Okavanga Delta

April 29, 2006 – Day 14 – Today we headed into Botswana and had a smooth as silk border crossing. The people at the border control in Botswana particularly were wonderful and happy. One woman took a look at a passport and said, “Oh Markus, it’s you!”, which then became a running joke among us. Shortly after the border, we said good-bye to Richard and Will for a few days, as Richard had decided not to do the optional Delta trip and Will stayed behind with him. They stayed with our overland truck and dropped us off at a point where two smaller trucks picked up us and our gear and took us to a camp just on the outskirts of the delta. There we met the man who ran the camp, who told us not tot go to the lodge area, as he people staying there were “paying a hell of a lot more” than we were and wouldn’t appreciate our presence. Anyway, we set up camp, had lunch, and took an afternoon walk (skirting past the lodge) to look at the lagoon. Saw bunched of birds there, including the same ibis we had at the tropical forest at the zoo. Instead of work reminding me of Africa, Africa was reminding me of my work. Strange. Back in camp we had dinner and heard hippos. They make a strange grunting type of sound that is fairly distinct. And exciting, considering they are hippos and you don’t want to run into a hippo anytime. They come up on land to graze on grasses at night.

April 30, 2006 – Day 15 – Got up early in order to get on a motorboat that would take us to the place where we would then get in another kind of boat called a makuro, which looks a bit like a canoe all made out of one piece of wood. We met our Makuro “drivers”, or polers, so called because they stand in the back of the makuro and use a long pole to move the makuro along. They have great balance, which is essential because the water has both hippos and crocodiles, and no one wants to go in accidentally. Incidentally, our guide confirmed the rumor that an American doctor was killed in the delta about a month ago – an angry hippo overturned his makuro and then he was taken by a croc, in front of his wife. Fairly horrifying but uncommon. I shared a makuro with Barbel and our poler Sunday. Barbel and I sat on the floor of the makuro leaning up against our tent or other supplies, with me in the front, followed by Barbel and then Sunday. The ride was a little more than an hour and it was amazing. It is one of the most peaceful places I have ever seen. It is a huge wetland area and there is nothing else quite like it, though it did remind me somewhat of the everglades. There are a lot of reeds and water lilies in flower everywhere, and it was amazing to see the reeds part for you as the makuro made its way through them. It looked like magic and I felt like royalty. The water lily flowers were also amazing, from pure white through a deep purple color. It was such a relaxing ride that I started to get drowsy at one point. Absolutely beautiful. At one point we stopped at a known hippo pool to watch the hippos, but from a reasonable distance. We finally got to the island where we would camp that night and set up camp while one of the polers dug us a “toilet”, which was not nearly as horrifying as I expected it would be. Though the first time I used it I realized I could see Trevor taking a picture of Dana. Somewhat disconcerting, but not a regular occurrence.

We had some lunch once we arrived, and then we had about 3 hours to kill until 4pm when we would have a guided walk with some of the polers. We took a short walk of our own with Bernard and saw impressive amounts of warthog droppings and eventually a shy warthog. We also saw plenty of baobab trees, fairly distinct and beautiful. Afterwards we still had two hours, so we started playing all kinds of silly games, including “Who am I?” and “How many elephants?”, as well as stupid human tricks. For example, Trevor can jump over his own leg and Dana can twist her arms in a pretzel and then put her head through them. Weird. Finally it was 4pm and we split into two groups. Our guides were Lister and Arco. Together we walked around and they told us about the trees and plants and animals in the region. We ate some baobab fruits, which on the inside was much like a lemon chalky kind that you would suck on around the seed. Quite yummy. We saw some nice birds, including a hammercop and several ibis, as well as some warthogs. We also learned the difference between elephant droppings and hippo droppings – hippos only eat grass, whereas elephants include bark, seeds, fruits…you can find a lot digging through poo. Afterwards we had a sunset makuro ride which was absolutely beautiful.

That evening after dinner, the polers did a couple traditional dances with songs and then the National Anthem of Botswana. The dances were hilarious. There was only one dancing and the dance told a story – first a hunt and then about a pregnant woman looking for a belly rub. The dancer was even laughing occasionally. It was great. Afterwards it was our turn to entertain them. We sang “The lion sleeps tonight” as a group and then the Germans got up and sang a traditional German song and Sang-Hee sang a traditional song from South Korea. None of the rest of us could think what to do, so we started up with the stupid human tricks, which the polers all tried to copy, as well as some other games like we played in the afternoon, including “Is the flashlight locked or unlocked?” Everyone had a good time I think.

May 1 – Day 16 – We work up early the next morning and took a makuro ride to visit another island, where we again took a walk as a group. As Lister was explaining the social system inside termite mounds, someone from the group spotted an elephant behind us, so we decided to leave the termites behind and follow the elephant. Turned out that there were three elephants and we found them all hiding behind a tree line. We could see their ears flapping and occasional truck lifting into the trunk. Behind us there was a warthog just at the tree line, also watching us. All of a sudden one of the elephants was out in the open and very close to us. Our guide was asking us to move back quickly, but not too quickly. It was amazing but a little intimidating. We stayed for a while until all three moved off. By that time the other group had come around to our part of the island as well. They had actually seen the elephants cross over the water to the island itself, but had lost them in transit for a bit. You would be surprised at how easily you can lose an elephant.

After our wonderful morning, we went back to camp and broke it down, had breakfast, and then got in the makuros again for another long relaxing ride to the island where we would catch the motorboats back to camp. We broke the makuro ride back with a stop for swimming in a “safe” place, away from crocs and hippos, but I chose not to participate. Once at makuro island we had a two-hour wait for the boats, so we just sat on our mattresses and chatted and had a small lunch. That evening was more relaxing at a kind of raised platform viewpoint near the bar at camp. A nice ending to our beautiful weekend in the delta.

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