Botswana safari plus, day seven
07.07.2018 - 07.07.2018
Exploring on foot
Early morning on the lagoon, from the lodge deck
I slept surprisingly well, kept cosy by the duvet and blankets as well as the hot-water bottle. At one point I was woken by the noise of hippos outside! Our wake-up call was at six, which seemed like a lie-in after the five o’clock starts at Chobe. It was very cold so we piled on the layers and went to join everyone for the continental breakfast served at 6.30.
The twelve guests currently staying at the lodge were divided into two groups of six for the purpose of activities, and we stayed in the same group with the same guide, with a different activity allocated to each session. This morning it was our turn for a walk on Palm Island, in a neighbouring lagoon. So we climbed into the motorboat, clutching the hot water bottles we were given to warm us on the ride. Despite the chill it was wonderful to be out on the lagoon at this hour as the light was lovely, with the papyrus glowing orange as it reflected the just-risen sun.
On the way to the island we paused to photograph a Pied Kingfisher perched in the papyrus and spotted a crocodile in the water, eyeing us as we passed.
Slade with his rifle
Bones on the termite mound
When we arrived at Palm Island it was perhaps a little disconcerting that the first thing Slade did, on going ashore, was to load his rifle! We then had a briefing about safety on the walk. We were to walk in single file, an arm’s length apart, with him at the front and our other guide for the morning, Bones, at the rear. We should talk in lowered voices and watch for Slade’s hand signals. And if we encountered what he termed a PDA, a potentially dangerous animal, we were to bunch together so that we looked like one large animal, make some noise and, whatever we did, not run. Reassuringly he said that he had never yet had to use the rifle, and also that he had never had to deal with a serious threat to any group of visitors. But still …..!
So we set off as instructed in single file, wondering what we might come across. The island is around eight kilometres across when the water is low in the winter months, so there is plenty to explore. We followed one of many narrow paths made by animals, heading towards a large termite mound which Bones climbed to scan the area for wildlife.
The path across Palm Island
Palm Island landscape
We passed a so-called sausage tree and Slade explained how the San people (the native hunter-gatherers of this region) use its seeds to make coffee.
We saw a Hooded Vulture flying overhead and in the distance some baboons climbing a wild date palm - one of the many which give the island its name.
Baboon climbing a date palm
Fruit of the date palm
Then we came across a small group of warthogs, who eyed us for a while before continuing to graze.
The nearby impala were much more cautious, watching us carefully all the time we stood there.
We got a glimpse of a pair of reedbucks walking through the tall grass, and had a much closer look at a pretty Little Bee Eater which posed nicely for us.
Can you see the reedbuck?!
Little Bee Eater
Then we started to make our way towards a large area of water from which hippo noises had been emanating (checking a map later, I believe this may have been Jerejere Lagoon which we had visited the previous evening). Sure enough, it was full of the creatures. This was our PDA moment, as hippos are considered the most dangerous mammal in Africa, based on numbers of people killed. Around 500 people in Africa are killed every year because of them, but of course, mosquitoes and tsetse flies are even more deadly.
Approaching the hippos
Here though, Slade assured us that if we stayed on the bank, well back from the water’s edge, they would not feel threatened and would therefore not threaten us. Most attacks from hippopotami occur when they are on land, not in the water.
It was such a special experience to stand so close to these impressive animals and to go eyeball to eyeball with them like this. We watched them for quite a while, and also saw some babies on the far side of this lagoon. There were so many here that I assumed sightings were pretty much guaranteed, but talking to the other lodge guests later I learned that this is by no means the case, as they hadn't seen hippos on their visit to Palm Island the previous day. As with any other safari experience, it really is a matter of luck, as well as great guiding!
Eventually we left and started to walk back in the direction of where we had left the boat. Slade spotted some elephants in the distance which it was just possible to photograph.
