Our full day in the delta

Today is our full day in the safari camp, which means we get fed and entertained at predetermined times. Our wake up call is at 06:30, and we have breakfast at 07:00. After this we embark on our morning activity, which in our case is getting ferried to the island where we will walk the bush by mokoro. Right before breakfast though, we wandered out on the walkway in front of our safari tent, and suddenly found ourselves the animal that kept us awake at night: a massive elephant. It was a regular in the camp, but we had to take caution around it as it still is a very big and potentially dangerous animal. We stood a while watching the guy, but decided to let him have his breakfast too.

The guide was tracking lions through their spoor, but we were unable to catch up with them. As they are lions, this also meant that most animals got scared off by them, so the walk was really beautiful and peaceful, but we haven’t seen many animals. The ride on the mokoro is especially zen, as it is traditionally a hollowed out tree trunk pushed by a guy standing in the back with a push pole, nowadays the boats are fiberglass but the propulsion soupy stem is the same. Without making any sounds you glide over the shallow waters through the hippo grass. A very nice way to start your day!

After the walk, we have an early lunch at 11:30, after which the siesta commences. We spent it basking in the sun and generally doing nothing instil the next (light) meal. This is at 15:30, when the high tea is served in anticipation of the afternoon activity. 

For us it was another boat ride, on which we have seen a lot of animals! Elephants, hippos, Tsessebe, Red Lechwe, and many others. There was one downside to this whole ordeal though: the unseasonal presence of mosquitos. And a lot of them. They usually are only there around December, but they happen to be in the delta right now. Nobody knew why, and everybody thought is was odd, but we are kind of stuck with them. And yes, they do bite you!

Tomorrow we already fly back to Maun, but first: more food!

Flying into the Okavango Delta

Staying in Maun is just the stepping stone for us, the first step towards staying at a private camp right next to the National Park. We have booked a couple of nights at Moremi Crossing, and today is the day we fly out to the camp.

First order of business: parking the car at the headquarters of the company owning the camp. It is called Under One Botswana Sky, and is situated a short distance from Maun International Airport. We parked the car, with plenty of time to spare for our 10:10 flight. The shuttle to the airport proved to be the car of the manager, and we were soon after this in the capable hands of a porter who was going to get our luggage into the right plane. For us, this was a storable bag of 10kg, and my backpack containing all our photo gear. Just shy of 20kg, we were pretty much maxed out on our 10kg per person maximum.

Checking in was a breeze, we were actually given our hand written ticket by the porter without even mentioning our names or showing our passports, and the security check was equally swift. We told the porter which bags contained liquids or knives, and they were immediately taken away and transported in the baggage compartment of the plane (under the belly). Our own bags had to go through a security scanner, we passed through a metal detector and we were in the holding area. A short while later, we were directed into a car, which lead us to our 4 seat plane, with a total of 5 passengers. Kirsten was the lucky one to sit in the seat of the co-pilot, I got the seat on the last row. The flight was short, bumpy and it passes over a fantastic scenery.

The camp has a rigid schedule: wake up call at 06:30 in the morning, breakfast at 7, and the morning activity starts at 07:30. It returns at 11, after which lunch is served at 11:30. This is where we arrived at the camp. After lunch, the siesta commences and lasts until 15:00 when a high tea is served. The evening activity starts at 16:00, and you come back at 18:00. You are then escorted to your safari tent, and are picked up by the guide at 19:15 for pre dinner drinks. At 19:30 dinner is served and a guide escorts you back to your tent. As elephants roam free in this camp, walking after dark alone is prohibited and a guide must accompany you at all times. The next day the exact same schedule is kept, and everything starts over.

To the Okavango Delta

Wow, what a night was that. Cold, a little damp, completely silent and we were literally star struck by the vast twinkling expanse over our sleeping bag. The moon showed up late in the night, which gave us enough time to gaze at the Milky Way and the southern stars and constellations. 

Waking up was a little tough though, as there is no shower and the sleeping bag is a much more comfortable temperature than the outside. The way back on the quad bikes was as awesome as the way in, but before we knew it we were back at Planet Baobab and our slowly leaking left front tire. Luckily, our new found friends and accidental travelling companions Tim & Rosaline have a compressor and pressure gauge, so that issue was quickly and temporarily resolved. Mending the tire will have to wait for a large town, and that just so happens to be where we are headed next.

Maun is the destination, and a mere 240km and half a diesel tank away. The fuel gauge on our Duster has a very spotty performance, and we’ve come to distrust whatever it tells us. It has been more empty than reported, but also more full than reported. So, without knowing how much diesel was left, we went our merry way and hoped for the best. The unfortunate thing was that the nearest filling station was in Nata, 90 kilometers in the opposite direction of where we were heading. The other one was in Maun. We managed though, and had plenty of diesel left when we reached our destination.

We’ll fly to a camp on a private concession next to the Okavango Delta National Park from Maun, so we are looking forward to getting spoiled!

Sleeping in a pan

The Lodge has not been very helpful in providing information about the upcoming ‘activity’, but we were told that it would all change when the guide would fill in the gaps. So we waited for the scheduled time of this pre-Pan meeting, but had to check out in the morning.

So we did, and by 10 in the morning we were locked out of our rondavel, and all bags were packed and closed inside our trusty Duster. We didn’t know what to pack the night before, so we made our educated guesses (it’s probably cold in the desert at night, so we better pack extra warm clothes; there probably also is no lighting, so we have to grab a torch, and the like) and waited it out. Then the time came for our guide to introduce himself (Bakos) and say: bring warm clothes, closed shoes. That was it. He almost literally spoke those four words, and off we were.

First we embarked on a safari Jeep which took us (rough estimate!) 40 kilometers from the lodge to the edge of the Ntwetwe Salt Pan, after which our party of 6 had to share a total of 4 quad bikes. That meant that the two couples each had to share a quad, and that the two dudes travelling together had one each. Life just isn’t fair!

Driving the quad bikes on the salt pan is just plain awesome! Screaming through this completely featureless arid landscape with the wind blowing in your hair is insane fun, and we had a blast driving to the camp. This actually consisted of only a few things: folding chairs, a wood fire, one table, a pile of sleeping bags and an outhouse. All surrounded by the vast emptiness of the pan.

In the wise words of Tim: this is the best hotel room we’ve had.

Sleeping between baobabs

Our destination for today is a lodge nestled amongst Baobab trees, and it is located on a convenient spot to visit the adjacent salt pans like Nxai Pan and Ntwetwe Pan.

The journey today is about 400 km long and was mostly uneventful except for two moments, the first was when I got a ticket for speeding (76 where 60 was allowed!) and the second one was an accident site where a truck had run into an elephant and its young. Both elephants were dead, and the truck was badly damaged, all in all it was not a nice sight. Luckily, the police were on the scene, and the local villagers were butchering the large elephant to get its meat. That way at least something good comes out of the entire ordeal.

Along the route, we also encountered what might be the rest of the herd of Elephants, who were loitering on the side of the road, jumping the fence to get hold of the green stuff growing on the road side of the fence. Because, as we all know, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. After dinner, we also found a Lesser Bushbaby, or Lesser Galago! This nocturnal primate is known for its cute appearance and elusive behaviour, and we were lucky enough to spot it walking from te lodge’s restaurant to our rondavel. We have been looking for a Bush Baby for ages, and have finally seen one! Awesome!

We are going on a trip to a salt pan tomorrow, so we don’t have to drive ourselves. Looking forward to it!

Victoria Falls

Another day, another country! This time we are in for a day trip to Zimbabwe and the Victoria Falls. The land of Robert Mugabe welcomes visitors, but imposes some hefty sums of money on travellers to enter the country and to visit the Victoria Falls National Park.

We booked a day trip to VF from the lodge, which is just transportation to and from the falls. We get picked up from the Lodge, be driven 15 minutes to the border where we get help with the Botswana Immigration Office to get out of the country. We then get back on our transport and drive through no mans land to the Zimbabwean border, where we get help with the Zimbabwe formalities of buying a visa ($30 per person, payable in cash and cash only) and getting our passports stamped. We then proceed into another vehicle to drive us through the gate and an hour further to the town of Victoria Falls.

Where Botswana and Namibia are considered to be fairly wealthy, Zimbabwe is actually really poor. This is almost completely hidden from view though, as the majority of people we encounter today are either government employees from the border, or from the National Park. The real poor people are trying to sell us a plethora of stuff, like old Zimbabwean currency (a 10 billion dollar bill!) or figurines of the animals comprising the big 5. Everything is done in US dollars, and nobody has change. These guys are pretty obnoxious and very persistent, constantly vying for your attention by making noise and shouting. This is the part of the trip we certainly do not like. If it weren’t for the pestering of these guys, it would also be for the very present and huge gap in net worth that sets the tourists apart from the locals. They usually earn very little, and that is pretty confronting. We have seen similar sights on this trip, but over here the situation gets up close and personal really quickly.

With that out of the way, I can tell you the trip is worthwhile. We are just our of the wet season over here, which means that the falls have swollen to huge proportions. And they are really big! Water everywhere, and it is simply not possible to walk in the park without getting wet. Therefore, we rented a couple of ponchos from the locals, but got soaked anyway all the while looking like idiots. Oh, the joy of holidays!

The river flows into a large canyon after dropping down from the falls, and this canyon has a bridge spanning it from Zimbabwe to the Zambian border. The view from the bridge is really good, so we decided to get a Bridge Pass from immigration. That meant we had to get our passports out, ask for a bridge pass at the Zimbabwe border, walk out of the country and into the no mans land between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and get it stamped at the border. The way back is similar: walk across the border, get your bridge pass checked and stamped, get your passports checked for a valid visa and proceed back into Zimbabwe. Oh yes, we entered the country twice today!

After all the border formalities going back to Botswana (stamps, walk, stamps, clean your shoes, proceed through gate into Botswana) we even encountered a large herd of Elephants walking towards the Zambezi river, right in the town of Kasane! This was a truly magnificent sight, elephants everywhere!

