The Okavango Delta – Another check off the bucketlist!
Part II of the elephant paradise, and much, much more!
Voor de Nederlandse versie – Klik Hier
Where did we left off in the last blog… Oh right, Savuti in Chobe NP, and Sisi’s not so slowly and very steadily draining fuel tank due to the deep sand (if you missed it, read it here). Depending on how you look at it, Lars would say her bottom is too big (like a real African woman). I would say it is too small (like a Japanese woman, which, as you know, she is). Her bottom, also known as the fuel tank, is the lowest part of Sisi. Thus it is the part that drags on deep-sand roads. It slows us down, causing more fuel use. However, compared to other 4×4 cars her tank is much smaller, only 70 litres, which is what limits the amount of kilometres!
Anyway, one unsolved discussion later, we are still in Savuti and we know that we are not even half way. We are not sure what the road conditions will be in the Okavango, so we’re a bit nervous. Would we be able to drive another 2,5 days in Okavango? Would we even be able to make it in one go to Maun, in case we need extra fuel? We simply didn’t have a clue and decided to gamble a bit. YOLO!
The little hornbill (aka Zazoo) that frowned upon our YOLO attitude!
We set off and by the time we finally reached the gate, we still weren’t sure. So we made use of our “amazing” math skills, after which we could make the educated guess that we would definitely not be able to make it back to Maun if we went into the Okavango straight away. That was decided, we had to go back to Maun, and we had to be fast because we needed to call the booking office to cancel our campsite. We made it in time, or actually Lars did, with insane driving skills and a lot of major ass bumping that might have popped anyone else’s tyre but Sisi’s. We called, but.. the booking office did not pick up. Unfortunate, but not unsolvable, we stayed at Maun for the night at a campsite, picking one with WiFi so we could turn this bad luck in some good use; we downloaded an app called Tracks4Africa. It is a navigation app which can be used offline with aaaallll the roads on it (well almost all), including the small 4×4 tracks you can’t even call roads in, for example, the National Parks. Vera and Eddie had used it their whole trip and told us it was definitely worth the price. We agreed after only one day, and are even more convinced by now. It really gives us a sense of freedom as now we always know where are and how long it will take us to arrive at our destination.
The next morning we drove back those 130 km’s, thereby passing through the south gate of Moremi NP, so we could watch some wildlife around the so-called Black Pools. But we had to be in Khwai village before 16.30, because that’s when the booking office would close. So we arrived there around 16.00… And only then did we find out it was Sunday…. Somehow, it seems to be Sunday everyday here, or at least, always when we need something! And of course, on Sunday they are closed. What to do! Okay, we just went to the campsite. Thank God, we downloaded that app so now we were able to find it! And we took a detour along the river, because it looked interesting. And interesting it was, it made us find out that the whole Khwai area, even though not officially a National Park, is as much a wildlife area as Moremi or Chobe. In fact, it is the connection between the two parks. So it was beautiful! We drove along the river, and every 50 meters we saw an elephant drinking or grazing. By the time we finally got to our campsite, we were so happy! And then it turned out we had the best campsite, again!! We were on the edge with on one side a plain and on the other side the river. Wauw, it was the best place we’ve stayed so far. Because we had some time before sundown, we did a little tour, where I sat on top of the car (ssshh don’t tell anyone), and it was soooo much fun! And then we watched the sun set from our rooftoptent. It was just perfect, not even changed by the fact that a mouse bit my toe when I was hugging Lars.
A beautiful view on the river and the setting sun as an elephant passes by to elevate the beauty to a whole new level!
When we sleep in a wildlife area, our ears always seem to attune to the sounds of the animals. That night we heard many; hippos, elephants, baboons and even lions and a leopard. We heard them in the morning, both not too far away. Excited as we were, we left without breakfast to find these animals. Even though we were unsuccessful, it was a good drive through a beautiful water rich area. In the afternoon, we finally made it to the booking office and were told we could stay the night we missed, without paying extra! So nice! We also made a booking to go with a mokoro that afternoon. This is a small, traditional boat used for hundreds of years by the locals. Imagine the boats in Venice, but then one size smaller, they do include a gondolier as well! Because we had some time before the Mokoro would leave, we thought we should try and find the place. So, we arrived there early and were greeted by the manager of a camp and also, supposedly, a trained guide… We thought to just put our chairs under a tree and relax a bit, make our lunch whatever. That was all good, but this guy joined us… As well as the elephants we mentioned in the previous blog (read it here). And so, as well-raised as we are, we talked with the guy even though it was quite awkward. He talked a lot about himself, and maybe he thought we were some naive, credulous tourists, but he tried to convince us that elephants live about 15 years. 15? We double-checked, making sure we heard right, that he hadn’t said 50… No, 15 years, sometimes a little bit older…. Which is simply not true. Elephants, and hippos as well, they can become as old as 50, and elephants even 60 years old. I don’t know if he realized his lie, or if he simply didn’t know any better. But it was clear he was definitely not a trained guide… And he would be the one taking us on the mokoro?? But just as we were about to leave, a game vehicle with a lot of people arrived. Lucky for us, because it included the official mokoro guide. Even though he smelled a bit like alcohol (and the rest of the group acted like insane drunks), he didn’t act like it and he showed a lot of knowledge and breathed an air of peace. Which is perfect if you go on a mokoro ride, I assure you.
