October 31st – Day Thirty Seven
Another of the group had a birthday, Helen being 33 today. We had a morning game walk, much like the previous evenings except we saw more Elephant and nearly walked all the way back to the bus stop. We got to get quite close to a couple of little bee-eaters, smaller and less vibrant than their lilac breasted cousins. There was also a pair of warthogs that allowed us to get quite close, not seeming to mind us creeping closer and closer while they wandered about finding food. We also saw another herd of red lechwe that entertained us by running around us only to double back on themselves when they realised they were running somewhere they didn’t want to go. They looked almost a little sheepish as they slowed down and walked away, realising we weren’t following. The best part of the morning walk was the ten minute rest we all had, lying back on the ground and just relaxing before we headed back to camp.
Out for a morning walk
The little bee-eater
The morning brunch was varied and feed us all wonderfully. There was sausage, beans, toast, bread and omelette capped off by two happy birthday songs for Helen, one from the truck group and the other from the polers. The other group out walking had also seen a lot of elephant, in fact they counted 33 in one herd that passed then by at nearly spitting distance, it was a little scary being that close to such large animals apparently. Everyone was soon full and effort went into getting all the dishes done and then everything packed for our journey back to the bus stop. The packing took no time, I think everyone was keen to return to the base camp, and it wasn’t long before we were all relaxing in the Mokoro for the pole back along the waterways to our rendezvous point.
The trip was rather like the previous day only this time a lot hotter, it being later in the day. We got back hot and sweaty to find that there still wasn’t a key for the fridge and this bought on drastic action. A tool for filing was found and the lock hacked through so we could all have a cold drink. Unfortunately the fridge wasn’t very full so there weren’t many soft drinks to go around, a few of us having to settle for either beer or fruit ale. The wait was about an hour for Elton and the other boats to arrive, Elton had had problem with the truck in the morning so had been delayed. One of the boats arrived early and it was negotiated that a group would go back while the rest of us waited for the other two boats so we could load all of our gear and then also depart. This plan failed as those who stayed behind caught the boat that had left earlier finding it stuck in a narrow part of the channel with the engine flooded, so those onboard rather than getting back early had spent an extra twenty minutes in the sun with no shade and little water. The engine problems were soon sorted and we were on our way once more.
We followed the first boat quite closely, our boat being the faster of the two. It was interesting watching the waves crash through and be absorbed by the bordering vegetation, at times we were so close that we would stall, the propeller being left out of the water as we travelled in the trough of the boat ahead. We also had to content with wildly bouncing reeds and grasses that had been disturbed by the first boat so we had a few more bumps and a lot more water thrown at us than on our first journey the day before. Despite the slower trip it wasn’t that long before we were back at the lagoon and then getting off the boat and onto the dry land of Makwena.
Waiting at the bus stop
The afternoon and evening was spent like many others with duties performed and drinks had at the bar. We also enjoyed our showers, it being nice to be clean for the first time in a few days. Will, Keryn and I decided to head off for a walk around the island so after a quick talk with Elton we got our cameras and headed away from the campsite into the centre of the island. We quickly came out of the wooded area of the campsite to find ourselves on an open plain, small clumps of palm and the odd tree breaking up the view to the horizon. Elton had told us we would cross two such areas and then come to a disused airstrip, at which we would find a raised area where we might be able to get a good sunset shot. SO we walked at a leisurely pace over the plain, keeping an eye out for any wildlife. We saw one lonely elephant in the distance, a couple of little bee-eaters, briefly a couple of bushbuck and then a small herd of red lechwe. The lechwe allowed us to get quite close, I guess they were more used to people than the other herds we had seen.
The sun coming down as we walked on Makwena
We walked for a little over an hour, taking a few photos by generally just enjoying be out and taking our time. On the journey back we found a few porcupine quills as we followed a path and also came across some dung beetles doing their thing. It was starting to get dark as we came back to the path out of the woods and we were soon back at the campsite where it was nearly dinner time.
Dinner was steak by special request and it was followed by a cake for the birthday girl. Helen had been talking with Elton and he had suggested a starlight trip out on to the lagoon so we could look at the stars so this was arranged for just after dishes had been completed. A few of us waited at the bar and then it was time to go, nine of us (Elton, Jacques, Helen, Rachel, Will, Steve, Keryn, Myself and the driver)onboard for a bit of star gazing, or so we thought.
