Indian Ocean - A week in the Okavango Delta

Carmel had arranged a full week for us with Old Bridge Backpackers. We were met a Maun airport and driven out to the backpackers, located on the banks of the river. We had a large tent with ensuite bathroom and a fenced entry that looked out onto the river - a fantastic site. Dinner (shared with a few begging but friendly dogs) was eaten outside under a tree where fruit bats fluttered in to eat the fruits.

First on the agenda was a flight over the delta, giving us some idea of the extent of the wetlands. We were told that the water was only just starting to come down, but the difference between this and my earlier visit in 1998 was profound. Then, Maun and the surrounding area was desiccate; now it was lush and green, with countless water channels and pools. We could spot some game from the air, but it isn't the best way to see the delta, and we were soon back at the backpackers lodge meeting Water, our guide for the next three days.

Water and Chi Cha, the cook, drove us in an open safari vehicle to Kaziikini community camp, passing giraffe and the usual run of small game animals along the way. This community-run camp is in the wildlife rich Santawani area near the south gate of Moremi game reserve; we slept in a simple bedded reed hut, and the camp has very good showers and toilets in open air reed structures. We went out for a late afternoon game drive in the Santawani area, with a local guide (Boxer) along to make sure we didn't stray into the hunting area. The drive extended quite a bit into night, rewarding us with the sight of a leopard stalking impala along the road. We stalked the leopard, but eventually headed back to camp for an excellent late dinner by the campfire.

We spent all of the next day in the Moremi game reserve. The day could be described as five hours drive to a fantastic picnic place next to a pool full of hippos, then five hours drive back to camp, but that ignores the fact that we had a full-on day seeing all sorts of animals, including several antelope that we hadn't seen in Kruger. The picnic itself was wonderful, sitting out of the vehicle under the trees with tables, chairs, water for handwashing, cold drinks and excellent food.

After breakfast we had a slow drive back to "The Old Bridge" in time for lunch. Immediately after lunch we were joined by Leo and Ali,another pair of sisters, and we set off with our guide (Polardi) in a motor boat for what turned out to be a very hot and long ride meandering up the reed fringed channels of the Okavango to our camp site, game and bird viewing on the way. This is the best way to see the delta; we zipped along open waterways, wound our way slowly though the mazes of channels amongst reeds and grasses, stopped to look at elephants, giraffe, hippos, crocodiles and countless birds along the way.

Disaster! We arrived just before dusk to find Jarvis and Kelvin in the boat full of tents, food and cooking gear, none of which was off-loaded. Someone had camped in our designated place on Chief Island and we were totally stymied by them, despite our official bits of paper. Several frantic phone-calls later, in the deepening dusk we all set off for an approved alternative site, where our camp was set up and an excellent dinner was prepared with amazing efficiency.

After breakfast we had a boat trip to a small village to meet our Mokoro guides; we then spent the morning enjoying a combination of canoeing and walking, with a local guide to lead the way. This is one of the few places in this part of Africa where you can still free-camp and walk in areas where there are wild animals; the guides don't carry guns - they just use common sense. And yes, there are lions there - we saw their tracks and heard them roaring. We didn't see anything too life-threatening, just baboons, warthogs, zebra, a black-backed jackal, and impala, but it was good to be able to walk around on the island. The mokoro trip is a wonderful way to see the waterways up close and personal. Best bits were the vast areas of water lilies, where we could silently push our way through them.

After returning to the village we had a walk around, with a chance to find out something of the people who lived there. Most of the children were away, as there are no schools in the village and the kids go off to stay with extended family in villages where there are schools or in Maun.

We went back to the camp for lunch, then went out for a motor-boat trip followed by a "sundowner" in the JugaJuga area - wine, canapes, and a sunset over the delta. Very slightly spoiled by the undignified rush to get back to camp before the light faded to nothing. Mind you, it did have its lighter side, including the moment when Polardi totally misjudged a sharp corner on one of the twisty channels through the reed beds and we were heading at full speed towards what looked like a solid bank. Carmel and I were sitting at the front of the boat and I figured we were going to get very hurt when we slammed into the bank. I forgot this is the delta - we ploughed straight through what turned out to be thick reeds and picked up the channel on the other side, without missing a beat.

Early breakfast followed by a boat trip and guided game walk. Lots of birds as well as zebra, warthogs and impala. Also saw giraffe, elephant and hippos on the way back. After brunch we had a slow ride back to Maun in the blazing sun. Carmel and I designed a tri-nation extreme sport for the developers who will one day spoil the delta: run through Etosha (Namibia), swim the Okavango Delta (Botswana), and cycle through Kruger (South Africa).

Back at Maun we checked back into the same beautifully-located tent we had started out in and the next morning had a very lazy book-reading morning waiting for our washing to be done. And waiting. And re-checking that it would be try. Time ran out and we were dropped off at the airport with backpacks crammed with soaking wet washing. We flew back to Jo-burg and draped our room with every item of clothing we owned, trying to get something dry for the next day, when we flew to Madagascar.

As with the trip to Kruger, most of the story is told by photos, so I've included a small selection just to fill out the details.


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