Chobe!

We have heard so manual good things about Chobe National Park, and now we are here to see whether till hold up to those stories. Today, we are booked on the half day Game Drive with our lodge into the National Park to see all the animals that present themselves to us.

We started off at 6 AM, which meant we had to be at the reception at 05:45, which is early by all standards. The Activity was also booked by one other couple, which meant that we had a very quiet car today with only 4 of the available 9 seats occupied. This is a good thing: more room is always favourable.

Our drive started off really cold and actually quite boring: for the first 4 hours of the drive, we didn’t see a lot of animals, and of those more common ones we did see we only saw a few. We did not even get to see any Elephant during that time! Luckily for us, it changed after this time, and we started to get some more interesting sightings. A few Giraffe, a small herd of Elephants, some Puku (this antelope was new for us!) and eventually the best of it all, right at the end of the drive: a pack of Lions, hunting for a Warthog. They were everywhere! Behind us, in front of us, and actually right next to the car. This was an amazing sighting!

Later that day, we also were booked on the afternoon boat trip on the Chobe River, to explore the Chobe National Park via the water. We were hoping for a small boat, but were quite disappointed when we saw that it was a huge boat even equipped with its own bar. Oh well. The boat ride itself actually proved to be really good: it gave us everything we had hoped for. Lots of aquatic birds, Hippos and even Elephant feeding on the semi submerged grass of the Sedundu Island (which is a huge floodplain in the middle of the two channels which make up the Chobe River).

Tomorrow, we visit the Victoria Falls, which means crossing over to Zimbabwe. That’ll be something else!

Crossing borders

This is the day we go from Namibia into Botswana, and borders are always a source of ‘stuff’. They usually are busy, hectic, unfamiliar, unclear and if you add the factor Africa into the mix, they also are dirty, crowded and very strict.

The process is quite simple: go out of Namibia by filling in a form and getting your passport stamped, move through the border gate into no mans land, go to the next office on Botswana side and get even more stamps. Also get you car papers checked, pay for the car, go to the border gate, get more car papers checked and stamped, and you are in Botswana.

We arrived soon after in Chobe National Park, and the Chobe Safari Lodge, which by the way is far too large for us. This is mass tourism, and this is also what we don’t like. But, we’re going to play along here, and enjoy it nevertheless. We’ll be here for three nights, and both days will be action packed! 🙂

Halfway there

This is our fourteenth day in Namibia, and we are thus halfway our vacation. Today is our day off, and the only full day we have here at the Kwando River. We spent it by waking up late, having a nice relaxed breakfast, taking pictures of the resident rodents and small birds, getting our tan on in the sun next to the swimming pool and in hammocks, and going on the PM Safari tour into Mudumu National Park.

This is also one of the places where almost all wildlife had vanished, but is now slowly returning. On the tour we have spotted loads of Common Impala (Etosha has Black-faced Impala), some Kudu, a nice pack of Roan Deer and even some Elephants! All animals are returning now, but it’ll take a while for everything to be back to what is was.

We have a border to cross tomorrow, and this is our last sunset in Namibia. The other side of the river already is Botswana, and that is where we’ll be heading. And I finally got my hands on the elusive Weizen beer from Namibia: Camelthorn! This has been kindly provided by our new found friends Tim & Rosalinde, who happen to have the exact same itinerary from now on. The only difference is that they travel with a large 4×4 with a tent on the roof, where we have our humble Duster to navigate the roads.

Between borders

The Caprivi Strip is a weird thing, and has a very strange and colonial history. Right now, it is a small strip of land of what used to be Botswana, which is now Namibia and which borders on Angola. This strip is thus sandwiched between Angola in the North and Botswana in the South, and does not resemble any other landscape in Namibia. It even lives on Botswana time, which is an hour ahead of the east of the country.

Where Namibia is dry, arid and mostly empty except for the large number of Euphorbia plants, the Caprivi Strip is brimming with both flora and fauna, mostly because it is bordered by two large rivers. Due to the quite recent civil war in Angola spilling over into this part of the country, the wildlife had been all but eradicated by poachers due to unlawfulness and the insane prices that are being paid for ivory and other products on the world market. Slowly but surely, the animals are returning, and can be spotted in quite a few places already.

Our day consisted of yet another long drive from Rundu to Kongola which is about 450kms, and is proving to be butt-clenching for us as our trusty Duster only has a 40 litre tank for the diesel. That lasts us about 550kms, but we do not dare to empty the tank any further than the second to last mark in the gage. And the final kilometers are always a little tense so to speak. 😉 Luckily, there is a gas station every 200km or so, which means the next one is always around the corner. Sort of.

As we arrived early today, (the road is tarred!) we have found time to embark on the evening boat ride on the Kwando river. We found lots of birds (bee-eaters and Kingfishers mostly), crocodiles and some hippos. As the river is very narrow and our boat not very big, the guide put the pedal to the metal and raced past them, as they are very aggressive around here and even charge the boat!

We are staying 2 nights in Camp Kwando, and will not have to move for a day. Nice!