Monday, June 4, 2018 | Botswana – North West District, Maun | Petra
SAFARI AT THE OKAVANGO DELTA
AN EXPERIENCE WE’LL NEVER FORGET
Botswana is famous for its breathtaking wildlife, its large game parks and for the unique Okavango Delta. Botswana has the largest elephant population in Africa and the delta is one of the largest intact inland river delta systems on earth. We read a lot about it in advance and also developed a certain idea about it. But that it will be so incredibly exciting and thrilling for us, we couldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams.
LET’S HAVE A BREAK
For a few days we have been standing in Maun, a place that has everything for its inhabitants and tourists. Win and I are taking it easy and enjoying the coziness here at the Thamalakane River. It is nice for us to meet so many friendly people here who love to smile. At Hilary’s, a pretty little café, you can enjoy wonderful salads and sandwiches. The delicious bread and sweet cakes are homemade, everything tastes wonderful! Next door, Hilary runs a ballet studio and also gives classes, but we prefer to limit ourselves to the sandwiches.
READY FOR TAKE OFF
A scenic flight with a small propeller-driven plane offers us a perfect open view over Okavango Delta. From above we can spot many elephants and antelopes, see huge herds of buffalos and get an idea of the amazing size of the delta. Now it is the time when Okavango Delta gets flooded by the water of the rainy season coming from Angola. Around July the rivers and ponds of the delta will reach their peak.
NOW OR NEVER
It’s a spontaneous decision to book a three-days-safari at Okavango Delta. We get inspired by Chris and Michael, a German couple we meet in Maun, while sitting at the campfire in the evening. Two days later at 8.45 in the morning we fly at a last-minute walk in rate to Vumbura Plains Camp in the north of the delta. You only can get there by plane.
We are as excited as first graders on their first day of school and don’t really have any idea yet what to expect. Three days full of fascinating animal encounters, fragrant landscapes, dramatic sunrises and sunsets, lovely people and (of course) a muddy car breakdown with the safari vehicle keep us on our toes. Wow!
LET’S GO SAFARI
Only three days we have, but three days stuffed with so many experiences, way enough for a whole life. Even during our first game drive in the evening at 4 p.m. after the high tea we can’t stop marveling and watching.
By safari car we leave the camp and dive into an incredibly rich wildlife. We encounter old acquaintances like giraffes, elephants, zebras and meet new animals that we have never seen before in real.
Willy, our guide, drives right through the water to show us a huge herd of buffalos, he spotted behind tangly bushes. Although we are very curious, we have to be careful, buffalos can fly into a rage within a second and break out all of a sudden.
Being on a safari means anything else but being on a lazy holiday. The animals in the bush are early birds. That’s why we have wake up time at 5.30 a.m., get breakfast at 6.00 and then leave for our morning game drive for several hours.
At lunchtime we come back to the camp and after having lunch we do as the animals in the bush do – we have a siesta. A game drive is quite exhausting and tiring.
In the late afternoon the evening drive is listed on the agenda. Again we are in the bush for several hours to watch out for animals. Willy knows a lot of interesting things to explain about wild animals and their behaviour.
We are lucky and hit upon a beautiful female leopard during our game drive. Today she killed an antelope and stuffed herself with that proper meal. Now it looks like she suffers from satiety. She doesn’t even know how to find the right position to relax and get relief.
The next morning we come across her again. In the early twilight she lies under her tree. She cuddles with her daughter caressing. The little one wants to play and practise creeping up and hunting. Uaaaah!
RIDE ON A DUG-OUT
How about a romantic river ride on a mokoro, how the dug-out is called here? Friendly, shy Alko is our poler, he is born at the Okavango Delta and knows it like no one else. With a long wooden pole he smoothly pushes our mokoro through the quiet water, and for me he turns a waterlily into a pretty necklace, which beauty will only last for three days. Only the memory of it will last forever.
