Botswana - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 49
Wednesday 30th April
Since we decided not to take the laptop into the delta, I’ve got a couple of days of catching up to do with the journal. There is a lot to tell.
Maun itself is a small town but very remote and very rural. We really got the impression that we are now in the real Africa with small village huts and rickety fences all over the place. Everywhere you look, things are very primitive. The camp-site is OK but also fairly basic. It’s actually a Crocodile farm but we’ve yet to see any Crocodiles. Theron advised us to pack all our things into the truck so that it can all be locked up. There have apparently been some problems with people slicing holes into tents to pilfer things. We are already on edge as it is being so far out in the bush so worrying about our things being stolen is not helping at all.
As has been the norm so far in this trip, we all got up very early again and were on the road in the special 4x4 safari trucks by just after eight o’clock. The truck had two long benches facing away from each other so we all got to sit and watch out as we travelled along the tar road to the entry point. It was an open truck with no windows but it at least had a canvas roof to keep the sun off our heads. The entry point was actually a dirt road, which we trundled along for another hour and a half before reaching the ‘buffalo fence’. This fence actually marks the entrance to the delta itself. It was erected to segregate the wild animals on the inside from the domestic animals on the outside. We did see an Elephant in the distance on the way in shortly after passing through the Buffalo fence but it was otherwise an uneventful trip.
At the end of the barely navigable dirt road, we arrived at the Makorro pool where a few of the wooden watercraft were already waiting for us. We offloaded out tents and equipment from the truck and were told that we might have to wait for a while whilst the polers and guides were organised. After about forty-five minutes, several Makorros complete with polers emerged from the bushes and coasted into the pool from an otherwise concealed canal. Each of them skilfully guided their Makorros up to the edge and we started to load the equipment. These strange looking wooden boats barely looked stable enough to float much less carry the poler, two passengers and all their baggage. Indeed, our Makorro sat very low in the water once we were settled in. The polers are very skilled but we still managed to rock the boat from side to side every now and then and this was just enough to allow some water in. About half way down the hour and a half ride to the camp-site, we had to stop and get out to allow the boat to pass through some shallows. The poler took the opportunity to eject some water from the Makorro with his foot – rather skilfully I thought.
At the camp-site, we set up our tents and walked around just a little bit to get our bearings. Nobody wandered off too far since we were all given a briefing on the fact that we were in the bush and very much in the same space as some very wild and dangerous animals. After contemplating this, I thought to myself that this was finally the real, wild, Africa and that we were really out there in the bush. This feeling of remoteness was, however, somewhat shattered when we realised that a rowdy bunch of Australians had set up camp just thirty or so yards, and well within earshot, from ours. So much for isolation!
After setting up camp, we wasted little time in organizing a game walk. We walked for several hours and the pace was quite slow but by all accounts it was fairly successful. We saw nice sized herd of Elephants, some Giraffe and sleeting glimpse of a Spotted Hyena and some Wart Hog. We never got really close to anything except the Elephants, which we were hiding from at a distance of about fifty meters.
We walked up quite an appetite during the afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful meal that Eddie (our cook since day one) had prepared for us. The food that Eddie has been cooking for us on this trip has, by and large, been of very high quality and there has almost always been something for us both to eat. The lunches have been a bit sparse but other than that, we’ve had very little to complain about.
We sat around the campfire for a while before retiring to a rather uncomfortable tent. The reason it was uncomfortable was due to the absence of any sleeping mats (too big to bring along with us on the Makorros). Since we’ve been using an extra sleeping mat rolled up for a pillow, we had no pillow either. Both nights we spent in the bush were uncomfortable but such is life in the bush.
It was another early start in the morning (what else is new?!) as we were off again on another game walk. We saw less that the previous evening but it was still a lot of fun wandering around the bush, never knowing what was around the next corner or whether or not a predatory cat was stalking us. Since we left immediately after waking up, there was no breakfast but Eddie was going to prepare us a surprise brunch. When we returned to the camp, we were all extremely hungry and were eager to see what surprise was in store for us. As it turned out, it was chips, fried eggs, fried tomato, toast and sausages (frankfurters) – delicious!
That evening, we sat around the campfire and listened to various tales of just how dangerous and deadly pretty much every animal around us was. It was quite a sobering evening and pretty much everyone in the group went to sleep with one eye open. We had discussed sleeping outside the tents (in the open bush) the night before but after all the tales of terror, everybody decided to sleep inside their tents instead. During the night, we heard a bull Elephant trumpeting very loudly several times. It sounded very much like something was being killed and was a little unnerving to hear the sound so close to our niche of the delta.
The exhaustion of the previous few game walks together with rigors of camping out in the bush (always tired, never comfortable, completely filthy, etc.) had taken its toll on the majority of the group and so only three of us (Leslie, Toby and myself) decided to actually participate in the final game walk in the morning. It would prove to be the most thrilling experience of our entire stay in the delta.
