Africa Part 4 – Okavango Delta Botswana & Namibia
Okavango is a strange place. Given how wealthy Botswana is, the place is incredibly poor. We are allocated a poler for our time there, who essentially is not dissimilar to punt through the venetian canals, except this time through reeds & surface water.
It’s a clear morning when we embark; the only noise is the swish swish of the reeds and the drips & splashes of water as the pole gently breaks the surface pushing us through the water.
We pass reddish underwater forests, flat, nibbled lily pads with white lilies poking above the surface, reeds that look similar to toitoi from home. The most bizarre thing are the water spiders.
There are thousands of them, bodies less than half the size of a 5p piece (or the old New Zealand 5c coin), but with legs splayed they’re about half the size of my palm. They skate across the skin of the water incredibly fast, ducking out of the way. Their webs catch in your face if you’re not careful, and some of them are huge seas of white in between reeds. Even for a non-arachnaphobe the’re a little disconcerting.
There are huge dragonflies, electric blue & fluoro green, black and yellow, bright orange, whizzing past in the morning sunshine.
There’s not that many animals about, but we make camp in time for lunch, to relax the afternoon away.
I perch myself on a stool by myself in the sunshine, kindle and camera in hand, planning to sit with amongst the dragon flies and jumping crickets. This is all fine, until I hear a shhhhh shhh sound. I look at my feet and try to stop myself screaming, a little brown snake is under my legs.
“Dan dan dan dan dan dan dan snake snake snake snake” I lift my legs, & try hold myself together. We don’t get snakes in New Zealand, they sort of creep me out, and as a few people come over to see what’s up, the sneaky snakey turns around and looks at us as he slithers into the undergrowth.
No harm done and I don’t think he was poisonous, but still for my first snake moment it was enough. He was about 1m long & as round as my thumb & forefinger touched together.
The next few days passed in with walks and more mokoro (dug out canoe) afternoons, elephants coming to visit our campsite at one stage, just a few metres away. I heard them first, the crack crack crack of them eating branches and pushing around trees now familiar after our night visit.
Again a “Dan dan dan dan I can hear something I think it’s elephants”. It’s strange having them so close, you’re nervous but excited, wishing they would come even closer. You peak between the trees and see legs and trunks. They’re attracted to the smell of our oranges.
On our walks into the Delta we didn’t see much, zebra, elephants shaking for palm nuts, huge birds in the distance, the gorgeous lilac breasted roller (national bird of Botswana)
Early the last morning, we were pulling down our tent in the dark, and after my previous experience I decided to shake out our tent bag in case of creepy crawlies. Out dropped something the size of a dinner plate.
Again I had to swallow a scream – “Snake Snake Snake Snake” (This trip has been nothing if not repetition). I actually think it was the same one, we’d managed to camp in/near his home – I feel a little bad, but at least we didn’t kill him accidentally.
On the last night they sang for us. You hear a lot about African harmonies, call and response as a way of story telling, but to see it like this was incredible. We tried to sing ourselves, “Give me a home amongst the Gum Trees, with lots of plum trees” I sang with the Australians. “In the Jungle”. Why couldn’t we find something half decent everyone would know?
The way back through the delta was probably my favourite part. Again mostly silence as we were punted through, sun beating down on our shoulders, sky blue, reeds green and reddish.
We pass through the village in Maun where our Polers live, they have nothing. They didn’t take much into the delta, rice, potato flakes, a small amount of meat. They eat our leftovers, and as we left I saw one woman keep 4 slices of dry stale bread.
I found this the hardest part of the poverty that surrounds us, our lovely cook Samson told me a couple of days later how it works for them in their village – to ensure they all get a chance for food it’s run on a rota system, each person has to take their turn at being a poler, making the most of the small tip they get, and food if it’s available. Some groups don’t share their leftovers. I wish we’d shared our meal.
This type of travelling is exhausting. Truck days, personalities, early starts, high GI carbs, it feels like whole days have past in a blur of books, music and sometimes barely seeing one day from the next. My joints have a constant ache. I want to sleep all the time. I’m drinking far less as our “pee stops” are few and far between, and feel like I have the constant shadow of a dehydration headache every day.
