It is the time of the year that we look back and we look forward. For those who know the buffalo thorn Ziziphus murcronata you will know that it has two thorns, one that points straight and one that bends backwards. Culturally, this tree has a lot of meaning and function in Africa. One of the meanings relates to the design of the thorns where the straight thorn indicates the way forward, while the bent thorn is representing a hook into the past. Together these thorns represent our need for introspection to know where we have come from as well as foresight for where we intend to go to. The cultural philosophy and tradition states that you cannot know where you are going to if you don’t know where you have come from. Functionally it has various medicinal properties that sort out an array of diseases when prepared and applied traditionally.
So on that basis, I thought we could look back over 2016, over our travels for the year and reminisce. We started January off realising that our rainfall quota was not going to be anything close to normal. The rains fell, just not as long or as plentiful. Great speculation caused long discussions around a year-anticipated drought and what the fallout would be. The Victoria Falls guides shook their heads in disbelief at the less-than-spectacular curtain of water falling over into the gorge. We were too dry, too hot and the northern hemisphere was too wet and too cold.
February took us to Hwange for the first time since our previous visit the year before in October. Two totally juxtaposed seasons: October – oppressively hot, dry and wonderfully dramatic; and February – wet, warm, lush and plentiful. Except the effects of insufficient rain were most definitely visible. Especially at the beautiful Ngamo Plain where, in previous years we had been sloshing through fields of water, now we were rolling through a network of puddles. The plain was productive and entertaining. One of our best sightings was the pack of wild dogs – nine in total including the pups. True to form, Ngamo was abundant with wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, eland, impala and many, many different species of water birds.
March we crossed the Zambezi River to explore the new gym at Toka Leya. Our bodies are designed to move, and yet most of us lead a very sedentary lifestyle with hours in front of computers or indoors. Our city-life gym or yoga sessions are usually indoors too – but here on the banks of the Zambezi River the modern gym equipment is enclosed in an air-conditioned wall-to-wall glass and wooden structure with uninterrupted views of wild Africa, the Zambezi River and dramatic skies. The glass doors fold back completely so that the physical effort of lifting, pedaling, jogging and stretching can meld into the energy of the mighty river as it pulsates down towards the cascade that is Victoria Falls.
In April we went to Botswana, starting off in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve at Kalahari Plains camp. It is impossible to describe the feeling of the wide open spaces of the desert and the drama of the skies, especially at sunset, it has to be lived to be understood. Imagine soft pastel tones over sweeping vastness and not another human around for miles and miles. The wildlife was mostly on the plains in front of camp with little activity happening in Deception Valley. By contrast we then went to Xigera, which is a water camp in the Okavango Delta in the Moremi Game Reserve. Our bodies seemed to just relax and draw in the life-giving moisture from the Delta channels around us. Now viewing wildlife from the mokoro or boat brought us down to a level where we explored more closely. The peace and healing therapy of being on the water is so calming and rejuvenating.
May took us back to Toka Leya on the banks of the Zambezi River in Zambia. This time we went looking for wildlife in Mosi-oa-tunya National Park. Remarkably this park is quite productive with various wild species making their way to and from the Zambezi River. The weather had started to chill in the seasonal change to winter which prompted me to write about what to pack to go on safari. The high season is our winter in the southern hemisphere and even though Africa is perceived to be hot – which it is most of the year, early mornings and evenings during our winter are freezing cold. It is good to bear that in mind when travelling at that time of the year – the secret? Layer, layer, layer. Thermal, silk or wool close to the skin, cut out the wind and then be prepared to peel on and off as the day warms up and then cools down again in the evening.
June was an epic expedition to the magnificent Busanga Plains of Kafue National Park in Zambia. It was an adventure and I am so grateful that we are able to travel to this beautiful part of Africa. I absolutely love this place that literally pumps with lechwe, puku and hippo… while I even found a beautiful little leopard. It was the beginning of the season and she had only been seen once or twice because she was raising a cub. That was evidenced by her print in the sand alongside a little cub’s prints. She delighted us with three separate sightings, the third of which we watched from a distance as she peeked at us through tall golden grass stems. At one stage she actually rolled over onto her back, pawing at the sky above as she wriggled to give herself a delightful back-rub. She was so beautiful – I took her memory with me back to Victoria Falls.
The Zambezi Cycle Challenge took place during the first week of July. This event draws in people from all corners of the planet and is a fantastic event from which proceeds are donated to the anti-poaching unit operating in Victoria Falls National Park and Zambezi National Park, both in Zimbabwe. Proceeds are also channeled for Children in the Wilderness, a conservation initiative for local communities where school children are taught about the importance and value of conserving the wild places where they live. It also teaches them small-scale food production using vermiculture as well as other initiatives that help bring in funds to supplement teacher’s salaries, etc. Full details can be found on the website www.childreninthewilderness.com.
Hwange hosted us again in August. Immediately, winter switched to summer with day-time temperatures reaching into the low 30°s Centigrade. No spring at all, just dry winter conditions and then heat. We spent many hours at a pan called Airstrip II where Mike photographed elephants for hours and hours. Photographically, it is a remarkable place because you can arrive there and feel as though there is nothing around, but if you just sit for a little while, it unfolds around you and then disappears again. Hwange is the elephant experience, and these dry months are the time to be there.
September was another epic trip, this time to the Linyanti in northern Botswana. The whole concession has four camps: Linyanti Tented Camp, DumaTau, Kings Pool and Savuti. We visited three out of the four camps and had the most incredible experiences. Along the Savute Channel the wildlife was plentiful, the wild dogs were entertaining around Kings Pool Camp and between Kings Pool and DumaTau the field of carmine bee-eaters was breathtaking. The elephant experience was fantastic at all of the camps, but Linyanti Tented Camp is right on the river so we came very close to lots and lots of elephants all around us. And it was very hot; now the temperatures were in the low 40°s Centigrade.
The year ended with a visit to Hwange, this time to witness the first rains of summer. Our timing was impeccable. Almost at the same time we arrived, the heavens opened and the rains began to fall. It is an intoxicating smell when the water hits the parched ground. A fragrance is released that is a heavy smell of earth and moisture – difficult to explain! It is relief, and the promise that the cycle is completing itself. Before our eyes during the week that we were there, the landscape transformed as green life erupted everywhere. The whole atmosphere changed with new energy, both in the fauna and flora – it was a beautiful transition to witness.
And that was the year of ‘Mike and Marian on Safari’. We both wish you a very happy holiday season and the very best for the New Year. We look forward to sharing 2017 with you on safari – maybe we will see you in camp somewhere in Africa!
Written by Marian Myers
Photographed by Mike Myers
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