Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Coopers’ Company and Coborn School visit Namibia, Botswana and Zambia, and Twabuka Community School officially opens.

On 4th August 2006 Twabuka Community School was officially handed over to the Ministry of Education in Livingstone so that it could become a recognised school, and on 4th September the new school term started.

The opening ceremony was quite an event. In true Zambian style the proceedings started over an hour late. In England everybody would have been checking their watches impatiently, and pacing up and down, but out here everybody was taking it in their stride, using the opportunity to shake hands, chat and enjoy the chance to relax a bit.

The formal element of the proceedings involved speeches by representatives of the ministry, Alan and Oriel from Nomad African Travel and staff and students from Coopers’ School. There was also a moving poem of thanks from three of the village children who will benefit from the new school. The highlight of the day came with the entertainment - the village women danced and sang, accompanied by drums and whistles. Then the children danced and one dance of particular note was performed by a young boy whose replica of a traditional costume had been crafted, in true ‘Blue Peter’ style from cardboard boxes and empty cement sacks. In return, the students from Coopers’ also sang.

Students outside Twabuka Community School and at the official opening

Over the last 2 years students from Coopers’ had been very busy fundraising for the purchase of materials to enable the school to be built. The finances had been further boosted by donations from Nomad clients and friends. At one time the spiralling value of the Zambian Kwacha looked as if it would leave us short of money, but the huge generosity of all concerned meant we did not fall short. Alan and Oriel have been the project managers, managing the finances, the drilling of the borehole, the building site, and ensuring regular supplies of materials and food for the workers. Many trips to the site have taken place over the last two years to realise this project.

The opening ceremony came at the end of an exciting and eventful trip for the students from England. On 11th July, 30 students and 3 staff had left to fly to Namibia, where they were met at Windhoek airport by Alan and Oriel of Nomad. Our convoy of 5 landrovers and two trailers provided transport for a 14 day trip of a lifetime for the students. Starting at Waterberg Plateau, the students experienced wilderness camping on top of this remote plateau, and tracking black and white rhino on foot. The Parks Board managers on site also took them around the capture centre, where numerous rhino and buffalo were held before relocation - evidence of the successful breeding programme on the plateau.

Travelling along the sand roads on top of Waterberg Plateau and rhino at the holding centre

Our next stop was Etosha National park. Here the group experienced lion at extremely close quarters when, on one of our game drives, three lions were spotted just emerging from the tree line, making for the open plain. By positioning the vehicles carefully we predicted the place where they would cross the road and, sure enough, one of the fantastic males strode confidently by, the wind blowing through his mane, so close that his huge paws and powerful muscles could all be appreciated in great detail.

Giraffe and lion in Etosha National Park

From Etosha the group stopped off at Popa Falls and once we entered northern Namibia the students started to realise the basic level of accommodation in which so many of Africa’s people live. Many were truly surprised that this is the norm rather than the exception, and they started to really understand that the value of their fund raising was more than just financial.

Our next stop was Maun in Botswana, the base for an onward trip to the edge of the Okavango Delta. Leaving our landrovers, everyone had great fun loading the trailer with bags and provisions and piling into a huge open truck. The transport for the next two days was to be dug out canoe and foot. This was true camping, with an open fire to cook on, no facilities, water fetched from the Delta, and wild animals all around. Hippo were at close quarters during one of the canoe trips and everyone had a great time getting absolutely filthy.

Travelling by dug out canoe in the Okavango Delta

The last stop in Botswana was Chobe National Park. Here the highlight was probably the elephant which, by this time of year, were in huge numbers along the river section of the park. A boat trip on the Chobe led to close sightings of crocodile and more hippo and many students had, by this time, also developed an appreciation of the widely varied birdlife.

Cooking breakfast after an early morning game drive in Chobe National Park and hippo by the Chobe River

The last stop was Livingstone where, for 13 nights, students made Liyoyelo Farm their home. Each day some of the students travelled up to the school to undertake painting and decorating of both exterior and interior. Others organised supplies of materials and equipment from town, and the remaining group stayed at the farm to become the carpentry group – their task was to make tables and chairs for the school. Alan had a particularly important role as purchaser of chocolate rations in order to keep energy levels and spirits high!

