As The small plane banked to the left it seemed to break through the misty clouds that we had been flying through and there before me lay the Okavango delta in all its glory stretching beyond the horizon to the north. The setting sun shining down on dusty ground clouds creating magnificent shimmering layers of golden brown as the gusty breeze swept through the reeds and blue green waters below that wound their way through endless channels . Awesome in its beauty and immense scale i could only look on in wide eyed wonder as i feasted at the magnificent panorama.
The Okavango River has its source in the highlands of Angola before crossing Namibias Caprivi Strip and finally flooding into the seemingly endless swamps of the delta. It was apparently as much water as the whole area has seen for thirty years or more and although it had made game viewing a little harder during the first week or so on the ground i was very grateful at this moment for the picture it presented from the air.
I was in fact very grateful to be on the flight at all as i had missed the earlier flight that had been booked for several days earlier, this was due to me losing my cool with the customs police at Maun airport for giving me such a hard time as the pins in my body from an old operation created continuous bleeping noises every time i tried walking through the scanner. By the time i has sent through my boots, belt, pen, glasses, coins, neck chain and had my drink taken from me i had enough and told the other guys to go on without me as i just did not need the hassle.
Rightly or wrongly i was not happy with myself for losing it a bit and a couple of days later went back to the airport to apologise to the police and Mac air before spending some time in Maun enjoying quite a cultural experience before meeting the Americans who offered to let me join their flight which i accepted gratefully.
The cops were also great, and appeared to be very grateful that i had in fact called back to see them, offering to take me for a night out in Maun to see the local nightlife as i was on my own having changed my plans the day before the intended flight and staying in Maun for a week while the guys i had been travelling with went on to Savute, Chobe and Northgate in Moremi game reserve which borders the delta itself. The plan was to meet up with them a week later in Maun before going on to Planet Baobab next to the Makgadikgadi pan where we would be going out on quad bikes and spending the night out on the pan.
It is a long drive up to the north of Botswana and the next time i safari up there i will be planning a much longer trip with two days reserved to get up there and two days to get back. Maybe i am just getting older but i definitely do not enjoy the long journeys as much as i used to.
All the same though it was a very interesting journey, and the further north we went the more rural it became with some of the housing looking like it was unchanged in the last century!
After leaving at 6.30 in the morning and stopping for breakfast in Mokopane we arrived at the border by 1.20. No problems there and we were through by 1.40. After just missing a busroll where the roof had been completely flattened against the seats and stopping for some lunch we reached the Karma rhino Sanctuary just after 5pm where we booked into our very secluded chalets for the nights stopover.
It was my birthday in fact and as the sun was setting the guys rocked up with a roly poly jam sponge, some custard and a bottle of champagne which was consumed under a large baobab tree as the almost full moon was rising.
Later that evening we went through to the lodge and had a delicious oxtail potjie with some of the best pap i have tasted. A bottle of red wine to wash it down, parrafin lamps for illumination, and an absolutely awesome curved thatch to sit under, it was a lovely way to celebrate a birthday.
After coffee the next morning we hit the road north again for another 500klicks or so.
I am kicking myself for not getting a picture, but at one point we passed an old Mercedes parked up on the side of the road with a sign that said ‘For sale- One Goat”!!! A classic that would of probably won the sign of the month award in getaway magazine. Further on in Mopipi we saw a sign hanging on a tree that read ‘Mopipi tax collection Tree’…another good one, even better in some ways as it was an official sign.
At Rakops we tried to refuel, we found a place that sold petrol…i can hardly call it a petrol station….but unfortunately there was no power to pump it into the tanks so we had to press on. By the time we reached Matopi it was totally rural with donkeys, goats and chickens all over the place. Some of the cockerels were surely the biggest i have ever seen.
Arriving at Nxai pan soon after 1.30 pm we had to deflate the tyres to drive the 38 klicks to the campsite we were to stay at for the next two nights, and after building our camp we went off to a nearby waterhole to watch the sunset which was perfectly stunning. The picture was added to by four elephants walking down from our right to play in the water and have a good bath before actually drinking.
The next morning, after a very short game drive to the water hole i opted to spend the day in camp which was a lovely change from being in the cab for two days. There were some wonderful birds around, some of which can rarely if ever found in the kruger, Violet eared waxbill, red eyed bul bul, crimson boubou as well as a whole load of other more familiar sightings for me. Later in the afternoon five tuskers came strolling into the camp which was quite an experience. The leader of the group was probably one of the tallest ellies i have seen, i reckon he must of been well over 11 feet at his shoulder. They were all in musth too. At one stage the big one came within seven paces from where two of the guys were sitting, and i was just four paces behind them. It was quite a moment, and for the two guys who were sitting down looking up at this huge colossus standing before them looking them over it really was an experience they, nor i, will forget too easily .
There was plenty of other game around too, springbok, oryx, jackals to name a few. It is always nice to see springbok. The strange thing is that there are no springboks in the Kruger Park!!
Later in the evening after supper around the fire a couple of us walked out into the open veld nearby. The silence was overpowering!
Up earlt the next morning i got a nice big fire going again where we brewed up our coffee before decamping and setting off for Moremi game reserve up on the north eastern side of the Okavango delta.
We reached Maun around midday and there, whilst getting all our entry visas the car i was travelling in hit one of the rangers cars that had parked a little awkwardly behind us. It was a blow, but eventually was sorted with a payment of a couple of thousand Pula.
