Crossing to Botswana and the Okavango Delta

Breakfast was served in the restaurant of the motel, but their electricity had gone out, so the initial selections were minimal. When the power resumed, they we were offered eggs, bacon, and sausages. Fortunately, the coffee had been prepared earlier, so it was ready. Some of us were discussing how tacky the rooms were, but it seems we had the most decorated with murals. The other rooms only had one wall covered in them. The style looked early garage sale with an amateur craftsperson having gone wild. There was an abundance of fake plastic flowers in trellises all around the property. With a good scaling down of the nonsense, it could be quite a nice place. The only other issue was that we were warned about returning to our rooms after dark as the crocodiles and hippos did come on land by the rooms. They have a floating bar that closes at dusk for this reason. We packed for a long haul today, but the first leg of it was only 20 km away; the border to Botswana. Leaving Namibia was much faster than getting in. A stone’s throw from the Namibia border exit was the Botswana border entrance. They were quick and efficient. The change in the landscape was immediately evident once entering Botswana. There were more trees and shrubs. It was much greener and it was raining softly, marking our first rain on this trip. Along the roadside, it was not unusual to see cows, goats, horses, or donkeys walking freely and unencumbered. We had to stop short a couple of times due to animals deciding to cross the road suddenly. We made a stretch stop, but the bathrooms were in such despicable condition, we could not use them and moved onward. Our next stop was yet hours away. Due to the weather and time, Bruce gave us some Pula, the Botswana currency and sent us off to buy our own lunch, rather than his fixing it on the truck. We were in the town of Maun where there was a Steers fast food restaurant in the local strip mall, so we all went there to afford ourselves of the ATM machine and currency exchange in the same mall. Strangely, our European bank machine card would not work, but our US one did fortunately. Since I had forgotten to make a currency convertor sheet prior to leaving for Pula, I had no idea what amount to withdraw, so only took 300. We were on our way to the airport for our flight to the Delta region. How much could we possibly need? Leaving the bank machine, hobbling due to my hip, I once again had that memory of the lame giraffe, waiting to be prey. Each person that passed by me who saw me leave the bank was in my mind the hunting animal looking for some lame prey to stalk. Luckily for me, my imagination is wilder than reality. Our chartered planes only held 12 people and the other smaller plane held 7. The planes were so small, Ron and I had to practically crawl in, the ceiling was so low. The ride was magnificent, flying only 500 feet above the ground making the landscape perfectly visible. The other plane’s riders saw hippos and elephants, but we only saw one elephant from ours. We arrived in an airstrip at the Okavango Delta, where a truck was waiting to take us to the accommodations. The Okavango Delta is one of the world’s largest inland water systems. It’s headwaters start in Angola’s western highlands, with numerous tributaries joining to form the Cubango river, which then flows through Namibia (called the Kavango) and finally enters Botswana, where it is then called the Okavango. The delta’s floods are fed from the Angolan rains, which start in October and finish sometime in April. The floods only cross the border between Botswana and Namibia in December and will only reach the bottom end of the delta (Maun) sometime in July,
Taking almost nine months from the source to the bottom. This slow meandering pace of the flood is due to the lack of drop in elevation, which drops a little more than 60 meters over a distance of 450 kilometers. The delta’s water dead ends in the Kalahari – via the Botetle river, with over 95 per cent of the water eventually evaporating.

During the peak of the flooding the delta’s area can expand to over 16,000 square kilometers, shrinking to less than 9,000 square kilometers in the low period. As the water travels through the delta, the wildlife starts to move back into the region. The areas surrounding the delta are beginning to try out (the rains in Botswana occur approximately the same time as in Angola) and the wildlife starts to congregate on the edge of the newly flooded areas, May through October. The roads are unpaved, rutted and rough dried mud without gravel. We were in an open truck, but with room to sit on mats, still making it a tumultuous ride to the cottages at Mbiroba Lodge ( . The cottages looked rustic, but pleasant with two stories in each. The upstairs had two single beds and the downstairs had three singles. Our toilet, unlike others was inside the cottage, though our shower was outside. The downstairs room was very spacious and included a table and chairs for four. Jean and Omo were sharing with us again, so we gave them the choice of up or down. They chose the upstairs. Only some of the beds had mosquito nets and getting more from the staff was a hassle. We burned mosquito coils as soon as we entered. In the center of the camp, there was huge open walled lodge where we ate our meals and the staff did the cooking. Dinner was chicken, roasted potatoes, squash, salad, and a delicious gravy. As much as I love squash, this squash was the best I had ever tasted. The electricity in the camp and cottages are solar powered, hence in the evening, there is usually little or no electric lighting, so they provided candles to light up the lodge and the bar. There is nothing to do in the cottages without electricity, reading by candlelight is not advisable, so we stayed at the lodge and Ron initiated a card game. He taught a group ‘Blitz’ or otherwise known as ‘31’. Within an hour, we had card playing addicts and had to find a second deck of cards and modify the rules to accommodate the twelve people who were playing. When we finally ventured back to our room, Jean and Omo realized there was a large crack in the roof where two sides of it came together. Not only was this an invitation for mosquitoes to enter the cottage, but any other living thing that chose to visit. We decided we needed to use the flashlights in the bathroom since we found a lizard and the humungous spiders in there earlier. There is no way, I could do camping, no way! We drove 300 km today, racking up 4,290 km plus a forty-five minute airplane ride to the Delta.