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Published: July 23rd 2015
A lot of sorry looking faces this morning. Jenna had goaded the boys into a bit of a session. Her bar bill had twenty-five shots of Jaegermeister, twenty-five of Jack Daniels and assorted other goodies - I doubt she bought every drink that night too.
We had intended to fill up at the gas station just before the lodge as we arrived the previous day, but they had no fuel. "Maybe tomorrow" was all we could determine. Well, tomorrow has come and there is still no fuel. Luckily, the lodge has experienced this many times before and has a reserve supply on hand, sufficient for the six bikes that need it. Apparently they intend to build their own storage tank and pump to cover these eventualities in the future.
We ride the entire route on tarmac today, setting off just after ten. Its only a couple of hundred Km before we re-assemble in a parking area by the Kwando river, near Kangola. Three Km of sand leading to the riverside was handled better today, with Pam on the back all the way. Johnny Maroc is on hand to help one or two out, demonstrating the masterful technique that served
him so well in the Dakar (sorry John!).
We park up the bikes, slip out of our biking gear and stow it in the trucks, which will be parked here too. A night watchman will guard the lot, as we take our night bags from the trucks and load them on to the two RIBs waiting to take us through the wetlands to the Mazambala Island Lodge at the top of the Okovango delta. Somehow, even after everything we have seen and done, this has everyone grinning from ear to ear and is regarded as the best lodge arrival of the trip by many, including Pam.
Andre, the Namibian ex-diplomat who still calls Washington DC home, is the charming owner of the lodge, and makes us very welcome from the moment we arrive. Lunch, an hour by the pool, then its off on our third straight river cruise and this one is the best of the lot. We are in two RIBs, and wander through the maze of waterways, seeing a great assortment of wildlife including hippos, Reedbok, Steenbok, Springbok, Kudu, Common Impala, Fish Eagles, Egrets, Jesus Birds (Jacarda), Kingfisher and Bee Eaters.
However the most memorable
He pretended to ignore us until we were almost upon him...
moment came when we encountered a herd of elephants about to cross a shallow waterway. We approached them, engines silent and glided closer as they made their way to an attractive copse on the far bank. One male "youth", aged five or so, had a point to prove to the herd it seemed, and tarried at the back eating reeds and ignoring the boat as it slid nearer to him. The rest of the herd was now across and he was separated from them. He continued to put up a brave showing until we were no more than five metres away from him and directly between him and the herd. His bravado then crumbled and he looked directly at us, trunk out straight, ears perpendicular to his head and proceeded to engage reverse gear. In a couple of comical moves he was back on dry land, trumpeting loudly for mum and trotting round the edge of the water to re-join the herd.
They had heard his calls of course, and had indulgently sauntered back to collect him. He ran into the front of them, turned to us and gave us another blast, and wandered off with the leaders, self-esteem
...and then he bolted for Mum making a hell of a racket!
re-asserted. A matriarch at the back came and threatened us with a hard stare and five steps towards us. I was nervous, and glanced back at the boatman, expecting him to be poised to start the engines and slam them in reverse for a quick getaway. Instead he was standing right behind me, arms crossed and a big smile on his face, mouthing "its fine" in a reassuring way.
Later that night, after dinner, Billy led a small extra-curricular activity outside the safe boundaries of the lodge compound. We had been told that the two foot high fence would keep hippos out, and that as they were particularly dangerous creatures when feeding at night we should all stay inside the camp boundaries. Inevitably, Billy saw this as a challenge.
Armed with his illegal laser, Billy, Andy, the night watchman and I crossed the line and headed slowly for the noises coming from the bush a hundred yards or so away. The watchman whispered that the noise we could hear was that of an elephant, not a hippo.
"So, are elephants as dangerous as hippos?" asked Andy
"More dangerous" came the watchman's reply.
"So you're saying
"Bugger off and leave us alone!"
Which we did.
that hippos can kill you, but elephants are more dangerous?"
Andy was clearly not comfortable and sensibly halted in his tracks. Billy and I continued for a few more minutes, seeing nothing but hearing plenty, sufficient to become pleasingly spooked before turning tail ourselves and returning to camp.
Pam was already asleep as I crept into the cabin.
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