Eventually we arrived at Xakanaka where we were to camp for four nights which was a relief. The campsite was lovely, surrounded by water and reeds on both sides it felt very remote, and indeed for our entire stay we hardly saw any other vehicles at all.
On every night we had various animals in camp including hyaenas, elephants, jackals, that all came within a few steps of the tents. The fires in the evening were huge, the food delicious and for everyone the alcohol flowed, beers, wines and champagne!
I personally did quite a lot of walking although i was loathe to go to far as i was on my own with no protection, but all the same i still got to feel the sensuous feeling one gets when walking in the bush, it is a totally different vibe from driving.
A walk away from our camp i found the Xakanaka boat station where we able to organise boatmen to take us out onto the water through many channels that have been carved out over time by animals and weather. We took two boat rides in fact, one in the early morning and the second for a couple of hours in the late afternoon a couple of days later.
They were both special but for me the late one was the best. It culminated with our boat riding ashore on a small island of reeds that had been totally colonised by a whole variety of nesting birds, Marabous, white storks that had pink breeding plumage, black storks, darters….
It was quite fantastic, the sun was setting beautifully on the water behind us and i just kept clicking away as they were returning to roost for the night, a very special experience indeed.
Our time at Xakanaka camp went by all too quickly and soon we were decamping for a one night stopever in Maun to replenish supplies.
However, i myself had decided by this time that i was going to inquire as to whether i could book some space at Audi camp and stay there for the week whilst the guys went on to Chobe and another camp in Moremi.
We arrived in Maun around 1pm and sure enough there was plenty of space for me to stay, and after booking myself in i arranged to meet up with the guys a week later on their way through Maun as they headed for Makhadikadi and then home.
My week in Maun was great, i not only enjoyed a complete chill out week but also had a real cultural experience with the local people as well as meeting many tourists and in particular one game ranger who i spent several hours with. He was waiting for a party to arrive from Europe before he took them up into the delta in Mokoros for a week. (Mokoros are the original form of transport in the area, canoes carved from the trunk of a tree).
Additionally a good friend of mine from Johannesburg was coincidentally there at the same time and i was delighted to able to spend a good few hours with him too, a couple of breakfasts and a few beers!!
The bar at Audi camp has indeed become one of my favourite bars in the whole wide world, and for my own personal use i have affectionately named it the lizard lounge.
I took a couple of good long walks during the course of the week, on the first one i walked into Maun which was actually 12.8 klicks away. I was intending to walk across the river that was just 4 or 5 klicks from camp and then stick my thumb out for a ride, but i felt strong and kept going. I suppose it took me the best part of 3 hours and by the time i arrived i was more than ready to pull into Rileys for a big slap up breakfast which i did.
Rileys place is the original old hunters lodge, which, back then, was just about the only solid building in Maun. The restaurant is in fact housed in the original old building, as is Harry’s bar, but unfortunately…i think…they have put in modern false ceilings and killed off any sense of historic romanticism. However, in the gardens the trees are aged and stunning, their boughs spreading far with a huge variety of birdlife, and it is easy to imagine all the various travellers and hunters that must have rested under them in years gone by.
The following day i could not believe how sore the soles of my feet were, i could hardly walk properly for the next 24 hours!!…i will think twice before walking so far on hot dusty uneven ground again.
Later in the week i walked through the local village near to Audi camp and on down to the Okavango River lodge which is essentially the ‘local pub’. I did not stay too long as i was running out of time, in fact on the walk down i had been chatting to one of the locals who had invited me to sit outside his house for a cup of tea which had taken up my time. It was a lovely experience to sit with this old guy under his roughly made thatch stoop and he made a point of introducing me to all his neighbours and friends around.
Once again the week seemed to pass by very quickly and all too soon the morning came for me to decamp and meet up with the guys. They arrived at 10am sharp which was a pleasant surprise as i had envisaged waiting for several hours, and by 11 am we were heading out to Makhadihadi Pan.
The drive was a little less than two hours and by 1.30 we were having lunch in a fantastic place called Planet Baobab. I am quite sure that many people calling there for the first time will wonder what planet the architect came from but there is no doubt that b y the time they leave they will all be planning to come back. It is a truly fantastic spot in the middle of nowhere, completely off the wall and original.
After lunch on our arrival we all loaded up into a game viewing vehicle and headed out to the pan to pick up our quad bikes.
A Brilliant experience.
Riding out on the pan looking for the zebra migration was awesome and fantastic fun. I hung back from the others and got a true feeling of being completely alone in flat emptiness of the pan.
As we were returning the sun was setting and it turned out to be probably the most magnificent of sunsets on the trip as the sun disappeared behind the palm trees on the horizon. I had my video camera around my neck and have hopefully got some very good footage of the ride.
After the bike ride we boarded the game viewing vehicle again to move on to another pan where we slept out under the stars after a good braai around a raging fire. Waking in the morning i looked around and apart from the other guys dotted around in their sleeping rolls there was nothing to be seen anywhere right up to the distant horizon. The stillness, the nothingness and the silence was quite incredible to experience, and after stoking up the fire i sat in silence watching the light come up and finally the sun rise, soft ,pink and ethereal as silently rose up over the empty landscape.
It was essentially the end of the trip apart from the long two day journey home, which was not quite uneventful. I was ad to leave on the one hand but also looking forward to getting home again. It felt like i had been away forever and i was ready for the ‘stress of the saltmines’ again.