I did wonder why we needed a large spotlight on board if we were to be looking at the stars. As we headed out Elton was to the bow of the boat with the spotlight in hand and he directed the person steering by waving the light in a given direction. We proceeded to move over the lagoon, crossing back and forth was Elton peered ahead. He would point out fish feeding near the surface, a lot of catfish and bream to be seen. As the night progressed we saw some huge catfish, a couple being well over a metre long. There were also fireflies about, little flashes of green travelling across the sky. We had one land of the back of the seat in front of us, it looking like a little indicator light as we glided through the lagoon. Then Elton became quite focused and he asked Jacques to join him at the front. We moved slowly forward with both men on hands and knees, Elton leaning over the edge to then lunge down and grab at something which turned out to be a crocodile, we saw it’s tail (probably a metre of tail) slipping under the water. At this point we realised that this was more of a croc catching exercise than a star gazing trip.
We continued around the lagoon and soon were approaching another target, the two eyes reflecting as pinpoints in the reeds ahead. Again Elton lunged but this time he didn’t have his hand in the water too long, we all saw the huge croc swim off, it’s head being quite large enough to scare us all, it was probably over two metres long and wider than any of us on the boat. Thankfully it didn’t seem bothered or tempted by those on the boat and we didn’t see it again.
We went down a channel and Elton soon spotted another crocodile in the reeds. The boat crept forward, Elton leaned over and then suddenly disappeared off the edge with an almighty splash! We were all looking around for what could only have been seconds but felt longer and then Elton was standing before us, feet it the water and reeds and a metre-and-a-half croc dangling from his clenched hands by it’s snout. Elton was yelling at Jacques “grab the tail! grab the tail!” but Jacques was having none of it, and I don’t blame him. The croc gave a twist of it’s body and Elton couldn’t hold it any longer, the animal disappearing to leave Elton standing dripping and angry in the reeds, swearing in Afrikaans while we all stared on dumfounded. Helen was soon yelling at Elton to get back into the boat, worried that there was a croc more than capable of a nasty injury swimming around nearby. Back on board Elton took a moment to brood while we all reflected on the recent events, the image of Elton appearing out of the water, croc hanging from his hands and yelling at Jacques will live with me for a long time to come. We had all thought this was a peaceful half hour cruise of star gazing so none of us had a camera, not that I need a photo to remember to moment.
With the adrenaline not running quite as fast Elton took off his sodden top and sat down to tell us a little bit about crocodiles, explaining that all of their power is in the tail which is why he had asked Jacques to assist by grabbing the scaly critter by it’s end. He talked a little as we set off and a half hour or so latter, after once more disappearing off the side of the boat, he managed to claim a prize, thankfully this one a lot smaller being a young croc of about half a metre in length. Elton held the croc and showed us the muscular tail, small feet and legs and sharp teeth. He explained that most of the muscles in the head are geared towards holding the mouth shut, there being only a half dozen or so whose purpose is to open the jaw. As such it is quite easy to keep the mouth shut with your hands, but quite another story to prise the jaws apart once they are locked onto something. While holding the mouth shut with his fingers and telling us about the powerful tail muscles the little guy flexed and was free in the bottom of the boat. You’ve never seen seven people more so fast in your life, we all moving as far away and as quickly as possible while Elton fished around to catch the croc without letting it use those razor sharp teeth. It was soon back in his hands and we were feeling the difference in texture between its belly and tail skin. Curiosity satisfied he let the croc go into the water and we watched it float and rest, tired after it’s attempts at escape. Rest complete it slipped into the darkness and we started heading back to the island.
We stopped for a time to look at the stars though by now there was a cover of wispy clouds so those stars we could see were blinking and diffused through the misty sky. Elton told us a few stories of when he used to be a game warden and then a tour leader – his spitting cobra story being rather memorable (but I’m keeping that one to myself, you’ll have to ask him about it yourself). It was only a short way back to the dock and we all made our way ashore a little dazed and disbelieving after our nearly three hour night adventure. To the sounds of crickets we walked back down the path to the camp site and opened our tent to fall into bed, a good nights sleep beckoning.