Thursday, 1 March 2012

Savuti (2)

Friday, 24th February 2012

I set my travel alarm for just before 5.00 a.m. so, by the time I heard the "Hello" called from outside by a member of the Camp staff, I was already pottering about. At 5.30 a.m. I was collected by a guy with an L.E.D. torch (like Duba Plains, guests are chaperoned by a member of staff when it's dark because animals are free to wander through the Camps) and taken to the dining area where I had a simple breakfast with the couple who live in Holland, our guide Lets and some of the Camp Management.

In the grey, pre-dawn light we set off on the track away from the Camp in one of the Land Rovers. We stopped short of an Owl sitting in the middle of the road. After a moment, he flew off and we continued towards the airstrip. The South African couple I'd met at dinner the previous evening had departed on safari a few minutes before us and their driver/guide came on the two-way radio to say they'd spotted a leopard heading our way. We turned around, headed back towards the Camp and stopped again at the location where our guide, Lets, judged that the leopard could be seen. After a minute or two, a shadowy figure appeared around a bend in the road and plodded off into the bush. Lets then turned around again and continued on the main track before turning onto a track down a firebreak cut into the bush. This time, we had a rather better, if brief, view as the leopard appeared out of the bush, plodded across the firebreak and disappeared again. It was a large animal which Lets recognised as a local female. From the distended lower body, we concluded that she was pregnant. An amazing sighting!

Since it's difficult to track animals in the heavy vegetation of the bush, we concluded the sighting of the leopard and continued with the original scheme for the drive. We passed a large giraffe happily grazing from the trees but any other animals were effectively hidden by the closely-spaced trees and bushes. There were a number of permanent tracks made by animals moving around and various small pools. Occasionally, we passed muddy depressions which elephants used for their ablutions.

We had various bird sightings - there's an immense variety of colourful species. Our guide forced the Land Rover through dense bush to reach the Savuti Channel. This is a semi-permanent river currently flowing but liable to dry up every few years. It was a delightful place to stop for tea and biscuits and there were numerous birds to be seen.

Morning tea by the Savuti Channel.

After our break, we continued along the river margin (often with our left hand wheels in the water causing the vehicle to tilt in a rather alarming manner!). Shortly after our track turned inland, we sustained a problem. After an ominous 'bang' from underneath, our guide found that the left front wheel wasn't steering and we stopped. Cursory inspection underneath suggested that the substantial steering rod to the left front wheel had snapped like a breadstick! Our guide contacted the Camp by radio and a rescue was arranged. We were allowed to walk a few yards from the vehicle during our wait but, if there were any animals around, they kept quiet and kept hidden. After about an hour, the sound of a vehicle could be heard and a Land Rover appeared behind us with two guys from the Camp. A few minutes later, another Land Rover pulled up, with a man and a well-built lady in stained overalls who, I correctly concluded, was a mechanic. We were to continue our journey in the second Land Rover, leaving behind four people to fit the replacement steering rod they'd brought and get the repaired vehicle and the mechanics' vehicle back to camp.

As we carried on, we found more interesting birds and, in a river creek, a single hippopotamus adopting the characteristic pose - submerged except for eyes, ears and the top of the head. There were a number of weaver birds' nests, each woven at the end of a tree branch and we passed a baby crocodile, a couple of Water Monitors and more than one African Fish Eagle.

An African Fish Eagle surveys the water from a dead tree.

Once again, our track turned away from the water and the bush became less dense, with patches of open grass. Now we began to meet small groups of Impala. This must be the most handsome of the antelopes and I believe it's the most successful. But I've a soft spot for the Red Lechwe I saw at Duba Plains since their movement, often conducted in a series of massive leaps, gives the appearance of sheer exuberance. At one location, we found a group of about eight impala happily grazing on the vegetation of a cone-shaped mound which was topped by a huge, grey termite hill. The termite hill was pierced by numerous openings looking like doors and windows, giving the appearance of some mythical castle.

Impala grazing at the 'mythical castle'.

We stopped to watch a rather timid group of elephants who quietly passed us keeping their distance, quickly becoming hidden in the foliage of the surrounding trees. Then we found the engine wouldn't restart. I'd assumed we'd received a 'spare' vehicle because the driver's door was held shut (not very effectively) by a piece of wire, the plastic on the air intake was broken and the odometer didn't register speed. However, our guide assured me it was a 'regular' vehicle normally used by another guide. Lets managed to get the Hazard lights on and the windscreen wiper motor worked (although there were no wiper blades because the windscreen is normally hinged flat, out of the way). Eventually, after a bit of fiddling with the Remote Locking Key, the starter motor turned over and the engine immediately fired. We completed our return to Savuti Camp in time for Brunch without further excitement.

Pictures of the Game Drive are here.

In the late afternoon, Lets took the couple from Holland and Jan for a pleasant boat trip on the Savuti Channel. From the water, it was possible to get a better idea of the layout of the camp with guest rooms spread along the river bank on either side of the central group of buildings with the landing stage for the boats.

A group of Openbilled Stork solemnly watch our passage from a dead tree on the riverbank.

Near the limit of our trip, the channel broadened and we were observed by a pod of hippotamus. Their quiet, unmoving gaze was strangely hypnotic.

Hippopotamus observe our boat.

On the return journey, we moored at a wooden viewing platform built on the riverbank which offered good views across the river. This was the location for the tradition of a 'Sundowner' - a drink on the way back to Camp prior to the evening meal. Around 6.00 p.m., we clambered back into the boat for a gentle cruise back to the landing stage at the Camp.

Pictures of the boat trip are here.