MAUN AND THE OKAVANGO DELTA
Cruising Through a Fascinating Water WorldOct 1-5
From wild Moremi, we made our way back to Maun, a large town in the middle of the northern part of the country. Maun was the closest thing to civilization we saw during our two weeks in Botswana. Here we stocked up for our next few days in the bush, which would be spent in the Okavango Delta.
The Okavango Delta is a sprawling, watery wilderness in northern Botswana. It's one of the only places in the world where a river doesn't empty into the sea. The Okavango River which feeds the delta has its source in the Angolan highlands. From there it flows south, through Namibia and into Botswana, where it empties into the 1300km-long Okavango Basin. Here it creates a unique waterlogged wonderland in the middle of the otherwise parched Kalahari. The Delta is a maze of channels and islands covering some 15,000 square km. But it's a threatened paradise; as the only major source of water in the Kalahari, the human demands imposed on it are tremendous. The Botswana government will hopefully continue to protect this fragile, unique environment before it is drained to meet the needs of a growing human population.
Following Anders and Matthew's mokoro through the Okavango's winding channels
The wildlife in the Okavango is not as plentiful as it is in Moremi or Chobe, so we didn't see lots of animals while we were there. But the Delta is a tranquil place to relax after so many days of roughing it in the wildlife areas of the far north. We still managed to see lots of elephants, giraffe, zebra, crocodiles, many birds and even a few lions over the course of our three days here. For the first time in our safari, we were able to take walks through the bush without a vehicle (accompanied by our guide, of course). On one bush walk, some of the members of our group were actually charged by a huge bull elephant who didn't like the idea of a group of pesky humans hanging around all the lady elephants. We had decided to stay behind in camp that morning, but we got an entertaining view of the action from across the riverbank.
Elephants were frequent visitors at our camp!
Water-level view from the front of our mokoro
The best way to see the Okavango Delta is by mokoro -- a shallow-draught, dugout hardwood canoe which is navigated by a local "poler" who pushes the boat along with a long wooden ngashi (pole). We entered the Delta by mokoro, and traveled some three hours through the wild, reed-lined channels until we reached the island which would serve as our camp for the next three days. At first, riding in a mokoro takes some getting used to. A mokoro rides only 2-3 inches above the water line, which would lead you to believe that one misbalanced move might tip the thing over. But they're surprisingly stable, and once we settled in to the idea of being poled along through the crocodile-and-hippo-inhabited wetlands, we enjoyed it quite a bit. It really does give you a croc's-eye-view of the Delta, and because the boats cruise silently, you can get quite close to many animals and birds before they realize you're there and run away. Mike even got to practice his mokoro poling skills once while parked at the island -- luckily, he didn't fall in and become croc food!
Loaded up and ready to go in our mokoro
We began to get a little bush-weary in the Delta. Our 10 straight days of roughing it in very hot, dusty conditions had finally begun to take its toll on the group. Most of us hadn't showered in several days (our only option was to jump into the Okavango for a rinse -- Mike tried this once and decided it was best to stay dirty). Short of the elephants that regularly visited the banks of the river in front of our camp, there wasn't a tremendous amount of wildlife activity in the area. We all began to get bored. Three days in the Okavango was two days too many. We think it's fair to speak for the group when we say we were actually, for a change, looking forward to moving on from the Okavango after three days there.
We celebrated our return to Maun with a big, fat dinner at a real restaurant. We drank beer and ate big Botswanan steaks and laughed a lot. The tough part of our adventure was over. It was all over but for the next two nights, which would be spent in relative comfort on the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and at a lodge in Nata.
THE MAKGADIKGADI PANS
A Big, Flat, Empty PlaceOct 1-5
Waking up in the Pans!
Our last night of wilderness camping in Botswana was in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans (try repeating that ten times quickly). These are the largest salt pans in the world, the remains of a vast ancient lake which was fed by salt and mineral-bearing rivers. About 10,000 years ago, the lake evaporated, leaving behind several thousand square kilometers of flat, white pans. We drove out into the middle of the northern section of the pans, where we camped out under the stars for the night -- with no tents! In the Pans, nothing lives during the dry season except for a few beetles which wander around on the dessicated plains, waiting for the first rains to come. It was a surreal experience to sleep under the stars in Africa without having to worry about being eaten or attacked by anything. We took our sleeping pads and bags out far away from the group, layed them down and that's where we slept for the night. In the middle of nowhere, on a bone dry ancient lake under the southern hemisphere sky. We were treated to an outstanding sunrise the next morning. A super-cool experience.
The starkly beautiful Makgadikgadi Pans
From the Pans, we drove the next morning to Nata, where our trip began two weeks earlier. There we stayed in the relative comfort of the Nata Lodge before getting back into the big transit vehicle for our return to Johannesburg. Fourteen hours later, we arrived back in Jo'burg, exhausted from the long drive but happy to be back to civilization, where we could take normal showers and drink the water again....
Unbelievably colorful tree agama lizard...wow!
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