Into the Okavango Delta…… (Botswana)

Sunday 10th July

Today we drive south back into Botswana exiting Namibia and entering at the Muhembo border crossing. As alluded to in the last post 24 hours earlier we had crossed into Namibia and 2 of our group had not been given entry stamps in their passports by immigration which meant they were unable to be cleared to leave the country. This held us up whilst they phoned through to the border post we had crossed through and found the relevant paperwork to prove they had entered legally. Then there was the lecture to ensure you check your passports are stamped. T.I.A!

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The drive today was around 110km which took us to the village of Sepupa where we were to leave the truck and transfer our ourselves and our packs onto boats to commence a 3 day / 2 night trip into the heart of the Okavango Delta.

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On the way we stopped for some supplies so whilst Charles our cook and guides were shopping we roped in some local kids that were hanging around the supermarket and invited them to play some football against our mob. We layed out some makeshift goals and sidelines in the car park (which was dirt) and made up a couple of mixed teams consisting of local kids and us travelers. Pretty soon we had quite an audience and quite a game happening. What was very apparent was the skill level of the local kids. They wore no shoes unlike our kids but their passing and dribbling skills were a step above. More than once we got comments from our kids that “these guys are good” and “these guys are tough”. It was an evenly matched game with numerous goals being scored by both sides. Once the shopping had been concluded we had a post game photo then Harald & BG gifted the local kids the ball we were using. They had brought 10 balls along too give away as we traveled.

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Game over we continued on our way a bit hotter and thirstier than we had been (windhoek lager fixed that) Interestingly quite a few of our kids were still puffing some time after – they would need to do some extra work before our next game.

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We pulled into the village of Sepupa late morning which was to be our entry point into the Okavango Delta for 3 days of bush camping. We would leave our truck (and Charles our cook & TK our driver), board boats  and head out into the delta.

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The Okavango Delta in Botswana is the 1000th site to be officially added to the UNESCO World Heritage List and is home to one of the worlds most fascinating ecosystems. The Delta is essentially a large swamp created on the edge of the Kalahari desert where the Okavango River flows from Angola, through Namibia’s Caprivi Strip reaching the Delta between March and June, peaking in July. The river has no outlet so the water spreads (some 11 cubic kilometres of it apparently) out into thousands of small streams to form a maze of wetlands. Much of the water is lost to transpiration by plants with the remainder lost to evaporation. This creates a habitat which is home to a large variety of flora and fauna. The clarity of the water is just amazing and the reeded waterways are prolific with hippos, elephants, buffalo and Crocs!

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Having loaded our packs into the boat we then spent 90 minutes jet-boating into the delta up various channels and waterways sighting along the way various bird-life and lots of Crocs basking on the banks. We pulled up next to one who must have been at least 4 metres in length who after a few minutes decided it would be better for him in the water and slid down the bank and under the boat. Arriving at our destination (an island) we transferred onto a 4wd truck and took a 30 min drive down a dusty track before turning off and arriving in a paddock next to a flow of water. This was where the fun started. From here we loaded our gear and ourselves into mokoro’s. These are small dugout style canoes which these days are made of fiberglass. Each mokoro takes two persons and their gear and is poled by a guide as we headed out into the reed beds and our final destination….an island which as the crow flies was probably about 2km away but poling through lilypads and reeds took the best part of an hour. KK and I were in one whilst Noelle and BB were in another. Along the way we passed hippos, cattle crossing through the reeds in front of us  and elephants. We have no doubt that crocs were around and the guides told us that the length of the canoe generally deters them from attacking however we also have read enough and seen a few YouTube videos to know that this isn’t always the case. They considered the Hippos more dangerous than Crocs due to their size and grumpiness. That said we arrived safely all pumped after a day of traveling using various means of transport and being deep in the middle of nowhere somewhere in the Okavango Delta.

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A short walk took us into the clearing where our hosts had set up our tents, they had a fire going and a kitchen setup (it was another fire -no electricity,gas or technology here) but most important they had a huge esky of cold drinks( the beer supply was to be replenished the next day) A safety briefing was given and we were introduced to the specifics of using the bush toilet. A rather simple concept using a hole and a shovel. The rule was that if you were going you had to go in pairs…not because there was a chance of getting lost but because there was a chance of meeting an animal. As it was we had elephant poo strewn around our camp site. During our stay a few ladies put off evening and night visits and held off as best they could until daylight hours resumed.

