The Okavango Delta

20130302-095204.jpg

Our next adventure was a 2 night, 3 day trek in the Okavango Delta. It was a half day drive to the campsite at the mouth of the delta. When we arrived, we were given a brief overview of the next few days. Then we set up our camp, had lunch, and off to the bar to have a few drinks. We chatted and danced, well into the evening, with the tour leaders and the guys who worked at the campsite. Our five AM wake up call was less than pleasant. Nonetheless, we packed up again and piled into a truck that drove us the hour or so to the entrance point. The Okavango Delta is between 50 and 80 000 square kilometers depending on the season. It is a labyrinth of waterways, shifting islands, and reed covered marshes. It is home to thousands of animals, and a huge array of plants and animals.
When we arrived at the entrance point, we were greeted by a bunch of local villagers that would be our polers and our guides for the three days.
We paired off into twos, and were given our own poler for the weekend. Our poler was a young guy named “Life”. Life quickly became Kelsi and my new favourite person; he was laid back, loved to dance and sing, and had as much fun laughing at Kelsi and I as we did at each other. Plus, our new favourite game was coming up with generic phrases about life that could literally be used in each situation. When Life would push our boat past all the other boats, we would say “That’s just Life in the fast lane”. When we’d cruise through different waterways from the rest of the group, we would nod our heads and agree that “sometimes Life takes you on an unexpected path”. Then we’d curl over in laughter at how funny we thought we were. This continued relentlessly for three days. We’re such losers.
The first thing we did was pile into the macorro boats. Macorros are small, hollowed out, wooden boats. Each boat held two people, and a poler. Kelsi and I climbed in the front as Life gave us a push forward and climbed in. The boats moved through the delta by being pushed along with long poles (thus the name “polers” for the guides).
It was about an hour and a half to our camp by boat. Life pushed us along easily through the tall reeds and lily pad filled ponds. The passages were tiny. They were hardly wide enough for our little boat to make it through.
The entire trip, the reeds kept smacking Kelsi and I in the face. It was difficult to see what was going on around us. But that was okay, we just kept noting how “sometimes Life throws many obstacles your way”. The puns made the ride all worth it.
Finally we had arrived at camp. It wasn’t much, just a small island with enough space to set up our tents and a communal area for eating and bonfires. The whole camp was set up under a giant sausage tree. This was the first time we’d seen a sausage tree close up. It was finally possible to see how massive the sausage fruit really were. I went into my tent one afternoon, and when I came out, one had landed right outside the door. It was huge, and easily weighed a couple pounds. I was lucky that it had missed hitting me in the head. That thing would have knocked me out for sure!
Our fear afternoon was lazy. We couldn’t leave the camp without a guide, so we lounged around and napped for the first hour or so. By midday it was too hot to be in the tents anymore, so we grabbed Life and Manda and a few of us headed to the swimming pool.
The swimming pool was just an area of the swampy water that was slightly deeper and had less reeds around it. The water came up to our waists, and we had a few meters to swim around in. Kelsi, Gina and I had way too much fun koalaing each other (leaping and clinging on to another person with all fours) and attempting to take underwater photos in brown water. We completely disregarded the “no splashing” rule that was in effect to avoid crocodiles. Oh well, we survived!
By late afternoon it was time for our first walk. We split off into smaller groups of five. Our group was Kelsi, Falafel, Gina, Anisha and I. We set out with two guides : Life and Brian (And yes, I made the Monty Python connection, even if they were completely oblivious to it).
I have two words to say about our walking safaris: Sticky grass. Sticky grass looks very similar to the long grass with fuzzy spurs on the end that we were constantly walking through. Only occasionally, the long grass would be a patch of sticky grass that would death cling to your clothes, never to come off! Okay, perhaps a bit dramatic, but it wasn’t pleasant. Note to everyone trekking in the Okavango Delta, don’t wear yoga pants! By the time I was half way through our walk, my favourite black Lululemon pants were completely green with sticky grass. You had to pull each needle off individually (which took me about a week of working at it on the bus). I heard a bunch of remedies: wash it, burn it, stick tape to it. In the end, it was a painfully slow process of doing it by hand.
Other than sticky grass, the Delta walks were actually quite fun and informative. We didn’t see a tonne of animals. I had expected this, from what we were told by other groups, but that was no problem; the scenery was beautiful and the guides were super knowledgeable. We came across lots of zebras and birds; we saw frogs and grasshoppers and all sorts of crazy looking insects. We did come across a number of fuzzy caterpillars, especially in our campsite. They were cute to look at, but they attached themselves to people and gave them really itchy rashes that lasted for days. Mostly, our walks consisted of looking at the ground avoiding anteater holes and staying safe from prickly acacia trees.
At one point, I caught my foot on an acacia branch, tripped forward and scraped the top of my foot on one of the spikes. Kelsi began laughing at my weak attempt to free myself from the branch. Then she fell in an anteater hole. Karma’s a bitch.
The walk finished around sunset, and then it was time for dinner. We all hung around the campfire for the evening, but had an early night. Our next walk was scheduled for 6:30 the next morning.
Our morning walk was 4 hours long and was before breakfast. We were all unimpressed at having to go on a four hour hike without a full stomach, but after a small rusk bar and a cup of tea, we were refreshed enough to start the trek. Our second walk was similar to the first. Brian explained about all the flora and fauna and we became experts in identifying animal droppings. We also got to try some red star berries that looked like grapes but tasted like apples. It was really neat to have Brian as our guide. He is one of the few guides that was originally a bushman. His perspectives on the trees and the animals was so interesting.
The baobab tree, the one with the massive trunk that is so often seen here in Africa, was particularly special to Brian. He believes that the ancestors from his tribe live within the tree. You can hear their voices in the night, that is why you should not camp directly beneath one. The spirits in the tree will steal the voices of enemies that decide to camp under the safety of a baobab.
Good to know!
Brian also taught us some of his bushman language; finally we had found an African language with clicks! This was very exciting to me. We learned Natambooka (Good Morning) and Hongu Mana (Thank You). Back at camp, we played a traditional bushman game called xhonu. Don’t ask me how to pronounce it. The “x” is some crazy click sound that I couldn’t make if my life depended on it. The game was similar to the Malawian Bao game, but had more complex rules. The guys said that if two people are really good, the game can go on all day.
Our second afternoon was lazy as well. We arrived home from our walk late morning and had another nap. Afterwards, about 6 of us ganged up on Sox at a game of xhonu and got our asses kicked. When games and lunch were over, we had Hector teach us how to pole.
We were disasters. It is much more difficult to steer the boat than it looks. Kelsi and I spent more time stuck in the reeds laughing than we did moving. But we didn’t flip the boat and end up in the water, so I count that as a win!
In the evening, everyone got back in the macorros to watch the sunset. Life pushed us along to a lake about 45 minutes from camp where we hung around waiting for the sun to go down and watching for hippos. We never found any hippos, but we did make lily pad necklaces and I got to try my hand at poling again. I hadn’t improved much in two hours, but the open water made it easier to move around. The three of us almost missed watching the sunset because we were laughing so hard at my inability to push the boat straight. Finally Life had had enough and he took over.
I decided to ride in the boat backwards on the way home. My thought process was that the reeds wouldn’t hit me in the face that way. Instead, I sat there in constant anticipation of being smacked in the back of the head. My anxiety was so hilarious to Kelsi that she was left in wheezing laughter for the entire 45 minutes home. That combined with our still constant Life puns and we were exhausted by the time we arrived back at camp.
“Kelsi?” I asked at one point “what would you do if you turned around and Life just handed you a bunch of lemons?” We really are special.
Back at camp we had dinner and then dancing around the fire. All the locals got together to sing and dance traditional African songs by the campfire. It was really fun to watch, and they even got all us up off our seats to join in.
The next morning we were up early to head home. Life poled us back to the truck and we said goodbye to him from there. Quite an incredible three day trip!

