Sunday, May 31, 2009


From Johannesburg to Botswana via the bottle store

There’s a certain pull the desert has that infects some people like a virus, the remoteness, the huge sky peppered with stars, the gentle people, the endless undulating rhythms of the land, the stark dryness of it. We were not to encounter any stark dryness because we drove from Gauteng to Gabarone in a steady drizzle en route to Khutse Game Reserve, four hours northwest of Gabarone. We were all nervous, especially the instructors. Shepherding a convoy of twenty 4x4’s is not an easy task, even with five backup vehicles equipped with two-way radios and years of experience in all kinds of terrain. Someone was always sloping off for meat, or beer, or trailing behind and missing a turnoff. Beer cannot be brought over the border from South Africa, so we decided by popular vote, to make a bottle store stop a priority. We found ourselves in the middle of a lively market in Gabarone on a Friday night, where we encountered a lot of friendly notice, but lost another member of the party, this time an instructor.

We had all been warned to be self contained in terms of water and food and some of the travellers had taken this quite literally, we looked like the Visigoths after a particularly lucrative plundering expedition at Gauteng’s camping stores.

Our first overnight stop was the Gabarone Lion Park, and it did have real lions, a few sad looking creatures behind a wire mesh fence, who yawned and turned over like overweight tabbies. They did roar, especially when the lightning started forking down. Tent opening and peg hammering took on a new urgency as the raindrops splattered down and as soon as the great roaring communal campfire was perfectly braai-ready, the serious storm began. The lucky souls who had side awnings pulled them out quickly, and the rest went to bed with tin opener and baked beans.

In the morning after a quick foray into Gabarone to collect another wayward member of the party, and a few sorties to round up the rest of the tardy brood who had gone to replenish their stocks once more via the bottle store, we set out on the Molepolele Road towards Khutse. The road from Letlhakeng to Salajwe is called the “chicken run” and for good reason, being a one-lane strip of tar road stretching out into the distance. It’s a heady feeling, driving in the middle of the road, until a another car appears on the horizon, and you find yourself mentally measuring the width of the road, the width of the car, and breaking out in a cold sweat at 120km/hour until at the last minute the oncoming car swerves with a cheery wave and misses your wing mirror by the skin of your teeth.

As we drove westwards, the hills began to recede, the roadside was speckled with yellow duwweltjie flowers, and the neat concrete and brick houses gave way to thatch roofed mud villages, filled with running little boys and girls. The sky seemed to sweep the ground, taking on a surreal look accentuated by the flatness of the landscape all around. It was driving through a bustling little village that we encountered the phenomenon that has made Botswana one of the most easily traveled countries in the continent. We came to a road-block.

Who hasn’t experienced a roadblock in an African country, where the best fun for bored soldiers is to consume enormous amounts of beer and menace the tourists? This, however, wasn’t that kind of roadblock, it was a speedtrap, and we were guilty of doing 73 in a 60km zone. The traffic officer lifted one finger, looked very stern and said. “Don’t you ever, ever, ever do that again. Now GO”

The drivers were becoming restless. This was a 4x4 trail, and they were longing to test the capacity of their brand new Super Wide radials. They didn’t have long to wait, because it had rained through the night from Lobatse to Maun. At first, the crossings were done by the book, exiting the vehicles, discussing the approach, consulting the beer situation, measuring the depth of the water with a stick. When the sun started curving over the yardarm, it became a case of take a deep breath and engage the obstacles. The radios went deathly quiet. Those who had ignored the instructions not to drink and drive were finding that adrenalin and alcohol do not make an easy mix. What was once goodnatured banter turned into a collective intake of breath until the GPS told us we had another 57 more kilometers.

At last we entered the drier bits, which were no less perilous, consisting as they did of committing your wheels to the track and trying not to meander into the soft mound in the middle, all the while trying not to scratch the bodywork of the vehicle too badly.

We arrived parched and dusty at the Reserve Office and climbed wearily out of our vehicles. We studied the Guidelines for Visitors, and hoped that the bat-eared foxes that made up the duvet offered for sale at R600 had died of natural causes. Our campsite was next to one of the many saltpans scattered across the region. During the rainy seasons, these depressions fill up with water, which drain away like a sink during dry patches. The soil is translucent clay, which gives the illusion of water even when the pan is bone dry, an effect which frequently spooks the traveller, even one who has kept himself properly sober while he drives. Animals love these giant margarita glasses, and their hooves pound the clay into powder, which deepens the depression.

One of the pieces of literature given out at the entrance to the park was a Bird and Mammal List, and a quick perusal showed that there would be something for everyone. Of the famous Big Five, we were promised lion, cheetah, and leopard, and those creatures that don’t trip so easily off the tongue like the Pangolin and Buffy’s Pipit. The list promised lots new including the Blackwinged Prantincole, Rufouscheeked Lark, and something called a Cape Penduline Tit. It was after we were trying to conjure up a mental image of a Spikeheeled Lark then that we discovered the Hairy-Footed Gerbil.

One of the more characteristic of camping sounds is the snap of a brand new bird book or animal guide as soon as someone sights a moving object. Our guide to the mammals of South Africa informed us that the hairy-footed gerbil was a small mouse-like creature with hair under the soles of its feet, like built-in fluffy slippers. The hair brushes away the gerbil’s footprints, concealing its whereabouts from eagles, (Tawny, Steppe, Martial, or Wahlberg), and falcons (Lanner, Peregrine or Hobby), Kestrels and Kites and everything else that threatens gerbils. Ingenious, we were impressed.

The brochure further requested us to please refrain from harassing the animals, and advised that rustic bush latrines were available at some of the sites for our comfort.

