Nov 062014

Black Rhino

Black Rhino

We were at Desert Rhino Camp when the daughter of an obviously very well-to-do family from Milan declared across the dinner table: “When other people think of Italy all they think of is pizza, pasta and the Mafia.”

Hmm, not really I thought, but held the thought. The next day we endured a bone jarring 12-hour game-drive search for the desert rhinos and to pass the time (each time the Landy stopped to negotiate another boulder), I jotted down thoughts.

To fully appreciate the title, you should be familiar with the Monty Python sketch in “The Life of Brian” – What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us? I read it out at dinner the following night to great applause from the Italians.


By David Bristow

You gave us the arch, the aqueduct and dome,

And for those we are eternally glad;

You give us Firenze and Venice, Milano and Rome –

Cities greater than any other nation has, or has had.


When Septimus Severus ruled Leptis Magna

And other Roman ruins from Morocco to Libya,

And Julius Caesar marched, triumphantly, down the Appian Way

They created an empire that defines much of Europe today.


You gave us the Renaissance to break the Dark Ages

From Giotto to Bellini became the cultural sages;

Michelangelo’s glorious dome and Della Porta’s cupola,

Botticelli’s Venus born in a shell with the winds to guide her.

But it was Leonardo with his art and his machines

Who created our present from his futuristic dreams.


Then you gave us real food and Campari with bitters

Aglio olio, cannelloni, ravioli, formaggio;

But you also gave us some big hitters –

Rocky Marciano and the Yankee’s DiMaggio.


For the mornings you gave us cappuccino

And for the evenings double espresso,

Then we’d go to the movies to see Pacino and de Niro;

Reruns of old classics became the dreams of old men

Featuring Gina Lollobrigida and Sofia Loren …

With them!


To show off we drive a Ferrari, Maserati or Lambo

Or for the aficionado maybe a Lancia Montecarlo;

While the hip and happening ride a Vespa

As they race in the fast lane and live the dolce vita.


We look at our photos and memories we cherish,

Our visits to Lake Cuomo and the canals of Venice;

Remember the crazy horsemen of the Palio in Sienna

And on to Monza to see the brilliant young Aryton Senna.


In the Eternal City we discovered spaghetti al dente

And one evening we stumbled across the Comedia del Arte;

We were surprised by the scale of Saint Peter’s, the delicate Pieta,

The vibrant nightlife and the afternoon riposo, or siesta.


We ate pasta pomodoro in a piazza in Pisa

And pizza margherita in a side street of Napoli;

Remember the night we made love in Palermo

It was like a scene out of Dante’s Inferno.


But who can forget the Vatican state,

The Pope, the cardinals, the bishops and prelates;

Or the priests and nuns who ruled our schools with their sermons

till we thought they were not angels but educational demons.


These days as we sit with a book by Umberto Eco, and a glass of good grappa,

Or sip a Chianti while we watch the news after supper,

About the latest farce by Berlusconi with a sweet ratafia

And the rise of the Chinese and Russian Mafia.

It is no longer the Sicilian dons who we fear,

But these new global gangsters bring us to tears.


Desert Rhino

Desert Rhino

Jul 232014

Sunset Bushman

Sunset Bushman

Haina Kalahari Lodge

by David Bristow

In the 1950s it was estimated there were around 60,000 people in Southern Africa living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, people who – then as now – we commonly refer to as “bushmen”.

In the mid-1970s that number was recalibrated to around 6,000. Then came civil wars across the region, with indigenous people caught in the cross-fire; after that came veterinary fences that blocked natural migrations across the arid interior where these people lived. Then boreholes, rag-tag villages, necessary employment on cattle ranches, ready alcohol and all the social pitfalls that followed.

Today the number is, maybe none at all. The sun seems to have set on the Earth’s oldest human culture and way of life – the oldest line of human DNA on the planet, living very much as humans did at the dawn of time. For a lucky few, however, a small door of opportunity has opened at various private game reserves and lodges across the Kalahari. We were extremely lucky to visit one such place, Haina Kalahari Lodge, adjacent to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and not far from Deception Pan and Deception Valley where we also spent a night.

The “bushmen” who work at the lodge (including the women), previously worked on cattle farms in the Ghanzi district, but were given a chance of at least partly recapturing their subsistence way of life. They like nothing more than to share what they are and what they know of the land with visitors, who go there to be a part of that sharing. Some of their veld food is not immediately to every visitor’s taste, but to our guides, each item dug up or plucked was consumed with relish and joy.