Students start painting the inside of the classrooms

Along with tools and equipment, students had filled much of their luggage allowance with things for the school and also football boots and kit. Our Nomad sponsored team Bushmad enjoyed a good victory over the student side, though playing on a hard earth pitch in high temperatures led to frequent substitutions. It was the first time that the Bushmad team had played a side including women, and even Alan came out of retirement to play a pivotal role in defence. By the end of the game there were many injuries, but the team had to rally themselves again the next day, for a match against Sindie village. This was also tough going but nothing compared to the unexpected challenge to a netball game. It soon became apparent that women who carry 25kg of mealie maize on their heads, plus at least one baby on their back, have immeasurable strength and determination when it comes to winning a game of netball. Plasters and antiseptic cream were yet again much in demand by the end of the day. The crowds were fantastic at these games, providing further entertainment in the form of singing and dancing - these were not events put on for tourist, but an opportunity to really engage with the local community.

The football team at Liyoyelo Farm and the game against Bushmad

A last finale for the local children was a trip to Victoria Falls. Although they had lived all their lives just 16km from the falls none of them had visited before. The students from England teamed up with two or three children each and provided a memorable day out for all concerned.

Students from Coopers’ School and pupils of Twabuka Community School at Victoria Falls

In addition the students made the most of all the activities on offer in Livingstone on their final day. Activities included helicoptor, Tiger Moth and microlight flights over the falls, canoeing and fishing on the Zambezi and an adrenaline rush Jet Boat trip.

When we returned from our last evening meal out we discovered that in our absence the elephants had paid a visit to the farm. The mango trees had been stripped and flower beds had been eaten. In order to eat our tomato plants the large bulls had torn out metal fence panels and stepped carefully over the remaining block walls. This wall surrounded the vegetable garden where students had pitched their tents, the huge foot prints were within inches of the tents but there was no damage to them, the elephant had taken great care to step around the tents in order to eat the tasty offerings and depart before we returned. On the morning of the students departure the breeding herd of elephant also made a visit, they were very close to the back of the house and it was as though they had turned up to give the students one last powerful memory of Africa. As they demolished the trees everybody quietly watched from just a few feet away.

The last morning at Liyoyelo Farm, elephants arrive for a close encounter at the back of the house

By the time the students had decorated the school and made the furniture, it had been transformed. The importance of wildlife to the Zambian tourist economy and the tremendous enjoyment that the students had experienced from their game viewing was in evidence, with the walls not only decorated with numbers and letters, but with animals and birds in abundance. It is our hope that the children and people of Sindie village will in future not just view elephants as a threat and a crop raider, but will truly appreciate that, through tourism, it was those same elephants that brought their new school to them. It is difficult to support wildlife when your years supply of mealie maize had just been devoured in one evening, but over time advantages as well as disadvantages can result from these giant lawnmowers.

Scenes of wildlife decorating the walls of the classrooms

Just over a month on from the opening everybody is enjoying the school, but we know that the fundraising will not stop as the school opens. We would like to provide a meal for every child every day and Julian and Jonquil Bond, who visited Livingstone recently, have volunteered to fund raise in order to realise this by building a kitchen and dining area.

Ongoing expenditure will include teachers wages, appointment of a second teacher in January, cleaning materials, and wages for the night guard and caretaker/cleaner.

There are books to buy and the school have requested a radio so they can listen to the educational broadcasts that are available. At a later date we might aspire to solar power so that we could run a television with video player and possibly even a few computers. Other things on the wish list include landscaping the grounds, planting trees to provide some shade, a library for general village use and education, a teachers house and teachers toilets.

Sometimes small things are powerful symbols and there are two examples of these at Twabuka - outside the school the students from Coopers’ school cordoned off some pathways with stones that they and the children had collected from the surrounding area. Some of the leftover paint was used to paint a few of these stones pink and these pink stones were arranged just in front of the school entrance in the shape of a heart, symbolising the fact that this school has been enabled and given to the community with love from many people. Just inside the door is a tree, whose leaves are made from the hand prints of all the staff and students and staff from Coopers’. Alan and Oriel were honoured to be the first to stick their hands in the paint and slap them onto the wall, to leave their personal mark amongst those of the many students who worked so hard on the project.