Still the mokoro is an important means of transportation at the Okavango. Traditionally a mokoro is made from the trunk of a 100 to 500 years old Mokutshumo. Nowadays these swimming taxis are made from fiberglas. It makes the mokoro lighter and stronger on one hand, on the other hand it helps to protect the trees, which are important for the habitat there.
We very much enjoy the quiet mokoro ride between reed and waterlilies. We meet the little reed frogs, which are only three centimetres in size and produce quite loud klick-sounds in the evening. It is the sound of these metal frogs we used to play with, when we were children. Knick-knack!
The fact that we pass this spotted hyena by surprise on one of our morning game drives is great safari luck. During the day, hyenas are not to be found easily. We are quite surprised by its impressive size.
Hyenas eat carcasses with skin and hair and sometimes hunt zebras or antelopes in a pack. They tear their prey alive with their sharp teeth. They can also be life-threatening to a single human if they attack him in a pack. Good to know!
Not only during our game drives Mother Nature treats us very well and shows us many exciting creatures up close. Also with her picturesque sunrises and sunsets she is very creative. We’ve never seen anything like it!
Even a skilled guide can get into trouble if he is careless for a second. For Willy didn’t activate the differential lock of the safari vehicle in due time, we all of a sudden get stuck when crossing a water during our evening game drive. The car doesn’t neither move forward nor backward. Now it’s the turn of a jack, many strong brunches to put underneath and a second safari car to get Willy’s cart out of the muddy mess. We all hope that lions or hyaenas don’t make use of our weak position and will dispense with choosing us for dinner. An occasional look over your shoulder probably won’t hurt.
Willy, our guide, tells us that four lion brothers returned to the ground where they disappeared for a while. One of the four we meet next to a big herd of buffalos. He is just working on a dead buffalo and bites pleasureably into the buffalo’s bowels. Will he invite his brothers for dinner?
The following morning, the lion has disappeared, and now his three brothers are busy with the buffalo carcass. It was not their brother who called them for breakfast, the vultures have told them about the meal.
It becomes especially exciting for us when a stately, full lion approaches our vehicle slowly but determinedly. He feels uncomfortable with the many flies on his fur. If he might find relief under our car? He is only a tiny meter away from me. My breathing becomes shallower and my eyes larger. We should not move and be very quiet, Willy advises. I hold my breath. The lion hesitates, considers – and finally turns away. Gosh, that’s not for the faint-hearted!
MOTHER AND CHILD
Without a male companion we see tow lionesses with their cubs roaming. It’s a mother and her grown up daughter, both having little offspring. It is fascinating to watch them feeding, cuddling and keeping their little ones in rein.
Little Survivor indeed is the smallest of them and can’t win through her stronger siblings and cousins. That’s why she is under the special protection of her mum. Willy tells us, she once got lost for four days and they were afraid she got killed by a hyaena. But then all of a sudden she came to light again and everybody was happy. She was very weak and tiny, but she survived. That’s why they call her tenderly Survivor.
Like all children lion cubs frolic around, too. Survivor is no exception in that and sometimes her mother has to take care, that the others don’t overdo it. Be careful, Sweety!
We already did some self game drives in several wild parks with our truck and experienced extraordinary wild life before. To do a safari like the one we did at Okavango Delta is still something different. To drive in an open vehicle, to leave driving to somebody else and to have a skilled guide with you, who knows to read animals and their tracks, is something very special. Furthermore the guide has an exceptional permission to leave the official paths when getting in sight of an extraordinary animal. To keep the wild animals protected as much as possible only three vehicles per sighting are allowed to come closer at the same time. The comparatively small number of visitors compared to more common parks makes it special again.
Camp Vumbura Plains is close to nature and carefully embedded in the landscape. It is mainly built of wood, has an open, simple architecture and is tastefully furnished. During the day, elephants occasionally visit and at night you clearly can hear the hippos.
This safari was a unique and incomparable experience for us!