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Well that was interesting. I dreamed that I walked out onto a level landscape, though there were trees dotted here and there. There was a kind of low but spreading greenery with slightly bobbly leaves everywhere, and here and there I noticed scat, so I knew something lived here. I walked, to find myself suddenly on what I can only describe as a mini-cliff. and nearly bumped straight into a sleeping lion.  He was very skinny and surprised, his cubs less so; they leapt up to examine the stranger, and I had wit enough to turn and run, not from the cubs, who were adorable, but from their elders who might be interested too. Sure enough, other members of the pride had woken, young not-quite-cubs, slightly smaller than adults but having no mane as yet. I leapt and ran to the sounds of other humans making surprised noises, while the young lions ran around absolutely certain there was something to chase here somewhere. There were no screams; those other humans were safe enough, as was I, once basically out of the den. There was no fear in my dream, only happiness - theirs and mine -  and a basic idea of survival. It was a fun dream.

We got a contact the other day from one of our safari group members which is why I reckon I dreamed of lions.How happy they were in Chobe, in Savuti, in Moremi! How much better life is with lions in it!  Endearing memories, a cub chasing birds across the landscape, his mother close by. Vultures staring down at said cub balefully, with a real look of  'If your mother wasn't such a big shot around here...'
But the little cub could laugh, knowing she was a big shot, so the vultures could dream and wait. All the world can wait. There's death everywhere and life everywhere too. It's very beautiful.

The close up of the cub on the kill is [ profile] larians photo, the other two are among my many attempts at capturing their casual magnificence.

My father died just over a year ago, on the 2nd. I think they told me on the 4th, so this,to me feels like the anniversary. Must reset my understanding.

Pythagoras had this theory about the reincarnation of souls. I kind of like it...Dad might not have been the most perfect human being, but he'd be a magnificent lion in the wilds of Africa.  There now, that's a fine story.
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Ours was a wayward trailer. Admittedly the sand tracks of Savuti might not have been particularly suitable, but it did break away twice on the road as well.  Our guide bodged it together cheerfully, and everybody mucked in, including the 78 year old west country farmer who turned up on safari to do a spot of fishing and bird watching. Above on the right is the  breakfasting elephant having a laugh at us. These were early days,during which  getting out of the land-cruiser in the presence of a beastie was still regarded as dangerous; our guide's grandfather had been killed by an elephant years back, and he warned us not to get too comfortable around them. But by our last night,  a huge bull elephant had taken up picnicking right  behind the camp loos, and we just lived with it because there was nothing else to be done. Besides, he was a nice chap. We rather liked him.
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Tags are difficult. Because we didn't just stay in Botswana, I wanted one easy word for this holiday, and used 'Africa.' But Africa's huge and very different from place to place. One day we drove more than 380kms  from the Okavanga river  through a burnt out  part of the Namibian Caprivi strip, to Livingstone in Zambia, a long trip on roads thinly glossed with tarmac and dramatic potholes that had me once finding myself at a 45 degree angle from the earth.  Arses took the kind of pounding some people would pay for in a London sauna. The Zambian border was full of smiling faces and anti-HIV posters. They held some kind of instrument like a mini-torch up to each of our necks; it's the ebola check apparently. Fail it and they take you into observation. But what does the little light show? Is it a temperature thing? It didn't matter, we were all fine, and we crossed into the land of the joyful giant Zambezi river.

How fine and beautiful is that river! Our Thames would look so small and grey beside it.The river smiled, the people smiled;  We got our laundry done, we ate, we drank, we watched beautiful sunsets. This was the utter chill out zone. Not that it was entirely without wildlife:

At one point, I saw what looked like smoke rising from a great fire somewhere across the river, to the East I think. [ profile] larians reminded me that it wasn't a fire. We were close to Mosi-Oa-Tunya, the Smoke That Thunders, called Victoria Falls by Dr Livingstone. In Zimbabwe, Mugabe has ordered the Falls' indigenous name to be used; an easy order to follow, no doubt, as the locals were calling it that anyway. Mugabe seems to have become a reverse Canute - the tide came in and he decided this was because he had ordered it.

Zimbabwe featured in our conversations with Zambians. Some remarked upon the interest of Zimbabweans in moving to Zambia and Zimbabwean ladies wanted to marry Zambian men,then again, it was apparent that only a very ill wind blows no good. Zimbabwean farmers, having fled or been thrown out of Zimbabwe, had come to Zambia and brought their much appreciated skills with them.Words were always courteous and gentle, 'Our friends and neighbours,'  'Our brothers in Zimbabwe.' I could not imagine the English and Scottish talking about each other so kindly... And I wondered what happened to us, that we became so infatuated with the language of hatred.

A helicopter took us to see the Smoke That Thunders, and later we walked alongside it. The dry season shows it in restrained mood. Here, with thanks, I use one of [ profile] larians photos, for mine are exceedingly lame, and my words can convey nothing of it at all.
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We are  music makers, but not the music makers. Ours is just loudest.

Might have been right about the dreamers of dreams though, wondering if animals dream. They feel, they think, so why shouldn't they? But some dreams get seen by others, become part of their reality, and that's a meshing that so far I have only seen humans achieve - obviously, being human and all, it would take time, effort and god knows what else to understand the dreams of a lion. I could probably imagine it though...

Indeed, if we weren't constantly dreaming and imagining, I wonder what we would do with our lives.

Work moves but no talk  till all's done. I am holding on to visions of Botswana because the beauty of it has caught my heart entirely, not an escape, but the real world. I want to be in it. I even found my own Farthest Shore or Valinor, with antelopes and gazelles resting and grazing by the water's edge. And had I no such references, all I would have lost would be the ability to put any small part of it across, as opposed to this well meaning muddle.

So I will continue. 


Aug. 29th, 2016 09:26 am
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Looking out last night, missing the huge constellation of Scorpius. Missing any constellations really...
But that's London for you.

Botswana gave me my first real sight of Scorpius scuttling along below the moon, huge and distinct, with Antares at its heart. It is said that in order to curb Orion's boasting, and to ensure he did not kill every beast on earth as he promised, Mother Earth sent a scorpion to destroy him; judging from Scorpius, the beast was easily the size of a pick-up truck. Small wonder Roman astronomers divided Scorpio into Libra. There's only so much of the sky you can comfortably imagine as a deadly killer arachnid. Scorpius' huge hanging claws became the scales, and perhaps star-watchers had fewer troubling dreams. Anyway, the plan worked,and Orion bought the big one.  Orion and Scorpius were both set in the sky by the gods, but never where they could see each other. One early  morning I recall fumbling around looking for the loos, only to find Orion looming to the North-East. Maybe I was confused, but he seemed upside down... in any case, his adversary was nowhere to be seen.

Antares, also called Alpha Scorpii or Cor Scorpii  is a red supergiant. It was the very first time I had ever seen this star. Most think the name Antares comes from the Greek 'Rival to Ares,' but some have posited that this star was named after the pre-Islamic warrior poet Antar,a man of brilliance and battles . There were two King Scorpions of Egypt. The first (Scorpion I) grew mighty in battles against the Nubians and may have united Egypt for the first time. Cursory googling reveals that the Scorpion in his name might have referred to poison, or his tremendous might in battle, or even bad breath. But would a royal sculptor really dedicate his art to the immortality of halitosis? I'm not saying it couldn't happen...

Scorpion II interests me because he seems to have defeated an enemy king  known as the Bull's Head, and in the zodiac belt, Aldebaran, called also the Bull's Eye within the head of Taurus, is directly opposite Antares.  In the search for story, therefore, I'd plump for Scorpion II being the origin of The Scorpion King, but I'd chuck in elements of Antar because I like him. If Roman astronomers can chop up the sky, I can chop up my heroes and merge them into one ubercool monster dude. Fair's fair.

