Monday, 9 October 2017

Part 5 of our African holiday - Botswana

The day following our visit to the Victoria Falls, we planned a visit to Chobe National Park, which is close to where we were staying. We had so enjoyed our evening trip on the Chobe river with knowledgeable guide Kaiser, that we arranged for him to take us on a tour of the Park. Chobe National Park is in northern Botswana near the vast, inland and spectacular Okavango Delta - we still have to get to that :-)! The park  has one of the largest concentrations of game in Africa. Apologies for the long post, but I did not want to split the viewing of one day into two!
Here is Kaiser collecting us from our hotel. Candy from the hotel on the left making sure all is in order, with Christelle, Nigel and myself.

A few interesting details about the park. It is one third the size of Belgium!

A baby elephant, closely minded by Mum; you can see her just behind on the right.

An obviously young elephant, with characteristically small tusks. (Loxodonta africana). 

The magnificent African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer). 
It has the most amazing, haunting, spine-tingling call, which you can hear at this link

Banded Mongoose (Mungos mungo)
Banded mongooses are sociable creatures and are found in troops of up to fifty individuals. The sizes of their territories or home ranges depend greatly on the availability of food and the conditions of the area. The food of these animals includes a diversity of creatures such as insects, small reptiles such as lizards, amphibians and birds and their eggs. They also take small rodents and scavenge at times.

Blacksmith lapwing, which used to be called a blacksmith plover, but has fairly recently been renamed!  (Vanellus armatus).

African (also known as a Cape) buffalo (Syncerus caffer) with cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis); they are a species of heron. The cattle egret removes ticks and flies from cattle and wild animals.  Good for the animals and food for the birds, a win-win arrangement!

A closer view of a buffalo. They can be quite dangerous, so a telephoto lens is essential!  Possibly a male as it appears to have quite a large "boss", which is the heavy part in the centre of the horns.

Southern carmine bee eater (Merops nubicoides)  with striking and very distinctive pinkish-red plumage. They often nest in earth banks.

There were many flame lilies around in the park (Gloriosa superba). It is the national flower of Zimbabwe.

Giraffe (giraffe camelopardalis). In open areas of the countryside, they are visible from a long way off, but surprisingly well camouflaged in areas of denser vegetation as above. Being the tallest animal in the world must have pros and cons as mentioned in Part 2!

Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta).  Hamerkop means "hammer head" in Afrikaans, so it is quite obvious where the name comes from! They build massive, unmistakable, nests in  trees, mainly from sticks. A fairly nondescript brown bird, but it has a number of superstitions attached to it.  It is also known as the  Lightning Bird for the belief, in some cultures, that people who tamper with its nest will be struck by lightning!  Some African people believe that if a hamerkop flies over your home, the abode has to be burnt down or bad luck will follow.  The hamerkop feeds predominantly on tadpoles and adult frogs, fish and some insects.  Beware if you have a goldfish pond at your home, as my mother found out - the hamerkop appears to love goldfish as well!!

Hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) are semi-aquatic and found by rivers, floodplains and swamps. The deep grunting of hippos is one of Africa's characteristic sounds. Although they are grazers, hippos are blessed with massive teeth that are used in territorial fights and displays. They are renowned for their aggressive, territorial nature and they are one of Africa’s most dangerous animals! As described in part 3.

 Helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris).  Insect and seed-eating, ground-nesting birds .

Greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsciseros) females.  Sadly, we did not see any males; they are very beautiful with their long spiral horns.  Kudu live mainly in thick vegetation and are not easy to see.  They are browsers, but will eat grass, berries and pods if the need arises.

Lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus).  It is a spectacularly coloured bird, with a lilac throat and breast and blue belly. It has long, straight outer tail streamers.  For nesting, they use natural tree cavities and large woodpecker holes. Their food consists of a variety of locusts, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, butterflies and lizards.

The Chobe River area is one of the few areas in Botswana where the puku antelope is found. (Kobus vardonii) Shoulder height 80cm. Weight 60–75kg. Easily confused with the lechwe at a glance, the puku has an orange-red colour overall, which is lighter underneath than above. However, puku are found all over east and central Africa, and are one of the most common antelopes in Zambia. Typically, they inhabit open areas near rivers and marshes, though in Zambia are found in a wide variety of habitats.  Thanks to Kaiser who identified the antelope for us.

Marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer).  Not the most attractive of birds(!), it is sometimes called the "undertaker bird" due to its shape from behind: cloak-like wings and back above skinny white legs.  Deceptively large, it has a wingspan of up to 3.7 m (12 feet!).  It eats mainly carrion, scraps and faeces, but will eat almost any animal matter if it can swallow it!

Ground squirrel (Xerus inauris) Shoulder height 20–30cm. Weight 400–700g.
This terrestrial rodent is common in the more arid parts of Botswana, including the central Kalahari, and southeastern areas.

