Nomad Safari, Part One: Johannesburg, South Africa --> Okavango Delta, Botswana
11.04.2014 - 11.08.2014 105 °F
For our second safari, we spent two weeks on a round trip trek from Johannesburg through Botswana (Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park), Zimbabwe (Victoria Falls), and back to South Africa for Kruger National Park. This time we chose Nomad - a company specializing in overland adventure tours (thanks again to Summer!). Africa is a vast place, and the most affordable way to get to place to place is via an overland tour - that means lots of driving, but also a chance to see the countryside, settlements, and other off-the-beaten-path things you wouldn’t see if you chose to fly. For this trip, we drove over 5,000 kilometers in 2 weeks. We have become quite accustomed to sitting for long periods of time. Luckily, we’ve gotten a lot of reading done, and forced relaxation can be a beautiful thing. The Nomad trucks are all named after dead singers, and our truck was named Sid, for Sid Vicious - gotta love the Sex Pistols.
The first two days of the trip were essentially commute days, just driving in a very hot truck and sleeping in between. Day 1 we drove from Johannesburg to Palapye, Botswana, taking about 9 hours, and the second day we continued to Maun, another 8 hours, with only “bush bathrooms” on the way. Our first night on the tour we were met in Botswana with torrential downpour - a crazy storm with buckets of rain, thunder, and intense lightening. The place where we were staying had a lot of dirt which became deep puddles of mud. We had our first group dinner in the camp cooking area huddling under a small covered area for shelter and shoveling the food in our mouths standing up, trying to stay dry. It was at the beginning of dinner that the thunder and lightening got really close and the electricity went out! As a result, we couldn’t see the food we were eating, but it sure did taste delicious - a chicken curry made by our guides - perfect comfort food. About half of our group was camping, and the rest of us wimps got accommodation. We were feeling so badly for the people camping. Our room at the first place was…..rustic. There was a living ceiling of spiders in our room, rating at a very high spider factor of 9. The sheets and towels were not so clean, and there was no hot water. I think we were both worried about what we had gotten in to for the next two weeks. Turns out, we are not so low-maintenance. Luckily, the rest of the rooms were A-ok, and the weather cooperated for the rest of the trip.
Maun is the gateway to the Okavango Delta, and on the 3rd morning we got on our 7 seater prop plane for a 20 minute flight to the heart of it. They had to weigh us for the flight, and we were shocked to see that we had both gained weight at an alarming rate of 1 lb/week. I guess that’s what happens when you stop exercising and eat out most meals. Ouch.
The Delta was by far our highlight of this tour! We spent an absolutely wonderful 3 days there, staying at a place called “Oddballs” where we had permanent tents. The camp kept us on a wonderful schedule, with trips on the delta on a traditional mokoro (see cover photo) and bush walks in the morning at 6:15am, and in the late afternoon around 4:30pm. They served coffee and muffins before the first bush walk, a late breakfast around 10:30am, lunch at 2:30pm, and dinner around 7pm. From breakfast to the 4:30 bush walk, we did nothing but read books, look at wildlife from our camp, and relax. The days were too hot to do much else (about 100-110 fahrenheit). We happily settled in to this relaxing routine. The delta is an absolutely magical place - the animals here are not as used to people as the animals in the national parks, and there are much fewer people here.
Our bush walks were quite adventurous. The guides here do not carry rifles or any weapons, and we were on foot in the bush with lions, elephants, hippos, you name it (we later found out this is illegal everywhere else). The guide first briefed us on what to do if each animal charges at us. For an elephant - run in a zig zag pattern down wind and get to a tree, but make sure to get to the other side, or they will crush you against the tree. Lions - stand still and make eye contact. Rhinos - run to a tree or a termite mount and run around in circles. Hippos - same as a rhino, but just don’t get charged by one. When we asked them how often this happens, they said “pretty often”. Yikes. We did, in fact, have some very close encounters with animals during our walks here. One of note was when we were walking with a group of 4 of us, and we rounded a patch of trees to find ourselves face-to-face with a lone elephant bull, only about 20 meters away. It’s hard to describe how intimidating a wild elephant can be while on foot; they are enormous, and despite their friendly reputation, can be quite aggressive and cause many deaths every year. The guide assessed which direction he was moving, and instructed us to slowly walk the other way. We had gotten about 20 feet when I hear Tyler say “Guys….HE’S COMING!”. We turned around to see the bull charging at us at full speed, only to stop after about 10 feet. Our hearts all jumped to our throats. The guides just laughed at us and explained that it was just a “mock charge”. Mock or no, that s*&t was scary! Minutes later, one of the guides spotted a lion, so we started tracking it. Tyler and I looked at each other and silently said with our eyes “wait - so we want to walk TOWARD a lion on foot with no weapons? Is this a good idea?” He also explained to us that he “will probably charge”, but we just need to stand still. Despite our misgivings, we soldiered on, our hearts pumping. We tracked him for about 30 minutes and gave up without seeing him. We were partly disappointed, but mostly relieved. Heading back to the camp on another walk, we encountered a “hippo road block”. That is, a family of 8 hippos were parked directly in front of our boats that we needed to board to get to our camp. This was our first hippo spotting - we were so excited! They are pretty cute, despite being the animal to cause the most human fatalities in all of Africa. We waited until they went slightly down the delta, got in our boats, and got paddled furiously quickly to the other side. It was quite thrilling!
Picture of the bull that charged us:
Hippo road block - "YOU SHALL NOT PASS":
Night time at the delta was wonderful. We spent the evenings having dinner and chatting by the campfire. Our guide had enough stories to keep us entertained for days, and he was a wonderful story teller. The fireflies sparkle over the delta at night, and we were lucky to be there on a full moon, giving us remarkable visibility. Lying in our tent, we could hear all of the sounds of nature around us. Elephants and hippos come right in to the camp, and we could hear hippos calling to each other all night long. Our tents had restrooms outside (with awesome bucket showers!), and the staff advised us that, if we needed to use the toilet in the middle of the night, we were to flash our torch outside the tent slowly from left to right. If we saw eyes reflecting back at us, we should go back in the tent and not use the restroom until the eyes aren’t out there any more. The first night was a bit restless as we heard so many hippos and a large animal of some sort right by our heads. In the middle of the night, one guy screamed, and we were convinced he got attacked by an animal. Turned out a gentleman nearby had a wild nightmare involving a lion!
The next day we saw tons of elephants from camp, including one IN the camp. Looking at the picture below, you can see the elephant right by our tent. He left a lovely gift of a large, fresh poo on our door step. We were fascinated and all gathered to take photos. The staff didn’t even seem to notice him, as apparently this is a regular occurrence, along with a leopard who likes to come visit the kitchen. For us city folk, it was quite a rush.
Elephants in camp:
The next day we headed to Nata, then to Chobe National Park. More updates on this coming soon! As you may be able to tell by this very long post, we LOVED this portion of the trip. Also, let us know what you think of the large picture format.
Our trusty truck, Sid (Vicious):
Kama Rhino Sanctuary:
Flying in to the Delta:
Our home in the Delta:
Bush Walks/Delta Misc.:
Elephant in Camp: