Africa Botswana

Click Talking, Appetite Suppressing, Running San Bushmen

Their hands were small, frail and delicate, their skin so soft, satiny and supple. “We eat and drink the fruits and vegetables of the desert,” DSC_0779the San Bushmen ladies explained as to why their skin is so soft even though the live in the dry hot Kalahari Desert.

Digging up a bi bulb tuber in the Kalahari Desert
Digging up a bi bulb tuber in the Kalahari Desert

To show us, one of the ladies dug a potato-like bi bulb tuber from the desert from which the San Bushmen get a milky liquid to drink and wash their face.DSC_0651 “We eat more than 300 different plants and have 218 species of medicinal plants in the Kalahari.”

The ladies and men stood around 4 1/2 feet tall and graciously and happily welcomed us to their homeland in their click language.DSC_0559 Some women were bare breasted, one carried a child on her back and several appeared much older. They were dressed in soft animal skins and their skirts were adorned with large polka dots of multi-colored beads to cover the holes that appeared over the years in the skins. A shawl of animal skin was draped across one shoulder, leaving one breast uncovered. DSC_0472Their shoes were handmade sandals from animal skins. And their hairdos where short with many twisted stands of hair standing straight up.DSC_0621

More and more San bushmen kept coming from the bush walking toward us single file on their path to where we were waiting until there were 12. These were the San Bushman from whom all mankind originated over 30,000 years ago, also called First People. DSC_0617The men wore animal skins to cover their private parts, plus they carried arrows and bows for hunting for wild animals.

Today, San Bushman are the only people who can run full speed and “talk” at the same time and they speak/sing the old San dialect. We were visiting with the Zunchwazi clan in the Kalahari Desert on a Tauck World Discovery tour. The San Bushmen now have to live in the Caecae village in Botswana because the government has leased their land for diamond and oil mining. And now they must obtain their food from farming in the new village, not their homeland in the Kalahari Desert.DSC_0488 Each clan “sings” a different click language in notes because their talking is singing. They communicate by notes, 4 click sounds and 5 tones. TC is a pop made with the tongue on the lips outside of teeth, C is also a pop made by bending the tongue by the teeth, X is a fast clicking made by the tongue and the roof of the mouth, and Q is a pop. They sing songs about giraffes, eland, and porcupines.DSC_0497

 Now it was time to follow the San Bushmen further into the Kalahari where the young leader of the group, with an interpreter who spoke English and their click language, told us about the advantages of elephant poop.DSC_0654 And we were all laughing so hard as he spoke using his mime antics. When we didn’t totally understand his actions, the interpreter helped us understand. He told us elephant poop helps arthritis, sleep, cuts which are rubbed with burned poop ashes, keeping mosquitoes away by burning it, and chicken pox by using the liquid from it.

 Next we saw how the First People find scorpions in the desert dirt and then eat them.DSC_0757 Scorpions, they said, have a lot of protein.DSC_0762 Living nomadic lives, San Bushmen eat bush berries, raisins, bulbs, corms (garlic like family), geophytes, cucumber, nuts from morama plant, bulbs, and medicinal plants and more, all collected by the women.  As the young San Bushman was showing us how they live in the desert, we noticed a tattoo on his arm and he explained it indicated he had ran for 24 hours non-stop.

Controlling their appetite was natural for the San Bushmen on long hunting trips. And they did it by eating the meat of the hoodia gordonii plant, found growing in South Africa and Namibia. The leafless spiny succulent plant was also used for indigestion and small infections. So in 1977, the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research isolated the ingredient in Hoodia –now called P57-which is the appetite suppressant. It was patented in 1996. In 2002, the San Bushmen’s rights to Hoodia were officially recognized allowing them a percentage of the profits and any spin-off from the marketing of it should it ever occur.DSC_0681

 As the San Bushmen were showing us how they make a fire from rubbing two sticks together, we also just had to take photos of their precious children and, like all children, DSC_0522they posed and had to see themselves in the photos. The San Bushmen are noted for their love of children.DSC_0520

 Now the fire was beginning and a big fire was going as all gathered in a circle to sing, clap, laugh, smoke a cigar and play Paper, Rocket, Scissors, 1,2,3. It was amazing to watch them in their intense competition.DSC_0735

 As we went to the next lesson on survival in the Kalahari,

we came upon Cobra, and old man with dread locks and western clothes, puffing on his hand-rolled cigarette.

