Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Africa trip report Part 2: into the Delta

In summer, safari days start early. Very early. Like 0530A. Yes you read that right - five thirty in the am. It gets hot from around 1100A so the idea is to get out early and enjoy a morning activity - whether it is a mokoro outing, game-drive, walking or whatever, while it is still relatively cool and nice, and the animals and birds are active. Later in the day pretty much everything takes a siesta, with animals resting in the shade, birds hunkering down, and wise safari-goers resorting to a hammock or taking a nap. Maybe back to the pool...

On this 6th of Dec. it was raining lightly, so we slept in until 0700A. I woke up very refreshed after a solid 8 hours of sleep - there is nothing like a good restful night of sleep to overcome jetlag. After breakfast, we drove back to Maun and boarded our Cessna Caravan flight to Kanana, a camp in the south-western part of the Okavango Delta. Flying in light aircraft is part of the fun of a safari, although it can be a little alarming the first couple of times. Actually seeing the pilot flying the aircraft is a novel experience for many people, as is hearing the stall warning indicator bleep just before touchdown, or observing the tops of trees sweep by under the fuselage on short finals. As they say in the classics, trust me, these young men and women know what they are doing. They are meticulous with pre-flight inspections and safety procedures and aircraft maintenance is handled strictly by the book. So relax and enjoy the flight!

The Cessna Caravan in which we flew from Maun to Kanana. Although it is a single-prop aircraft, it is quite powerful and relatively roomy inside, compared with the much smaller Cessna 206. Even so, the Caravan's luggage compartment is quite shallow, hence the requirement for guests to take soft-sided bags of approx. 10 by 12 by 24 inches.

Kanana is a quiet, peaceful camp in the beautiful southwestern part of the Okavango Delta, on the Xudum River. It is typical of much of the Delta, consisting of islands dotted with palms, figs, ebony and knob thorn trees, home to a myriad of birds, plants and animals. My room was a traditional Meru style safari tent with en suite bathroom (toilet and shower with hot & cold water). The tents are raised off the ground on a teak deck, and each of the 8 tents have great views over the waterways of the Delta. The tents are large and comfortable, and none of them are more than a short stroll from the central dining and lounge area. Of course, there's no wireless internet, in fact there is not even cell phone coverage. So, if you absolutely positively HAVE to send a text to your buddy, bring a satellite phone. But maybe you shouldn't. Places like Kanana where you can truly appreciate nature in peace and quiet are becoming fewer and fewer. Kanana has a lovely setting and very relaxing atmosphere; I was immediately struck by the abundance of bird calls. Here, it is easy to slow down, break away from the relentless pace of modern society and settle into a routine which quickly restores mind and body. So if you ever find yourself at Kanana, put away the Blackberry, pick up the binoculars, just listen and lose yourself in a place that has not changed much since Livingstone first laid eyes on the Victoria Falls.
A view of the lounge at Kanana Camp.

The dining area at Kanana.

Our group enjoyed a superb late lunch consisting of various salads, some pasta with a tomato-based sauce, and fresh locally baked bread. I can honestly said that we did not have a bad meal even once while on safari. It was simply astonishing what the various camps came up with, considering that they get fresh veggies and fruits & other perishables only once a week, and other provisions usually once a month. Kanana stood out; the food was really superb.

My room at Kanana Camp.

A view inside the tent; the bathroom with shower is in the back, to the left.

Another view of the interior of the tent.

En route to the heronry by boat

That afternoon, we set out on a boat trip to a massive heronry, which was perhaps 15 to 20 minutes away on what can only be described as a stunning boat ride along a crystal clear waterway. At the heronry, there were many Yellowbilled stork, Marabou stork, Sacred Ibis, African Openbill, White Pelican and other species.

Yellow-billed Storks at the heronry in the Kanana area.

Open-billed Storks taking off from the heronry near Kanana.

Some of us also tried a bit of fishing, and after several attempts, I caught a fair-sized Nembwe (a kind of a bream) using a spinner. Definitely a highlight. Yes I know a vegan isn't supposed to be catching fish, but my 'victim' was promptly released to live for another day. The two other fish caught by our guide were not quite as lucky, being sacrificed as bait for an African Fish Eagle. The guide strung some reeds through the fish's gill openings to make it buoyant, and then tossed the fish into the water, attracting the Fish Eagle's attention. Soon enough the massive eagle swooped in low over the water and grabbed the fish with its talons, flying off to a nearby perch to devour it. Like its close relative the Bald Eagle, the African Fish Eagle is not shy to pick up a free meal every now and then, in fact it will quite happily exist as a scavenger if that is what conditions dictate. No wonder Benjamin Franklin was not thrilled with the Bald Eagle having been chosen as America's national bird. Somehow I think we would have been worse off if his choice - the Wild Turkey - carried the day.

At night after dinner, guests gather around the fire to chat and discuss the day's sightings. This is the setting at Kanana.


I realize the blog has temporarily turned into a travelogue of sorts, but I haven't quit running. In fact I completed Day 4 of my Boston training program this morning, with a pretty hard workout of 7 miles total: 1 warming up with the dogs, 1 additional warmup and 1 cooldown, plus 4 miles at my half marathon heartrate which is 155. The four miles ended up being 7:59 (HR 149); 8:08 (157); 8:13 (156) and 8:39 (158). Clearly I have lost quite a bit of fitness with the 2-week layoff; will have to step it up to recover my strength. Also had a neuromuscular massage workout this morning, I will be scheduling them every Wednesday from Jan 7 onwards. Can't take any chances this time around...

Yesterday was my first relatively long run in several weeks; 9 miles at 9:17 pace, along Buffalo Bayou. It felt pretty good, although my quads are taking a bit of a beating for some odd reason that I can't figure out. Total mileage for the week to date is a solid 35 miles. No wonder I am feeling a bit beat up.

I made some reference to my weight the other day. Yeah I'd like to line up for Boston at close to 150 lbs but my body is telling me it likes to weigh 160... Every time I dip under the 160 mark, my 'starvation avoidance' kicks in and I find myself eating everything in sight. So far - this time - I have largely avoided it. On the flight back from Johannesburg I slipped by stuffing my face with a bunch of 'Licorice all-sorts' candies, which felt good at the time. It didn't feel so good a few hours later, when I felt exceedingly sick to my stomach. As the plane was descending to land in Dakar for refueling, I was still hunkered down in the toilet, and it was touch and go as to who was going to take a dive first, me or the aircraft... I basically felt horrible for the remainder of the flight (another 8 hours...!!) and didn't eat a thing until Saturday night. The joys of flying.

When I checked this morning just after getting out of bed, my weight was 159.8 lbs. I will be weighing in every day from now until Boston, so we will see how that goes. Will I reach 150? Don't bet on it. The last time I was that thin was in high school. My highest ever was about 200 lbs. in 2001? or thereabouts. Boy I am sure glad I don't have to lose that 50 lbs. over and over again, like Oprah. What is the deal with that?


Laurel said...

Wow. That looks like an amazing trip! You're so lucky to have the chance to see such a beautiful place!

Amy said...

Wow! I just love herons! That tent is so neat.

johnking said...

once again, the pics are awesome especially the campfire pic. Loved the oprah comment...

Fishmagic said...

Bert, I enjoyed the safari posts and pics. Back in the 80s, I went on a safari in Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. I didn't stay out in the park, but we did have a nice lunch at the Voi Safari Lodge.

Burger said...

Wow, so amazingly beautiful. Glad you had that experience - it seriously looks like a slice of heaven out there.