Mzungu’s – Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta

Day 343 -my birthday on the road

We awoke in our new tent to the sound of the Joburg truck (our old truck and dear friends) packing up. Suddenly there was a knock on my tent, I stuck my head out to a chorus of “happy birthday to you.” All the friends from the other truck bearing cards and from Martin and Carolyn, gifts of thought they had noticed along the way, Amarula truffles, smarties chocolate and a statue of two giraffes. I was so touched that they had thought of me and made the day special, but also that I got to share a small part of the day with them. We waved them off with emotional goodbyes and set about dismantling the tents ahead of our move off.

We headed the 70km to the border where we were stamped out of Zimbabwe with ease and queued to get into Botswana. Due to Botswana’s big role in the beef trade, a lot of emphasis is put into avoiding the spread of disease, most importantly foot and mouth. We all had to tred on a wet, muddy cloth to decontaminate the soles of our shoes, and all the shoes of our bags. Things were also difficult for the cook who had prepared so as to not carry meat or fruit across and had boiled all the eggs.

We got to Kasane with its small amenities and the staff did the shopping whilst we changed some money to Pula, Botswana’s currency.

After lunch as we were sitting on the grass waiting to be picked up, a bold snake slithered past and up a tree.

We were picked up in our safari vehicle and taken 8km to the closest gate of Chobe. Known as the home of elephants, the sandy tracks took us to the watering hole where they stood feeding. They were snacking on the roots, pulling the grass from the sandy soil, tossing it about playfully before eating it.

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We were crossing the park to camp the other side for the night, encountering baboons, giraffe, hornbill on the way. We also spotted lazy lions under a tree in the distance. It felt more natural than the drives at Kruger. We were supposed to be out of the park by 6:30 but due to avid photographers in our truck we were delayed and at dusk we were still sprinting for the gate when someone spotted lions to the left, 4 lionesses and 3 cubs. It was an amazingly close spot and we were overwhelmed however less than 2 minutes later we realised what we had stumbled upon as charging, trumpeting elephants came from our right. At 20+ angry elephants came for our vehicle it was a heart in mouth moment and the truck struggled to move off, wheel spinning in the sand. We had interrupted a lion hunt and the elephants were protecting their babies. On one side the lions patrolled hungrily and on the other side the distressed elephants formed a circle around their babies. None of us captured the moment, partly because of the atmospheric half light, and also due to the adrenaline of the moment. It was a lucky encounter to see the wild in action, an incredibly special birthday.

We pulled of the road and were being whipped with tree branches as the driver sped on to find where we would spend the night. We pulled into the bush camp where the guides had put up our tents in a horseshoe, lit a fire and dinner was waiting. It had no facilities, a loo seat over a long drop and a view of the stars.

After dinner they presented me with a cake and sang to me, an incredibly special birthday. We had a civit cat visit the camp whilst we were sitting around the fire. At first the guide thought it could be a leopard, but the little cat on the patrol for food meant I removed all snacks from the tent. We toasted a few marshmallows over the fire and got to know the new group before bed.

Day 344

An early start packing up camp and out on the road before sunrise. An elephant had visited our camp overnight and left his calling card nearby. On the drive the animals were out in force as we approached the water. Our driver estimated 400-500 water buffaloes stood the other side of the water, an amazing sight as they reflected on the glassy water. Amongst them, several different types of stalk, fish eagles circling overhead, baboons playing with their 3 day old young, Mongoose and impala. The scene was one of morning commotion and we were spectators in a waterhole frenzy.

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Further on we encountered a huge group of elephant, some deep in the scrub but several road side and only metres from us. The sheer size and power of elephants is intimidating as they stripped branches from trees and munched them whilst eyeing us carefully, the young amongst them.

Another thing we encountered a lot of is giraffe, a favourite of mine as they look so graceful standing munching, however one particular interaction stood out as two young males stood very close pushing each other with their rumps and circling simultaneously. Our driver warned us they were about to fight and sure enough they began swinging their long necks and hitting each other with the horns on their head. Still with such grace, more like a dance than a fight, it felt like we were on David Attenborough’s film shoot.

We returned to a camp near Kasane to set up our tents for another night. We spent the afternoon around the pool, heading into town for a quick use of the wifi and to stock up on water. On the way back the driver needed to refuel, and we had to for several stations to find diesel. Christa told us that this wasn’t uncommon and in the past the bus has had to return to Zimbabwe in order to do so!

Day 345 – Chobe to the Delta

The 600km from the park to Maun was long, straight and nothing but scrub bush to either side however we did spot goats, ostrich and zebra. There was a few rounds of cards, a hilarious game of charades and a few toilet stops before we reached the town for a supply stop.

From Maun to the campsite was a ten minute drive until we were surrounded by water, the southern end of the delta. It was a scorching hot day and the arctic pool was a welcome cool off.

We had another birthday to celebrate and an exciting few days ahead to explore the delta.

