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Published: June 22nd 2017
Geo: -19.9964, 23.4168
We were up before sunrise the next day for our short but early flight to Maun. Although it was an international flight we were a little surprised to find ourselves on a sixteen seater twin propeller plane with the co pilot handing our meal to us as we boarded up the stairs. Obviously no cocktails would be served on this flight! The advantage was however that we flew at a lower altitude and could easily see the ground below and watch as the landscape changed from desert to delta. The town of Maun was about the same size as Mareeba. Mostly consisting of shops, banks, travel agents and a handful of restaurants. With the odd donkey and chicken wandering around it appeared a lot less westernised than any of the towns in Namibia. Once out of town a bit and on the road to our lodge we noticed that some of the houses were constructed of grey concrete block and some were made of mud and sticks, all with the usual straw thatched roofs.
Our lodge was in a pleasant setting back from the road and close to the river. Our room and the bar restaurant all had nice views of the water. The gardens were alive with birds and squirrels. Listening to the different sounds and calls was quite entertaining. During the day the cows and goats would drink from the river but in the evening the river was frequented by water birds and insects. There were apparently hippos in the water which came out to graze at night although we didn't actually see any. The sunsets over the river were quite stunning. The whole horizon would light up in a blaze of oranges and pinks which would reflect beautifully in the still waters of the river. We spent a couple of pleasant evenings watching the spectacle.
The lodge manager who doubled as the head chef was nice enough to give us a lift into town and back so we could run a couple of errands. He told us quite a bit about the delta area, the weather and flood patterns and also and about his plans for some new local eco tourism and restaurant enterprises. Although he was from South Africa and had been in Botswana for less than a year it was still of interest to get a local's take on things.
Our trip to the desert camp was only a couple of hours by road from Maun. At the foot and mouth checkpoint we were required to soak the soles of all our shoes in a tray on the side of the road. I'm sure our guide must have thought I was related to Imelda Marcos when I proceeded to pull three pairs of shoes out of my bag. The camp was called Meno a Kwena which translates to "tooth of the crocodile" apparently representing the position of the camp on the Boteti River. From the camp's position on a high cliff overlooking a waterhole we could see across the valley and could sight the wildlife as they made their journey to the waterhole to drink. Most of the riverbed was dry however water had remained in the waterhole for the last few years. We were told of the heavy rains in Angola which were currently flowing into the delta creating the largest floods for forty years. These waters would eventually flow into this river and the locals were anxiously waiting to see how far the waters would travel along this river and who would benefit from them.
Expecting little more than a dome tent and a thin mattress on the ground we found the camp to be surprisingly luxurious. The tent was quite large with two big beds and lots of niceties to make us feel very comfortable and at home despite the fact that there was no plumbing or power. The ladies in the camp brought hot water for our showers twice a day and a thermos for our morning cup of tea which made me feel a little like royalty. Only minutes after our arrival we saw from the cliff edge outside our room, the first group of elephants making their way to the waterhole. We spent the rest of the day watching and relaxing with beer in hand as the procession of wildlife made their way down for a drink. It didn't get much better than this!
Our three course dinner was cooked entirely on the open fire or in the tin oven heated by embers from the fire. Dinner was taken outdoors as a group as we sat around and discussed the day's events and heard stories about life at the camp. The atmosphere was jovial and I was entertained by the local guides with their big smiles and their contagious laughter. Dinner was followed by liqueurs around the open fire under the stars.
We set off the next morning through the Kalahari Desert to the edge of the Makadikagi Pans. After a fruitless search the previous day our guide was determined to find the zebra migration and assured us he now knew where it was. How lucky for us that on the single day that we had to spend in this place we might see something that is only sighted once or twice a year. Our fellow passengers were keen photographers so there was much discussion about lens sizes, as fascinating as that may be. Andrew was keen to learn more about the art. The terrain was very flat, mostly grassy plains dotted with camel thorn trees. We travelled along a straight, sandy track for quite some time, reminiscent of a long drive to the beach. At the end of the track we reached a large salt pan, stark and eerie. We gazed across the pan squinting as the sun reflected off the pure white salt to a series of dark spots on the horizon. Were they rocks or what we had been searching for? Though my binoculars I could see that they were zebras. We continued on until the tens of zebras became hundreds and in the background there were more spots and more spots, layer after layer in the distance. We had found the migration. The sight of the zebras, black and white against the backdrop of white landscapes was awesome. We estimated about two thousand zebras, mostly just standing around staring at us, as we stared at them, camera shutters clicking wildly amidst whoops of joy and expressions of disbelief.
We spent a lot of time there as it was a lot to take in. It was absorbing just watching the behavior of so many animals grouped together in one place. We moved to a grassy spot in view of the herds where our guide prepared an extensive bush lunch. In the afternoon we explored some other areas of the park and saw such a varied array of animals and birds it was difficult to recount them at the end of the day. We came across bustards, eagles, goshawks, ostrich and vultures, elephants, giraffe, hippos, impala, jackals, kudu, monkeys and oryx and countless others. We had unsuccessfully searched for rhino and lion but after such a day we were certainly not disappointed. Upon returning to the camp we discovered that several lions had just been sighted within, so it appeared we had been searching in the wrong place in that instance.
