Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Reunion - Cliveden

Cliveden as we arrive. My room was in the two-story section on the right.

Cliveden from the rear towards the Thames.
Linda and I are in England for a 43rd anniversary reunion of my Stanford in Britain overseas campus group. Eighty of us spent six months travelling and studying here from January to June in 1969. We spent nine weeks at Harlaxton, then three weeks touring the continent followed by nine more weeks at Cliveden.  The reunion began with a night in London. We met for dinner at the Only Running Footman, a British pub with a noisy main floor and a nice restaurant upstairs recommended by one of our classmates who now lives in London. Unfortunately, he did not make it for the evening or any of the following events. The next morning we got on a bus to our hotel, The Compleat Angler, in Marley on the Thames. After checking in we spent the rest of the day at Cliveden.
We look a little different 43 years later.

Cliveden is a huge mansion built in the 18th century eventually owned by the Astor family. They say that every Prime Minister and King and Queen during the last two centuries stayed there at least once. Including Winston Churchill whose relationship with Lady Astor was so acrimonious it led to this exchange. Lady Astor: Winston, if you were my husband I would give you poison in your drink. Winston: Lady Astor, if I were your husband I would drink it.
The tower looks the same, but the gold leaf has been added.

By the time we arrived it was already part of the National Trust, a private organization that cares for historic sites in Britain. We were a bit of an anomaly and became part of the Wednesday tours. Some of the Trust staff never did come to appreciate the fact that we were there, but we tried to be on good behavior most of the time and especially when the tourists came through.
We had to stay out of this area when the tourists came through.

The Christine Keeler Memorial Couch is gone. It was big enough to serve as a double bed.
We did have a bit of trouble with the pool and the couch we designated “The Christine Keeler Memorial Couch.” Earlier in the 60s, the British government had been rocked by a scandal when John Profumo was discovered to have been having an affair with Christine and Mandy Rice Davies probably including nude bathing in the pool. An affair with young ‘professional women’ might have been ok, but it turned out that Keeler and Davies had also been ‘professional’ with Soviet spies. Profumo’s post as Defense Minister made this a major problem for the government.
The infamous pool. Rumor has it that some of us had a memorial skinny dip late one evening.

One of about twelve formal gardens that surround the estate on its 500+ acres. In the spring the rhodies added plenty of color.
Today, Cliveden is a 5-star hotel and still a part of the National Trust. We opted to save over $500 by staying at the Compleat Angler in nearby Marley. The estate has been spruced up a bit with things like gold leaf on the clock tower, but it felt very much the same as when we lived there. Those in the group who did spend the night said it seemed a bit run down considering the cost of the rooms. We did have fun trying to figure out where we had our classes and meals and where the bar and snooker room had been and most importantly, where we had slept. That was the easiest for me as I walked right in the correct door and it was very familiar.

My rooom was right around the corner.
Our big event at Cliveden this visit was the formal dinner. We had an excellent salmon fillet along with salad and dessert. The good wine flowed freely all night. We learned later that the wine had not been part of the pre-arranged price and were presented with a bill for 3500 pounds. Wow – 26 of us drank over $6000 worth of wine with one dinner. I wish I had known the wine was that good when we were drinking it. This is, however, the home of the $1000 sandwich (three different caviars help drive up the price). Fortunately, when the final bill was presented, Cliveden decided that it was part of the price and the charge was dropped. It was good wine, but …
The view out the back with the Thames barely in view. We did not play rugby on this field.

We did learn how to play snooker and billiards.

The best part of the dinner was sharing our memories. We all talked in some way about the broadening experience of spending that time of our lives overseas. We are all still traveling the world and at least three children are now living overseas. One is taking care of New York University students studying in Florence like we did.
Mute swan on the Thames. I just had to add one bird picture.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Hippopotamus, the name itself is not one to engender fear. However, hippos cause more deaths in Africa than any other animal. Surprising given that the hippo is an herbivore. It’s not just that people don’t realize how dangerous they are, it is also because they are so much more aggressive and agile than people realize. Looking at them, you think they are just a big, fat, slow animal. In fact, they can run much faster than humans and are especially dangerous when they are in the water. Their speed has been estimated at between 18 and 30 mph.

