Thursday, 2 July 2015

May 24: To the Delta

It was a rare leisurely morning with a 9:30 breakfast call. There were vervet monkeys in the trees, but they didn’t want to be photographed. We were at the airport by 11 checked in through “security”, and waited until our flight was ready.

There are many operators shuttling people around the Okavango Delta, running a large variety of planes. The workhorses are mostly Cessnas; 208 Caravans, 206 Stationairs and Australian GA8 Airvans, with 172s doing a lot of sightseeing work, too.

Our flight in was 35 min at 3,500 AGL, meaning we could see exactly how big the Delta is and how much of it is water, the dryness of the major islands, other camps, and if you were lucky and had a big lens, wildlife. The patterns of the water were in places pretty random, in places typical of meandering rivers, but always full of colour and fascinating shapes. It reminded me of flying over the Mackenzie Delta.

The water starts
More water than land 
Fascinating patters and colours 
Browns and greens 
Marshes and rivers and lakes 
Moremi Crossing camp, where they use to stay 
Elephants from 3,500' 
Chief Island. Large and dry but with waterholes 
More water 
Nifty stream meanders and oxbow lakes 
More oxbows 
A little rive snakes along 
Descent into our area 
On final 
4x4 tracks become visible
Each airstrip in the Delta services at least a few camps; ours served 4.

Our Caravan. Seats 14 and there were 11 of us 
The terminal building
We had to 4x4 just over 7 km to get to the camp. The place on the ground reminded me of our travels in Kakadu National Park in Northern Australia, which we did at the end of the wet season: water everywhere, including water you had to drive through.

A creek crossing 
And through we go 
Tracks in the sand
But this drive is also a mini game drive.

Pileated kingfisher 
Fish eagle
On arrival to our lodge, Fallen Baobab, we were greeted by moist towels to wipe off dust, and the staff singing a greeting. No other lodging on the trip has come anywhere close to this nice a greeting.

The camp greeting song
The camp is new, finished in January, and is all tents. The camp is set up as a U shape around a river bend with the common area in the middle, and the accommodation tents on the sides.

The campfire circle. Dining tent in the background 
The lounge tent area 
Set for dinner 
The lounge 
Dining tent
Now, when I say tents, these ain’t no pup tents.

Two twins, like everywhere else in Africa 
Shower and toilet 
Our tent
Our veranda
First up was a mokoro ride. While mokoros are the traditional way to get around the delta, they used to be made of wood from big trees, and took months to build. There just aren’t enough big trees of the right wood around the Delta to keep making them that way, so now they are fiberglass. They are not paddled but pushed with a pole like a gondola in Venice.

We head out 
Down the creek 
In the lily pads 
That's not for rain 
Listening for animal noises 
A peaceful way to get around a peaceful place
Because vast expanses of the delta are marshes, you can go anywhere that's wet in a mokoro, since they have no draft. The marshes are filled with hippo grass and water lilies. The channels are made by the hippos themselves, and are critical for water drainage and water retention when the delta dries up.

Blazing a trail in the hippo grass 
Water lilies in bloom 
The sun in the reeds 
A water's edge view
There are lots of fish in the water. Fishing is easy, string out a net with wide mesh.

Tilapia, maybe 
The net's actually quite wide
If you look carefully, there are things living in those grasses.

Painted reed frog 
Another painted reed frog
Generally, being in the water is OK, though there can be crocodiles or hippos. But our guides and one of our traveling companions went swimming. I might have, too, had we been told to bring in swimming trunks (in fact, I asked if we were likely to get wet, and was told no).

The water was apparently warm
And here we are blithely paddling around about 1.5 km from camp and up walks an elephant.

And not a little guy, either 
A big boy, in fact 
Clair gets a closeup 
Possibly too close 
And off he wanders
Sunset was spectacular. Billions of bugs came out (none that bothered us) that sparkled in the setting sun. Birds showed up to catch the bugs or fish. Hippos grunted, baboons barked, lions roared, elephants trumpeted. And everything turned orange, then purple. 

The bugs in the sunshine 
Sunset from my porch 
And the colours start 
The setting sun 
Down it goes 
Nearly gone 
Purples and orange 
And night falls
At 10 pm, there were more hippos grunting nearby. I was awoken at 2 AM by two male lions, one to the east and one to the south, roaring to each other. Cool place.


Today’s Africa Travel Tip: Internet Access

If your life is ruled by the ‘net, if you have critical e-mails to do, if you simply MUST Skype with your boyfriend every day, if you store everything in the Cloud and need regular access to it, if you have to check Facebook 6 times a day, don’t come to Africa.

I’m sure there are places in Africa where ‘net speeds are solid and you can do anything -- but I haven’t been to any yet (though the Wimpy hamburger joint in Maun wasn’t too bad). Most places we have stayed claim they have internet access, and often, that’s actually the case. But sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes it works, but when we roll in somewhere, at least 6 of our travelling companions pull out their iPads and the ‘net just bogs down so slowly that it becomes unusable. There is rarely wi-fi in your room; normally it’s only available in the bar area, encouraging you to have a beer while doing your access thing. We allegedly had ‘net access in the Delta, but uploading a single picture took 15 minutes.

To top it off, if you want to be on the ‘net, you have to skip doing something else. As I type this some days after May 24th, today we were so rushed that even though our hotel said the wi-fi was fast and good (but only available in the bar), and they even had a free computer you could use, there was simply no time at all to spend any time on the ‘net – except to cut into the 6 hr window for your sleep.

Here’s a hint: you’re in Africa. Savour the moment. Get off the ‘net. Don’t check your e-mail. Look at the birds or wildlife you’ll never see again. Listen to the hippos grunt or lions roar as we did, because that doesn’t sound like the traffic noise you have at home.

Unplug, and your time in Africa will be better spent.

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