We’ve ventured into the really driest parts of Southern Africa, mostly desert and dust, through D’Kar and on to Namibia it’s a stark change from the lush rainforest in Uganda, it hasn’t rained since that first week.
The border from Botswana into Namibia is one of the starkest changes we’ve seen on the trip. Namibia feels western, but western a few years ago. Decades ago even. We’re amongst malls, fancy cars, a rooftop bar. A department store with $20 can openers. Safari shops everywhere. It does remind me of home though. Things are cheap, shampoo for $2. Wine for $6.
The road is dry and dusty, and we head to Etosha. I’m exhausted, my joints ache, I barely want to talk to anyone let alone get up at 5am to put my tent down every morning. The journeys passing in sleep and reading, I’m desperate for a break.
The drive into the park is dry and hot. For the first time we see Oryx, their sad clown faces, huge horns, long busy tails – they’re amazing creatures. Their grey hides blend into the dusty landscape. Springbok are around too – I hope to see them springing – wanting to scare them out the window.
Where we are staying in the park has a huge waterhole – and being dry season this is used a lot of the time. When we get there it’s giraffes, the elephants. It’s lit at night, making for an evening of night watching, cheap wine in hand.
Post-dinner I head to the waterhole straight away, and soon after I sit down, the roaring starts. The ones I heard in Zimbabwe were nothing like this. These roars were otherworldly. Close by. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, I shivered.
The biggest lioness we have seen this trip crept up. Muscles standing out as she moved past. Stopping for a drink, she moved off quickly. The roaring continued. I waited and waiting, hoping a huge male would present himself, but the roars went off into the distance.
More animals joined, Rhino, elephants – I was too tired to stay late, 10pm I went to bed.
Still exhausted, and me still aching, we decided not to join the next days game drive – and had the whole camp pretty much to ourselves.
We spent ho all oerurs at the waterhole, watching animals take their drinks in shifts and groups, occasionally being frightened by nothing and running off. Hundreds of zebra, kudu, springbok, elephants, giraffes, oryx – it was incredible.
Even at night we saw 7 different Rhino (including a baby one), and one with the biggest horn we’d seen, probably about 75 cm, curling up over his head, reflected in the water.
We felt so well rested after a day to ourselves. No uncomfortable seats, no dusty air, no shoving/pushing for a photo on either side. We did however miss a Leopard in a tree, but one photo isn’t worth what we’re both affectionately calling a “mental health day”.
The next days again passed in a blur of incredible scenery and a bit of a break, Spitzkoppe, Swakopmund, Sossusvlei.
It’s desert and sand dunes, the iconic dead valley with reddish orange sand dunes as the backdrop, patchy blue sky.
There’s only a few days till Cape Town now, we’re counting down, longing for a proper shower, a washing machine to wash our clothes, no more 5/6 am starts. No more high GI carbs. It’s sad as no longer is this experience “fun” or “exciting”, it feels like more of a drag and frustrating that we’re not on our own. Small annoyances become big ones, little frustrations and being sworn at by awful people has become what my handwritten diary remembers, not the landscape or what we’re seeing as much.
This leg (Victoria Falls to Cape Town) has been particularly difficult – a few of our good friends left this leg, we’re all missing them dearly. Only a couple of the replacements are young, changing the dynamic significantly.
We’re not doing as many things to break the trip up which is part of it. We’re now heading to the Orange River, with only Citrusdaal and then Cape Town – I’m repacking our packs today, realising that I could have bought so much more, I handful of bracelets, 2 necklaces, a hippo dish and Chitenge – we’re travelling light. Hopefully not too expensive to post.
I left rocks behind. I didn’t buy anything made of wood. None of the cheap garnets from Swakopmund or even the tourmaline I looked longingly at for hours. The only purchase regret is that I didn’t buy the fabric animals I last saw in Uganda, thinking it was something I’d see all through the rest of the country.
Onward to Cape Town, table mountain and fresh fish, the garden route and time on our own, seeing two huge oceans collide, wineries and bed and breakfasts. That’s the only thing keeping me going these days.