We did find one of Scorpius' smaller relatives on a battered sign close to the Tsodilo hills. He seemed to be asleep. Some of our number tried to photo him, I gave up and watched while eating a hard boiled egg. After a while he scuttled off into the sands with an air of exoskeletal embarrassment; guarding the portals to the otherworld may not be as exciting as it sounds. Even Scorpius needs a nap from time to time.
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Well, I'm ill. Cold plus gum abscess plus ulcer at the back of the throat - maybe I'm developing an allergy to Britain. It's a sad thing if travelling puts you off where you live - as it is, I feel myself falling into the mistake of treating ordinary life as the way of paying for 'real' life, elsewhere.  I miss Botswana. I miss the birdsong around here, what has happened? The mornings are too quiet.

I am still enchanted. While tickled by the thought of Mum's face when she sees photos of  bucket showers and tents, and when she hears about us all being tested for ebola before entering Zambia, I feel so sorry that Dad never got to see wild lions and elephants and dogs. He would have been as happy as the sun in the sky.On the other hand, in his early days he was a  shameless  racist, but maybe he changed in that way. He changed in many ways as he grew.

One thing he did well was tell stories of the Highlands and Islands, delighting me in particular with tales of the dreaded Each-Uisge, the Water Horse.  The most famous of these magical terrors lived in Loch Ness, (there was a smaller one, reputed to be of fierce temper, in Loch Morar). and was first recorded as being rebuked by St Columba back in the 6th /7th century. Ah, but the Each-Uisge was a fearful creature! It could shape change, sometimes into a bonny pony grazing by the lochside, tempting children to saddle up, only to be whisked away and drowned.  More insidious was its ability to change into a fine looking young man, who would ask a girl of the clans to comb his hair. If she agreed, and began to groom him as he sat with his head in her lap, she might notice that his locks were damp and perhaps had a little silt or mud catching on the teeth of her comb. Then her only chance was to get away as best she could, lest she face the same fate as the children, dragged down into the loch depths and eaten by the creature in its true horrible form.

In all these stories, I wondered why it was a water horse rather than say, a water hound or a water ghost or just a demonic thingummy. There were water-bulls too, but they weren't at all the same issue.

Well, Botswana provided me with an answer, and its own waterhorses.  The word Hippopotamus comes from the Greek, meaning River Horse and if one listens to them it's obvious why.

Hippos twang.They twang like big deep resonating string instruments with added creakiness. Then,  when they come up for air, they snort and harrumph exactly like huge horses might.

So here they are:

As we see, pics 1 and 2 show how they could be mistaken for huge horseyness,until obviously one observes the accompanying vast thick wodgy bods.

Pic 3 demonstrates how easily famous Nessie photos such as the MacNab, the Stuart and the Cockrell could just have been mahoosive hippos,( ) and pic 4 shows that given the right light and a photographer with no sense of focus, hippos can have their nightmare moments.

So there we have it; the Loch Ness Monster is revealed as a colony of hippos eyeballing people weirdly, making strange horsey noises down the centuries and providing big lumpy backs for sightings. And yes, if a child saw one of these grazing by the water and tried to ride it, it is most likely that teeth and water would play an important part in said kiddy's future. Hippos are vegetarian but very territorial, and even crocs think twice.  As to a handsome man turning into one of these...well, this sounds like a Celt meets cellulite fantasy. I got nothing.

So apart from size, temperature, lack of flippers/long neck and preferences for shallow water,  plus the fact that hippos have all the bashfullness and discretion of a Mexican biker gang, the theory is pretty unarguable, and I remain confident in my mighty powers of sleuthing. That will be 15 of your finest English pounds please.


Aug. 26th, 2016 12:21 pm
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Ralik just ran in with a baby mouse. He was yelling his head off with excitement, batting it around and throwing it in the air.I took it outside and left it somewhere quiet, hidden under leaves. I think it will die.  It occurred to me that there's been a lot of death around me  for a couple of years and I'm sick of it, which is weird considering how in love I am with the African Bush, pretty much the Garden of Life and Death.