Most or our sightings were hippos in the water, where they spend most of their time during the day. Their skin is ultrasensitive to sun. Too much time in the sun and they are sunburned with cracked skin much like what you see on dry lakebeds. Of course it is worse for the hippos since the cracks bring sores that are difficult to heal. Fortunately, they do naturally secrete a salve that medical researchers think might be used by humans as a healing salve.

Cattle egrets like hippos.
We saw a few hippos at Zulu Nyala. The family was safely watered down in a small pond the first time we saw them only allowing us a limited view of their eyes. The next time we saw them the pond had increased in size tenfold after the typhoon blew through dumping several inches of rain as it did.
Why we are careful walking to our tents. While they gather together in the water, they tend to feed alone at night.
 Our next view was quick. We were on a short 5-minute ride from the road to our first camp in Zambia. The ‘skipper’ wanted to get us to the camp and knew we would get many more views. That evening we went on our first boat safari and did see several more although the first one was only a quick glimpse. The guide explained that he had seen a baby somewhat separated from its mother and was concerned for our safety. Better safe than sorry. 

Over the next several days we would see many hippos in the water. On a couple of occasions, we saw bloats of 25 or more. Our guides were cautious about getting too close and only on a couple of occasions did we see their ‘you are getting too close’ behavior of opening the mouth to show us their dangerous teeth. Usually we were just able to watch them slowly rise to breathe and then retreat beneath the water.
The most interesting views were those few we had of the hippos on land. We were able to get much closer on land. For some reason, hippos are much less aggressive on land. Perhaps this is because they really only eat while on land. Just about every other part of their lives is conducted in the water from procreation to defecation. 
A group of hippos is called a bloat. This is a small one.

On land we could clearly see the effects that the sun has on their skin. The pictures tell the story better than I can, but notice the numerous scars and open sores.

Finally, an interesting story from Wikipedia - my favorite source of information.   ;-(  

It seems that Pablo Escobar of Colombian cartel fame had a bloat of four that he bought from a zoo in New Orleans. After Escobar was captured, no one wanted to deal with the hippos, so they expanded the size of the bloat to 16.  In 2009, two escaped and caused so much havoc among the farmers that one was killed by hunters. That is the end of the Wikipedia story, so we don’t know what happens next, but perhaps one day hippos will be one of the sites we expect to see on visits to South America. Seriously, I hope not, but it does show us again the havoc we humans can create for our environment when we try to play god.
Greetings for us as we arrive at Tubu Tree Camp

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Finally a Leopard

I did not realize this when we began the trip, but there is an official Big Five when it comes to viewing animals in Africa. Hunters designated them as the most dangerous animals to hunt. They are elephant, buffalo, lion, a rhinoceros, and leopard. Sometimes you hear of the Big Seven by adding the second rhinoceros and the cheetah. There is also a Wee Five which include things like the rhinoceros beetle and the leopard tortoise.

We saw three of the five easily at Zulu Nyala. The first evening we started with the elephant and quickly added the buffalo and white rhinoceros. We added the lion on an extra excursion to Phinda Reserve in what was one of the the highlights of the trip. (I’ll share more of that when I get some pictures from Jim to show just how close we were. We also added the Black Rhinoceros on that safari, getting up close and personal with a family of three.

We continued to see more of these animals as we traveled to Spion Kop in the Drakensburg Mountains, Toka Leya in Zambia and Chilwero on the Chobe River in Botswana. I asked Raymond at Spion Kop if he worried at all about leopards attacking his cattle. He said that they are not a danger because even the calves are too big for the leopard to get excited about. Leopards like to drag their kills into a tree where they can eat at their leisure without competition.

But even though they were advertised everywhere, the leopard remained elusive until we got to Tubu Tree, our last stop on the trip.

Tubu Tree is a small camp with only five tents for guests, so we were really able to feel alone as we rode around the reserve. The down side of that is that with only two other vehicles out there, the sightings were harder to come by.

Nevertheless, we met up with a magnificent female leopard on our first day there. Another vehicle made the spotting so we quickly headed off in that direction. I fully expected that this animal would be gone by the time we arrived, but she was still walking down the road as we arrived. She acted completely as if we were not there, walking right by the Land Rover within a couple of feet. After she passed, our driver took off in chase. After doing this twice, the guide said we needed to leave her be for the evening.

We were amazed at her beauty and strength, but mostly we were amazed at how little she seemed to care about us. She was almost close enough to touch on two occasions as she walked by and did not do much more than glance at us.