Five of us were going on the morning game walk. The three of us, our guide and one of the Makorro polers that doubled up as a bush guide. Over the ritual morning cup of tea, we laughingly joked about wanting to see Lions, Cheetahs and Leopards. In actuality, none of us wanted to meet any of these animals – especially on foot at least. Off we went, then, in search of whatever we could find. We made it to about two hundred yards before the guide in front started to slow down and crouch a little. We always walk in single file on these game walked and so we each, one by one, crouched and stealthily closed in on the guide to see what was around the corner. It was a large bull Elephant. This was the closest we’ve been to an Elephant in the bush so we were eagerly snapping away with our cameras. Our guide was getting very nervous (lone bull Elephants can be very unpredictable and dangerous) and was wanting for us to leave but the chance to snap some photos up close was just too compelling. The Elephant started to turn and walk in our direction and our guide practically started to beg us to leave. “You will die there with your camera in your hand” he said. As he said this, I turned and noticed that the Makorro poler was already walking away and was about fifteen meters away already. At this point I though it was a good idea to turn and leave. As I started to do this, the angry Elephant trumpeted really loudly and started to charge in our direction. My adrenalin levels much have shot through the roof and I glanced around only to notice that Leslie had already developed Olympic strength legs and was half way to the trees already. She was not far behind our guide. The Makorro poler was by now also running fast in the opposite direction to Leslie and something told me I should follow him, so I did. I don’t think I’ve run as fast in my life and my legs must have been propelled by pure adrenalin. I don’t know how far we ran but we eventually reached what I thought was the relative safety of a fairly wide acacia tree surrounded by tall grass. The Makorro guide told Toby and myself to stand still and be quite. I’d have gotten down on my knees and kissed his toes if he’d asked at this point. He was a young man (probably about eighteen years old) but at this point, he was god and we followed his every lead. I was actually scared for my life and could barely breath from the exhaustion of the sprint. He mimed for us to follow him quietly as he walked away from the tree in a direct line from the Elephant who by now was standing on the very spot that we were just moments ago taking photos of the huge beast. We managed to walk all the way back to the camp-site (just a couple of minutes walk away) where the other Makorro guides, who by now were fully appraised of the situation, were doing the best impression of a bunch of laughing Hyenas I’ve every witnessed. It was the perfect opportunity to release some built up tension and we were all able to laugh at ourselves. In reflection, we may very well have been lucky to have escape with our lives. Had this Elephant caught up with us, we would not have stood a chance. This brief episode was undoubtedly the highlight for me of our entire time at the Okavango Delta.
With the excitement of the Elephant charge now behind us, we decided to continue with the morning walk. Our guide, however, was reluctant to be party to a group of idiots who might get themselves killed by not immediately following the guide’s advice, and decided to remain at the camp. In the event, the rest of the morning walk was also largely uneventful save for a nice encounter with some Zebras.
We returned from the walk, had breakfast and cleaned up the camp-site. All of us put in twenty Pula each and we presented the wad of bills to the head guide by means of a tip to be dispersed amongst the group as thanks for their efforts over the previous two days.
We returned to the camp-site via Makorro, dirt road and then tar road, as was the case before but in reverse. We were then all shuttled to Maun (our camp-site is just outside of the town) to try our luck at the local Internet Café. The speed was simply too slow for any practical use, however.
On the agenda for this afternoon was a flight over the Okavango Delta. Sandy, myself, Leslie, Toby and Lief were all going for the ride at $50 per person. It was a fantastic one-hour flight and we cruised at just five hundred feet from the surface to get the most fantastic views of quite a wide range of animals. The area of the delta where we camped is extremely dry, somewhat uncharacteristically, at this time but we went much further up the delta in the plane to where the flood plains were and simply marvelled at the scenery from up high. In looking at the photos more closely on the laptop this evening, it transpired that one of the animals that I snapped was actually a Leopard – the very first that we’ve seen in the wild. The picture is very faint but the up curled white tipped tail definitely reveals the animal to be a Leopard, as confirmed by Theron at the bar this evening.
I got a lot done this evening. The journal is up to date and I even did all the washing (one of the chores of long-term travel that I would rather do without), which is now hanging out to dry next to our tent – although there is little chance it will be dry by the time we leave the camp-site at seven o’clock tomorrow morning.
Although quite possibly due to the rigors of travelling in Africa, Sandy is starting to show signs of fatigue of the travelling life. I’m hoping she will feel better after a few days of rest at Victoria Falls. I will look into some flight options to cover the distance from Vic Falls to Lilongwe (for our three day safari into the South Luawanga reserve in Zambia) and then from there to Zanzibar and then onto Arusha for the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. After that, we will be off to Nairobi (we can get a $60 shuttle to Nairobi from Arusha apparently) for our flight to Cairo.
There is no question that the past few weeks have been gruelling and rough for both of us but Sandy in particular. Hopefully, a few days of beach relaxation when we get to Zanzibar will help to re-charge our batteries for the final push before heading up to Egypt. We’ve crammed an incredible amount of activities into a relatively short space of time. There is no doubt that it has been a fantastic experience but I doubt either of us will survive the entire eighteen months by keeping up this pace of exertion and in these rough and ready conditions.