We also stopped by a scattering of buffalo bones, which Slade explained had been in this spot for around four years. He showed us the groove on the rib bones which allows each to slot into the next, providing protection for the internal organs.
Buffalo bones, Palm Island
Back at the boat Slade offered refreshments - tea, coffee, juice or water, plus cookies. Then we headed back to the lodge, stopping for a closer look at the big crocodile we had seen earlier - a much closer look! He was now basking on the bank and Slade brought the boat in right alongside him so we could get some good photos.
Relaxing at Xugana Island Lodge
Back at the lodge we found our room had been tidied and cleaned in our absence, and there was another lovely arrangement of leaves, seeds, coffee beans and towels on the bed!
Today's bed arrangement
Soon after getting back, at 11.30, brunch was served - quiche, pasta bake, eggs cooked to order, salads, breads, fruit salad and cheese, among other options. Drinks could be ordered (all included in the package) so Chris enjoyed a local beer, but I stuck to the delicious tropical fruit smoothie and a cup of good black coffee.
Then it was ‘siesta time’ which in my case meant sorting photos, catching up with my notes, and trying to check messages online, with some limited success. I had read that there was no WiFi here, and been prepared for that, but on arrival we had been told that they did have it, albeit very slow, which was indeed the case. I managed to get messages and emails but not to access Facebook or most web pages that I tried. Still, it helped us to stay in touch with the world, and importantly with the World Cup scores.
Back on the water
Doesn't this cloud look rather like an elephant?
Or do I just have elephants on the brain?!
At three we went for afternoon tea (or in my case afternoon homemade lemonade) before our next activity. But ahead of leaving for that we had a briefing from Slade about the Okavango Delta - how it was formed, the challenges faced in protecting this precious environment and so on.
Our scheduled activity was a ride in a mokoro, the traditional boat of the Okavango. But as it was still quite early and the sun rather too bright, Slade proposed a short motor boat cruise first around part of Xugana Island. This was a chance to see a few more birds we hadn’t previously encountered, including a Black-Shouldered Kite and Reed Cormorant.
Black-shouldered Kite, and Reed Cormorant
We also saw several African Darters, an African Jacana, and lots of day water lilies.
African Darter and Reed Cormorant
Then it was time to head to where the lodge keeps the mokoros, near the airstrip where we had landed yesterday. Mokoros are traditionally made by digging out the trunk of a large straight tree, but these days most are made from fibre-glass, including these ones at Xugana Island. While not so traditional, they are much better for the environment as fewer trees are felled.
Steve and Donna in their mokoro
Three guides had come with us, so each couple had their own boat. We were paddled by Promise, who did a great job of pointing out various aspects of the environment and a number of birds – a Bulbul (I am not sure exactly which kind), Stonechat, another Darter.
We set off
A typical channel
But it was harder to take bird photos than from the bigger boat (somehow I had imagined that it would be easier) so for the most part I just sat back and enjoyed the ride, which was very peaceful. It was good to be so low down in the water and without an engine, seeing the narrow channels of water from a close-up viewpoint.
The sky was perfect for some landscape shots and I also had a go at capturing the reflections of reeds and clouds in the water, and shot some video footage. Every time I watch the latter I am transported back to this magical spot.
Okavango Delta panorama
Late afternoon in the Okavango Delta
When we returned to the motor boat Slade took us to a spot for good sunset views, although it was less dramatic than yesterday’s, and handed out the sundowner drinks and snacks. They certainly know how to look after guests at Xugana Island Lodge!
Sunset at Xugana Lagoon
Then it was back to the lodge and to a good enough WiFi signal to learn that England had beaten Sweden 2-0 and were through to the World Cup semi-final!
Dinner consisted of springbok carpaccio to start with, served with avocado, then either oxtail stew or butter-fish (I had the latter) with potato and chackalaka (a spicy African vegetable stew with baked beans – delicious), and chocolate mousse for dessert, all washed down with a good white wine from South Africa.