We were warned that African Wild Dogs were extremely rare, and then we just bumped into a pack of them on the road. Some had tracker collars as part of Botswana's conservation and research programme. Wild Dogs have suffered a lot from extermination by farmers, but there are efforts being made to protect them now.

These ones were getting ready.

Then the guide drove our cruiser parallel, as the dogs  walked, began to trot, began to run, began to sprint.  We couldn't see the prey,only ostriches and others scattering in all directions. African wild dogs have the reputation of being the most efficient hunters in the Bush. They are incredibly intelligent and tactical, with a whole bunch of different strategies for hunting.  This time their method was straight lock on; Having chosen their prey, they just kept in pursuit, waiting for it to stumble; as the leader tired, the dog behind took over, and so on and so on, faster and faster, until a cloud of dust went up behind a bush and all was done.

We never saw the kill. I am glad of that.

They were very quick, and then they came down to the water to drink and rest.

The hunt was extraordinary and exciting to watch, but it was also a thing of necessity, a story ending not just with bones behind a bush but with meat regurgitated for pups.   I couldn't help comparing it to those ghoul feasts of the English countryside, where an animal is terrified and killed as nothing more than entertainment for the sherry fueled.  This is one of the reasons we need our land re-wilding; for many, the disconnect is total and grotesque.

Dervish has found the mouse corpse, and is throwing it around joyfully. It's summer and even death enjoys a little sunshine. Someone has posted a pic of my old friend Lilith Babellon who died suddenly last year, alongside a quote from her: 'Get off the ground darling, you're drunk. And don't you dare take a picture of me smoking.' Naturally, the photo reveals her with a ciggie in hand.

Love Song

Aug. 25th, 2016 06:02 pm
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I learned the sovereignty of light
In a tawny travellers dust
On cool water nights with Antares shining
over my head and a lake full of horses

I learned it in sunsets of rubies
And mornings flooded from the east
Til I was up to my waist in molten light
And gold breathed deep in my eyes.

And if you ask me what I have learned,
The astrolabe and lyre are silent
But kiss me through the lustrous air
And even shadows will sigh for us
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I am beginning to suspect that there are portals to the Kingdom of the Dead everywhere; the catacombs under Paris are reached under a doorway inscribed with 'Arrete, c'est ici l'empire de la mort.' Perhaps if you wander the winding paths between bones and skulls eventually you will find a way out that opens out somewhere light and green, and you will go through it only to find yourself right back here.

The badger cull is extended despite scientific proof that the TB threat comes from farming practices rather than badgers. But obviously we are in a land where people are sick of experts. Let's hope the NFU doesn't decide that sacrificing children prevents bovine TB, or our child care homes will suddenly empty while we are all farting happily over Olympic golds.  Changing farming practices will cost farmers money, the badger cull costs us money, so they are all about the latter. Killing raptors, poisoning hedgehogs, removing habitats, killing bees,killing foxes, killing badgers...the idea seems to be the creation of a dead uberfarmland which is filled with wall to wall meat/milk bags, prefereably fed via a tube from mouth to arse and never moving until they make profit. The farming industry is now wetting itself over having voted Leave without any guarantee of getting subsidies equal to those given by the EU, and this brainless cull may be a sop.

The way we live is deeply strange; we go into a supermarket to be greeted by walls of dead chickens and pigs, wall upon wall of flesh.We buy it,take it home, cook it and stare at moving pictures. It's not real.

In Botswana, our guides took us to the Tsodillo hills, where it is said the soul of every beast that ever died passes/resides/something like that.  San and  Bantu peoples camped there, and left cave drawings from 2000 to 4000 years old,some much earlier - Man has been coming to these hills for over 100,000 years they say. Some depicted locals:

Including characters worth avoiding:


Others seemed to show scenes of a far away place:

The above depicts two whales, one of which is breaching, and what appears to be a standing bird. Botswana is landlocked. The nearest whales and penguins would be found some 600 to over 800kms away on the Namibian coast, down towards South African waters. Our guide told us that the tribes would follow the herds, make the trek to the sea and eventually return, a round trip that could take up to 10 years.