Day 346

The Okavango Delta is Africa’s largest inland water source, the merging of several rivers. After a lie in we were taken by speedboats down river to the Mokoro station. Mokoro’s are little dug out canoes punted along by poles. They unloaded our bed rolls to make us seats, loaded us up two to a boat and we set off into the delta. It was an hour and a half into the section where we would camp, little islands with no facilities. We were passing through reads, a tranquil surrounding and then we heard voices from the water. The Joburg truck were on the island next to us and were calling our names. As we passed them they nearly pulled us in as we hugged and briefly swapped stories.

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Our island was small and overgrown, like arriving on shipwrecked. We put up the tents surrounded by bushes, a small area in the middle clear for campfire and they upturned a mokoro for our camp table. Joseph cooked over the coals of the fire and under the midday sun, we returned to “the swimming pool” where we had previously seen the other group. The water was refreshingly cold and we splashed around whilst being aware of what could be lurking below us. The other group hearing us came out to join and we caught up on stories from the last few days. Maisie kindly told me she had seen a water snake in the water and thus swimming time was concluded swiftly!

Back at camp we readied ourselves for a bush walk. We were boated to the next island and split into small groups. Our guide told us how to react to each animal, leopards by averting your eyes, lions by keeping eye contact and not turning your back, elephants a wide birth, buffalo to run in a zig zag and climb a tree. Consciously trying to remember this we began walking. The flat plains were dusty and dry, but wildlife was few. I think in an attempt to keep us interested the guide told us about the small five. The conversation went like this;
“Has anyone heard of the small five?”
“Er yeah.. Cheetah, giraffe..”
“No no, rhino beetle, leopard fly, elephant shrew, lion ant..”
“Oh”
“Look here, the hole of a lion ant..” *digs around and pulls out grey speck* “can you see its teeth?”
*think no, but pull out cameras to take a photo anyway.*
Can you believe it, front row seats for a lion ant?

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We watched the fiery sunsets and returned to camp to eat steak by torchlight, a new skill I have developed. In the evening the marshmallows were produced. As the resident experts, mark and I became the judges in a toasting competition. The competitions were given a two prong fork with two marshmallows, once toasted they would get one and we would try one to give them a score, a great ploy for getting lots of marshmallows with minimal effort! The techniques varied from scorching to dancing around the fire, as well as using flaming logs as a portable toaster.

Once we has turned into bed, mark played a recording of a roaring lion behind our tent which scared Barbara out of her sleeping bag!

Day 347

The guides used a frying pan as a 6am alarm clock and we woke up for our bush walk. The plan was to be out for 3-4 hours. We crossed to another island go track game and quickly came across antelope and zebra. Most of the walking was across dusty plains with scrub bush or skeleton trees and a bit of bird life. At this time of the year the water is high in the South part of the delta and most of the animals remain in the north. We did come across a dazzle of zebra with a group of wilderbeast. These two species and often impala are found together as there grazing habits complement each other, all eating a different part of the plant and exposing bits of root or leaf.

We then began tracking elephants using the usual, footprints and dung. Upon finding fresh dung we scrambled through bush and saw them crossing the water to another island. We felt relieved they were happy for us to watch as none of us could remember whether to look them in the eye of climb zig zag up a tree! Now starving and having been walking for 5 hours we made our way back. The thought of being last back and missing out on bacon meaning tensions were high!

After brunch we had a few games of Uno with our local guides, they appeared to be tricking us with their different rules, then off to the swimming hole. To our amusement, nick brought his soap along. A few people had a go at poling the mokoros, ending up in reads and with one capsize.

Back at the camp we kept ourselves and the rest of camp amused with a mass game of Heads up, a charades come description game which had us all giggling. For sunset we were taken out in the boats to hippo pool. The ride was beautiful, the water lined with water lilies. No sign of hippo at the first pool but as we were escorted on you could here them grunting closer and closer. We sat in the reeds as a group of four took it in turns to drop down and then emerge with a exhale of water, eyes and nostrils protruding and staring at us. It was fascinating to watch them and hear them grunting so close!

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We returned, boating into the sunset which as always was postcard pretty and impossible to capture.

After dinner our Mokoro drivers were going to perform for us. They referred to us as Mzungu meaning foreigner. Some looked embarrassed whilst other wholly enthusiastic but once they got into it the performance was beautiful. There was some audience participation including a frog dance, some dress up and they closed the show with the song “Be- you-tiful Africa (Africa), Be-you-tiful Africa (Africa), I shall never forget Be- you-tiful Africa!”

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Day 348

In the morning we took down camp and loaded the boats. As we were departing an elephant was spotted nearby as it began shaking a coconut tree in the hope of a feed. Such incredible power! The pokers were racing back and laughing amongst themselves. One boat nearly tipped as they poled head first into a spider and the passengers tried to jump overboard!

Back at the Mokoro station a group went off for a helicopter ride and we waited for them to return. We were taken to the village that serves this station, a beautiful but incredibly simple settlement. The houses were two types, one wooden with thatch roof, the modern constructed by stacked cans covered then in the mud the termites use to make their hills. This one would take a month to build and last a few years. The children in the village were playing football and waving. The pub even had a postage size pub, a one room building with a hatch into which you could order beer. It was incredibly simple but lovely.

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We had a speedboat ride back to camp and took a welcome shower. Although we felt clean, within minutes you are back to being as dusty as you were before, the dry climate clinging to you.

Next stop, Etosha, Namibia

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