Cobra, their healer and problem solver, smokes his hand-rolled cigarette.
Cobra, their healer and problem solver, smokes his hand-rolled cigarette.

“He is our healer”, our young San Bushman guide explained. He helps us get into a trance when we dance and he cures our cancer and solves our problems.”

Our guide them showed us how they make traps to catch small animals for their food,DSC_0743 and explained that they move to another place in the desert when they cannot find food.  And they moved frequently.

But the First People moved to one place they do not like. Between 1950-90, they were moved from their native indigenous land in the Kalahari Desert by the government of Botswana and they had to switch to farming as a result of the government mandated modernization programs. DSC_0586To hunt on their land today, they have to apply for restrictive permits in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, their homeland for more than 30,000 years, which has been leased for diamond mining and oil fracking.DSC_0619

The lessons of survival in the Kalahari Desert were over now and after posing for photos with us, the 12 San Bushmen walked down their worn path to their Caecae village where they must live another life they do not want. And all that wealth of knowledge learned from the Kalahari in anthropology, genetics, medicines, food and water is no longer needed.DSC_0778

 But the San Bushmen will remember it as long as they live. And the beautiful soft delicate ladies will eat the fruits and vegetables they try to raise in their little village while trying to live off of government

subsidies.  Photo Copy ©  2015 



Africa Botswana

Sleeping in the Desert On a Salt Pan

It was below freezing cold in total darkness in the middle of a desert in the winter solstice. DSC_0239We were sleeping alone in our beds out in the middle of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan with just the constellations of Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius and Capricornus, the Milky Way, the Southern Cross, Saturn, Mars, Venus, the Crescent Moon and the Seven Sisters all dazzling down at us like diamonds.DSC_0237

Our metal beds sat on top of a huge field of salt with a sleeping bag on top. Crawling into the sleeping bag under 4 heavy layers of comforter, blanket, sheet and the bag were so tight we could barely get in, much less turn over.DSC_0258 Plus, I had on 5 layers of clothes and a fur hat because it was below freezing cold in June in the winter in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana in the Southern Hemisphere.

I must be crazy to do this, I thought, as I made myself get into the ice cold bed with 2 Bush Babies (hot water bottles) fully clothed all alone in the desert.DSC_0262 It reminded me of my early days on the farm when I had to do the same thing in the winter. And then, I vowed I would never live like that again. Yet, I was doing it again because I always dreamed of sleeping in a desert just once.DSC_0279

But this was a very special time to be in the Kalahari Desert because it was the winter solstice with the Matariki as the Maori call the  beautiful star cluster in Taurus. It is also called the Seven Sisters or “the Pleiades” by Europeans. Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius were particularly distinctive. During the winter, the Sun is low in the daytime sky so any planets opposite the Sun are nearly overhead during the middle of the night, providing the best viewing of the year. And they were. Saturn and Mars and everything else in that night sky was so sharp, bright and clear that I felt a special connection to them.DSC_0250

When I was growing up on the farm far from a city in the Northern Hemisphere, my Daddy would have us spend several times a year in the total darkness to look at the wonderful sky full of constellations, planets and everything else. And I never dreamed I would do it in the Southern Hemisphere in a desert in a Salt Pan.DSC_0260

All of our tour members agreed to sleep in the desert.

To get to the Salt Pan from our Camp, we rode 4-wheeled ATVs in convoy.DSC_0125 June, my travel companion, drove the ATV while I hung on in the back with my face and head covered to keep out the dust. Cruising along at 25 MPH, I was hoping the entire time that I would not fall off as riding a dedicated path in the salt pan at 25 mph was a little bumpy for this first time ATV rider. DSC_0184

But it was awesome, exhilarating and like the freedom of riding a motorcycle.DSC_0126

After 10 minutes, our guide stopped to make sure all was going OK with us. It was, so we proceeded through the Salt Pan at 25 mph, riding in the middle of nowhere. On our next stop, our guide had us jump in the desert while he took a photo.DSC_0140DSC_0141 Since I didn’t jump, my guide took our photo together and the photo was a wonderful surprise. Then it was back on the ATV at 25 mph for 10 more minutes. 

