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African Adventure Eight: Botswana Okawango Delta

Crossed into Botswana and travelled south, camping at several locations along the delta. Went for a boat ride on the Okawango Delta, and had a joy-flight over it. Visited Nxai National Park as the rains set in.

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To Botswana, Okavango Delta

You awoke to the frenzied buzzing a million mosquitoes outside your tent's mosquito net, and decided for a slugish sleep in until the sun scarred them away. You eventually got up and ate breakfast with blueberries in the light rain. Your next destination was Popa Falls so you drove back along the same way, passing the same mix of overly friendly or outwardly angry folks walking along the road. One kid took a sprinters starting stance as we approached and then ran with you until he realised we weren't stopping. Some kids waved and danced (hoping for treats), others threw things (knowing they weren't getting anything). At Popa Falls was a friendly kid who offered to guide you along the very obvious walking trail over the rocks. As you left asked for money for school supplies (highly suspect). Meike was happy to see Frangipani flowers - the first time since 2005.

You drove toward the Namibia-Botswana boarder, stopping for what looked like a turtle, but found a chameleon instead. Chameleons are one of the strangest creatures with their goggly eyes and hesitant pace. The boarder crossing was smooth: you gave the engine and chassy number, showed your ID and that was about it. You entered Botswana and everything just looked less crappy. There were more farms, and it was greener and nicer somehow. There were lots of stubbon donkeys and goats on the road, and almost all kids waved. You found your turn-off to the campsite and were helped to find the right road by a group of kids. Only one girl (the smallest) held out her hand for a reward, but another slightly older girl stopped her. Apparently begging is not the go here in Botswana. You navigated 8km of sandy road using the gps to keep direction and tell you how far you had to go. The tracks in the sand were so deep you could let the 4x4 drive itself in first gear. You tried kicking it up to 2nd gear but the engine wasn't happy about it. Your vehicle may have been gutless, but it never gave up!

Guma Lagoon Camp was a very pretty, well maintained forrest area directly on the waterfront. It had a confortable, luscious green feeling to it while you relaxed by your 4x4 and watched butterflies flapping about between flowers. Later that afternoon you set to cooking in the camp's kitchen just as a group came in to put their fish in the freezer which the'd caught that day. They were all sunburnt. You later discovered they were motorcorss bike riders and mechanics on a team holiday from South Africa. The camp had hot showers available - the water heating via a wood fire under a barrel - but the one you picked didn't get hot until the end. You lazed at the bar drinking a yucky local beer, arranged a boat trip for later, and was entertained by the drunk motorcross team and their glow-sticks until the lightning rolled in. Closer to midnight they brought out fireworks and set out into the lagoon on a dingy to let them fly, while the shore-party gave hilarious ongoing commentary. There was one kid who held a rocket for too long until someone shouted at him to drop it; surprised, he let it fall into the lagoon where it lit-up, shot forward underwater and then exploded near the surface. You chatted to a woman who'd lived there for 11 years without catching malaria, and suspected her son got it that day. Happy new year! Use insect repellent.

Trip distance: 6324 km

Okawango Boat Ride

The next morning you hopped on a boat with Marcelo and began exploring delta. You slowly navigated the narrow channels of papyrus reeds, which needed ongoing cutting to keep the water flowing. The Okawango Delta is steadily chocking itself from water-plant growth, and will one day run dry explained your captain. There were a few small crocodiles and lots of birds to see. You founds a main channel and sped upstream past houseboats to an island for a break. Marcelo explained that islands were formed by termites gradually bringing up dirt from below until trees can take root, and then it grows itself. After a hippo sighting and a total of 4 hours on the water, you made you way back to camp.

Back at camp the motorcross team was running about with paintball guns, being loud but not especially bothersome. You did some washing a went to read Getaway magazines at the lagoon platform near the bar. Finally, you entered holiday mode! The motorcorss team finished their paintball match by chasing a snake from camp, and then came into kitchen with a mountain of meat for dinner. Since the mosquitoes were getting kinda buzzy you went to you tent to hide.

Speeding Fine, Cocktails at Sunset

There was a pretty - and probably poisonous - frog who jumped out as you folded your tent. You asked the frog to hop along, departed Guma Lagoon camp and headed back to the road to Maun. Botswana really only has two roads: one leading down the west side of the Okawango Delta from Namibia, and the other up along the east to Zambia. The western road was dotted with mad-cow disease roadblocks (about one every 30 min), where you were asked if you were carrying meat and to wash your shoes. The western road was also where the police set up speed cameras. Fair enough, you drove too fast (83 in a 60 zone) and got pinged. You were asked (forced) to sign a declaration of guilt after being shown your measured speed, and told to head to the nearest police station to pay. You drove off feeling silly until the next control point where you met a very dodgy policeman. He asked to check the fridge and took a liking to your cordial (thinking it was alcohol), then asked for a lift for his pregnant girlfriend to Maun. There were no pregnant women in sight, only a girl and her four kids. Not happening... You pulled into the Sehitwa police station and met four of the laziest the force had to offer. They were actually surprised that you wanted to pay! Unfortunately some kind of book was missing so you couldn't pay the fine; they told you to go to Maun.

In Maun you bought the latest Getaway magazine from Choppies (shop) beside OK Furnature. Just 'OK', huh? Pass. You visited the airport and booked a scenic flight for the next day, then hung out beside the pool at the campsite for the rest of the afternoon. The camp in Maun was simple but adequate. Taking a shower was a challenge of courage, being filled with whole families of every bug imaginable; you're getting used to it though. You even saw a colourful Mopane Caterpillar. The bar near the pool served drinks in 1L jugs, which you shared with your lovely lady traveling companion at sunset. Although most ingredients weren't available, your throw-together Okawango Storm Coctail (minus half the ingredients) was tasty. For some strange reason you were given a fish knife for beef and canned vegetables in the restaurant. Strange...

