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Published: September 10th 2017
Monday, September 11, 2017
Episode 3: The Okavango Delta and the case of the smuggled Frangelico.
I have often thought that the admiration we as humans have for beautiful landscapes is an evolutionary adaptation. Our brains are probably wired to appreciate pristine environments to ensure that we preserve them for our own benefit - we need them because they supply us with food and shelter. The Okavango Delta is surely one such place. We completed our Botswana leg of the trip with an exploration of the Delta. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Okavango was a firm bucket list item for me. A massive inland Delta, it is produced each year by seasonal flooding of the Okavango River during the wet season. Unlike most river deltas, the water does not reach the sea. It spreads out as a vast and remarkable wetland across the Kalahari Desert, a lush watery oasis strewn with islands of palms and other vegetation. It draws thousands of animals when it flows, generating one of the greatest seasonal concentrations of animals in Africa. By the end of the year, the water has evaporated or soaked into the ground, releasing its grip on the Kalahari, only
to be re-born again the following wet season (January-March).
We firstly took a morning trip on the water in a mokoro (a traditional dug out canoe). This is something every tourist does when they come to the Okavango Delta. It was just the two of us in a long flat canoe and the poler (like a punter, or a gondolier in Venice). The poler skillfully manoeuvered the canoe through the water, among tall reed beds and gently through patches of pretty pink and white water lilies. We saw some elephants playing in the water but thankfully no angry hippos. It was a very relaxing way to spend half a day (until it gets way too hot by midday). Our poler was from the local village. A very nice, softly spoken fellow. However, I’m not sure how much he knew about the wildlife in his realm. We came across lots of beautiful small white frogs, mottled with a network of brown patches (see image opposite - click to enlarge it to see how lovely the frog is).
I said to the poler:
“What sort of frogs are they?”
He said : “Frog.”
“Yes, but what species?”
OK, then. We later learned that they were African painted reed frogs.
The other thing we did was a one-hour scenic flight over the Delta. Four of us in a small light aircraft that flew low over the vast patchwork of dry scrub, lakes, rivers and palm- fringed swamps. From the air, we appreciated how vast it was. We saw elephants trudging their way through water, herds of buffalo, giraffes feeding, and a small group of lions asleep under a bush. The landscape was also dotted with numerous white termite mounds. Amazing.
Our pilot was a fetching 40-something Afrikaner called George. George spent most of his time as a flight-seeing pilot but also acted as a wildlife tour guide. He told us the story of a small group he was guiding through the South Africa bush earlier this year, on a camping safari. An incessantly complaining woman on the tour told him one morning that there was a lizard in her tent.
“Don’t worry, madam.” he said. “It will not harm you. It actually eats mosquitoes, flies and other bugs and so it is quite helpful to you. Just ignore it.” She apparently huffed
and walked off. At lunchtime, she told George that the lizard was still in her tent and insisted that he remove it. With a sigh, George got up and went to her tent. There he discovered a two metre long monitor lizard thrashing about inside the tent, trying to get out !
We flew from Maun (Botswana) to Windhoek (Namibia) via Johannesburg. At Maun International Airport, having checked in our luggage, we were going through security and passport control. Just as we were about to put our hand luggage on the conveyer belt to be scanned, Ross turned to me and whispered:
“Oh Shit, I left that full bottle of Frangelico in my hand luggage.”
I turned to him in horror and said: “You WHAT? !”
Well, we expected it to be confiscated, of course. No bottles of fluid over 100mls, etc. Sure enough, the guy doing the scanning noted Ross’s daypack as it went through the scanner and said to a nearby security person:
“There is a bottle in that pack. Check the pack and dispose of the bottle.”
The security person in question was a large buxom mamma with hair that looked
like she had just stuck a knife into a toaster. She opened Ross’s pack and started rummaging. He had a lot of other stuff in his pack around the one litre bottle of Frangelico but the first thing she noted was his 200mL bottle of pressurized deodorant. He had forgotten about that, too, although it was apparently near empty.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” said Ross. “I forgot about my deodorant. Silly me.”
“You cannot take that on board, sir” she said and promptly threw it in the nearby bin. She then took a further brief look in his pack and then just waved him on! (Ain’t nobody got time for that!) The size of the bottle was never communicated to her, and so she had obviously assumed it was the deodorant bottle! We felt like naughty school kids boarding the plane and celebrated our deception with some Frangelico over crushed ice later that night.
Our initial introduction to Namibia was unpleasant. After disembarking the plane and walking across the tarmac at Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport, we first stood in a line in the hot sun waiting to actually get into the building. Then, once inside, we found
ourselves in a dingy, hot and crowded room (no air-con) and at the end of the long queue for immigration/customs. It was an exhausting 1.5 hours standing in this queue before we got to the counter, whereupon they scanned every finger and our face and basically every fricking part of our external anatomy. Why? Nambia is such a peaceful place that lacks terrorism or major crime syndicates. Who knows why. Ross and I helped a poor old French fellow to fill in his arrival card as we waited in the interminable queue, as it was all in English and he did not understand it. We communicated with him as best we could with our snippets of French. He was evidently going on a seven-day safari with a French-based company. Ross commented to me that by the time he cleared immigration and got his luggage, the fucking animals would be extinct. Anyway, after finally making it to our hotel in Windhoek (the capital city), we went to the rooftop bar of the nearby Hilton hotel for a well earned restorative sunset drink.
Now, Windhoek is not known for any must-see attractions. The next day, we checked out the few notable
buildings here but then decided to escape the hot day by going into a big shopping centre. Well, my gosh, everything was so cheap! Heaps of shops. We went bananas, buying high quality clothes and shoes at less than half the price we would pay back home. (Mark and Peter T, I saw some fab boots with iridescent bits on them and zipper on the side. They looked so cool. Sadly, none left in my size). I bought a wonderfully coloured long sleeve cotton shirt for the equivalent of $40 AUD, that would easily have been over $150 in Myers or DJ’s back in Australia. (Everyone knows my penchant for colourful shirts.)
The people here in Namibia have so far all been nice and friendly. Furthermore, they are beautiful! The men are muscular and handsome, with short-cropped hair and wearing groovy clothes and jewelry. The women are also gorgeous, often with braided hair, either flowing down their shoulders or wound up elegantly in a bun. Lovely.
One last thing before ending this blog. Tonight we went to probably the most popular spot in Windhoek, the incredible Joe’s Beerhouse. This bar/eatery is a Namibian icon. It is a huge
maize of incredible African and German paraphernalia all over the place. (German ‘cause Namibia was a former German colony). All over the place there were stuffed animals, old farming gear, old road signs, clocks, Jagermeister bottles everywhere, and trees growing through the middle of the joint. It was pumping with locals and tourists alike. The most quirky bar we have ever seen in all our travels. And the food was cheap and delicious. Kevin, Bryan, Carol, Glenn, Andrew, Leon - everyone - you would love it. Check out the photos below.
Well, tomorrow we pick up the hire car and venture out into this vast arid land.
Bye for now,
Craig (and Ross).
ps. More photos below. Click to enlarge, scroll through.
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