I had a quick wash up and then went back to the fire pit in the center of camp. There were 8 older Americans in camp, part of a group that had traveled by train in South Africa for three weeks. This was the last of their three nights at Pom Pom, and they were eager to share their stories.
They were headed to Vic Falls next and then home. There was also a couple from Cape Town, Emile and Betsy, along with their 20-something daughter Nina. Emile is "a painter, carpenter, general handyman" who happens to be a chiropractor in his spare time. Betsy is a tour organizer, and Nina works at an advertising agency. Her twin sister Nicky is also in advertising and lives in Chicago. They were all delightful, very outgoing and happy. They had just come from Shinde Camp, where I end my trip, and are headed to Machaba Camp, another Ker & Downey camp further east. With
Claude, Edith and me, we had 14 guests, nearly the 16 capacity for the camp.
Two of the Americans, Ann and Salome, had stayed behind during the afternoon game drive and had seen a breeding herd of 25 elephants approach the back of camp. Elephants are matriarchal, and the males live alone or in "bachelor herds." The females have a gestation period of 22 months and keep the calves with them for about 7 years before the males leave, with the female young remaining in the herd. The breeding herds are all females and their young and are far more protective and dangerous than the bulls. Twelve of the herd came up to drink at the water hole, which was very exciting for those who were there. The others had seen lion very close on their game drives, so they were also very pleased. Dinner was served at 8:00 around a large table for all the guests, Korbis and Marsha, and the guides, Obi and Amos. Odie, the head camp worker, announced the menu to much applause at the table. Each Ker & Downey camp has the same 7-day menu, so if a visitor spends a week they will not have the same meal twice. The meals vary slightly based on the season - cold soups in "summer" and hot in "winter". The first night we had cold tomato soup, lamb chops, scalloped potatoes, peas, squash and lemon souffle, along with South African wines, a Chardonnay and a Shiraz.
After dinner, most people adjourned to pack (or unpack), and I sat around the table with Korbis, Marsha, Emile, Betsy and Nina. Emile insisted that I try Amarula, an after dinner drink made from the fruit of the native Marula tree and cream. Tasted very much like Bailey's Irish Cream. Korbis and Marsha walked with me to my tent - the camp provides torches (flashlights). On the way, we came upon a lone bull elephant about 30 feet past the walkway, calmly destroying a tree for dinner.
Monday, April 26, 1999 - Pom Pom Camp, Botswana
I slept well - a few noises in the night, but nothing that kept me awake. Tea was brought to my tent at 6:00 a.m. and I dressed and went to the main camp for a light breakfast at 6:30. The sun comes up around 6:10 at this time of year, and it was a bit chilly in the morning, so I wore shorts, a t-shirt and a light pullover windbreaker, along with my light hiking boots.
We had cereals, fruit, yogurt, toast, coffee, tea and juice (orange mixed with white grape juice).
There were lions at the waterhole when I arrived - about 120 yards from camp. There was a female and three cubs in the reeds, plus a poor lonely hippo trying to cover himself in the water hole, but only managing about 2/3's of the way.
After breakfast, we said our goodbyes to the Americans, and the rest of us went out in one of the Land Cruisers for a game drive. The managers and staff all work rotating shifts of two months on and one week off, with 2 months off during December and January when the camps are closed. Obi was our guide - he is from Maun and his family is there, so he sees them every two months.
We went to the "back" waterhole, which took about 10 minutes. We found most of the lion family there - 1 female, 3 males and 3 cubs, about 4 months old. The cubs were drinking, but none of them seemed particularly bothered by us. We were told that as long as we are in the vehicle, the
lions only see the vehicle as one large entity, not the people in it. We drove within 25' of the males and cubs - after a few minutes, they all slowly got up and sauntered off into the long grass.
The photographic safaris are divided into concessions that are leased from the Botswana government for varying periods - usually 15 years. The company must maintain certain standards and maximum occupancy, and must pay a flat amount plus an amount per "bed-night" to the government. The Pom Pom concession is about 7-8,000 hectares, and the sizes vary.
Obi spent much time pointing out different trees and plants to us. He also identified that "wild" smell I had been experiencing - wild sage. It is so strong and is used as an insect repellent by the bushmen - they put sprigs around the babies' cots to keep insects away.