20130302-095214.jpg

20130302-095224.jpg

20130302-095233.jpg

20130302-095239.jpg

20130302-095250.jpg

20130302-095257.jpg

20130302-095304.jpg

20130302-095314.jpg

20130302-095321.jpg

Advertisements

Back to Botswana

20130302-095005.jpg

The next morning we were up early and back on the road with our new group. There was 17 of us in the new group; this time a completely different mix of nations. Mostly Germans, some Italians, and of course a few Aussies.
It was a short drive that day. We dealt with border formalities and went back to the last campsite we visited in Botswana. The plan was to do another game drive and an over night in Chobe National Park. The exact same activities we’d done four days earlier. Kelsi and I opted to stay behind at the campsite and skip this excursion. We were tired, and both emotionally and physically exhausted. Plus Kate and Ash from our last group, who were continuing South to Johannesburg on a different tour, were doing the same thing. We figured it would be fun to hang out for one last afternoon.
Falafel stayed behind as well. She was also continuing all the way to Cape Town with us. So we had a pretty good group to hang out with at the pool for the day.
About an hour after our group had left we were so happy about our decision. The skies opened up and the rain came bucketing down. Apparently the game drive was windy, freezing, and left everyone soaking wet by the time they reached their bush camp.
Kelsi and I spent the night hanging out with Manda and our old driver Elouise and listened to them tell all their disaster stories about past tours. We sat under cover from the rain well into the evening, just laughing about all the crazy things tourists do in Africa.
The next morning our group was back and we were off to do another Chobe River cruise. It was pretty much the same as the last time. Cherry was our driver, we saw some hippos and elephants, and we sat around enjoying a cold beer with our new friends.
This time though, we didn’t have the boat to ourselves. About two other German tour groups joined us, leaving Kelsi, Gina and I to sit on the floor by the cooler.
Gina’s bags had finally been recovered and sent to the campsite, which was such a relief. She was still a little blue, but that would fix itself all in good time!
The second half of the boat cruise we saw very few animals. It began to rain again and the wind made it freezing cold.
When we arrived back at camp an hour later, we found Bush Baby flooded. All our stuff was soaked, sleeping mats, blankets, bags, everything. Good thing we decided to choose the most mangled looking tent! Unlike our last tour, this truck didn’t have ANY rain covers for the tents. We pulled our tent under shelter, hung our stuff up in the damp night, mopped out the floor of the tent, then climbed back in with the spare sleeping mats Manda provided. I hope it’s not going to be raining much on this half of the tour!