The ride itself was beautiful, we slowly floated forward, surrounded by gorgeous waterlilies, meanwhile enjoying the peace and quiet and the sounds of the birds. We also stopped to stretch our legs. The guide showed us a Hamerkop nest (full-on villa!), and he also explained that they use the clay from termite mounds to pave their houses. This is a very old tradition done by many, many generations before this guide. The people from Khwai village are part of the San people (bushman) and used to live in Moremi Game Reserve, way further into the Okavango delta, for hundreds of years. They were relocated to the Khwai area, on the edge of the Okavango, were they actively participate in the conservation of the environment. And what a beautiful area it is, full with wildlife!
After our relaxing mokoro tour we went back to the campsite. It was a bit after sunset, so we started cooking in the dark. We hadn’t seen a shop for a while, so it was time to break open one of the cans with salmon in it. Now, you think, what has our dinner to do with the story?! Let me tell you! Lars had emptied the extra fluids from the can about five meters from where we were sitting. He had just finished his dinner and I was still eating, when he heard something behind him. He turned around… then turned back to me and said: “Kellie, hyena!” WTF! The hyena was just within our light circle at about five meters, and we saw him sniffing around, not even seeming to notice us. He was definitely trying to find that salmon! And when he couldn’t, he just walked away into the dark… We got our big torch out and tried to find him, but he had disappeared. It should have been scary, because I know hyena’s are dangerous. But at that moment it was more exciting than scary, mainly because its absolute lack of interest in us! I think Lars felt the same way, although… after the hyena left he did keep walking around with the torch, shining into every bush. And then of course another important part of this story… Both me and Lars had to go to the toilet for a number two, so to say… And this was after we had seen the hyena in our camp. At this campsite, this would be your toilet: dig a hole in the ground, do your business, cover it up. Now normally, I would do that a little bit away from the camp.. but this time though, I couldn’t give a shit about privacy, Lars had to be near! But the circumstances made it absolutely the hardest shit (not literally, luckily) I have taken in my life.
Let’s get back to some civil conversation. The following morning we had to say goodbye to the area, but not after another morning drive. This was our last chance to find that leopard in a tree, you know, the one that had been on our bucketlist since we set foot in Africa three years ago, and which we had hoped to find in this area! The highest chance of finding carnivores is during the early morning hours, and as these hours were fading, our hope faded as well. Even though we had a beautiful game drive, we couldn’t escape that touch of disappointment.
Just when we were about to move on, we saw the game drive vehicle with the people we had met the day before. Out of good manners we didn’t just drive by, but stopped to say goodbye. And I’m soooooo happy we did, because believe it or not, they had seen a leopard in a tree not even fifteen minutes ago. They were sure she would still be there and so the game driver was so kind to take us there. It was so close, but the drive there felt like hours to us (five minutes tops). When we rounded a corner, and saw another game vehicle, we knew she was still there! We looked up in the tree, and there she was, a very young female looking at everything going on below her. Beautiful! We couldn’t believe our luck. What an amazing goodbye. Or so we thought…
Finally, there she was, waiting for us to find her! What a beautiful animal, so elegant!
The leopard wasn’t our only goodbye! We had decided to take the scenic route back, so we followed the river area a little further. When we rounded a corner we were overwhelmed by a valley full of elephants! There must have been at least 500 within our sight, and probably a lot more in the surrounding bushes. And as this was obviously a road not well driven, we were the only ones there. It was amazing. We parked the car under a tree, climbed on the roof and just enjoyed. There were males and females of all ages, some grazing, some bathing, some fighting and we even saw two little ones playing with each other. There was so much to watch, and so much interaction. Luckily, we had gotten to know how to move around elephants by now, because we had to manoeuvre through this valley filled with elephants to get to the other side! There was only one point where it got a little bit excited, because on the track we had to take, were three elephants with a younger one.. and they didn’t seem inclined at all to move for us. We tried to push them very slowly, but then two big bulls decided to put their trunks in someone else’s business; they came at us with their ears wide, trumpeting! Even though we knew it was a mock charge, it is still scary, because these animals are huge!! And because we were surrounded by them, so we did not want them to infect the rest with their excitement. So instead of following the track, I decided it was okay to just move a bit around it for this time. I’m pretty sure people will understand.
Botswana had shown us one last time that they are the perfect elephant paradise. And this whole morning had been the perfect ending to the most amazing wildlife experiences in our lives. Now we can move on to the next stop, a cultural one this time; Tsodilo Hills (read it here).