Stopping again, our guide put a backpack 200 feet from us in the Salt Pan and then each agreeing person was blindfolded and had to walk to the backpack.DSC_0170Everyone ended up many feet away from the backpack, showing how humans lose all sense of direction when they do not see a landmark in the dark. This was to demonstrate the importance of placing our flashlight on the bed facing the toilet so we could follow our light beam back to our bed from the toilet in the middle of the night, if the need arose.

After our next 10-minute ATV ride, we stopped for an incredible experience of sitting alone over 100 feet apart on the floor of the Salt Pan facing the Sun.DSC_0195 Our assignment was to watch the Sunset in total silence, alone. It was beautiful, eerie, different, a special time to communicate with God, and to meditate as the sun sank into the horizon. 

Back on our ATV, we headed to our final stop, our “home in the desert” for the evening.DSC_0218 DSC_0222Waiting for us was an area for cocktails by a huge fire, dinner by candlelight with white tablecloths, glassware and candles, a toilet, and our beds, all very far away from each other.  Even farther away from all of this was the “kitchen” which the Lodge had set up to serve us.

After cocktails, we headed for the dinner table in the below freezing winter night.DSC_0223 But then we weren’t as cold since our waiter placed a shovel full of hot coals from the nearby fire under each person’s chair. Instantly, it was warmer and a much appreciated touch. And the delicious hot soup, hot main course and dessert made us even warmer and ready for our sleep in the desert.DSC_0279

Our beds were waiting for us all alone in the Salt Pan. And now was the moment we had waited for so long. Amazingly, we slept soundly and warm all night and awoke at first light just in time for breakfast. And we were happy, thankful, pleased and at peace with our once in a lifetime winter experience in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. 

Photo Copy ©  2015 

Africa Botswana

Got To See the Leopard in Botswana

Our morning game drive was one-of-a-kind at Chief’s Camp and the Moremi Game Reserve National Park in the middle of the Okavango Delta. We left for our game drive at 7 a.m. after getting up at 5:30 a.m., and having breakfast at 6:30 a.m. It was just perfect weather and a tad cool which is the way you want it. After we “went swimming”  crossing the Okavango Delta, we drove and we drove and didn’t see any of the big game. It was our last game drive in the Delta because we were going to Chobe National Park in the northern corner of Botswana by the river area that drains into the Zambezi River.

Our driver, Ali, was kind of an aggressive safari driver/guide. He would stop periodically and instantly to look at animal tracks on the ground and he could tell if it was a lion, leopard, elephant, hyena, etc. He also would suddenly stop and listen to the animals, particularly the impala, because they snort real loud when a predator is near. So this is how the drivers know where and how to spot the animals. It is like hunting a needle in a haystack. It is the thrill of the hunt that makes a safari, and this morning was a true 100% thrilling one of a kind safari ride!

Again, Ali suddenly stopped and leaned out of the vehicle to look at tracks on the ground and said “Lions, that way.” And he made a U-turn and was driving down this trail and he said “here they are.” And none of us saw them. He said, “See they are right here and they were about 10 feet from our van and lying down in the cream-colored grass for an early morning nap”. Then they jumped up and stared at us for a while and then they napped again. It must have been a rough night as lions hunt mostly at night.

Ali told us the lions were about 7-8years old and they were the dominate males in the area, known as the “Bocca Boys” after the river they had to cross to get there. They had dark brown full manes and were so beautiful. We remarked how such a dangerous animal could be so beautiful. We were about 10 ft. away from them. It just took our breath away because this was not the zoo. These were 2 wild killer animals and we were sitting there 10 ft. away, priceless!