 Southern red-billed hornbill (Tockus rufirostris). The female protects her young against intruders by building a mud wall across the opening of her nest. She then seals herself in and brings up her chicks in a 'prison'.  Presumably this is a male bringing food to its family, passing the tasty morsel through a small crack in the mud screen.

 Wahlberg's striped skink (Trachylepis striata wahlbergi) .  They grow up to 25 cms  (9.8 ins) in length.

Fork-tailed drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis).  A very common, easily identified bird in southern Africa; it mainly lives on small insects.

This was a very patient bird; as you can see, as it allowed me to get quite close!

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated  25 September 2016) I will get back to this eventually! 

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Part 4 of our African holiday - Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe all in one day!

Following on from the last African post, we planned a day to go to Victoria Falls.  Candy (see part 3) booked the trip for us and we were collected at the hotel and taken to the Kazangula ferry. Here we are on the Botswana side of the river!
Kazungula is a small border town in the southern Province of Zambia, lying on the north bank of the Zambezi river about 70 kilometres (45 miles) west of Livingstone. At Kazungula, the territories of four countries (Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia) come close to meeting up.  The ferry is a fairly basic, old and rattly, used-for-years pontoon which traverses the river, which is 400 metres (1,300 ft) wide at this point.

A bridge is being built by an Asian company at a cost of US$234 million and construction commenced in December 2014   It is expected to be completed in December 2018.  At present all transport, including very large transcontinental trucks,  has to cross by ferry.  There have been several accidents, sinking of ferries and unfortunately, many lives lost.  The bridge will make life very much easier for business, residents and tourists, but I assume that tolls will be levied to recoup that $234 million!

You can see here the size of those trucks and their double-trailer loads; the ferries are usually overloaded and extremely low in the water,  so accidents can be expected! We were foot passengers, along with many locals, all of us hoping we wouldn't end up swimming!

Arriving in Livingstone, Zambia after a one hour trip in a minibus on a smooth tarmac road. Unfortunately it was raining, and although we were driven around and shown the sights, it was not good weather for photos!

I did get a passing shot of Livingstone High Court.

By the time we reached the magnificent Victoria Falls, the rain had stopped.  Not that it would have made much difference, as due to the spray we got soaked anyway!  It is not surprising that the local name for it is Mosi-oa-Tunya  meaning "the smoke that thunders"  I have seen the falls previously from the Zimbabwe side, but I think they are even more dramatic from the Zambian side.
While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls is classified as the largest, based on its combined width of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft) and height of 108 metres (354 ft), resulting in the world's largest sheet of falling water. 

David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and explorer, is believed to have been the first European to view Victoria Falls on 16 November 1855.  He named the falls after Queen Victoria, but Mosi-oa-Tunya remains the local popular name. His meeting on 10 November 1871 with Henry Morton Stanley, a journalist and explorer who went to look for him,  gave rise to the popular quotation "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

We were being scrutinised carefully while walking around.  If you ignore them they will generally ignore you.  It is not wise to try to feed them, (or any wild animal for that matter); baboons have massive teeth which are like knives.  I have seen (I used to work for a vet) the damage that they can do to large dogs- not pleasant.  
Chacma baboon (Papio ursinus).

Impossible to get the whole falls in one photo, even with my wide angle lens!

Fluttering around in the trees was  a paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone viridis).  This has to be a female, as the male has a very long tail!
Nigel and I standing at the back of the falls;  you can see its cloud of spray in the distance behind us.

Victoria Falls bridge. The siting of the bridge came under huge criticism, as it was felt that it would intrude on the natural beauty of the gorge and detract from the Falls themselves, but many years later, opinion softened after the bridge structure was hailed as one of the finest achievements of Victorian engineering and design.

The Victoria Falls bridge was a crucial link in the route of a railway running the length of Africa, the planning of which the famous Cecil John Rhodes envisioned.

To ensure accuracy in the manufacture, the bridge was assembled in sections at the Cleveland Bridge Company factory yard in Darlington, England before being shipped to Africa.

The main arch of the bridge was joined on 1 April 1905.  The two centre girders of the arch were in place by sunset 31st March, but they overlapped to the extent of about 1 ¼ inches.  When work started at sunrise next morning, it was found that the bridge had contracted during the night to the extent of exactly 1 ¼ inches.  The two centre girders had dropped into place and fitted perfectly!!

The official opening ceremony took place on 12th September 1905.   Sir Charles Metcalfe, an engineering friend of Rhodes, made a welcoming speech to declare the Victoria Falls bridge was officially open.

“I should like to have the spray of the water (of the Victoria Falls) over the carriages.” – Cecil John Rhodes

My shot of a bungee jumper from the bridge - he survived!; it seems to be a very popular pastime. There is a 111m (364ft) drop on the bungee, falling almost into the Zambezi River. They are very welcome, but I would much rather watch!!

Seen on a rock just off the path- Variegated Skink (trachylepis variegata).