The pictures are a bit dark as they were taken in the late evening and it was a bit cloudy, but they clearly show her power and elegance. Linda also managed to take a video with her iPhone.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Attack Elephant

Our Young Bull Approaches
 On our last morning we had one more chance to go out on safari. One of those beautiful mornings in the Okavango Delta where the light just shimmers with its golden hues. We started early so our fellow travelers could make their plane at 10:30 so we had even more of that great light. At about 7:00 a lone young bull elephant came out of the woods looking none too happy to be interrupted by a Land Rover full of people. In heat (musth), he was not happy seeing anything that might be a rival to his efforts as he search for a female that might be interested in fulfilling his needs. He glared at us and made some aggressive noises before taking a couple of quick steps in our direction. We understood he was only making a false charge to see how we would react, but it is still a bit unnerving to have a bull elephant, even a young one, feint a charge at you. We complied easily Gibson’s admonition that we stay still and quiet although that did not stop us from taking a few more pictures.
Feinting His Charge
After the feint, he made some more noises and then walked by us getting close so he could show he was the boss. We watched quietly relieved as he passed within about 10 feet before heading off to our rear. Gibson said that one of these bulls had recently actually grabbed one of the Land Rovers with his trunk and given it a shake. Our approach was close enough, thank you.
Eying Us As He Passes
Still the Eye
Perhaps there are females this way?
 In the 15 days we spent out looking at the animals, this is the only time we felt anything other than a mild interest on their part even though there is another young elephant that likes to hang out by the camp itself. The supposition is that he was part of a herd that has been trained to accept riders, but that he escaped and isn’t quite sure what to do with himself since he hasn’t been welcomed into one of the established herds here at Tubu Tree.
The Camp Elephant
Under Our Deck
 We also had an interesting walk back to our cabin one evening. Everywhere we have been, the mantra has been that you don’t walk alone to your cabin/tent after dark. Even though it is only about 30 meters to our cabin, we accepted the directions and always accepted the escort. The previous evening Linda and I had spent about an hour just talking to the manager who had walked us back before heading in to bed. This evening was different however. With only 10 meters to go to reach our cabin, our escort stopped us. We saw nothing until he pointed out the small herd of elephants off to the side. Since there are youngsters with the herd and he could not see all of them, he asked us to quietly follow him off the trail along the side of the cabin to the entrance. All was well as we learned the need for the escort.
Other Elephants at Tubu
The Youngster Applying the Dust Bath

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lions and Buffalo - and some Elephants

The Lions Arrive
Poniso, our guide, and I were contentedly figuring out that the little bird we saw was a southern grey-headed sparrow, when Linda quietly said, “Lion!” All thoughts of the bird vanished as Poniso sped down the road towards the female wandering across the road about 100 meters ahead. She was soon joined by a half dozen younger females and cubs including a couple of males starting to grow their manes. They were apparently heading towards the river, but after a few moments, they started to settle under the shade of a tree by the road.
Note the Growing Mane
Another Arrives
And Two More

Relaxing - If Only for a Moment
All of a sudden, one more female tore across the road and the rest were up and gone towards the river before we had a good chance to see them leave. 
 Poniso supposed it was a male who was chasing them, but he was proven wrong when three cape buffalos came out of the bush after the lions.
Cape Buffalo
And Scary
They followed the lion’s path to the river, so we reversed our path and headed back to the river ourselves where we were soon joined by other vehicles enjoying the evening spectacle. The lions mostly rested in the evening sun while the buffalo blithely forgot the lions were there.
Looking at Us
Powerful Legs
One lion, however, did take an interest in the buffalo even though they had obviously eaten recently. As a young female, perhaps she wanted the practice. We watched her slowly and carefully approach the buffalo from downwind while the buffalo enjoyed his time at the river. 
Having a Drink
Beginning to Stalk - Note the Cattle Egret on the Buffalo's Back

Then the elephants arrived from out in the water. They were done with their evening drinking and ablutions and ready to head inland.
Elephants Arrival
Buffalo Begin to Leave
 When the buffalo saw them, they decided it was time to leave, too.
The Lion is Hiding on the Right Edge of the Picture - Click to Enlarge

The Buffalo Notices
The stalking lion tried to show she was serious, but her half-hearted chase belied the intent. 

We headed home for dinner.
Here is a video Linda shot with her iPhone.