Home' Travel News : December 2015 January 2016 Contents 30 travel news december 2015 january 2016
december 2015 january 2016 travel news 31
My sympathy goes out to them: they’re wrecked after this. Spoiled for any other
bush experience. A traffic jam in the Crater or the madding crowds of the Mara
would be devastating after the humming silence and endless vistas and empty
roads of this place.
If anywhere will make you feel small, Katavi will. The sky is high and white-hot,
blanched of blue it is pulled taut with only a few faint teasing wisps of cloud that
are nudged along by the reluctant exhalations of the faintest breeze, the savannah
is the colour of cracked popodoms, the star chestnut trunks are bleached bone
white. And everything pants and wills the rain to hurry up.
But by evening, when we – two children, the cynic and I - pile into Philip’s open
vehicle for a game drive, the sun is slipping and stealing the worst of the day’s
heat. Its long fingered shadows gently prod somnolent game and coax it out from
beneath deep shade where it hid to sleep. Elephants clamber down the Katuma’s
bank to drink and slap mud to their skin where short hairs trap it as effective sun-
block and insect repellent. Crocodiles - which lie littered and log like - snap shut
jaundiced and malevolent smiles and slither into the water as we approach. When
the Katuma dries up completely, Philip tells us, they will dig caves and hunker
beneath the river banks until the rain comes, fifty or sixty piled together, he says,
and inert so that you could pull their tails and not risk a reaction.
He points out a crocodile nest in the sand, dug two feet deep the eggs are safe
from predators. The surrounding temperature, Philip tells us, determines the
sex. The cooler the sand, the greater chance of female crocodiles which favour
temperatures of 26 – 30 degrees. Males, on the other hand, are borne of those up
to 34. Guffaws from the cynic and 18 year old son at the back, ‘See! Men are Hot’.
We enjoy a sundowner on the river and notice a buffalo skull, its horns, the
children’s father tells them, is wormed with a fungus. Not a fungus says Philip, so
that my 12 year old daughter’s eyes widen at the revelation her father - contrary
to conviction - doesn’t know everything, ‘a Horn Moth has laid her eggs here and
the young are feeding on the keratin in the horn’. The rubbery wormy spirals are
cocoons made of waste product and silk, explains Philip.
Really? says husband, ‘I didn’t know that’.
Nor did he know that palm swifts have such skinny legs they cannot bear the
weight of nest building materials so they use their spit as glue to fasten their eggs
to the fronds of palms; nor (and this was a particularly appealing gem of knowledge
for an arable farmer) that Giraffe never crop raid as they only ever browse on
indigenous trees, nor that they can run almost as fast as an impala at nearly 60
kph. And none of us knew that hyena poo, which is white on account of all the
bone-crunching they do, forms a valuable food source for normally vegetarian
tortoises which need the calcium for their shells as well as their eggs.
More exclamations, as we peered over the edge of the vehicle down into the sand
and onto a pile of bone white hyena excrement of Really? I didn’t know that!
That’s cool, said husband, I’m going to tell all my friends that.
Katavi gives generously of herself in terms of wildlife encounters (we watched a
bold plover see a nosy hippo off her nest), but a good guide, one who is familiar
with a park’s moods and characteristics, will let you get right under her skin so
that you know her much more intimately. Philip showed us a wild pear, its pod split
yawn-wide to reveal a Hippo Mouth, Katavi’s own special flower, he smiled. He
showed us a red toothbrush tree with its pink-winged seed, we have dozens at
home but their real name had eluded me: Combretum, Philip told me.
He explained why I could hear the elephants at Chada Katavi strip the tamarind
tree from above my tent at night, why I could listen to their feasting and their
contented pachydermic purr yet I could not discern their footfall: elephants have
a cushion of fat on their feet which muffles their tread to near silence. Given their
bulk, elephants are extraordinarily light-footed.
Philip identified tracks in the sand – young lion, he said (and I was briefly reminded
of the story of a friend who pointed out buffalo spore in the sand for his aw-inspired
Philip Pendaely our
intrepid and super
guide, who was more
than a match for our
The only major river in the park - is the Katuma
Links Archive October-November 2015 February - March 2016 Navigation Previous Page Next Page