The front entrance to the school, built and given with love

Coopers’ School created a web site for their tour, which was updated as the trip progressed. It also has a selection of photographs. If you would like to enjoy it please go to www.intoafrica2006.co.uk. In particular you might wish to visit the messages home page and the trip photographs page.

Should you wish to support Twabuka Community School please contact Alan or Oriel, their e-mail address in Zambia is nomad@microlink.zm

Monday, October 09, 2006

Wild dogs and lion on foot, a tailor made tour to Mana Pools, August 2006

One of the frequently asked questions from our guests is ‘Are we going to see wild dogs on the safari?’ Unfortunately the answer is usually that you will be very lucky and the chances are probably very small. However when we were approached by a couple who have travelled with us before, asking for a special tour to try and optimise the best chances of seeing these elusive animals, Alan Baird advised the best possibilities of seeing them would be at Mana Pools in Zimbabwe. It was agreed to follow his recommendation and so he lead the two of them, personally, to see if one of their life long ambitions could be achieved.

Mana Pools is a beautiful National Park, which has been designated a World Heritage site. One of the magical elements about Mana Pools is that you are allowed to leave your vehicle and walk in the bush. This, with some degree off care and the presence of an experienced guide, can be a very exciting way of seeing game.

Having arrived late in the afternoon, camp was pitched and as night fell we enjoyed sitting around a camp fire, listening to the sounds of the African bush, with hippo snorting in the river.

The following morning we set off for a game drive and incredibly, within 100 metres of our camp-pitch, we came across one lone wild dog. This was a fantastic start, but we were a little concerned about his plight as there was no sign of any other pack members.

The rest of the game drive did not reveal any more dogs or other predators, but we did encounter a large herd of buffalo and lots of elephants. Eland also provided great interest and excitement, as they are one of the less commonly seen antelope species.

In the afternoon the focus was to try and find a pack of dogs. Wild dogs tend to hunt early in the morning and late in the afternoon, and this provides the best chances to seeing them active. At around 5 o’ clock Alan spotted a small black speck in the distance and on closer examination a pack of nine dogs could be seen lying on the open plain. No roads were anywhere near the dogs, so an immediate decision was taken to get closer to them on foot. Leaving the vehicle behind we quickly moved as close as possible without disturbing them, or raising their curiosity. With great stealth we managed to get within 70 metres of them and they were completely unconcerned with our presence. You can imagine the jubilation and sense of achievement of both guests and guide alike that such a wonderful sighting was possible of these very rare animals. After watching them for twenty minutes they moved off in to the thicker bush to hunt for impala, which are found in abundance throughout the park.

The following day we did not see the dogs again, but our adrenalin was kept at a high level by some very exciting lion viewing. At around 7 o’ clock in the morning a lone male lion could be heard roaring close to the camp. On the game drive we also heard him very close by, but could not see him. Once again we left the vehicle and after walking a short distance we were able to see him completely in the open as he walked parallel to us, about 50 metres away. His path was taking him close to the road, so we returned to the vehicle to try and get a closer look. Unfortunately he decided to return to the cover of the bush and we decided that to follow on foot would be too dangerous.

In the afternoon we came across some vultures gathered in trees, plus a side-striped jackal lurking on the ground. This had all the tell-tell signs of a predator kill, but there were no signs of the predators in the thick bush. Again we approached cautiously on foot as we did not wish to disturb a feeding group of lions, or a leopard, and eventually managed to find a position where we could see a pride of lions feeding on an eland kill. It was not advisable to approach more closely, as they would be very protective of their hard won prize, but we were able to observe them from a distance off about 80 metres.