We drove around to the other side of the camp and found a small herd of ten Tsessebe (pronounced "sess-a-bee") - kind of angular antelope with small upright curved horns. Both male and female have horns, but the males are darker and slightly larger. They are the fastest antelope, with speeds of 65-70 km per hour. We saw a few herds of zebra, wildebeest, warthogs, baboons, and impala in the distance, but they moved away as we drove near. We also saw one lone bull
elephant in the tree-line and a lone giraffe.
We had to stop every once in a while for Obi to cool down the radiator. They've ordered a new radiator, but in the meantime they have to bring extra water and pour it on the engine. There were many places where fires were started from lightning strikes and there were ashes and charred stumps, but new grass was already growing, even where fires burned two weeks before. The rainy season is during summer, December-January, but they don't get much rain. The Okavango Delta, where we were, has an annual flood that comes down from Angola and leaves a couple of feet of water over the flood plains. The flood usually comes in June or July, but it was expected to be early this year - mid-May. They told us that last year the camp managers photographed the flood coming
in - they took one photo an hour, and the whole process took only 8 hours to flood the pan in back of camp!
We got back around 11:00 and I took a shower. Brunch was served at 11:30 - the Americans had all left, so it was a smaller group. We had Bobutie, a curried meat dish from South Africa, served with saffron rice, cucumber/tomato salad and papadams. After lunch, Emile, Betsy and Nina left for Cape Town and everyone else disappeared for siesta. I stayed out by the fire pit and watched the waterhole. They have a wonderful land telescope set up on a tripod to look at the animals that
come. One lone bull elephant came up and chased the hippo out of the waterhole. He messed around in front of camp for a while, then wandered away. Around 3:00, two more elephants appeared near the back of the water hole eating the long grass. They pull it up by the roots and whack the ends against their sides to loosen the dirt. A Leguaan (Monitor Lizard) appeared - looks like a big Iguana - and then a small troupe of baboons came to drink. Not bad game sighting for having moved not one inch from my chair all afternoon!
At 4:00 we had tea, and met the newest arrivals - Samantha, a publisher of African Safari and wildlife books from Cape Town, and her daughter Ashley, who will be going to school at Sotheby's in London in August, so they were doing a final mother/daughter trip. They had just spent one night at
Shinde Camp, where I end my trip and one night at Abu's Camp, an elephant back safari camp not far from Pom Pom. They were very fun and outgoing. Two other new arrivals were Richard and Sheila, from the Isle of Jersey off the coast of England. They were going to a wedding in Joburg on Saturday, and decided to tack on a few days in Botswana. They were so quiet and polite - the stereotypical British tourists. We also had Helen and Tikwa, two Finnish women who work in Botswana as volunteer nurses. A benefactorof their aid foundation had won a two night stay at Pom Pom and given it to them.
Unlike some African countries, Botswana severely restricts the number of safari tourists allowed. In doing so, they have targeted a more upscale clientele, offering luxury camps and smaller groups. Ker & Downey is based in Houston, Texas, so the majority of their client base is American, mostly retired, since they commonly have the time and money.
After tea we went for a game drive. Samantha and Ashley come to safari camps all the time through Samantha's work and they didn't want to go on the drive - they sat by the fire pit and absorbed the atmosphere. We split into two cars and Obi drove us to the back waterhole again. We found an old hippo tusk (canine) near the waterhole, and drove up into a small grove of trees. There was a clearing, and one of the bull elephants I had seen earlier was there. Obi drove to about 25 feet away and turned off the engine. The elephant looked at us, then raised his truck, trumpeted,
flapped his ears and charged the truck! He only came about 10 feet forward, but it was quite impressive. Obi was completely unfazed - he later told me that he had studied elephants and worked with them for a long time. Elephants have very bad eyesight, and bulls will do a "mock charge" at
things that they are uncertain of and can't see well, just to give a warning to say, "don't make me do this for real." They use the mock charge to puff themselves up and appear large and frightening so they don't have to really fight. It works.
After the charge, the elephant went back to munching on plants, and we drove near another "island" of trees and bushes. As we drove past, I saw some little faces looking at us from under a thicket - we found the lion cubs! Their mother had stashed them in the bushes while the adults went
off to hunt, and they peered out at us while we ogled them. They look so innocent and tame, but that is deceiving.