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October 2008 Archives

October 4, 2008

From the bedroom of a sleeping toddler

It's lucky that the PowerBook keyboard is near-silent, because I'm typing this in the same room that grand-daughter Amy is sleeping. She has had an exciting day, with no nap, lots of exercise, games with two large black Labradors, sociability and a swim. She wore the Polyotter today, a swimsuit with removable body floats, and it was her longest, and most independent swim so far. Then we visited neighbours and dear friends Malcolm and Aileen, which was a brilliant distraction from the fact that her mother was going out for the evening for a well-deserved break and her grand-father Keir was going to Glasgow for a concert to celebrate Nigel Osborne's 60th birthday. We walked back up the hill in near-darkness (Amy in the buggy by now) and had the loveliest bath with bubbles. Before I had finished reading Jill Lambert's wonderful "Peace at last" to her, she was already asleep.

Much as I would like to have gone to Nigel's concert, fielding Amy was more compelling. (I've just found out that it will be broadcast by the BBC on Saturday 25 October, 22.30 to midnight, which is great news as he sang a cameo role in one of the opera selections and I've never heard Nigel sing before.) I feel absurdly proud of Amy's water confidence, and her insistence "I can do it by myself". This is approximately true when she's wearing the Polyotter but doomed to failure when, as so often, she asks to come back in the water, after I had thought she was finished, without a stitch on. But she will get there, as long as she goes on enjoying it. She has the most wonderful social confidence, a real tribute to her mother's patience and child-centredness. But she fell asleep before 8.30 pm and I needed to occupy myself for the evening.

Real work is now out of the question: the office is too far away to be in earshot, and neither music nor TV are compatible with monitoring her welfare. So this is the ideal moment to update my blog, which at least has proved useful to me when I forget things (which has become increasingly often lately). I'm wildly unreliable about update frequency but have decided just to accept my own faults and forgive them. If I blogged about some of the exciting things I've done recently, I might never be able to make myself write the book. My time in June on Kili by the Lemosho route is an example: I just have to keep my powder dry or the book would never be written.

October 9, 2008

South Africa and Mozambique

Today we are off on a mystery trip. It's only a mystery to husband Keir, who officially doesn't know where we're going. I booked it a few months ago: no mystery for me! Sadly, the combination of anti-malarials, time of year and flight times must have given away the fact that we are going to southern Africa. It remains to emerge whether he has guessed the Mozambique bit (Benguerra Island). Since both my experiences of diving earlier this year have been muted, at best, he has probably guessed I'm keen to go somewhere coastal as well. The books I'll give him at Heathrow will certainly tell all: one on the Kruger and the other on Mozambique, where he can relax and bird-spot and I shall dive (weather permitting).

I've got a name for the pre-departure tailspin that precedes any holiday, but I never seem to get any better at managing or preventing it. In just over an hour we are off, and I had barely time to write this. Although I wrapped up the massive task of page-making our forthcoming Everest book yesterday, that meant leaving packing until today. And this morning I couldn't find my favourite camera, the excellent Panasonic Lumix with an 18x zoom. OK, I'll fess up to having other cameras (2 other digitals and I won't admit how many film-based) but this is THE safari camera. And until I found it, I couldn't start charging its batteries, which takes simply hours ... hence I'm sitting in my office waiting for the light to go off: ridiculous! Actually the combination of dive kit, underwater housing (for the other digicam) and so forth makes for a surprising number of batteries, chargers, adaptors et al, not to mention the wonderful obsolete dive computers.

Time to go now (EDI then LHR then Johannesburg), this entry filed just after mid-day but I'll schedule it ahead (for once) so Keir can't read it before we go.

October 14, 2008

A sojourn at the Savanna Lodge, near the Kruger

We've just been staying at the Savanna Lodge. I had been sceptical of its website claim "the ultimate safari experience", but I was wrong, it's all true. The Savanna Lodge staff are passionate, dedicated and skilful, and the whole day is geared to maximising your chances of game viewing in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve (which borders the Kruger). The morning game drive leaves at 0530, with breakfast served on return. Lunch is at 1530 followed by the evening game drive. (Between the two you can sleep, swim, chill or whatever.) Guests are assigned to a 2-man team which takes you on game drives in vehicles with no sides or canopy. Sitting thus exposed, within a few yards of elephant, lion or leopard, really does feel like the ultimate safari experience.

Keir and I were assigned to ranger Shaune and tracker Nordic - a long-term partnership in which communication was mainly wordless. They had an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time, each depending on each other's skills not only for successful sightings, but also for safety. They read the animal's body language, approach only when the animals are calm, often positioning the vehicle (engine always switched off) so that the animals approach it. Thus we found ourselves amidst a herd of 40-50 elephants, including very young ones and the matriarch, calmly feeding and walking past us, at one point only inches away. Here is one of the many photos I took (telephoto lens unnecessary:):

elephantsSS.jpg

Elephant, rhino and lion were plentiful and most drives gave us close sightings of these and more. Rhino were even grazing quietly outside our cabin on the day we arrived, although I captured the one below at a water-hole, late afternoon. Shortly after, we saw these two lions near a kill, and they were so relaxed that they resumed mating. Apparently they do this every 15-30 minutes for as long as the lioness is in oestrus - only yards from the vehicle. I felt slightly voyeuristic at first, then just awe-struck.

