiculously heavy backpack from him, slung it over my left shoulder, and slung my own ridiculously heavy backpack over my right shoulder. As I buckled at the knees, a casual observer might have thought that I suffered from a hunchback and a bad case of rickets. But if any airport checks picked up my fever, I could blame it on the exertion of carrying the equivalent of a medium sized hippo on my back.

We made it home. Malcolm’s wife whipped him to hospital to get his ribs checked out. My wife drove me home where, convinced that I would test ‘negative’, I tested ‘positive for Covid 19.

It took ten days before I got a negative test result during which time I remained in isolation. Fortunately, I had lots of Okavango Delta photos and videos to look at and write about.

A video of the events in the above blog can be viewed on YouTube via the link below.

Okavango Safari Day Seven

If you are curious about what a Cormorotterant is, you can find the answer on YouTube at the following link.

The Tale of the Cormorotterant

Thankyou for taking the time out of your day or night to read this blog. I hope it has maybe given you an insight into camping safaris, and inspired you to go off and have your own adventures.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, Malcolm and I have fully recovered, and we are both looking forward to our next adventure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *