The Missed Sunset in The Pans (Botswana)
(Monday 29th October, 2018)
According to our guide we had an early morning but we didn’t even have breakfast until 7:40. The birds also got up a lot earlier so most campers were up by 6 or something. Then we drove off and had a quick stop by the mall so a few people could sort out their bank business. Driving on, the landscape was mostly forestry and flat. We drove through Pandamatenga which is a farming region and also the place with the most fertile soil in Botswana. They grow, among other things, sunflowers here, mainly to use for cooking oil. Botswana also deals a lot in beef, exporting to Europe as well. Therefore, they are quite vulnerable to foot-and-mouth-disease. As such, there are check points along the road where you must disinfect your shoes (all of them). Botswana’s economy relies on tourism and mining (diamonds), too.
As a side effect of the importance of beef in their economy, they have free grazing cattle here and there’s a law that states that should livestock get hit by a car, it is the driver’s liability and they have to pay for damages. To avoid the domesticated cattle meshing with wildlife they have these wildlife fences through the country.
The landscape at times changed into more open grassland/savannah. It wasn’t very exciting to look out of the window today. Maybe East Africa is to be preferred. This day was really hot, clothes getting-soaked-by-sweat-hot. And the sun was relentless; there wasn’t really any shade to pitch the tent in at the camp site, either. Safe to say that we did not spend any time in the tent, it was basically like an oven.
Before the next optional activity of the day – a sunset drive to the salt pans – most of us went up to the nice pool here to have a refreshing swim. I didn’t swim myself but did enjoy the shade under the half cover at the pool side. Everyone is starting to seem a little more relaxed with one another in the group by now.
Anyway, so the drive to the salt/dust pans (part of the Kalahari desert) started here at 16:00. Open 4by4 vehicles. It was a very dusty drive to get to the area, which is a project in collaboration between 4 local communities whereby the entrance fee goes towards local development.
I actually hadn’t imagined Botswana to be such a dry country, always associated it with water because of the Okavonga Delta. But it is very dry, dusty and very hot. The wind dries your eyes up in no time and people are starting to get chapped lips as well.
A very windy and dusty ride later we entered the conservation area that is The Pans. It didn’t really look like a salt plain but more like a shrub-free, dry savannah with some (salt)water holes here and there. There weren’t a lot of animals but we did see zebra, wildebeest, various birds, a jackal and a brown hyena. Our guide said that he’d do almost daily trips to the area and barely ever saw brown hyenas so we were quite lucky with that one. It was pretty alright, except for all the dust. Our driver seemed rather newbie and always followed the ass of the other car, not really stopping for us to look closer or take photos of anything, really.
We then drove up to the part of the plains which are currently underwater and has been for 2 years due to a massive rain fall taking place then. It might have been nice to know because we figured we would be seeing a vast salt plain.
There were a lot of birds there, especially pelicans. It was a nice view, watching all the birds flying about and we were permitted to exit the vehicles and stretch our legs. After a bit we had to drive on to get to ‘The Platform’ which is where we were supposed to watch the sunset. However, we were late for that on our “Sunset Drive to The Pans” and the sun disappeared on the horizon as our driver was – very speedily – getting us there. The colours on the sky as the aftermath of the sunset were very pretty and they brought us drinks to enjoy. Unfortunately, they had only given us 3 beers for 6 people even though we had asked for one each, so overall the activity didn’t feel worth 35 USD to me or to most other Nomad family members who were there.
We got back in time for dinner at 19:30, which we ate sitting around a campfire. We also had our briefing for the coming days here. It was quite a long one but while looking into the fire it was okay. Then we ended the night by doing the usual; going to the bar to have a drink or two.
A Bird’s Eye View of The Delta
(Tuesday 30th October, 2018)
Woke up at 5:33 and then didn’t get any more sleep. T was also up and after we had both showered we took the tent down even though we weren’t due to leave until 8:00. The accommodated guys took a little longer to show up but we were still done with breakfast and packing before 8:00. Simba seemed happy with us.
Our first stop was by a baobab tree surrounded by trash, specifically plastic bottles. But it was a nice tree, I guess. Simba explained a bit about it, it looking like a tree that’s up-side-down, bark is fiber etc.
Next step was bushy bushy aka toilet in nature. After that we just drove straight on to Maun where we stopped by the mall to fetch whatever we needed/wanted. We got water and alcohol for our excursion into the Okavonga Delta tomorrow. Beer, wine, Amarula. I guess we’ll have a cosy, chill time.
After pitching our tents at the camp site for the night we had our lunch. We arrived already at 13:30 so we could go do our optional activity; The scenic flight over The Delta. There are 7 of us who opted to go and that is what I’m waiting for now.
Stray thoughts while waiting:
Today there were a lot of potholes on the road. Like the road was just disintegrating from the sides, crumbling away. I have not seen anything as bad on a main road in Africa yet, which is slightly weird because the Southern part of Africa is supposed to be wealthier and more touristy than Eastern Africa.
Anyway, we got taken to the airport which is used for both scenic flights, domestic and international flights. We got checked in, i.e. a lady wrote something down from our passports, bought our tickets for 125 USD and proceeded to go through security. They took our ‘dangerous’ stuff there but funnily enough gave it back to us after we had boarded the little plane. The airport is the smallest international airport I’ve ever seen – I’m guessing it only has small aircrafts flying to nearby countries.
We were then taken to our plane, which is a 1-motor of some kind. Very small, very narrow, with a propeller in the front. There were 6 seats in the back and then one sat in the cockpit in the co-pilot’s seat. It was maybe 2 metres wide if that. It was pretty scary, actually, to have to go into the air in such a small tin can. I was nervous, also when the pilot said we’d have a bumpy ride to the Delta. Everyone had their own window seat and we took off. We didn’t fly very high, of course, but we had an excellent view over the landscape and the sun was bright, the sky blue without a cloud. It was very beautiful while also being very scary, so there was some ambivalence.
The pilot made some sharp turns and tilted the plane quite steeply at times to give us a good view of the animals below. It was loud and towards the end I started feeling quite queasy from the motion. It felt crazy to look forward into the plane during flying because I’d realise once again just how small it was. But despite the constant stress of my body’s flight-or-fight-mode I enjoyed this scenic flight. Pretty landscape, nice colours, good views, and you really got an impression of the Okavonga Delta and how large it is, which I think one might miss from just spending time on one island in there.
We also saw plenty of animals from the air which was incredible – they disappeared out of sight quickly, though, because of the speed of the aircraft. Some of the animals that we saw:
– Elephants – Buffalos – Zebras
– Giraffes – Antelopes – Hippos
The rhinos were actually close enough that you could see them properly and that felt really cool. Two of them for sure just grazing, and a couple of us thought we saw some more by a bank to the river. It was a very good experience.
Not long after we came back we had dinner. The people who had not gone on the scenic flight had spent their afternoon by the pool, predictably. After dinner I had wanted to charge my camera in the truck, but apparently someone else had more important stuff to charge and had removed mine without saying a word. Not a very nice action, whoever that was.
We didn’t stay in the bar long this night. I went back and sat in the camp by the truck – there are some lights on it that I can write by. Starry sky above, though drowned out by electric lights. Lots of dogs howling and barking as my background music. I sort of wish to do something other than just sitting here, to be less of a tourist.
Mokoros in the Okavonga Delta
(Wednesday 31st October, 2018)
We had a late morning with breakfast at 8:00 and after this we had a bit of free time before we would embark on our trip into the Okavonga Delta. The time was spent organising excursion backpacks and also a little snooze by the pool.
