Cat House

Nancy Vandermey, Author
South Africa/Botswana Trip part 5 Mashatu, Planet Baobab - 4-8 November

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It was about a 2 hour drive to the Pont Drift border post from Makhado. The crossing went smoothly, then we went to the Mashatu office just inside the border to decide whether to wait for the regular transfer or drive ourselves to the tented camp. Armed with a map, we decided to drive ourselves there. All was fine until misleading intersections and forks in the road NOT on the map started to show up. We made the correct choice at the intersection, but not at the fork. We knew the road we were on looked a little too rough for us, so we turned back, then Monty came to the rescue - we should have gone the other way at the fork. With careful driving we didn't bottom out (too much) or scrape up the rental car (too badly) and at least we missed the bigger pointy rocks. It was a warm day so I was glad to visit the pool after admiring our tent and porch complete with resident bushbuck and lizard. The hide and waterhole provided fine birding, especially for lilac breasted roller. It was a bit cooler as we headed out, but we soon found that recent rains had brought out not only noisy cicadas but also the mopani flies, a type of stingless wasp. The flies were really just annoying - they didn't bite, but there were thousands on every mopani tree and bush - our driver got several in his eye, and I'm sure we all ate a few! We found two male cheetahs and followed them a while but as they were walking through mopani we eventually gave up. Next we went to a small lion pride - an adult female, her 3.5 year old son and daughter, and two 10 month old girls. They were "flat cats" mostly. An immature martial eagle posed nearby. Mashatu had many less birds of prey than anywhere else we visited - our guide Dan thought because local farmers poisoned them. At sunset we watched some ostrich, and then drove a long way to see a young male leopard in a riverbed as he began to get active. Dinner was held in the boma - we turned the paraffin lamps way down, as it was better to eat in the dark than attract the bizillion cicadas and mopani flies! Neither could we read in bed or play cards, as any light attracted too many bugs.

On the morning drive we began with - a flat tire. Next we admired the same young male leopard, asleep high in a Mashatu tree (aka nyalaberry). For the morning break we watched many elephant heading to the river, with much vocalization. This little sparrowhawk was at the fountain near the bar at camp. Some lightning and rain didn't affect us. After stopping at main camp to visit the giftshop on the evening drive, we saw many more elephant (video), kori bustard, a troop of baboon with young, ostrich, some giraffe, and eland. Even a large elephant looks small under a mashatu tree! After dark we saw 3 genet, including two who posed for us. Much more lightning and rain followed, so dinner was held in the verandah. More rain overnight had Eric worried about our drive out, so while I went on the morning game drive Eric and Monty did a car shuttle to the reception area. On the drive Eric missed the male lion going for a walk, a female white-faced Scop's owl with young, eland, and MANY more elephant - we could see over 100 at one time from the break spot. One was new-born. Monty then ran us back to the car in a "Ferrari safari" so that we could be on the road by 11 am, as we had a long drive ahead of us.

Mashatu supplies directions on how to get to the paved road, which is good because these roads & bridges & villages were not on any maps! All went smoothly, despite the usual lack of directional signs - in Bobonong there was a 5 way traffic circle with no signs to say what went where! Luckily all the people are friendly and were happy to confirm I picked the right road to get us to Phikwe. Many more livestock were on the road, and some didn't make it. Often the cars didn't make it either! From there we joined the main road A1, to Francistown, and guess what - the intersection with the A3 to Nata wasn't marked! We found it easily enough, by heading west - there aren't that many tarred roads. The sky got darker and darker and then the rains REALLY started - there was quite a downpour for a few kilometers! Then we broke through, and it was daylight again. We drove through Nata at 5:30 pm, with 100 km to go and an hour before sunset. The setting sun was directly in our eyes, and we had to slow down every few km because of a donkey, cow, goat, or horse in the road! So it was a bit after sunset when we arrived at Planet Baobab, but not full dark yet. We missed the big aardvark in the dark, but saw the planet sign. Our room was cozy and indeed under baobabs During a drink at the bar, we met our guide for tomorrow, Bones (really something like N'boda). The main reason for being here was to do a day trip to Nxai Pan. A display of skulls, as usual, greeted us at the entrance. Bones warned us to bring/wear something warm, but as we could barely sleep from the heat we didn't listen! Sure enough the 60 km drive was quite cold, and we had but one warm jacket to share between us. Weather-wise this was the worst day of our trip, essentially; there was a drizzle or mist most of the day, so our wildlife sightings were definitely affected by that. On the drive in we saw lion, hyena, and cheetah tracks, but only giraffe and black korhaan were actually seen. There was an elephant and springbok at the waterhole, and jackal and a secretary bird nearby. Nxai Pan is one of the few places were impala and springbok both occur. We saw many kori bustard, including one flying. Due to all the rain, game was quite dispersed instead of being near the waterhole. The best sighting was of a male elephant tearing leaves and bark off a baobab tree. A tawny eagle sat nearby. It was odd to see pelican in the middle of a field.

Part 1 - South Africa/Botswana Trip
Part 2 - Hluhluwe/Umfolozi and St Lucia
Part 3 - Kruger
Part 4 - Mala Mala and Exeter Leadwood
Part 5 - Mashatu and Planet Baobab
Part 6 - Mobile Safari to Moremi, Kwai, Savuti
Part 7 - Vumbera Plains
Part 8 - Jwana Game Park, Cheetah Conservation Botswana