It would have been nice to spend another day at this camp however we were already scheduled on a flight to the Okavango Delta. After breakfast we took a short walk with our guide into the valley below. He showed us tracks from the night before where lion had chased kudu and zebra, the description so vivid it was easy to imagine the scene. We later made our way by road back to Maun and then boarded our eight seater plane for a twenty minute scenic flight. As we flew northwest the scrubby desert landscape quickly became dotted with small waterholes and then with larger waterholes, rivers and tributaries until the scene beneath us was mostly water punctuated only by small parcels of land. The appearance of the many colors of purple, blue yellow and green portrayed a seething melting pot overflowing with abundant life. The biggest flooding of the delta for many years.
Our camp here was a short stroll from the airstrip across a boardwalk spanning a reed filled waterhole. The dining and lounge area and focal point of the camp overlooked a vast emerald green expanse, a series of channels filled with reeds and water lilies. We could see palms and baboons swinging from large trees on an island in the distance. As we ate lunch we were joined by a variety of small and colorful birds with sweet songs and could hear the calls of other larger birds from across the water. The weavers here made hundreds of small nests in the trees, whereas the social weavers in Namibia had made huge nests spanning whole trees with a little hole for each family.
In the late afternoon we boarded traditional style mokoros, two to a boat plus a guide who used nothing but a pole to drive the canoe and guide it silently through the channels. It was an incredibly peaceful and serene sensation to glide through the reeds and water lilies. We could see dragonflies buzzing by and tiny green frogs with red hands and feet clutching to the reeds which appeared as a sea before us. In the clearer waters the blue sky reflected perfectly in the crystal waters.
As we explored the waterways we sighted cormorants and herons, storks and cranes, and hundreds of impala. When on the land we savoured the sweet scents of wild sage and basil. Fish eagles soared overhead, silently searching for a meal then gliding to the next knarled leadwood tree to rest. Red lechwes startled by our sudden presence leaped through the water as though walking on it. Red eyed doves chanted their strange call that would remain in our heads for days. Our guides communicated with each other quietly in Swetsana, their voices carrying easily across the waters. The language liquid and flowing soothed like soft music as we made our way through the channels and back to our camp. We watched the sun low in the sky and stretching out across the water like a lighted stairway. Almost back to camp we came across a solitary elephant, blocking our path across the main channel. We waited for him to move towards the bank and then followed slowly. The elephant reached the bank and unaware or undisturbed by our presence filled his trunk several times and showered himself in the cool water. As we attempted to slip quietly by the elephant turned, stopped, looked at us and raised his ears perhaps readying himself to charge. For one very long second I couldn't move, but just as quickly the elephant turned again and became disinterested in us, and we headed safely for home.
We watched the sunset reflect across the glistening water and listened to the cacophony of evening birdsong. We ate dinner al fresco while listening to the hundreds of tiny frogs, their collective tune sounding like tapping sticks of an Australian corroboree. From our tent in the late evening we could see the stars clear and dazzling. Through the night we could hear the hippos in the nearby water, a series of low grunts as their means of communication.
After two days on the delta we boarded another plane in the early morning bound for Kasane. At first we flew low, less than 1000 feet. At almost every waterhole we could see groups of elephants taking their first drink for the day. It was only a short drive from the airport to our lodge. It was easy to see that Kasane was primarily a tourist town. An industry thriving on a continual stream of tourists. The proximity of the town set on the river and only metres from Chobe National Park, where the abundant wildlife could be viewed within easy reach of the many luxury lodges. We were fortunate to have booked one of the fewer smaller more intimate lodges. Our room was unusually large with a big king bed and spacious balcony with views of the gardens and the river. It was heaven to shower under hot running water. The contrast to our dome tent at the delta was significant and we luxuriated in it but at the same time we missed the sound of the birds and the views of the stars.
From our lodge we took sunset boat cruises along the Chobe river and morning game drives in the park. We saw a large variety of creatures once again. Large herds of buffalo as well as kudu, impala, puku, waterbuck, big pods of hippos, warthogs, giraffes parting their long legs to lick the salt from the ground, mongoose, monkeys and baboons swinging from the trees and playing the fool on the ground, monitor lizards and loads of crocodiles of all sizes.
The bird life was spectacular. We saw loads of fish eagles, many in mating pairs sitting regally in the high trees. There were many colorful birds and water birds. Egyptian geese, various bee eaters with amazing colors, spectacular lilac breasted rollers and blue starlings, African darters, whistling ducks, cattle egrets forever hassling the elephants and the hippos, spoonbills, plovers, lapwings as well as pied kingfishers looking remarkably like black and white kookaburras. We found ourselves watching the elephants for long periods. They clearly displayed individual personalities and entertained us with their antics. The park is apparently filled with thousands of elephants so we saw them in large groups of breeding and family herds and many up very close. We could see from the hundreds of ringbarked and uprooted trees that the numbers were high. The one apparent advantage of the higher volume of tourist traffic in the park was that the animals appeared almost unconcerned by vehicles coming close to them and a close encounter always adds an extra delight to the experience.
We enjoyed pleasant lunches at the lodge overlooking the sparkling river waters and the sun kissed garden filled with bougainvillea and other colorful flowers and foliage. We watched as small birds such as bul buls and sunbirds fossicked among the fruits and seeds left for them. In the evening we sat at a long formal dinner table decorated with napkins shaped into animals. Surrounded by African trophies and knick knacks and leather bound books we sat lady then gentleman down the table enjoying an elegant three course meal accompanied by abundant bottles of wine. The atmosphere was warm and friendly while being a little reminiscent of a hunting lodge no doubt in part because the owner had a keen interest in historical firearms.
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