At 11 we got picked up by two safari trucks that drove us to the mokoro station. The roads were dusty and bumpy and basically more sand/dust than what we’d think of as actual roads. At the mokoro station we met one of our guides for our excursion, a man from a local village. He also ended up being the mokoro poler for me and T, meaning we’d be the ones clearing the way through the reeds for the others. He took us on the water through the reeds and water lilies in the glass fiber dugout (which they now use instead of wooden ones to avoid cutting down the large trees). After a nice time of sailing we stopped on a small island for lunch. While enjoying some sandwiches and mini tarts + an apple, we had the view of a nice landscape and a couple of elephants far in the distance. It was really hot, though, and clothes yet again got soaked with sweat.
We sailed on towards the camp and it was so nice, serene, peaceful and beautiful with the flowers and the birds and the very clear water, where you could see everything down to the bottom. Our guide had no hesitation drinking the water because as he said, it’s so pure. We didn’t try that, though. There was little wind so I could thoroughly enjoy the sight of the water lilies mirroring themselves in the water surface. I enjoyed it a lot, it was relaxing despite of the heat and the exposure to the midday sun.
The camp is not located far into the Delta, only 7 km from the mokoro station in the village. But it is a nice wilderness camp where it’s quiet aside from the campers and the animals, mainly the birds. You feel like you are in the wilderness, even though there are a temporary ‘family’ of local men and woman from the village who cater to you with tea, coffee, food and water. They already had tents, mattresses and sleeping bags here, and it’s overall just a very lovely atmosphere.
After we arrived we just relaxed for a bit, some went for a swim in the water of the Delta and they said it was nice. In the afternoon at 16:30 we got sailed over to another island and dropped off so we could go for a sunset walk. It was very good, this dry island surrounded by wetland, a mix of tall palm trees and short sage shrubs, which made everything smell very great. We did not see that many animals because of the heat, but we did see various birds, giraffe(s) and elephants. At one point we were walking next to the bush when our guide suddenly stopped, then told everyone to walk away quickly again. Turns out there was an elephant maybe 25 metres from us in the bush, and that there were a couple of calves with it. So we definitely did not want to be close to it; our guides had no rifles or anything to protect us with.
We also saw some hippos in a pond, doing a little mating dance with some water splashing. It was such a nice walk. On the way back to our mokoros we saw the sunset over the Delta as it settled in colour tones of warm orange.
Back at the camp we had dinner with the other group of people who are also in the camp (from the other Nomad truck back in Maun). It was a delicious meal consisting of stew and rice. Later on, the local crew gave a performance of local songs and dance and it was quite fun and cool to see – they seemed to have fun with it, too. Then they made us clap and sing and dance and it was equally fun to do with the the Family around the campfire.
Many of us went to bed early, but a few of us stayed up, sitting around the camp fire and having a nice chat while admiring the very clear starry sky hugging us from above. It had a certain special quality of clarity and serenity to it, and it was just wonderful to be there.
Nature’s Masterpieces (Okavonga Delta)
(Thursday 1st November, 2018)
We started the day early with coffee/tea and some scones at 5:30, and we got to view an insanely beautiful, red sunrise. The light here in the Delta is just something entirely special, in a sense unspoiled and pure. There are no electrical lights or modern human buildings or sounds or exhaust or garbage around to taint nature. I’ve never seen a sunrise with such colours (not that I often get up in time to observe them). It was a spectacular start to an equally spectacular day.
At 6:00 we departed on our mokoros to go for a longer walk on the nearby island. It wasn’t that hot yet and it was nice to walk and admire the scenery. We went to another part of the island than yesterday and mostly walked on the open savannah. We saw elephants, giraffes and zebras pretty up close, and also wildebeest. Some impalas and jackals. I thought we had seen quite a bit of wildlife but our guide later on alluded that he didn’t think we had been that lucky.
As the day grew older, the clouds on the sky dissipated and the sun began to heat everything up properly. Around this time we began walking back and it just got hotter and hotter and there wasn’t really any shade on our path. it almost broke me to the point where I just wanted to sit down and cry because I felt so unbearably hot and warm and dehydrated. 1,5 litres of water was very barely enough for the walk. The others also said that the last stretch was very heavy due to the heat – so it wasn’t just me being a crybaby.
Then, we made it to a tree that had shade and watched two large elephants in the river, eating and drinking. Turns out that our mokoros were right there and we would have to sail very close by the elephants to get back to the camp. It was quite fascinating to see these huge animals from that point of view (the water). Back at the camp we really rejoiced with cold water out of the cooler boxes and recovered from our heat exhaustion.
We had a ‘siesta’ until 17:30 where we would go on a sunset cruise in the mokoros. Some opted to go for another swim in the Delta (most), and the rest of us stayed back at the camp and had a shower. The toilet is a hole in the ground, surrounded by a tent (with no roof) and with a toilet seat on a chair over the hole. After number two, you’re supposed to shovel some dirt over it in the hole. You’d indicate that it was occupied by taking the shovel inside with you. The shower was a bag of water with a tap, hanging over a grill on the ground to stand on, surrounded by a tent (also without roof). It was a nice shower but the sun had warmed the water up and it wasn’t as cold as I could have desired.
The rest of the time until the cruise was mostly spent on watching elephants – same two from earlier – as they made their way over towards our island/camp, watching birds and trying to survive the heat. I didn’t mind it much today, sitting closer by the water made it slightly cooler.
The elephants kept coming closer and closer and eventually were right outside our camp. They were two bulls, one of them extremely large. I think they were maybe 30-50 metres away, perhaps even a bit shorter, and it was sort of cool and scary at the same time. They didn’t actually walk into the camp, though, thankfully. While they were still so close by we had to go for our mokoro sunset cruise where we went around our neighbouring island; we managed to see a Buffalo and some Lechwe antelopes on the way.
On the side of the island we went through tall reeds to see the hippo pool. We were essentially in the pool, from where we would enjoy our sunset. There were hippos around, grunting, laughing, blowing air, yawning and doing hippo things. One was fairly close and kept looking towards us, now and again diving down. I kept wondering how the guides would know if it ran to us below water or not, because that’d be very scary, but it stayed put at a safe distance. Almost felt uneasy, though. Hippos are the big killers here in Africa; not the lions.
The colours and lighting on the sky and the landscape was so delicate and rich at the same time, very pretty, and it was almost hard to believe you could be privileged enough to be there to experience nature’s masterpieces. It was just lovely. I think the sunsets/sunrises in Africa have more/different colours for some reason, the sky also turning pink today in the aftermath, which I’ve never quite seen at home.
I felt really happy and free as we were taken back to camp, and I really enjoyed the Okavonga Delta and the camp. It feels like true wilderness so unlike anything back home, and it was so therapeutic to forget everything while being here.
Back at the camp the elephants were still right the ‘human’ area. We watched them for a bit as the big one kept coming closer. When we sat at the table he actually walked a bit into the camp, prohibiting people’s use of the toilet for a while. It got a little scary because he was only about 20 metres away at this point and facing towards us. It was also getting quite dark and difficult to see, as we only had the fire and a solar powered lamp to light the place up. But he walked off again and we enjoyed our dinner.
After dinner, our Family had our drinks together and sat around the camp fire, chatting and enjoying the night. Sitting under the starry blanket. It was a pleasant evening as the temperature cooled down. There were also a lot of shooting stars on the sky, also one with a long, golden tail trailing behind it. All in all, just a very successful and eventful day in the wilderness of the Okavonga Delta, which I have enjoyed so tremendously.
Right now I’m enjoying the sound of many insects in the late evening, spiced up by the occasional frog, and it’s an orchestra I’ll enjoy falling asleep to.
Reflections on the Okavonga Delta:
The Delta was so nice, serene, relaxing, beautiful, and with an interesting contrast between wetland and really dry islands. Apparently, the accommodated people had a lot more water where they stayed, nearer the ‘beginning’ of the Delta, so to speak. I think it would be nice to do a multi-day trip there, moving from camp to camp by mokoro, going deeper and deeper into the wilderness. Just totally remove yourself from human worries and be taken back to everything natural and pure.
Dancing With the San Tribe
(Friday 2nd November, 2018)
The lodge the others stayed in had Wi-Fi, pool, lights, hot water and was really luxury in comparison to our camp. So, even located in the wilderness, it did not sound like such a nice experience as we had in our basic camp. I thought that the wilderness camp was perfect for the situation, and if I’d been on the accommodated trip, I would have downgraded to camping for this excursion.
Anyway, morning in the Delta started at 6:00 where we packed up all the stuff in the tents, because our crew would be leaving with us. We had our breakfast with beans, eggs, bacon and toast, all made over the fire.
Our crew packed everything down and stuff got loaded into their mokoros and it’s very surprising that they can carry all that stuff (tents, mattresses, cooler boxes, bags etc.) in maybe 10 mokoros. It was a huge pile of luggage as they unloaded later at the mokoro station.
The trip back was equally peaceful but there were a lot of spiders and spider webs since we were the mokoro going first through the reeds. That meant there were a lot of spiders in our boat; thankfully small ones. Luckily T, sitting in the front, took most of the webs on him. Back on shore, we said our goodbyes to our temporary Delta family before we were taken to the airport to meet with the accommodated people. They had flown into and out of the Delta as opposed to sailing in mokoros.
After catching up with the others for a bit and sharing our respective experience in the Delta, we started to drive towards Ghanzi and our next camp. We made another stop at a supermarket to resupply. Next stop was a good lunch at the road side, then we made a stop at a gas station to refuel.
As we turned onto the side road leading to our camp there were a lot of farm side with big watering machines. We drove along for a bit before we turned a corner to see those round huts with straw roof located in our camp site – they rent these out for the night. We peeked inside one, and there is really only room for 2 beds so it is extremely basic. Also, there are no windows or anything; actually living in one of those could be quite a different challenge, I reckon.
It’s a nice camp site with a lot of sand, bathrooms fenced off with straw, no door for the toilet (so you have to ask if someone’s there before you go around the corner) and a dusty pool. I immediately washed my clothes and hung it up to dry, hopefully it shouldn’t take long in the heat.
We had an optional walk with a bushman from the San Tribe in the afternoon but I opted to not go today. Those who did said it was good. They had learned about the use of plants and how the San tribe had survived in the dry landscape, hunting and gathering.
After dinner at 19:00 we went to the reception area where there would be a song and dance show by some San Tribe folks. There was a campfire with chairs around it and then the tribe folks took their seat close around the campfire. The women, there were 5 of them, sat there clapping and singing with their 2 babies and a child. The men had put on seashell decorations around their legs to make sounds/rhythm, and they were all carrying walking sticks. They were the ones doing most of the dancing, which was mostly in a forwards bent position, stomping a rhythm in the sand with feet and legs. But they could do so very fast! Even the very old medicine man who was there, there was no slacking off. The singing and the music didn’t really seem cohesive or with much recognizable rhythm at all, more like just a bunch of sounds put together in a random manner. It definitely wasn’t any common European kind of rhythm.
It was pretty nice despite the – to us – dissonant sound of it. They invited us up to have a try, which we did; but it was very difficult and physically challenging, really. This tribe also use clicks and whistles when communicating, and they did bring with them a translator to tell us, the audience, what they were singing/dancing about. At the end they had their ‘tip turtle’ brought out, which was a turtle shell on wheels, moved about with a stick. Although a show intended for tourists, I found it quite enjoyable and also believable in a sense.. that they are true to their culture and language and have found ways to share it that benefits them. It was like being invited into their space rather than the other way around, which is an important feeling in cultural encounters.
As the show ended, most of the audience broke up and went to their own camps, but some of the Nomad family and others stayed by the campfire to hang out (we didn’t have a campfire by Keith). By 22:00 most people were gone and they had shut down the generators lighting the campsite up. Everything was dark except for the lights from the trucks, which eventually also shut down one by one. And the complete darkness engulfed us, revealing a wonderful starry sky.