20130302-094955.jpg

20130302-095012.jpg

20130302-095019.jpg

Chobe National Park

20130224-212547.jpg

After the rest of our group visited the falls, we headed over to Botswana for a whirlwind tour of Chobe National Park. By noon we were already on the river.
The Chobe river separates Botswana and Namibia (Yes, I needed a second look at a map to figure out why Namibia stretched that far east), and we cruised down the border line for a good couple hours.
Our boat driver, Cherry, was this super smiley Setswanan man who was very excited to point out all the animals in the national park. And it wasn’t long before we came across a herd of elephants playing right along side us in the river.
There weren’t a huge variety of animals in the river, but we saw lots of elephants, crocodiles, buffalo and hippos. We managed to pull up right next to one herd of hippos, bathing in the river, that actually swam up and hit our boat from beneath so as to mark their territory. Attacked by a hippo: check!
The boys, who are not following us for the second half of the tour, spent a significant amount of time trying to “reach Namibia”. Although Vin Diesel wasn’t there this time to “officially” mark it on their passports, Nick still claims that throwing chunks of ice at the country counts as being there. Whatever helps you sleep at night, Nick.
Immediately after the river tour, we hopped on an open-aired truck and began our game drive through the National Park. Chobe National Park is home to between 65 and 70 thousand elephants… And believe me, we saw A LOT of them. In herds, alone, old ones, young ones, they were everywhere! If you want to see an elephant in Africa, Chobe is the place.
There were lots of different animals in the park by late afternoon. We came across herds of impalas, a bunch of warthogs, buffalo, bird species, and giraffes. At the end of our game drive we stumbled upon six giraffes coupled in twos. They were amazing to watch. The couples fought each other, then looked as if they were dancing together, and then just stood with their necks against each other in a strange, but loving, giraffe embrace.
That night, we slept out in the wild. Our camp was already nicely set up for us when we arrived at dinnertime. Two ATC groups were staying in the same area and we all got the rules for the evening as we sat around the camp fire. Pretty much the same lecture as the Serengeti: go to the bathroom in groups, stay quiet and keep your tent dark, watch out for wild animals, and if you run into a lion or an elephant, don’t scream!
We did pretty much everything against the book that night. We sat in our tents, laughing at stories well into the evening, torches on, eating chocolate… So obedient. Outside our tent we could hear the trumpeting of elephants and rustling of trees. We were definitely out in the wilderness! Kelsi even said, as she was brushing her teeth in the dark the next morning, she could see literally hundreds of eyes in the bushes around her just staring back. As we started our morning game drive it was clear that this was probably the massive herd of impalas we ran across just seconds outside our camp.
During our entire morning drive we never saw a single elephant. From seeing hundreds of them the evening before, these 70 thousand elephants are clearly excellent at playing hide and seek. We did however come across two large male lions just a minute or so outside our campground. We parked the truck and waited around for ages just watching the two of them lounge in the morning sun. Finally, one got up and we tried to follow it down the road. We soon got distracted by a pack of blue balled baboons and had to start taking photos. The tiny babies were clinging, like Sarah in a motorbike accident, to their mothers’ stomachs; they were adorable!
Then out if nowhere, we saw the lion again, running along side the road. It was being chased away by a full grown buffalo! We started up the jeep and followed the chase as they sped down a small ravine parallel to the road. All of a sudden, the lion sprung up through the trees and onto the road in front of us. We quickly stopped the truck and sat there, in the open air, in a standoff with the lion. The driver shut off the engine, and Sandy jumped on the roof of the truck for a better photo op. For a moment the lion just stared at us; we were all silent. Then, for some reason, perhaps he recognized a human shape on the roof, the lion began to charge at the truck. It took a few bounds toward us, and let out a huge roar, shaking its head. Then just as quickly, it turned and ran back into the brush. It was the most incredible photo taking opportunity we were ever going to get on an African safari! It was exactly what so many of us were silently wishing would happen during the trip. But what does one do when a full grown, male lion charges at your truck, with nothing between you and it except for the open air? You freeze. Many people screamed, jumped the other direction, Sandy nearly flew off the roof, but no one, not a single person in the truck thought, “hmm, I’m going to get a photo of this”. Such a fail. Oh well, attacked by a lion: check!
And yet, amazingly, it seems like the dung beetle may have won “favourite moment of the day” award. We spent a good five minutes watching a dung beetle, on the road, rolling a piece of poo three times its size, up a hill. It was strangely incredible. Even plants didn’t get in the way of that little guy!
Our stay in Botswana was definitely short, but we had only one day left before the first half of our tour was over. Kelsi and I would be returning to Botswana in three days, but before then we were off to Zimbabwe for more Victoria Falls action.

20130224-212446.jpg

20130224-212455.jpg

20130224-212502.jpg

20130224-212515.jpg

20130224-212523.jpg

20130224-212531.jpg

20130224-212539.jpg

20130224-212553.jpg

20130224-212601.jpg