Our driver kindly drove us over to Zimbabwe and had a chat to the customs officers there. We were were allowed out of the car, so we could walk back to Zambia across the bridge!

Nigel, Patrick and Christelle crossing the bridge. Nigel was still trying to stay dry, with a raintop over wet t-shirt and shorts (!). I guess Christelle and Patrick had given up !

Nigel and I on the bridge, looking rather under-dressed in the swirling spray!

Driving back to the hotel - a little memento from near the Botswana border.

Baobab tree. (Adansonia digitata) It is a tree from prehistoric times, that can live, so they say, for up to 1,500 years. They vary in size, up to 30 metres (99 feet) in height and 11 metres (36 feet) in diameter, and this one is at the larger end of the scale! Baobab has the only fruit in the world that dries naturally on its branches. Instead of dropping and spoiling, it stays on the branch and bakes in the sun for 6 months - transforming its green velvety coating into a hard coconut-like shell. The pulp of the fruit dries out completely and that when processed is what we know as "cream of tartar"!

and here's an interesting sky  under which to sit, relax, observe and drink a glass of great South African red wine! Like this.....


Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated  25 September 2016) I will get back to this eventually! 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Haute Vienne - briefly back in France before returning to warmer climes!

On one sunny day last month, we decided to go for a drive - we do not seem to have had many of those days in the recent weeks!!  We hope that you enjoy this virtual trip as much as we did doing the real thing.
Firstly we drove through the small town of Mezieres sur Issoire, 20 or so miles north of Limoges, in the canton of  Haute-Vienne. We had passed through it by chance a few years ago, following a car navigation route which was avoiding toll roads, and we promised ourselves a return trip!! It is known throughout France for its sheep fairs...

There are loads of concrete sheep throughout the town to remind one of the important role these animals play in the local farming  community.

We then drove on to nearby Mortemart which is labelled as (another!) one of those "most beautiful villages in France". Mortemart is the name of a celebrated French family, whose distinguished military and political history goes back 1000 years and is famous for the beauty of its ladies. One such was a favourite of the Sun King, Louis XIV! We stopped for a look around.
 Above is the covered market in the village centre, erected in the 17th century and restored in 2013. The timber structure is oak, but the boarding supporting the tiles is chestnut, these being the timbers traditionally used for the job. Same in our house! Weekly and monthly fairs were established in 1681 with approval from the Duke of Mortemart and these fairs continue today.

The post office, with not the easiest of accesses for the less agile!

Le chateau des Ducs - the front elevation, with windows of the 15th century. The chateau was built in the 10th century, was dismantled on the orders of Cardinal Richelieu, sold as government property after the Revolution in 1789, but bought back by the family 100 years ago and restored to its present state. It's not open to visitors, but the commentary outside states that inside, there is a granite "spiral" staircase in the 5-sided tower.

The rear view of the chateau, with this grassy slope leading down to a small lake, which is all that remains of a moat which encircled the chateau!

Eglise Saint Hilaire is the ancient chapel of the Augustine convent and became the parish church in the 18th century. The bell tower was added at this time and the church contains a number of treasured features....

The altar inside

These beautiful carved oak choir stalls are from the 15th century. The carvings are all different and represent animals, vegetables and local personages (the order I have put them in is from the original French!).

The recently restored gilded lutrin was made in the 17th century and is topped by the eagle of Saint Jean the Evangelist.

We then drove on to the neighbouring village of Montrol-Sénard.  A portion of the buildings in the village have been turned, by the local council, into an agricultural heritage museum, in a bid not only to preserve the way of life, but to attract visitors! Between April and October, the present villagers seem to get on with life in a working museum and tourist venue!
The old school house

Inside, the desks and benches have the appearance of the 1920's or 1930's, but we missed the guided tour which no doubt would have provided more information! You can see that rudimentary central heating was supplied!

The lavoir. Building work was obviously going on at the time and this would account for the colour of the water!

Old farm equipment laid out everywhere and several of the village buildings were opened up as part of the museum effect.

The old forge, almost as if the farrier has just departed for lunch!!

Grandma's (herb) garden with a good selection of culinary and medicinal plants.

Historic photos and information displayed in yet another building. The enormous detail was a bit overwhelming, but it was satisfying to see that a detailed record of an old way of life had been preserved!

The village church -dedicated to Saint-Julien-de-Brioude with stonework from the 12th century. Most of the building budget in those days was spent on the front! Saint Julien was a Christian soldier in the 14th century, beheaded by his enemies in another part of France but martyred and his head buried in Vienne . He was a popular saint, with about 800 churches in the country dedicated to him!

A view of the altar. Note the exquisitely crafted timber slat vaulted ceiling and the very simple but beautifully restored stone walls!

The ancient carved stone font bearing someone's coat of arms!

To conclude our tour, one of the stained glass windows - impressive!

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated  25 September 2016) I will get back to this eventually!