Somewhere in the Makgadikgadi Pan we came across this abandoned and half-buried truck. Tho
Okavango, The Jewel of Africa
We'd been in-country for 13 days, set up our transient camp each night, and spun almost 2,000 kilometers on the odometer. The following morning would find us in Maun (Ma-oon), gateway to the Okavango Delta: The Jewel of Africa. One of the world's largest inland water systems, the Okavango receives an annual 18 billion cubic meters of annual floodwater from the Angola Highlands. It is a world of rivulets, palm-lined channels, and forested islands, and home to thousands of species of African flora and fauna. It's not a place to pass up, and the best way to see it is with a crocs-eye view over the gunwale of a mokoro-a traditional dugout canoe. We'd booked a few days at Oddball's Camp. Located in the delta's geographical center, Oddball's was the perfect launching point (and somewhat affordable) for a two-night mokoro trek into the delta. We left the H3 the with our friends at Wilderness Safaris, headed across the tarmac, and piled our gear into an old Cessna 206.
Herds of elephant, giraffe, and hippo scattered in all directions as we strafed the marshy swamps and lagoons to the west of the legal park boundaries. The plan was to fly into Oddball's for a night in their luxury tent camp (and another sorely-needed shower), and in the morning load up a mokoro for a few nights in wildlife central. We weren't disappointed. As the wheels of the plane rattled to a stop on the remote dirt airstrip, we piled out and were greeted by our guide, Information. (He insisted that Information was his real name-yeah, right-so we nicknamed him "411"). In a few minutes, we were sipping gin and tonics with Germans, Italians, and a couple of Pomes (British) in an open-air lodge on the edge of the Boro River. Pure luxury after 2,000 kilometers of dirt tracking.
People rave about African sunrises and sunsets for a reason. They're spectacular. But the
The mokoro is traditionally crafted from a single straight tree, such as the kigelia africana, but due to environmental concerns and the incredible amount of junk that tourists think they need, mokoros for hire are predominantly fiberglass. As we pushed off, 411 said, "Relax now. Stay in the middle, and we won't kiss any crocs today." We drifted silently through thick reeds, willow grass, and water lilies, as elephants lumbered along the opposite bank, shaking coco palms with their massive ivory tusks in an effort to dislodge the succulent fruit above. Beneath us, through several meters of translucent "Okavango Champagne" (Okavango water has a tannin appearance due to the abundance of organic material-maybe elephant dung), Okavango bream, a staple for delta dwellers, darted beyond the shadow of our mokoro and into the safety of the reeds. Having grown up on the delta, 411's knowledge of flora and fauna was astounding. We learned what plants you can eat, which ones to use as toilet paper, eye drops or for diarrhea, and which ones will kill you.
If you've seen it on Animal Planet, it probably lives in the Okavango. At night, it is either hunting, or being hunted. Pitching our tents on a small island, we spent the next two nights huddled next to the campfire, listening to a symphony of delta frogs, crickets, and cicadas. The harmony was occasionally broken by the roar of a nearby lion pride, an elephant crossing the swamp under a new moon, and the spine-chilling screams of a baboon becoming the "food" part of the food chain. Days were spent on the water, dodging hippos and crocs, and bush walking with all forms of Okavango fauna. On the return trip, we passed over a three-to-four-long meter crocodile, its meal of a half-eaten warthog laying near the bank. 411 didn't see the croc and nosed over to the decaying carcass. Pulling back into the channel, he stuck his pole right on the croc's back. The entire mokoro rocked as 411 jumped and the massive reptile darted away in a cloud of silt.
The author's self-portrait.
Moremi, Chobe, and The Linyanti Marsh
Due to perennial flooding in much of the delta, there isn't a direct route from Maun to the Kazengula Ferry crossing near Kasane, and the tar road is a 280km detour to the east. This was cause for celebration because we were on the dirt track again, and grief. (Allen and I were back to sharing the ARB tent each night. I'd snore, and he'd kick me in the head.)
There are two types of African Botswana: that which is outside the four-meter-high game fence, and that which is inside. The outside is void of indigenous species, and all you see are cattle and agriculture. Inside, however, elephants and giraffe walk across your path, leopards nap lazily from limbs of sausage trees waiting for an unsuspecting baboon, and if you stray into into the bush on foot, you might find yourself somewhere in the middle of the food chain. The next four days in Moremi and Chobe Game Reserves would be just that: elephants, giraffe, kudu, eland, vervet monkeys, and baboons. It was like driving through Wild Country Safari, but with no fences, caution signs, or traffic.