The place is swathed in legends, of First Male and First Female, of the Great Spirit who, having created all things, knelt and prayed (to whom?) here the bushmen worshipped the Great Python. I could have stayed much longer,but that could be said of all Botswana. I look at these paintings from peoples who followed their food, revering the act of hunting, and it occurs to me that we are the anomalies, the occupants of  Lovecraft's Dreamlands .Maybe somewhere a long ago San hunter will wake with a ringing headache on the Tsodilo hills thinking: Who the hell were they?
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Inspired by [ profile] yapman, this entry is about our pursuit of a leopard sighting.  Savuti presented us with a fine large pride of lions.Lions were everywhere, never a good omen for leopards as they don't necessarily get on. While we were looking for leopards, I found myself trying to compose a poem in my head for them:

Who is this walking with light and shadow?
This is Spot, Daughter of the Sun
Guardian of Evening.
Her royal cousin
holds banquet for all the court and hangers-on.
But Spot's company is quiet,
seeking only the rocks,
a full moon,
a lone tree.

My attempts never made proper sense; I realised I was unconsciously emulating Solomon's Song of Songs. And when we found Spot, all words seemed petty and absurd.

We saw no leopards in Savuti, though the rocky scrublands suited them so well, nor had Chobe presented us with any glimpses. A radio message gave our guide some hope but also trepidation: there had been a leopard sighting out of the national parks and in tribal lands for which he would need a permit. What was he to do? We were keen and he was keen, but we didn't want to lose him his job or offend anybody. The solution was worked out; if anyone asked, the car-sick member of the party in the front seat was being rushed to the nearest airfield to get to a hospital because of suspected appendicitis. Thus armed with apologies and excuses, in we went.

The place was not entirely empty. We found one vehicle thoroughly stuck having a flat tyre and two spares, but no spanner, a strange oversight from their guide. We stopped by them and tried to help, but we didn't have the right kind of spanner either. They would have to radio for help. The next one we found was a family self-drive, stationary while a young boy pretended to surf on top of the car; 'I have been tracking you for half an hour,' our guide said to them, pulling alongside, 'Do you know you have a flat tyre?'  He believed they must have known and tried to soldier on, pretty silly in such a place. They reassured him they were fine and help was coming, but there was no denying the vague air of embarrassment about them.  We carried on, passing random scrubby bushes for a while.
And then...

There she was, under a tree. Opposite her was another, her son. We stopped by, we clicked, we stared. They were bored but not perturbed by us, and we left respectfully.  Majestic and awesome as are the creatures of the Bush,none equal Spot and her children for sheer beauty.

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Don't wanna.

My brother warned me that Africa has this reputation for getting into one's heart. He was right. If it wasn't for the kitties and my shiny new husband, I might have made it to Jo'burg but no further before buying a ticket right  back to Maun's crunkety little airfield.

Why am I writing this at all? I can't catalogue all the memories, there are too many, and regarding the Bush itself, I don't have the skill to convey its beauty.  So I will try to write the small things that will be lost to time, when images of the most sublime remain.

First thing I must never forget is that should I ever again go on Safari, it is important to check that we're travelling in an open sided vehicle. One of the most magical things was the real proximity of the animals, something that I think would be lost with windows. I don't want to ever travel in a glass cage.  Better to have a boneshaker, with all the dust and dodgy roads, and to be so close, to feel real presence.
View without zoom from my seat on the landcruiser.  This gentleman alarmed our guide somewhat because he seemed to be demonstrating, not exactly a willingness to overturn the vehicle, but no reluctance either.

Second thing I must always remember is that,given this first, sunglasses are very necessary, just to keep grit and dust out of ones eyes, but buy a spare pair. If the hinges snap, elastoplast can only go so far:

Third thing is that little bottles of hand sanitiser gel are really useful, and hygiene is no less effective for being simple.

