Day 282: Okavango Delta

Wed 22nd May 2013

We thought we'd just borrow this plane!Our trip notes (which we read as much in retrospect when blog writing as we do in advance as part of our preparation) say that we are in tents for the next two nights. I’m not entirely sure what this is going to mean. I don’t think that it will mean a 2-person tent like the folk on Nina have each night but how different will it be? Very, as it turns out. We have got lucky once again and have landed up somewhere very special.

Narrow waterways in the Okavango DeltaOn the Okavango RiverWe have a two day trip into the Okavango Delta. Whilst this is an optional trip (at extra cost), the little that we know about it suggest that it is a must do activity. In any case, there is very little to see or do in Maun which is the alternative. In his briefing for us, Zenzo explains that the delta is the exit for the Okavango river (or the Kavango as it is known in Angola, where it rises). Unusually, however, the Okavango does not end in the sea. Instead, its delta forms a broad, meandering set of waterways interspersed with reedy islands and the river peters out into the sands of landlocked Botswana. In the middle of the delta is the Moremi Game Reserve where we are heading.

Not the biggest airport - but much bigger than the one at the other end!The folks from Nina are going in by truck (they transfer onto a truck even more basic than Janis and Nina). We, on the other hand, are flying in and we head off to Maun International Airport (think of George Best Belfast City Airport without the glamour and before the renovation!) There are a half a dozen jet flights each day to Gabarone (the capital of Botswana) and to other cities in Namibia and SA. The real reason the airport exists though is to fly tourists into the delta on small single engine planes capable of landing on dirt airstrips.

Looking down on the deltaThere is always a bit of a thrill flying in a small plane – even if in this case, there was a bit of big airport bureaucracy to be endured first showing our passports and having our overnight bags screened. After a short wait in the queue of similar planes waiting to take off at the end of the runway we are up and away and heading for the delta. We are into it straight away and can see the serpentine waterways threading through the land which varies between green and lush and brownish-white and arid.

Waterway snaking across the plainWe are only flying 1,500 feet or so above the ground and whilst we can clearly make out individual trees and clumps of bushes we can’t see any big game. We’re hoping to see hippos here to tick off another animal in our (virtual) I Spy book but we’re out of luck. Its only 15 or 20 minutes and we can see an airstrip marked out in the dirt below and after flying over it, the plane turns, joins ‘the circuit’ lines up and lands.

We are welcomed with a song at Moremi CrossingThe terminal building is a wooden shelter but at least we are met by someone who seems to be expecting us. A few minutes later, the second plane with the rest of our group lands and we all walk off through the bush to a jetty where there is a boat waiting to take us to our camp and we head off down the river. Up to this point, it has been exciting and exotic but now we get the first hint that we are somewhere really special – as we pull up to the jetty, the staff have been assembled and sing a welcome song to us. We have been lucky enough to have stayed in some really exotic (and expensive) places before but we’ve never been welcomed like this anywhere.

Main Lodge at Moremi CrossingThe main lodge is a massive open sided, timber-framed structure with a thatched roof and views out over the river and the grassland beyond. We’re so distracted by the views that it is hard for the manager to get our attention long enough to give us the orientation briefing and welcome drink. The key points of the briefing are:

  1. Sunset cruises and canoe and walking tours have all been organised for us;
  2. After dark, we are not allowed to walk, around the camp by ourselves – there are no fences in the camp and elephants, hippos and other wild animals can (and frequently do) just stroll through; and
  3. We’re going to be ridiculously well fed with breakfast, brunch, high-tea and dinner.

Talk about a room (tent) with a viewThat is exciting enough and then we are shown our ‘tent’. It is true that the sides are made of canvas but there the similarity to my Boy Scout days ends. The tent is on a wooden platform on stilts overlooking the river; it is enormous – much bigger than most hotel rooms we’ve had; is very simply but luxuriously fitted out and has electric lights; and has an en-suite bathroom (with outdoor shower again). We are all just buzzing and bouncing around with the thrill of being here.

African Fish EagleWe spend the early afternoon just sitting on our balcony looking out across the river at the island beyond and the wildlife that is visible there. There are baboons, antelope and warthogs along with a huge Marabou Stork with its bright orange legs and orange and black beak that was really out of range of the cameras. The highlight, though, are the 4 or 5 African Fish Eagles that leave their perch in nearby trees and soar overhead, riding a thermal higher and higher.

Croc sunning itselfAfter High Tea at 3:30 (we now know we are going to be well looked after) we load up onto the boat again for a sunset cruise along the river to see what other wildlife we can spot. First up is a crocodile sunning itself in the reeds on the river bank. We are coming into winter here now and the water is cool for the crocodiles, so they take every opportunity to warm up in the sun. We’re happy that it takes no notice of us.

Jacana and Coucal going at itThen we spot a Jacana (or Lily Hopper or Jesus Bird – so called because it can stand on lily pads and hence look like it is walking on water). With its long legs and toes trailing behind it looks faintly ridiculous in flight but on the ground with its brown head with splash of light blue it looks much more elegant. One in particular seems to be getting into a territory battle with another bird (a Copperytailed Coucal??) and is so distracted by that, we are able to get close to both of them.

Elephant with a passengerWe’re hoping to see hippos but other than just seeing a glimpse of a pair of eyes sinking below the surface of the water as we round the bend they are absent today. We have to ‘make do’ with this elephant just lumbering along. There is even time to push the nose of the boat into the bank and to go ashore for a drink watching the sunset. They’ve even packed the G&T. It is absolutely idyllic. Drink in hand watching the sun turn the sky orange and the moon rise and all around is this strange land. Africa continues to be fabulous.

Its another African sunsetImpromptu show from the lodge staffWhen we return to camp, we are told that the staff would like to put on a small show for us. Alvin the manager assures us that it is completely spontaneous and the idea came from the staff not the management team. And so we have half an hour of African songs and dances. The A Capella singing is rich in harmony and trills and the dancing inventive and fun. They are clearly enjoying themselves which makes it is much more enjoyable for us than the San bushmen dancing we saw the other night. The location and the wildlife were always going to make this place special but when that is combined with really excellent service from staff who clearly enjoy what they are doing, it makes this a special place. We will always remember Moremi Crossing.

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