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Pip&Judi’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 13 Aug 2005

Location: Okovango Delta, Botswana

MapKHALAHARI CROSSING

....We have crossed into Botswana after a gruelling 10 hours or so on the White Nile (our trucks name) - crossing the border on the Trans Kalahari Highway at the Kalahari Desert Border Crossing. This was a tiny outpost of beaurocracy seemingly hundreds of Kms from anywhere - but fortunately no read tape and we breezed through with a cheery hello from the customs officials. The most bizarre thing being the free female condoms handed out at customs in a vain attempt to fight AIDS, strangely Namibia handed out free male condoms for the same reason but apparently hundreds of thousands of these were given away with leaflets about combating Aids (the single biggest killer in Southern Africa) but they were stapled to the leaflets!!!! I think Bob Geldofs aims are admirable but this part of the worlds problems will not be solved by the odd pop gig!

We have been camping near Maun, just outside the Okovango Delta at a place called Sittatunga. Ther antipodeans on the truck have purchased a cricket set so needless to say the Ashes are now being replayed in the african bush at sunset most evenings before retiring to the bar for a few beers and another fantastic dinner round the camp fire.

Jude and I were really buzzing on the morning of Monday 12th as we boarded an open sided truck like a WWII troop carrier to be ferried to the outer reaches of the Delta for a 2 day bush camp. The Okovango Delta is the end of the Okovango river that flows down from Angola and through Namibia into Botswana and then, instead of emptying into the sea like most rivers reaches the upper Kalahari desert and has nowhere to go so just dissipates into the desert sands creating a massive inland river delta - the only one of its size and kind on the planet. It is teaming with wildlife and has somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 elephants in the region and also some of the most expensive and luxurious game lodges in Africa ($1600 per night!!!) - so we obviously used a very small tent and camped for about $20!!!

We bounced across dirt tracks for about 1 1/2 hours and everyones was just buzzing with anticiaption. It did seem a great way to start a Monday morning....sorry guys!! But better than the M25 for sure.

We passed an elephant carcass even before boarding our Mokoros - the myth of elephant graveyards is soon to become very obvious. Our transport out to our bush camp in the delta is by a Mokoro - a small canoe carved from a single tree trunk and it sits about 2 inches above the water and is powered by a local guy with a long pole - like a very Heath Robinson gondola but far more romantic!!! We are 'poled' through narrow water ways between tall pampas grass and scarily large elephant footprints on the banks for about 2 hours to our bush camp situated in a small wood just back from the water. No sooner had we pitched camp when we saw an elephant grazing about 400 yds away across the water. We were warned by our guides not to leave the camp after dark and only move further from the camp if accompanied by one of them since there were Elephant, Lions and other predators in the area.

He demonstrated the craft of using a bush 'bathroom' which was a hole dug about 10 yds behind the camp - the spade used to bury 'stuff' being the door!!! If it is not in the camp then someone is on the bog!!! -........ Oh how I longed for a piece of cold porcelain to sit on with a copy of the daily paper right now....... and a door, walls and roof.....!!!

We had an afternoon/sunset game walk through the bush and saw 1 live giraffe and 1 very dead one!!! It stank and had been killed by lion about 3-4 weeks earlier. Hippo, Hyena and elephant footprint and droppings within literally just a few yards of our camp made us realise this was for real. Sadly we did not see elephant from close up but some others in our group did.

The evening was spent singing and dancing with the local Mokoro men who were sleeping at our camp for the night. The highlight being a musical hide and seek where you are guided to a hidden object just by the sound of music played on what looks like a bow and arrow. The sound is just audible above the background sounds of insects and wildlfe and is eerily quiet and subtle but with ones eyes closed and just listening to the tiny change in tone I was guided across the fire lit camp to locate an object inch perfectly. Much to the delight of the Mokoro men. It was another unforgettable and almost spiritual experience that maybe Africa does better than anywhere else.

The best was yet to come though!!!!! At 5 am I woke from another Larium induced dream by the distant screamimg of a hyena. Jude was getting nervous that our tent had very little thorn bush behind it and seemed a bit vulnerable. Nah!!!! I was brave as a lion. Nothing would come near a camp with a fire and loads of smelly dirty campers. Oh how wrong I was. Over the next few minutes this thing screamed and howled closer and closer and apart from that the camp was nervously silent. Imagine lying in a tiny tent knowing there is a very large carnivorous predator heading your way. Mmmmm - only one answer - hide under your sleeping bag!! This Hyena ended up charging through the bushes less than 6 feet away - close enough that we could hear it's feet pounding in the earth and apart from the very very loud screaming you could hear it snuffling. Aparently it ran along the back of our tents and half circled tha camp trying to scare us away so it could steal the food. Honest to God we though the thing was about to come into our tent....it was a mix of terror and excitement and after it left there was a nervous hubub around the camp - except for the Mokoro polers sleeping out by the fire who where giggling!! Trouble is now we needed to use the bush bathroom and 10 yds through pitch black bushes after that is way to far to walk. Not quite so brave as a lion now I must admit!! Ladies first Jude!!! I insist.

Back to our Sittatunga camp later that day and we were still all really high from the early morning encounter...... so this afternoon we are going for a low level 5 seater Cessna flight over the Delta to see what it looks like from the air. Simple - it looks like something from Jurassic park only flat. Elephant strolling through swamps, herds of buffallo roaming down to the waters edge, Giraffes running across small 'islands' of dry land in amongst the swampy delta. Jude was in the co- pilots seat with headphones on chatting up the young, cool, good looking Kiwi pilot!!! I was in the back thinking 'wish I could do that'! (Fly I mean , not chat him up!!!) - It was truly a spectacular sunset flight at 315 ft. We flew about 200 miles in total over some of Africas richest wildlife reserves. AWESOME!!!. On landing I thought it was a bit rougher than the last time we were in a 5 seater Cessna - then had it pointed out that last time we were in one we did not land in it!!!! We will always have one more take off than landing now.
......anyway - you are all probably asleep or bored by now so we'll sign off and up date you with the Chobe experience in Northern Botswana (just near the Z in Zambia on the map at top of the) page later. .....