Then Ali got a call on the radio while he was driving from a driver and they tell each other what they have spotted or that they need help. And they always speak in their language so we will not know what they are saying. The radio came on and it was our tour guide KB who was driving the other safari van. KB said they have spotted a leopard! Leopards are very rare and very hard to fine. They are like a needle in a haystack. Now our decision was-do we stay and watch 2 precious beautiful young male lions or to leave and go see the leopard.

Ali makes the decision to go see the leopard as it would be a “great finale” for our final Okavango Delta safari. Previously on all safaris, including this one, it was no big thing to leave what you were doing and seeing and go to where an animal has been spotted. But what we didn’t know was that this would be no simple thing.

Ali drove that safari van “like a bat out of hell.” We were all holding on for dear life. Ali moved Chris to the front seat from the back seat because she would be thrown out of the van. We soon learned what he was talking about. In all my 6 safaris I have never had such a ride. Even getting to and from Antarctica was not that bad. Ali took us through anything and everything like the US Marines and Team 6. And we did it at a high rate of speed. I am guessing we went an average of 30 mph.

Now, that might not seem like a high rate. But we went over 10 inch logs on the ground, downed small trees, through holes in the ground and water ponds, acacia trees covered with thorns, tree limbs that would hit us in the face, bumps that would just about throw us from the van and we were in the center–that is a high rate of speed!. We would come upon a roadblock of trees, brush, and stumps with no possible way of getting through it and we went right through it! Tree branches hit us and thorns cut us and right-left instant moves whipped us from side to side and crossing a 10 inch log would jolt us to the ground. But we had to see that leopard!

Now, another thing I didn’t tell you was that usually it takes less than 5 minutes to catch up with another van that has spotted an animal. But, not this time. It took 40 minutes of this rough riding to finally find that leopard and it took me a while to appreciate that beautiful cat because I was just totally exhausted-as were the other 4 in the van. And I wondered if it was worth all of that just to see a leopard. And we all wondered how many back surgeries we would have to have. I asked Ali if we were going to the top of Africa it took so long. I thought the ride would never end. We were crossing the Moremi Game Reserve we learned later. It sure is a big park.

But then, we finally located KB and the other vans. They were in constant radio communication so they could lead Ali right to it. Each driver describes and knows all areas and they don’t need GPS. How they find their way around is beyond us.

The female leopard was walking constantly so we had to keep up with her and the wild driving continued. She was so beautiful and a gorgeous specimen. When she would pause for a short rest, the cameras would click like machine guns. And we tracked her to 10 different sites and positions. Ali would move us around the cat to get the best view and camera shot. And we got some good ones.

Then Ali said, “I’ve got even a better leopard to show you.”So off we went on another wild ride through the bush. And again it was worth it. There in the tree was an absolutely gorgeous leopard with her breakfast, an impala. We really got some fabulous photos of the leopard because Ali kept moving us around until we did. He really earned his tip that day!!!

It was a fabulous end to our safari in the Okavango Delta. We saw two gorgeous male dominate full-mane well-fed lions and 2 leopards with absolutely fabulous skins and furs and they were both well fed. Now, we had to get to our plane, but we all had to use the restroom after that ride so the plane would just have to wait. So out in the middle of the Okavango Delta where wild animals live, we all went to the restroom and made it safely back to the safari vehicle.

We were supposed to leave on the plane at 10:15 am. Only we were far away from the runway looking at leopards and lions. So again, Ali drives “like a bat out of hell” to get us to our airplane. Through water, brush, trees, stumps, 10 inch limbs, you name it we went over and through it and made it to the runway by 10:16 am. And the two planes were waiting for us and all went well.

So now you get a good idea what it is like to be on a one-of-a-kind safari run in the Okavango Delta. When a big cat or elephant or something in the killer animal category is spotted, all hell breaks out to get the visitor to see it close. And it was worth every effort and every minute. We thanked Ali and thanked Ali and thanked Ali for making our Okavango Delta experience a “beyond awesome” dream. It was priceless!