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After a strenuous days travel we headed out on a short walk to watch the sunset before returning for a nice hot dinner and a few cold beers (or an Amarula shot) the fire was cranked up and we cast our eyes skyward to take in the huge night sky and it’s stars, shooting stars and satellites followed with an early night by most.

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The next morning we awoke to breakfast and stoked up the fire to take off the morning chill. Although this is the African winter the mornings were like an NZ spring morning until the sun reached us. After breakfast we split into two groups and headed out for a bushwalk into the island we were on. We saw a lone male elephant early on and many different species of birds. Our guide showed and discussed in detail the different types of trees and plants and how they were used by the tribes in their day to day life, how Elephants eat away at certain trees and we had a lesson in identifying various animal droppings and spoor. We came across a zeal of Zebras at a waterhole (that’s right ..what we thought was a herd of Zebras is actually called a zeal……….a group of Hippos is called a crash..go figure)

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After around 3 hours we were back in camp and after exchanging feedback from our walk we all collectively sat back and really just did nothing for more than a few hours. Reading, napping, talking, drinking on an island somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Later in the afternoon our guides decided we should try poling the mokoro’s for ourselves so with a guide seated we all had a go (kids included) poling through the reeds. The poles are around 4 meters long and the depth of the delta is around 1-2 meters. Going straight was easy enough but turning through the channels in the reeds was a bit more difficult. By now it it was getting later in the day so we all jumped into the mokoro’s and headed out to watch the sunset over the delta from the water. We had seen so many spectacular sunsets by now but this one was special. The silhouettes of the bush, trees and reeds made for some great photography.

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Upon returning our dinner was waiting so we repeated the pattern of the previous night. Darkness generally fell around 6pm so head torches were necessary to eat and move around. With a blazing campfire the kids were entertaining us with lateral thinking riddles until the leader of our hosts informed us they would treat us to a dance show of traditional dance and song. The show they put on for us was awesome. Without instruments they held a tune and sung along with dancing around the campfire. Before long we were all up joining them (some of us fortified with a few beers). A really awesome experience. Afterwards having put the kids to bed the rest of the crew drifted off to their tents leaving the NZ contingent and the Malaysian contingent to keep the fire company which we did for a few extra hours before calling it a night under another huge African sky.

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Another day, another morning – not sure what day it was but apparently consulting the travel notes it was now Tuesday July 12th. After breakfast our hosts packed up the campsite as we packed up our gear and took out last wander around the area before packing everything…and we mean everything into the mokoro’s to head back to the pickup point. Four mokoro’s were dedicated to just hauling out the tents, camp rolls, chairs, kitchen etc. Poling off we then enjoyed an hour of solitude lost in thought as we made our way though the reeds and lilypads this time in the opposite direction. This time it was BB & I in one and Noelle/KK in another. Again seeing an elephant and Hippos on the return journey it was another of those moments where you thought twice about where you really were just in case you were dreaming.

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The day was a reversal of our first day where after landing from the mokoro it was back onto the 4wd truck, a 30 min run down the dirt trail and back onto the jetboat for the 90 minute run back out to Sepupa. Plenty of Hippos and Crocs were again spotted on the ride out. Safely back on dry land we met up again with Charles, TK and the Blue Elephant and loaded the gear whilst some members of our party took advantage of having the use of a real flushing toilet.

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We then proceeded to retrace our travel of 2 days ago back to the Muhembo border crossing where once exiting Botswana and reentering Namibia (no dramas this time) we set up the mobile kitchen in the border carpark and prepared lunch. By now it was getting onto mid afternoon. Another hour saw us re-entering Bagani and the Ngepi camping site where we would then pitch the tents, prepare dinner and enjoy another Namibian evening….this time with a shower and a fresh set of clothes.

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Our briefing during dinner highlighted the next days drive that would take us 200km to Rundu and our camping site which would be located on the Namibian/Angolan border….it was literally on the border.

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During the planning of our African trip the Okavango Delta was one of the key must dos. We looked at various options initially but we were pretty happy with what we ended up doing. This was a great experience not only for the kids but for us adults as well. It is truly a special and unique place. There is also the option of entering from Maun in the southern part or arranging a flight over the delta which would give a different perspective but we not only enjoyed what we did we don’t think any other way of seeing it would have topped our experience and of course a large part of that was due to the people who were with us.

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On another note…if anyone is thinking of or looking at doing something similar to what we have just completed, please get in contact with us. We met a number of families especially in Africa who were traveling around mainly self driving. We are happy to pass on our experiences. Also if you know of any similar sites/blogs we would be keen to hear about them.

More next week……enjoy

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