Okavango Delta

October 29th – Day Thirty Five

We didn’t have to rise quite so early today as we weren’t due in Maun until 9am for our morning flight over the Okavango Delta. Leaving after 8am was a novelty, it was nice not to be rushing around for once. The drive into Maun was sedate and we made our way to the Maun airport where Charles dropped us all off so we could get our passes for the flight at the Delta Flight office. This flight was an optional extra though just about everyone was going along so we crowded into the office and paid our money. While waiting to pay we looked at the office notice board which had a number of interesting photos including a long fold-out poster of the Canterbury Crusaders Super 12 rugby team and a postcard picture of Milford Sound (Fjordland, New Zealand). Jacques explained that a lot of the Delta Flight pilots are actually from New Zealand and later on when talking to one of the Kiwi pilots we found out they come here to boost their flight hours, I guess in preparation for bigger and better things. There was also a friendly dog in the office and it very much enjoyed all the attention it got.

All paid we made our way into the airport, through the metal detectors and out onto the terminal tarmac where we were shown to our aircraft. Keryn and I were with Ann, Rachel and Dave in a little six seat Cessna, the sixth seat of course being taken by our young kiwi pilot. We were given a quick safety rundown (basically don’t open the windows and if required the first aid kit is in the back) and were then soon taxiing to take our position on the runway. The pilot gave us a throw-away comment of “Does anyone get airsick?” to which we all replied either no or not so far, there did seem to be an over abundance of sick bags on the back of each seat but we all thought nothing more of it. We were the second plane to leave, there being three in total, and we were shortly hurtling down the runway before gradually lifting into the air and we were off to see the Delta.

Scenic flight over the Okavango Delta
Scenic flight over the Okavango Delta

Buffalo on the move
Buffalo on the move

The flight was quite entertaining with our altitude never being more than a few hundred metres off of the ground. It was a bumpy flight, the little aircraft feeling every change in pressure as we passed through the air. It was all a little cramped inside so every time we banked and turned we were moving into the person beside us or the wall of the plane. All of this combined to make taking photos very difficult which was a pity as there were some amazing sights below us. We spent about an hour in the air banking sharply every time there was a feature below so we could look straight down through the aircraft windows. We saw all sorts of different animals with elephant and giraffe being the most obvious from the air. At one point we flew past a huge herd of buffalo and the snaking lines of animals gave some impression of what it must be like to see the wildebeest migration, large numbers of animals looking like ants across the plains and woods below.

Wildlife around a delta tree
Wildlife around a delta tree

About half way through the flight Keryn started feeling quite ill and she spent most of the return flight with eyes shut and hands around a sick bag. A few others were feeling a little bit unwell, I felt quite fine but I think my single-mindedness precludes any time for mundane things like upset stomachs. We made it back without any physical manifestations of illness other than a hard sweat upon Keryn’s brow. We landed and got out (all covered in sweat, it was very humid in the plane) to greet those from the other aircraft. Keryn was happy to find out that she wasn’t the only one who had fell ill, in fact a few people had unfortunately thrown up, so it hadn’t been the best flight for everyone. Most who weren’t ill did seem to be happy with their hour over the Delta, I certainly enjoyed it. Charles was waiting with the truck to pick us up so we all slowly made our way out of the airport and to our seats for a short drive into the centre of Maun.

For a couple of hours we shopped, used the Internet of just generally mucked around while the shopping was completed for the truck by Jacques, Joe and Helen. We had a subbed lunch at Nandos (miles better than the last Nandos we had had) and then set out from Maun heading towards Etsha 6 on the edge of the Delta.

Our plane and pilot
Our plane and pilot

The drive was going along quite normally when there was a loud bang off the back left hand side of the truck and Charles quickly stopped on the road as there was no place to pull off. Inspection revealed a tire had blown in quite spectacular fashion with little bits of rubber leading about one hundred metres down the road to where the complete outside tred of the wheel was to be found in a heaped pile. Thankfully there are two tires on each back wheel so blowing one means that we don’t lose control. Helen set off to remove the rubber from the road and I followed along to help (and to take a few photos). Back at the truck we learnt that while we had been flying Charles had been removing one of the other tires on the truck as it was showing stress marks which could mean an imminent blow-out and as the truck only carries two spare tyres we would now be without any spares once the current blow-out was replaced. The truck was jacked up and the tattered tire removed and the replacement fitted and it wasn’t long before we were on our way once more. It was organised with Jeremy for us to pick up another tire on our way from the Delta, what chance there would be another blow-out beforehand? Not much I’d have guessed.