Photo Copy ©  2015 



Eating With Elephants in Botswana

Driving into the bush in the middle of the Okavango Delta from Stanley’s Camp, we saw nothing. Lisa, a vet student studying in Botswana, came and took us for a walk in 2 ft. high grass until we came to 3 elephants just standing unleashed in the wild eating acacia tree leaves, grass and anything they could find. The elephants were Jabu, Marula, and Thembi, 1 male and 2 female. Jabu, the male, was at least 15 feet tall. The females were smaller and more “feminine”. All were orphans that were rescued from culling operations from their family herds. We stood as far away from them as we could and still be with our  Abercrombie & Kent group.

Doug Groves, the keeper of the elephants, introduced himself and the elephants as we stood in the grass spell bound and frightened. We were taking photos like mad and noticed our hands were shaking. Getting that close to wild, unleashed elephants just about freaked us out. Hyperventilating now, I was so scared but I didn’t want Jabu to figure it out. Elephants are very smart animals and can retaliate.

Doug started teaching us about elephants that can live for 70 years. While shooting an American film involving elephants in the area in 1988, he became interested in elephants. With his wife, Sandy, they adopted Jabu, a 2-year-old, and formed Grey Matters for visitors to interact with his elephants and to create harmony between elephants and people. They have devoted their lives to the elephants and can only be away for a day or two because they miss him so much.

The 3 elephants have already saved his life in the bush when a lion went after Doug. The 3 elephants placed themselves between Doug and the lion and put their heads down to the ground. The lion backed off. Jabu is now 25 years old and his name comes from jaublani, which is Zulu tribe word for happiness. Jabu loves people and new challenges.

Elephants do things with their sensitive trunk that is so exact it can pick up a pea, show alarm by blowing air through it, rumbling for communication, or for eating. Then, Doug showed us a gland on the side of Jabu’s head that was draining between the eye and the ear. This shows the elephant is in musk and ready to mate. When the ear flap edge becomes torn and notched, it shows an elephant is older.

Their teeth also help with guessing the age. An elephant has 5 sets of new teeth in their lifetime because they grind them down from chewing. “Teeth come in the mouth like a conveyor belt, one after the other.”And this continues until around 50 years old. After that, the elephant dies when the last set of teeth is gone because it cannot eat without teeth. “Elephants eat and poop their entire waking hours.”

One at a time, Doug invited us to greet Jabu and to touch his skin. He told us to only approach Jabu from the left side. I have touched an elephant and knew what it felt like, so I decided to touch Jabu.. He had about 4-5-inch long hairs on his trunk which was hard to see as they were scattered evenly over the trunk. They act as antennas to indicate how close the trunk is to something.  Shorter hairs are all over their body, but the hairs are every few inches apart. They are not like hair or fur, they are like wire.

How Doug talked to Jabu amazed me. He talked so softly to him because elephants don’t like loud noises. Doug told Jabu to “come over here”to be closer to us about 5 times before he acted. But, from then on, he minded Doug on every command and worked like a perfect team. He never hit or hurt them in any way. He told Jabu to open his mouth and he did and Doug showed us his teeth and tongue. Then Doug told him to show us how he trumpets when he is alarmed and Jabu blew his trumpet sound so loud it scared me even further. Next he told him to make a rumbling sound which is how they communicate with each other and us, and he rumbled.

Watching the 2 work together was just like a symphony and it helped me to warm up and be more comfortable around Jabu. Doug offered Jabu for photos holding onto his tusks and finally Tom agreed. The tusk is an extensionof the teeth-bone system. Next, Jabu showed us some of his hat snatching tricks. It was such a cute trick. So, everyone was offered the opportunity to do the trick with Jabu.

By now, I was beginning to believe I could trust Jabu as Doug had showed us how to interact with him. I offered so Jabu took off my safari hat with his trunk, put it on his head and then put it back on my head. His trunk was heavy as it bore down to put my hat back on my head!