Trip distance: 6650 km

Delta Flight, Baobabs and Rain

You woke up to your alarm ringing at 6.30 and the sun was already up and beaming. You left your designated patch of dirt beside a tree and drove to the airport. Even for joyrides you aren't allowed water bottles apparently. Your pilot looked like Fletch - Meike's old Australian roommate. The flight was up over the southern end of the delta and gave a perspective of how vast and interwoven with streams, ponds, rivers and lagoons it was. The pilot pointed out lots of animals below but you only found about half. Once you really started searching giraffes, buffalo, elephants and hioops popped up all over the place; you didn't realise how well their natural camouflage works until now. The pilot had his fun with banking turns and your stomach had it fun with breakfast. You were relieved it was over as you lay in the airport carpark feeling dizzy. On the way out of town you paid your speeding fine and had your first taste of Botswanian humor: with a dead-straight face the policeman pretended he couldn't give you change, and then pretended to nick your money. Thoroughly... amused.

You started heading north up the eastern side of the Okawango Delta to Nxai National Park with a few stops along the way to have you shoes and tyres washed and camping fridge inspected. You entered the National Park and drove along a narrow sand road through a vast landscape of low shrubbery. There were a few giraffes along the way who noticed you, hesitated, realised they were scarred and made a (slow) break for it. The road had several curiously large holes excavated in the mud; it could have been from landmines for all you knew. Your 4x4 would probably loose in a fight against one of the holes - they were about knee deep and had steep sides - so you tried avoided them. In the distance towards the camp a mass of dark clouds were gathering and you were worried that rainy season had arrived. The road split before the camp on a detour past the famous Baines Baobabs. Although there was a chance a lion was hiding there ready to pounce, you walked about the gigantic trees and admired their splender. One of the trees was fallen but seemed to be still doing well, appart from the chunk missing which someone must have taked as a souvenir. You had your fun turning around on the mud plains, better described as power sliding sideways. You stopped to watch an elephant in the distance. Apparently elephants have bad eyesight and compensate with smell, so it took him a while to notice you. When he caught wind he was being watched he was not happy about it. You drove to camp with thunderstorms in the distance. The closer you came to the gate the wetter things looked. There was a quick transition between a few puddles to entire sections of road lying underwater, and so avoiding the mud-craters was just impossible. It wasn't actually raining once you arrived and were greeted by the friendly gatekeeper, but the entire camp was under an ankle-deep lake of water. He explained the holes in the road were from elephants digging for salt, and that the camp recently installed elephant-proof amenities after elephants trampling the last ones. The gatekeeper asked if you had and newspapers he could have - he must not hear much way out here - and so you promised to give him things on the way out.

The campsite's only protection was a few trees; there were no fences whatsoever anywhere in the park, and so you couldn't help but imagine lions hoping to join for dinner. You neighbors were friendly and invited you to come for a swim in their pool (their tent) Tragically amusing. The shower block was elephant-proofed by a perimeter of bumpy concrete slabs with pointy steel rods protruding upwards. There was a narrow zig-zag path for smaller animals to use. Impressively simple! You went for an evening stroll along the road with the odd feeling that there were lions out there. However, seeing so many zebras standing around was comforting. That evening you took turns shining the torch out of the tent form the vehicle roof while the other had a wild toilet break before bed.

Trip distance: 6879 km

Moody Marabu Stork, Muddy Fun

A quick breakfast followed by rain made packing the tent a pain. You drove via the elephant-proof amenities block and waited there until the rain died down, then drove off into the park along rivers/roads having no idea where the elephant holes were. There was not much happening in the rain. A honney badger ran past (really not giving a shit) and there was an upset looking Marabu Stalk standing on the road looking wet and moody. There were hundreds of relaxed zebras everywhere drowning your hopes that there were lions anywhere nearby. There were also a few birds, one who sounded especially disgruntled with his moaning Mwaaaagh! call. You found another lonesome Baobab tree along the way, which looked far less grand than the first ones. On the way out you gave the gatekeeper your old Getaway magazines - he said it was his new-years present - and did some muddy (unnecessary) rally driving through the puddles.

You made it to Nata Lodge and were rather impressed by their intricate decorative thatched roof. You had something to eat, too much for either of you to finish, and found the car in the dark by pressing the unlock button until you saw a flash. Lying in the tent that evening with mosquitoes noisily bouncing off the net made Meike happy: "can't get me, haha!"

Trip distance: 7146 km

Lazy Day Beside the Pool

With no quad riding available from the campsite rental and the migratory birds having not yet flown in for the season, you decided to spend the day beside the pool. The day was hot and so very floppy. You listening to an 80's radio station in the bar, read travel guides and ate steak and kidney pie. You chatted to the hotel manager since he seemed to have a low guest load, and asked about thefts at their partner hotel in Kasane (as warned by the travel guide). He called them and asked about it; there hadn't been a problem three years now, so the travel guide was out of date. The camp had a really big marula tree but no drunken animals (see movie: Animals are Beautiful People). At dusk you saw a bird sitting in a tree with a very long tail; you weren't sure what the evolutionary advantage was, but it was interesting. For the rest of the evening you watched flocks of birds fly above while waiting for your washing to dry. As they flew and turned it made sounds of immense gusts of wind.