This three day visit to Mana Pools was part of a larger itinerary organised for the clients. Their trip included both self drive and guided elements within Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. Mana Pools proved to be a wild but rewarding location and opting for a personal guide during this section of the tour led to experiences that would usually be beyond the comfort zone for most self drive travellers.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

June 2006 tailor made tour to Botswana – Okavango Delta, Nxai Pan, Kwando, Moremi Game Reserve, Savuti, Chobe National Park

Wonderful lion sightings, a serval but alas no dogs

In June we organised a guided tailor made trip for 5 guests to Botswana lead by Alan Baird, one of the owners of Nomad. Our guests had travelled with us a number of times before and this time their request was for trip that provided some luxury, along with wilder camping experiences in the bush. An itinerary combining these elements was drawn up and arrangements made for the trip.

On arriving in Maun the guests took an immediate connecting flight into the heart of the Okavango Delta, where they stayed for three nights at Gunn’s luxury camp. This provided the ideal environment in which to relax after the journey, and unwind from the fast pace of life of the UK. Accommodation was in the form of luxury en-suite walk-in tents, allowing the guests to hear the sounds of the bush, and lions were often heard calling nearby. The next two days enabled the guests to enjoy the tranquillity of travel by mokoro (dug-out canoe) and walking in the bush, both with a local guide. Bird life was profuse and elephants, often seen very close to the camp, were highlights of the stay at Gunn’s camp.

After a return flight from the Delta Alan Baird drove the group to Nxai Pan. The environment here is very different to the lush waterways that had just been experienced, with flat open grassland interspersed with Acacia scrub, and here the option was for wilder camping.

Game viewing was good, but elephant damage to the water supply and pumped water hole undoubtedly affected the variety of game seen. However, excellent viewing of large herds of giraffe and springbok were possible and one of the undoubted highlights was a pride of 5 lionesses sitting very obligingly close to the road. One of the benefits of Botswana is the quietness of the parks and we were able to watch the lions for over an hour without any other vehicles present, before leaving them to sleep for the day. In the late afternoon they were more active and we were able to watch them playing together before disappearing for a nights hunting.

Following the trip to Nxai pan the group drove back to Maun, then flew to Lagoon camp just to the North of Linyanti on the Kwando river. Here they enjoyed another luxury experience at Kwando safari’s Lagoon camp and Lebala camp. The area is reputed for its wild dog sightings and this was a high priority for the group. In the afternoon, while the group were on a boat trip, a radio message came that dogs had been sighted in the northern part of the area. A mad chase ensued to try and catch a glimpse of these elusive animals, but alas the camp guide picked up a puncture and we arrived five minutes too late - they had disappeared for the night. After one night at Lagoon the group moved to Lebala camp for a further two nights. The camp is set in a beautiful open area and has a wealth of different habitats, making game viewing very exciting. An added bonus is that night drives are possible as the concession is outside the National Parks and on one of the night drives we had an excellent viewing of a serval - a cat very rarely seen during the day.

Both day and night drives also revealed two wonderful male lions who were intent on patrolling their territory at night and happy to sit and relax during the day.

After the visit to Kwando the group flew back to Maun to continue the safari by Landrover through Moremi game reserve and Chobe national Park. In Moremi water levels from the delta were very high, making some areas difficult to access, but on returning from a late afternoon game drive at Khwai a pride of seven lions walked along the road towards us, the twilight was fading and they were ready for a night of hunting.

Our drive through to Chobe was full of variety - The stretch of Khwai river included excellent birdlife, as well as very good viewing of hippos and crocodile. After the old Mababe gate and just before Savuti marsh we had another very close encounter with lions and as we watched we noticed that one small cub had been tucked away in the bush. After staying with the pride for a half an hour the cub gained enough confidence to come out of the bush to try and feed and nuzzle up to her mother.

The Savuti area was unusually quiet in terms of predators, the lions must have killed in the bush as they were not evident at all. However the herbivores were present in their usual large numbers, including numerous bull elephants, along with tsessebe, wildebeest and zebra.

The safari concluded with two nights on the Chobe river front before a last two days relaxing in the comfort of Bushbuck River House - our base on the Zambezi river, in Livingstone, Zambia. At this time of year, and following a summer of good rainfall, Victoria Falls was at it’s best and the dramatic views were enjoyed both on foot and from microlight.