In the morning, we set off in two cars, with the bulk of the party on the back of the bakkie with their binoculars poised aloft. The futility of the exercise soon became apparent. The grass was shoulder high (to me at least) and although one was sure the savannah was packed with prowling lions, snarling leopards and all creatures great and small, the dessicated tree in the distance proved not to be a giraffe, and the most we saw was the bouncing rump of what may or may not have been a retreating gemsbok.

There were mutterings about someone forgetting the Weedeater, but after a while it really didn’t matter, we discovered a newfound interest in birds. The snapping open of the Bird Book became quite deafening and in quick succession we ticked off Francolins, Rednobbed coots, any number of Hornbills, Starlings, and Finches and kamikaze little Flycatchers that dart in front of your bull bar and swoop under your wheels.

We found ourselves admiring the shapes of the Camelthorn and Umbrella thorn trees against the dramatic greys and whites of the clouds, the pink dead-looking driedoring, the hundred colours of the grasses. We stopped and looked at a swarm of minute butterflies flickering in unison on the ground and watched a colony of ants devour something that used to be a grasshopper. The blue bowl of the sky was all around us, and we had nothing but time to meander and marvel, everything was perfectly alright with the world. Days went by without sight of anything more exciting than a warthog and it’s tottering babies, who bared their teeth photogenically at us, and no sight of the ever-elusive hairy-footed gerbil. We didn’t care, life took on a gentle undulating rhythm like the landscape itself and the insects were endlessly fascinating.

It was while we were consulting the map to find another side road to explore that they came past, a grim pair of brand new, gleaming 4x4’s crashing through the bush as though late for a dinner party, clutching a beer in each fist, sunglasses clamped over pinched eyes frantically searching the horizon for IMPORTANT game.

Not too far along the road lay their little victim, a squashed piece of sandy fur tattooed with Super Wide tyre tracks, it’s hairy little feet turned up to the sky.


Saturday, May 30, 2009


55 pilot whales have beached at Kommetjie near Cape Town and more are coming in.

There's a bit of Audio here. Luckily Capetonians are avid animal lovers, half of the city will be swarming in to help. This might not be helpful.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Disgusting animal story of the day is this Canadian functionary who sliced off a piece of seal heart and ate it in an attempt to convince the EU not to ban the import of Canadian seal products. She declared it "delicious".

That will do it then, that'll bring the good citizens of the EU to their senses, seal burgers all round. That should take your mind off great big strong men battering small fluffy big eyed baby seals to death.


Since almost half the year is over and the second bit goes in a bit of rush as you wait for that first Christmas commercial. Time to review the To Do list for the year.

Learn French – Check

Learn to cook – Check

Start business – Check

Stop chewing nails – Partial Check (I’m still chewing one thumb and two pinkies)

The others I haven’t got to but I did start an etsy shop. I’m a third of the way through the Pimsleur Speak and Read Essential French, and my cooking has improved so much I’m even eating it.

I am still killing my plants though, but despite my efforts, the garden is looking quite healthy and I get my fair share of praying mantis, ladybird and hadedah visitors.

All the health related resolutions have fallen by the wayside, I spent my last two hundred on a carton of Stuyvesants today, and I’m still using my weights to keep the door from closing.

Ah well, four our of ten aint bad, and I’ve still got 7 months to go.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


When I was a child, my mother excitedly pointed out a flying pair of ibis. It was an unusual sight in those days and meant good luck. I don’t remember if they brought us any luck, but I know for sure that there have never been so many ibis strolling around our neighbourhoods. Like chickenman, hadeda ibis are everywhere, they’ve made themselves so completely at home in the suburbs that they barely pause poking their beaks into the grass past churning, snarling morning traffic.

They’re about the size of a duck if it had long legs and a curved beak and their feathers are an iridescent leathery gray. Like a ducktail duck with a flickknife beak, although they’re not at all threatening. They have large moist eyes and big heads, and humans are programmed to find that combination irresistibly cute. Apparently, and I don’t know for sure (there was that guineafowl) they don’t taste too good, which might explain why they’re so ubiquitous.

In a way it’s a match made in heaven, Johannesburg is a forest city, and the birds love all the trees. They’re useful too, they suck up huge quantities of commonly regarded household pests, like Parktown prawns (about more later) and snails, so they’re encouraged, and they don’t need to be fed, they manage very well for themselves, thank you very much. They bother noone and noone bothers them.

There one downside to these lovely birds, the blood curdling shriek they make when they’re startled, har-har, like a demented sailor. If you’ve had a cacophony of three or four of them in a tree outside your bedroom on a Sunday morning, you will achieve depths of hatred you didn’t think possible. They also enjoy sitting on individual houses or trees and calling to each at the tops of their voices, but then everyone in Joburg does that.

Monday, May 25, 2009


This revolutionary hot water bottle keeps a steady 38C/101F all night long and never gets cold like a conventional hot water bottle. No leaks, no waking up to a cold, soggy bed. Comes in ultra-realistic soft plush fully washable cover with gentle vibrate function.

Kids will love it, comes in fun animal shape.

FREE to a good home

Sunday, May 24, 2009


At least I have a healthy garden , found this cute little fellow chowing down on the aphids in my garden.

Have as much as you like, bubbeleh, call your friends.

Friday, May 22, 2009

About Giggletree

Welcome to Giggletree, hope you’ll stay around for art and animals, animals in art, real animals, fake ones, animals in craft and animals in everyday household gadgets. Virtually everyone on the planet has some sort of animal thing gathering dust on the windowsill, so I figure I’m going to have plenty of material to cover.

I am setting up this blog in support of my etsy shop, which is stuffed with animals, but I promise not to bludgeon anyone with marketing. You’re here for your amusement, not to buy my stuff. If you’d like to, please feel free to go to giggletree.