4th point: Jacket/fleece in the early morning/late at night; No clouds mean temperature plummets when the sun isn't up. 5th point: at last a use for light scarves - when hats are too hot, scarves keep ears dust free. There are also those surgeon-style masks to keep dust from going down your throat, but these mark the descent from imitating Grace Kelly to looking like a post-apocalyptic loon. 6th point; More camera batteries. No,more than that. Plus spare memory card.

Last point: Botswana beyond words, Africa incomparable.

By night...

In the dry season...

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We went to Savuti in search of leopards. We didn't find them there. We found a sandy high land rustling with wind and leaves and wild dry sage scenting the air so powerfully that each breath seemed to clear one's soul of any old poison. There our vehicle broke down, and we had to tow it over the sand, to the amusement of a breakfasting elephant overhead. There  we met eagle-owls drumming their hearts out with big 'Ouf! Ouf!' sounds at one another. And there also, we found these little creatures almost concealed beneath a bush:
This photo doesn't convey the fay sense of them, the expressiveness of their faces, but I wasn't surprised to learn of old bushman tales of a raiding party defeated by a bat-eared fox who used their own weapons against them and could turn into a man.
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Discussion of hyenas happened a lot in our group. Some thought they were hideous, others could not see why, if an African Wild/Painted Dog is considered beautiful, Hyenas are not. The hyena here is not helped by me getting him slightly out of focus.

We had two sightings, one of a lone hyena with a kill (chap above) and the other a complete surprise; two hyenas met us on the road. According to our guides,  animals treat each jeep/landcruiser as one single entity that smells of petrol, makes lots of noise, is friendly and does not threaten - as opposed to human beings, often recognised as being very dangerous indeed.But some are not fooled and these two characters were among them. Our cameras were no good in the low light;our visitors snuffled around the vehicle and looked at us and at each other very pointedly, lifting their noses, eyes glinting. The light was failing and they went on their way, but I felt an odd kind of feeling in my stomach, a quiet sense of them being trouble.

That night, I had my first ever really copious nose bleed, and  I was aware of being in a tent cubicle in the Bush, the scent of human waste easily detectable to any animal, now coupled with that of blood. I cleaned myself up and went to sleep in our tent.

Among the most wonderful things about camping in the wilds of Botswana is  the  night music. It is one of the things I actively miss, lions crooning and roaring, elephants giving it large, hippos twanging away like some sort of double bass/tuba combo...nothing is quiet. That's why early afternoon safaris are pointless; by then most of the beasties are sleeping off last night's  fiesta.That night I was woken up by a voice outside:

'YEAH! Hehehahaheheheheh!' It jeered, distorted but recogniseably human.
'YEAH!'  Hehehahahahehehehaha!' Another voice replied, again very near.

The voices didn't flutter up and down the scale;they didn't sound like cartoons, but like two very unpleasant hecklers at a live comedy show. My blood ran cold and sleep was hard to come by. Many tales link Hyenas to shape changers. I wouldn't have been surprised to hear a courteous stranger outside the tent asking me to let them in, or  to find, in the morning, our camping staff Obi and Ronald standing at the breakfast table with fixed grins and slightly furry skin around the ears and elbows. Later the chill returned to my bones when our guide told us the tale of the tall man who went camping in the bush by himself, and  decided to sleep with his head outside his tent. Humans did not find him before a hyena did.
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As we trudged along the Victoria Falls rhino walk to meet its eponymous celebrities, Skinny the guide told us many things, about Dr Livingstone's work with quinine, about the medicinal aspects of elephant dung and about a strange small creature he dug up out of the dust, a wee beast too teeny for my camera.* This was an ant-lion larva.
These things make traps for ants, but that is not the oddest thing about them. According to Skinny,  adolescent tribesgirls in search of suitors would encourage the development of womanly breasts by attaching an ant-lion larva to each nipple, its clasp/bite supposedly encouraging expeditious mammary expansion.Decorously, he had no comment to make about whether or not it works. I think, if it doesn't, you just keep going until you find co-operative pairs of ant-lions. One is just going to make things weird.

*Hence this photo taken from


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