Haina Kalahari Lodge

Haina Kalahari Lodge

Surely you wouldn’t go all that way (and pay all that money to get there) and not at least try some veld food. The grewia or brandy-bush berries were tart and bit like blotting paper. The bitter-tasting bi (milk) bulb, Raphionacme burkei, which provides large quantities of liquid in dry times, did take some getting used to.

But what to call these people? Dutch settler-explorers who were the first Europeans to make contact with them, coined the word bosjemans, bushmen. Academia declared that a derogatory word, and substituted it with the word San. But some researchers believe “san” was used by stock-herding Khoikhoi as a slur for people who had no stock, i.e. poor people, so maybe not the best appellation for the world’s “first people”.

In truth they have no collective name for themselves. There are many bands, or clans, each with its own language. If you are Naro, or Khomani, or Khoenkhoen, everyone else is simply a stranger. The last pure hunter-gatherer clan of the Kalahari were the /Gwikwe around the Tsodilo Hills. /Gwi means bush, and kwe people, so they called themselves the Bush People.

That seems to be as good a name as any, and so it is the one we will use in African Icons to describe all hunter-gatherers of southern Africa. Even though, technically speaking, there are none left.

Haina Kalahari Bushman showing their craft

Haina Kalahari Bushman showing their craft


May 272014

A New Species Named in the Palmwag Concession

It seems incredible that anything could live in the harsh Damaraland mountainlands and gravel plains – the place is comprised almost entirely of pyroclastic (that’s volcanic to most people) rocks. It looks like, at some time in the distant past, the entire place simply exploded. But, we were taught at school, nature hates a vacuum.

The arid land is a paradise for beetles and reptiles. There are around 125 species of lizards here, more than anywhere else in Africa, maybe the world. But mammals, large ones, like springbok, oryx, Hartmann’s mountain zebras. What would they want with the place (not to mention the Herero, Damara and Himba herders and their stock who live around the concession)!

Namaqua dragon

Namaqua dragon

But most astonishing, bizarre it seems, are the desert-adapted black rhinos (Diceros bicornis bicornis) which can live entirely without water. More amazing even, is that when the small shrubs and bushes lose their leaves and and the land is like a furnace before the summer rains arrive – if they do – these antediluvian creatures survive by nibbling on euphorbia milkweed, which to just about ever other living creature is deathly toxic.

W mirabilis

W mirabilis

When I first saw one of these beasts appear out a gully, its horns and pointy ears just visible above the white-gold grass, it seemed more like a dinosaur, kind of tricerotops, than a modern-day mammal. On the spot I renamed it Rhinosaurus bicerotops.
If you don’t get to see this place before you die you will be missing out big time. And remember, you cannot take all that money and all your stuff with you when you die, no matter what the ancient Egyptians might have told you.


Little Kulala Invasion

 Namibia  Comments Off
May 222014

Little Kulala camp, in the Sossusvlei area of Namibia (that is, abutting the great Namib Desert sand sea), is wonderful enough place. The location, the design, service, food, are all outstanding. But whoever created the mosquito net superstructure over the beds was way off the mark. Mine had enough holes for a Black Hawk attack helicopter to get in.

Simply put, they don’t close. Now a mosquito will spend patient hours through the night trying to find a way in while you are zzzzing away. You might not expect to find mozzies in one of the driest locations on the planet, but at Little Kulala (thanks to the swimming pools), they are legion. Add to that thatch ceilings over the sleeping area and latter over the bathroom area, and you have enough hiding dark places to a small Taliban army equipped with heat-seeking missiles. Sit for any length of time on the loo and you will be hit.

It took some deft engineering with wads of cardboard (a diary cover) and some sticks to secure my sleeping area. Roger and Pat reckon the fiends follow them around their spacious quarters in tight formation.

But you soon forget all that. We were up at 5am and out by 5.30am to get into the Sossusvlei dunes before the sun and the crowds. The wide valley and then Dead Vlei, are one the most iconic and photogenic places you will ever see. Two hours and some 1,500 frames later, we headed for Sesriem Canyon, another highlight of the area.

Tomorrow, inshallah and the weather depending, we will be taking off at first light, either in a balloon or a chopper, to photograph the sand sea. Watch this space.

Dead Vlei one the most iconic and photogenic places you will ever see

Dead Vlei one the most iconic and photogenic places you will ever see

David Bristow