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krisek Okavango Delta - A travel report by Krys
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Okavango Delta,  Botswana - flag Botswana -  Ngamiland
15753 readers

krisek's travel reports

Teeth, feet & fists. Unarmed in the bush on foot!

  13 votes
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When I came back from the Okavango Delta telling the story that I walked in the bush among the lions, leopards, buffaloes and elephants, people thought I was mental. I had not done that before, and it took some psychological adjusting. But I loved it.

Okavango Delta travelogue picture
And I highly recommend it! Eleven thousand trillion litres of water a year flood fifteen thousand square kilometres of desert creating a perfect watering hole for thousands of hippopotamuses, elephants, zebras, buffaloes, lions, cheetahs, leopards, springboks, wildebeests, hyenas, antelopes, giraffes, wild dogs, rhinoceroses, kudu...

The Okavango Delta is world’s largest inland river delta. The Okavango river rises in Angola and flows south-east through a narrow strip of Namibia and then the hot and thirsty sands of the Kalahari Desert swallow the waters preventing the river reaching the ocean.

Rather unusually, a lack of industry or agriculture along the Okavango Valley, leaves the waters delightfully pure. The area is nothing less than a true paradise for the abundant wildlife. It is a uniquely balanced ecosystem. A real model of perfect natural harmony.

To get to Okavango Delta, one usually arrives at Maun, and then there are two options - mokoro ride to the nearest camp, or a light aircraft flying to a number of inner delta campsites and lodges. I opted for the latter. I used the Kavango Air. The pilot was a friendly chap and he knew how to fly a plane. He told me that if I saw some game, I should tell him, so he could take a turn and let me look at the animals or take pictures. As it happened it was him who spotted the game, as I must have been sitting on the wrong side of the aircraft. On his side of the airplane, he saw a group of elephants and a very large group of buffaloes. As I attempted to take some decent photographs, he actually ducked in the front of the steering panel, so I had more room to manoeuvre.

I welcomed walking in the bush unarmed as my new experience – something I hadn't done before. And something to tell my grandchildren in the future! Now, I perhaps should make sure I have grandchildren to tell the story to, before I get eaten by a hungry lion, stabbed by a fuming buffalo, stampeded by a randy elephant or drowned by a paranoid hippo.

Favourite spots:
Okavango Delta travelogue picture
Getting up before the sunrise was not a problem. For I went to bed at about 8:30 in the evening. It was still very cold. After breakfast, my mokoro captain arrived. His name was Jack. At the beginning I was not very comfortable in this tiny and wobbly mokoro, a traditional African canoe. Well, the traditional mokoro is dug out of a trunk of a tree. This one that I was using was moulded from a special type of raisin. I did not mind what it was made of. I cared that it was dry inside.

I was not quite sure how to position myself in the seat, which was just an upper part of a plastic chair – without the legs. Luckily, after ten minutes or so, I spotted young male elephant eating leaves from a tree and repositioned myself in the seat as I was taking a few photographs. Ten minutes in the trip and a fairly close encounter with an elephant! It was promising. However, for a longer while there were no other animals in sight.

What's really great:
Okavango Delta travelogue picture
The mokoro was gliding low on the water’s surface. So low that as it was passing through reed, the top of the grass reached higher than the top of my head. It was not very dense and the mokoroing had its unique character. I had two issues with the reed, though. First, it did obscure my view, making it harder to spot game. And second, it acted as pylons for spreading cobweb. I lost count how many times my nose and eyes suffered from icky spiders’ nets, before it really began annoying me. It was an uncomfortable feeling to peel off the strings. They were strong, thick and did not want to come off very easily.

Maybe a half an hour after my elephant encounter, I saw and heard a group of baboons sitting on a tree and loudly complaining about something. It was a young male lion. It was lying under the tree and annoying the apes. At first, I thought it was eating something. As my mokoro approached the cat at some 150 yards, it got up and left. The baboons were delighted and came down.

This was going to be my first bush walk without a gun. I found out about the rules and what to do for each animal encountered. My guide found leopard’s tracks and we followed them. Then its track met with foot marks left by a lion. And after a few moments, we saw her - a beautiful, muscular young lioness stalking a group of impala. She was only about fifty yards away from me. As soon as she saw us, she ran away. I actually felt a little tremor under my feet when she moved. When I realised that she was scared more than I was, I felt a little safer there. Lone lions would normally avoid people. The impala that I saw a few moments later knew that something might have been wrong. They were nervous. I am not sure they knew about the lioness and the leopard. A group of zebra and a kudu showed similar behaviour. We crossed the leopard’s very fresh tracks several times, but could not spot it. Then we spotted a solitary elephant, bush's most graceful animal and the real king.