Marula was next to show her stuff while Jabu ate in the bush. Marula and a male elephant were owned by a Botswana couple who got them from culling operations during the 1980s Zimbabwe drought. Meant to be pets to the couple, the male killed a man so he was sold to a park in South Africa. The Park owners decided the only solution was to destroy him after he killed 7 white rhino and flipped over a vehicle. Marula was not implicated in the rhinocide but she wasn’t happy and became antisocial. Doug took Marula in 1994, baggage, bad behaviors and all, and trained her and gave her a good life. She showed us some of her features like Jabu did. Doug said Marula is his Princess.

Marula was taken to a small tree to eat. Elephants can eat everything on a tree—the bark, the limbs, the leaves-all of it. We watched them chew up entire large limbs like they were candy, and eat huge sections of grass like it was nothing. They can each drink up to 200 liters of water per day.

Thembi was next and is the youngest of his 3 elephants. Orphaned in Krueger National Park in South Africa, Thembi is short for Thembigela, Zulu for “trust”. She is a sweetheart, and even though she is the smallest, she loves attention, loves to be with the other 2, and gets nervous when she is not. Thembi considers herself the protector of the herd. When he got her, she was lonely and not adjusted. She would tear up trees to take out her frustrations.  Now with Doug, she has self respect, feels she belongs and is very sensitive.

So Thembi had to show us how she sleeps each night and how she gets down and up. First it was the back legs that bent and it looked like she was sitting on her knees.  Then it was the front legs that bent and she was down on the ground. The head and truck followed and she was totally laid out on the ground. Elephants sleep about 5 hours each day and his 3 stay in an enclosure by his house there in Botswana.

With Thembi totally laid out on the ground, he showed us her feet. It was our first time to actually see the bottom of a wild elephant’s foot and their toenails. Doug invited us to touch and inspect her foot. It was not smooth and kind of looked like cracked and dried mud caked on some parts and nothing on other parts. I had purchased a footprint of the elephant I rode (Damiano) in Zimbabwe, so that was the only “footprint” I had seen. Seeing an elephant lying down instead of standing tall and dominating over us all was an eye opener.

After 2 hours, we left and the 3 elephants waved goodbye with their trunks. It was another priceless moment. And as we drove by them on the way to our bush lunch, Lisa was sitting on top of Jabu who had been taught to lift his right leg up so Lisa could get up and down.

To get to the bush lunch, we had to “go swimming” in our safari Land Rover in the Okavango Delta which was 4-6 ft. deep and still rising in June.  Stanley’s Camp provided us with a buffet lunch out in the wild bush underneath a mangosteen tree. While we were having pre-lunch cocktails, they joined us in our bush luncheon.

That’s right. Those 3 huge elephants came marching in right next to our table and ate lunch while we ate lunch!!!  Tears came into my eyes as I observed and participated
in this magnificent event. Never before had I ever had such a wonderful adventure with elephants, much less to have lunch with the elephants. It took a few moments to process what I had just seen and was experiencing. Workers brought in big blocks of hay and a plastic trash can with special pellets for each elephant. Their food was set in 3 separate piles just like our plates of food for each one of us. Doug stood by Jabu’s pellets for about 5 minutes while Marula and Thembi ate theirs because “if Jabu ate the pellets at the same time as the females, he would eat his fast and then go steal Marula’s and Thembi’s! And when all of us finished eating everything, the elephants just stood there perfectly while Doug answered our many questions.

We were sitting at the end of the table closest to the elephants 15 feet away and we ate with them behind us. I trusted the elephants by now and felt comfortable enough to turn my back on them. Then, Lisa told us to move about one more foot apart and we didn’t know why.

But soon we found out. All of a sudden, Jabu put his trunk between us. I just about lost my breath. Talking about a heart beating so fast, my blood pressure must have shot straight up!  I could only think of the things that could go wrong at that moment and I began to write my headline again “Tow killed by bull elephant in Botswana.” The entire photo session with Jabu only lasted about 2 minutes but it seemed like an eternity to me. I was so relieved when he backed away yet I was so honored that Jabu would pose in a photo with us at the table and that we could experience this gentle giant and his 2 female friends. All 3 truly gave us a priceless moment that can’t be duplicated. As we left our bush lunch, the 3 elephants were waving “Goodbye” to us with their trunks!

Photo Copy ©  2015