Here it is more like the night sky is a dome surrounding you rather than just a flat roof as it seems at home.The stars are hanging right there on the horizon, winking at you, unlimited. It’s like a big blanket getting put over you. I really like that a lot. The fire had turned to tiny embers before dying out, and the night turning cold/chilly when we finally went to bed this night.
Going to Windhoek, Namibia
(Saturday 3rd November, 2018)
Today we crossed the border between Botswana and Namibia and we now find ourselves in Windhoek.
After breakfast we set out from Ghanzi towards the Namibian border. It wasn’t long before we got there and took care of border formalities. It was very easy to clear it, a quick exit stamp from Botswana and a quick, maybe 2 minutes, entry permit + stamp to get into Namibia. As we drove on, the landscape continued being flat and dull for a long time. No villages on the side of the road. Really not much to look at at all. We made a stop at a mall complex to fix everyone up with Namibian Dollar but all 4 ATMs in the vicinity were out of cash so only a lucky few got some money. It’s just typical, isn’t it? (We later managed to get cash to spend in Windhoek!)
At some point, the landscape started to change little by little and small mountains appeared. Windhoek is mountainous so of course this started happening as we approached the capitol of the country. When we got close to the airport, we began to see these gated communities (large) with nice, modern houses copy-pasted within. It looks like a different Africa to the one I’ve previously seen. I think I prefer the other. Most lodges and signs were now also in German or Afrikaans, so there were definitely notable differences between the Botswana we’d seen and Namibia.
Driving into Windhoek, it comes across as very clean, orderly and pretty/neat with well-thought out road systems etc. Organised well and very far from the chaotic, dirty noise that has been a common denominator for other cities we have visited or driven through on our way. I liked it, though it almost looked sort of Californian with the decoratively planted palm trees and flowers along the road.
We stopped by a quaint church built out of sandstone, white marble and white slab. From here we met out guide for a short walking tour. She took us to the church, built by Germans who imported everything except the sandstone which was acquired from a quarry near the city. She told us that Namibia has 2.6 million citizens which is quite few for such a large country. Out of these, 400.000 live in Windhoek.
She then took us to the parliament building and the quite neat gardens in front of it. After this she took us to this large, modern building on the square. It currently hosts the artefacts from the national museum while the original building is being renovated. Moreover, it has a ‘roof top’ restaurant with a view on the 4th floor. Apparently, it was built by North Korea as a tribute to Namibian independence. The two countries shared ties as North Korea aided Namibia in the war against the South Africans, and in return North Korea had the rights to buy the uranium that can be mined in Namibia. NK has also built other structures in the country, though in present times there are no longer ties between the two because other countries began to dislike this bond.
Next stop was a statue in memory of the genocide that took the lives of thousands of locals and Germans back in the day. The statue was so well done and really quite moving, even with the depictions of cruelties committed; the terrible and costly fight for freedom to break the chains of slavery and misery. Africa has so much history that not a lot of people know a lot about or even learns about. Maybe one thing to look into.
Last stop was at a frozen yogurt shop where most treated themselves to something. After the walking tour, the New Zealand couple were due to leave us. We said our goodbyes and wished them well before driving on to our hotel for the night.
We only really had time to check in and take a quick shower before we had a group dinner at a place called Joe’s Beer House. We got taken there by Simba who joined us for dinner, even though it was an optional activity we had to pay for ourselves. It was sort of a quirky restaurant with lots of African/German props and mostly a clientèle of white people. But it had a cool atmosphere and an interesting menu. There was crocodile, oryx, kudu, zebra and other things on it.
I got an oryx cappachio appetizer, which was nice but didn’t taste strongly. Main course for me was a 300g kudu loin steak with mushroom sauce and spiced fries. It was a very good meal for a cheap price. The kudu tasted gamey and different than beef in a very appealing way. I didn’t know how to feel about eating such a beautiful animal – not something I’d normally think about, to be honest. An overall good day.
The top picture is the aftermath of the sunset in The Pans.
Last updated on 3rd January, 2019.