RhinoS.jpg

LionPairs.jpg

But the most thrilling sight of all was leopard. Solitary, stealthy and secretive, it's the most elusive of all carnivores. We followed this female as she stalked and killed a baby kudu. The chase was literally breath-taking and the experience utterly unforgettable.

MegarryLeopardS.jpg

We really enjoyed the excellent Savanna Lodge food and drink: game drives always stop for a sundowner, and unlike many "inclusive" resorts, this one charges nothing for extras, whether drinks, laundry or bathtime luxuries (e.g. lavender oil in a quail's egg). They even give you a blank CD on which to burn your photographs!

October 18, 2008

A dugong while diving

Wednesday was my first day of diving here at Marlin Lodge, and it was sensational. Within the first five minutes, I found myself staring at this weird-looking mammal:

dugongS.jpg

The fact there were a couple of sharks nearby was strictly a side-show. Dugongs are a threatened species, so rare that divemaster Paul had never seen one on a dive before despite 10 years of diving almost daily in these waters. There's a total of about 40 animals in this part of the Indian Ocean, and it's the icon of their Marine National Park. If I hadn't seen manatees in Florida before, I would have thought I was hallucinating. I found out about the dugong only after I saw it.

Dugongs (and manatees) are also known as sea cows, perhaps because they graze on underwater grasses, but (unlike the manatee's) the dugong's tail is fluked like a whale's. Sea cows are related to elephants, and reputed to be the origin of the myth of the mermaid. The photo above is courtesy of National Geographic. For once, I was glad I wasn't carrying a camera, as it left me free to enjoy the magic of the sighting.

It was the first of many dives I made on Two-mile Reef, although yesterday we went further afield to Cabo San Sebastian and dived to 29 metres in crystal-clear water. The journey there through the "washing machine" was a real white-knuckle ride, the motor-boat slamming hard through huge, confused seas. It was such a tranquil contrast then to drop below all that surface noise and share the cool, deep seascape with turtles, devil rays and potato bass. However, the bumpy journey was also rewarded with sightings of humpback whale and lots of dolphins, which was a considerably bonus on top of the diving. Above all, the diving was enhanced by divemaster Paul's relaxed, but highly professional style, which led to safe but enjoyable diving for everybody.

October 20, 2008

On sailing a dhow at sunset, Marlin Lodge

We've been in Mozambique for six days, and Marlin Lodge is stunning. Twice we went on a dhow cruise near sunset. The dhow is a traditional Arabic sailboat with a large lateen (triangular) sail and simple rigging (one halyard, one sheet). They have no keel: heeling is controlled by moving the passengers and/or sacks of ballast. The cruises are provided by the local islanders, in locally owned boats in which the mast looks improvised and sails are patched together from bits of tarpaulin and other material:

dhowSail.jpg

Our first skipper was all of 16 years old (his crew a year younger) and the teamwork whereby they handle these heavy, keel-less boats is most impressive. The rig is much more efficient on one tack than the other (where the sail presses against the mast). For our later trip, I had worked out how to get on helm, right across Flamingo Bay as it turned out. This photograph is significant as it is husband Keir's very first image taken with the Leica-lensed Panasonic Lumix camera that I used on safari:

dhowJM.jpg

To see how wonderfully elegant these boats are under sail, and why sunset is the best time to enjoy them, words are inadequate, so here's another image.

dhowSunset.jpg

October 22, 2008

Reflections on Marlin Lodge

Yesterday we returned to Landrick, fresh from Marlin Lodge in Mozambique, which gave us our own cabin with private access to the Indian Ocean. It was a deeply peaceful place, and it was curiously appealing to be able to walk straight from the bedroom into the sea: who needs plunge pools?

cabin.jpg

Unlike so many "inclusive" resorts, Marlin Lodge is not guilty of excluding the local population. It's one of three luxury lodges that comprise most of the economy of Benguerra Island, employing a large staff directly, buying fish from the islanders and creating joint projects on what the Lodge recognises is a shared island. The dhow cruises are a good example of collaboration, and the islanders walk freely on the beach in front of our cabins. This led to an energetic game of football on the beach with our two Mexican neighbours, Leonardo and Andres, and some local boys in the pink light of sunset: pure magic!

football.jpg

Benguerra has the improbably white, fine sand that seems as if borrowed from a film set. Last Saturday we had a wonderful boat trip to the island's South Point where the staff set up your sun umbrella, cool box and cushions, and leave you to enjoy sundowners on the beach. We couldn't resist a walk around the end of the island, where I picked up a purple pansy shell. This is the flat skeleton of a rare sea urchin which, like a sand dollar, has a five-petalled flower at its centre. I've added a photograph below the South Point beach. You're allowed to bring home the shells, and mine still smells of the Indian Ocean: very evocative.

southPoint.jpg

pansyShells.jpg

About October 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in October 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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