Saddlebill Stork
Saddlebill Stork
The Bush Camp, a part of the Gunn’s Camp company, was rustic. Its facilities were basic, but appropriate for a camp in a bush. It had open-air showers, warthogs in toilets, small swimming pool, cave bar complete with swallow nests, dark green bush tents pitched on wooden platforms. There was also a nice terrace overlooking one of the main canals of the Okavango River, a large part of the flooded meadow and a few islands housing tall palm trees. The terrace was also a wooden platform on stilts and it had a few large solid wood tables, benches and camp chairs.

I did not expect that. I did expect a place in the Inner Delta but a little less rustic. At least for the price I paid to stay there. I did not mind staying in a very basic tent. I did it before and I enjoyed it. Yet, I did not like the idea of the possibility that I was being ripped off. Although the price included the very spectacular air lift from Maun, all meals and activities, it was still rather steep.

Okavango Delta travelogue picture
The night came quickly. Frogs were loud as millions of them were having sex all simultaneously. For it was a mating season and the water was high. Hippos could be heard in the distance but then came close, right by the camp and kept breaking the monotonous frogs’ moaning with loud splashes and their unmistakable grunting. The distant hyenas with their hungry laughing couldn't compete with either hippos or frogs. I thought I also heard a lion roar, but I might've dreamt it.

Loud cicadas never stopped to the extend that one could actually forget they were even there. They were just an inherent noise of the bush. A given humming of the bush that one no longer notices after a while.

The lion roar was no mistake. So were the splashes of the hippos. I needed a toilet, but I didn't want risk my life to step out to the loo. After about an hour of thinking, I jumped out of the tent and shot the quickest one of my life. I was impressed that I did not pull any muscles in my fireman or my butt.

Okavango Delta travelogue picture
As I was sitting by the bush fire, elephants approached the camp. I could not see them, but I could hear them wading in the water. They were extremely close. Almost uncomfortably close. There was nothing between me and them, apart from a large acacia tree. They could suddenly appear before me and there was nothing I could do about it. It was fascinating, thrilling and scary in equal measures. Apart from fire and a few trees, I could see nothing. I could not see the river and I definitely could not see the elephants. I could swear that I could hear them breathing. This is how close they were. They were taking their time playing in the water. Splashing and wading in the river dominated the sounds that kept reaching the camp fire. They sounded like a playful toddler in a bath tube or a pool making most of the fun of having a bath. Those three young elephants must have been doing the exact same thing. It was all joy and play. Night time camp fire is the ultimate hangout in the bush.

Okavango Delta travelogue picture
The Gunn's Camp had a kitchen. Local women cooked. Breakfast was fantastic. It was based on cereal, fresh fruit, honey, natural yogurt, fresh bread, preserves, coffee, tea and fresh juice. All you can it. Excellent buffet value. Eggs were made on request as well.

Lunches differed but the ladies liked to prepare noodle salads with fruit and vegetables or rice-based salads. Guests could place specific orders and all allergies, when reported, were taken into consideration very carefully.

Dinners and suppers were always bush fire based with fresh meat (no bush meat was available due to environmental issues) was grilled or baked and was spiced deliciously that no words can possibly describe the feeling.

The bar with the terrace was perfect for a small snack and cold beverage for sunsets. Families of elephants often passed very closely to the camp, which was stimulating appetite and utterly thrilling. Dinners however were served at the camp and not at the terrace, where it was too cold.

Other recommendations:
Okavango Delta travelogue picture
When on foot, you meet an elephant in an open space, you're almost doomed. First, stand still, and if the elephant charges, run as fast as you can. If you encounter an elephant in the bushes, then, if you need to run, zig-zag between the bushes and hide so the elephant loses interest. If you manage to startle a buffalo lying in the tall grass, it will most definitely charge at you. There is no other option but run, run, run and climb a tree, hoping there is going to be one nearby. If you're extremely lucky to spot a leopard, it will almost always run away. So no worries there. However, if you meet lion cubs then they will usually approach you with wild curiosity. Their mother would often be near. If she sees that her babies come too close, she would call her husband and attack you. Running away is out of question. You should always stand still. The lioness would come up to your feet, make a few circles and make some noises like cats do. Until the cubs leave. Simple rules, aren't they?

Published on Thursday June 19th, 2008

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Tue, Apr 27 2010 - 04:54 AM rating by jacko1

A real 'Boys Own' adventure Krys, life must seem very mundane now, an excellent report.

Sat, Jul 19 2008 - 10:05 AM rating by frenchfrog

Great photos, Great report, I love the Saddlebill Stork! Thank for sharing

Sat, Jun 21 2008 - 07:51 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

very well written report and also equally excellent pic

Fri, Jun 20 2008 - 08:06 AM rating by rangutan

A perfect report of a place I long to visit again! I have never been attached to nature as much as in the Okavango (and Amazon). You descripe the "feeling" and "wildness" of the place very well. [4.8]

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