Blowout
Blowout

It was without incident that we made our way to arrive as the town of Etsha 6. We all got out and prepared our gear for the next three nights in the Delta with our travel to be undertaken on a large four-wheel drive vehicle and boats. Because of the travel over water all the sleeping mats were covered in black rubbish sacks and they were to stay covered and taped up for the duration of our Delta stay. We were also given more rubbish sacks to put our bags in so they would also stay dry. Once everything was bagged up it was all placed on a tarpaulin and we waited for our transport to arrive.

All the gear packed in black rubbish sacks
All the gear packed in black rubbish sacks

There was the sound of a heavy vehicle approaching and then we saw it, a large, somewhat battered looking flat-bed truck with a very high road clearance and big chunky tyres. It was being driven by a man whose name was Elton and he was to run the show for our travel to and from our Delta base camp on the island of Makwena. The bags and mats were all loaded wither onto the truck or a pickup truck which had also arrived and then we all followed to sit on the bench seats fitted to the flatbed. Everything ready we waved goodbye to Charles and Jacques and set off. We were a bit confused as to why Jacques was waving us goodbye as we had assumed he would be travelling with us. It soon turned out that he had assumed he would be coming as well but there was no space for him in either vehicle – Elton had to send the pickup back and get the guy in the passenger seat to join us on the flatbed so there was room.

All on the truck to head into the delta
All on the truck to head into the delta

We drove slowly through dry and sandy pans which in the wetter season are submerged by water. The sand was quite thick in places and the truck proceeded at a snails pace as the tyres struggled for a proper grip. There were also a few spots when passing trees where people had to duck to avoid branches and spiky protrusions. It was about an hour before we had a quick stop to look at a breeding area for Southern Carmine Bee-Eaters (which have previously been called Common Bee-Eaters in this log but I’ve since discovered that was a misheard mistake). It was only ten minutes or so on from the Bee-Eaters that we reached our next destination, the edge of the waterways of the Delta.

We climbed down and were then formed into a line so we could unload all the gear onto a boat pulled up on the bank below us. Everything was quickly if not so efficiently moved from one vehicle to the other and once down we were split into another two boats and were on our way into the narrow ways of the Delta heading for Makwena. The water was lined with a mixture of long grasses, reeds and bamboo and we were zipped past at quite a speed, it was like a jet boat ride through a canyon with the rock replaced by greenery. We hadn’t been expecting such a thrilling ride and I think we all came out of the travelling stupor we had been in by the time we emerged from the narrow path into a wide lagoon. From the lagoon we entered another not so narrow waterway and were soon approaching an island that was Makwena, lodges visible through the shoreline vegetation.

Zipping through the delta
Zipping through the delta

Slowing down I noticed something in the water and I raised my voice to ask “Is that a snake?”. Our driver turned the boat around and got close to the animal which did turn out to be a small water snake. We had a look and then Elton turned the other boat around and then scared everyone silly by attempting to pick the snake out of the water. With our drivers help he managed to pick the snake up and then prove one handed to the dock where we all got out, one boats passengers getting out rather a lot faster than the others. We all had a not so close look at the snake, Elton assuring us that it couldn’t really bite us as it was so small, if it attempted to do so it’d be like a head butt more than a bite as the mouth couldn’t open wide enough to get the teeth into skin. Even if it did bite it only had a mild neurotoxin which wouldn’t be much more than an irritation to a human. Even so we all kept our distance.

There was further wildlife to be found on the shore, a Darter nesting in a tree by the dock and a young fish eagle perched opposite the boats as we came in. The eagle was called Mexican (or at least that is the word Elton used when calling it) and had been hand reared after being thrown out of the nest at a very young age. We were warned not to get too close as he has a nasty bite but it was very easy to get photos and watch this magnificent animal. There was also a python in a meshed off area by the bar but I never actually saw it – it being very good at hiding.

We were all asked to sit in the bar and Elton gave us a quick run-down on the bar (a tab system) and the island. There was a lot of wildlife on and around the island that we could see if we were to walk around and we were assured that if they were left well alone they would leave us well alone. We then all had a drink and set off to set up our tents in an open area a few minutes walk down the island from the bar. The campsite was again dusty but there were large trees above us shading the site from the sun and as we were the only camping group present we were able to spread out. The ablution block was small with only two rooms, each with a shower and toilet, but it was nicely set up with each room looking rather like an en-suite rather than a camp toilet and shower.

So we set up tents, repacked gear, visited the bar and helped with making dinner. Steve would like me to mention that he performed a successful jump shot while playing pool in the bar with Will. The evening was very pleasant, as was dinner, and even though it had been a very eventful day we wee all quite relaxed. After dinner there was talking, drinks at the bar, a bit of star gazing and then it was off for a good nights sleep.

Base camp evening fire
Base camp evening fire

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