Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Okavango Delta: A Safari That's All Wet

Welcome to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, which is one of the world's largest inland waterways and home to over 250,000 large mammals.  During our four days in the area, we saw the Delta from a helicopter, a motor boat, a canoe, on foot, and from a tent.  Click the link to read more about our safari in the Okavango Delta.

It seems a bit risky to engage in back-and-forth negotiations regarding the price of something like a helicopter tour.  You hate to negotiate so hard that the pilot decides to cut corners in order to make the sale.  For instance, after we agreed on a price and approached the helicopter, we noticed the pilot was taking off the doors to the helicopter.  This led me to wonder if the doors cost extra.  Thankfully, the seatbelts were included in the price!

Above are some photos taken from our helicopter ride over the Delta, showing zebras, an elephant, and hippos.  Each year, seasonal floods from nearby Angola fills an area one-half the size of Switzerland with water.  This seasonal flooding of the Okavango Delta draws hundreds of thousands of large mammals to the region.  The water is crystal clear, as can be seen from the photo immediately above, showing the bodies of the submerged hippos.

If you've watched the BBC's "Planet Earth" series, then you know that there is a segment devoted to the Okavango Delta which features amazing aerial footage of the Delta and its resident animals.  The aerial footage I took with my tiny camera is not nearly as impressive, but I bet we paid a lot less for our helicopter ride!  Above are a few of the videos from our ride.

Above is a video taken just after our helicopter ride.  It epitomizes our trip as a whole: it's an incredible experience, but we do have to occasionally look down to make sure we don't step in a pile of poop.


The bulk of our Okavango Delta safari took place aboard a motorboat, cruising along the many waterways.  The waterways are created by hippos, and they change over time.  The two photos immediately above show hippos staring at our boat.  Hippos can become aggressive, and they kill more humans each year than any other large animal (i.e., they kill more humans than sharks, tigers or lions, but they kill nowhere near as many humans as disease-transmitting insects like mosquitoes).
Above are some videos taken from our motorboat rides in the Delta.
We saw a line of elephants walking along one of the islands in the Delta which included a baby elephant.  Above is a video of the elephants walking, and, in the photo above, the baby elephant is barely visible standing between the other two elephants.

We traveled to a tiny village in the Delta in order to take a ride in a traditional canoe, known as a mokoro.  Notice the hut pictured above has soda cans in the dried mud walls.  Although the tribes that live in the Delta region have lived there for centuries, I'm guessing that the soda-can construction trick is relatively new.
This is a photo of our mokoro next to Shane and Nick in their mokoro.  Notice the "Toyota" plate on our mokoro!  As a side note, notice the clothes being worn by our local mokoro drivers.  Apparently, over 50% of the clothing Americans donate to Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc., ends up being distributed in Africa.  It helps explain why most of the local safari guides we encountered seemed to be wearing slacks from the "casual wear" department at J.C. Penny.

Above are some photos taken during our mokoro ride.
Above are some videos from the mokoro, which illustrate how peaceful the ride was.

Our safari also involved a few "game walks," where we got off the boat and walked on the various islands in the Okavango Delta.  During these walks, we looked for wildlife.
Here is our guide standing next to a termite mound looking at the plain.  Over 70% of the islands in the Okavango Delta began as a termite mound, which then led to a tree taking root, which then developed into an island.

At first, we just saw signs of animals.  Above is a photo of what remained of a zebra leg after a lion was finished with him.  Also above is a photo of elephant tracks.  I sometimes find it difficult to find shoes that fit my size 12.5 feet.  It's no wonder elephants walk around barefoot; they can never find shoes that fit!

Then, as if on cue, the animals started appearing.  We encountered elephants, zebra, baboons, impala and wildebeest.  Above are some photos and videos from our walks.  I've been fortunate enough to go on safaris in cars, helicopters and boats, but for me, walking among the animals on foot is by far the most exhilarating way to experience a safari.  Because our guides did not carry guns, I was somewhat relieved that we did not encounter any lions while walking among the islands.

After our game walks, we returned to our campsite on an island in the Delta.

Our guides prepared our food and even erected a makeshift toilet and shower.  Although the word "luxury" did not spring to mind, the camping was certainly as comfortable as could be reasonably expected considering the nearest town with electricity was a four-hour boat ride away.
Our campsite was in the middle of the Delta, with no fences between us and the animals.  Above is a video of an elephant which walked beside our campsite while we ate lunch.

 As the sun set each evening, we were treated to beautiful views, filling dinners, and roasted marshmallows for dessert.  During the night, the vast panorama of stars, including a couple of the shooting variety, was amazing to behold.  And, as we lay in our tents, we could hear the sounds of hippos swimming near us and baboons walking among the nearby trees.  At first this was disconcerting, but eventually the sounds became familiar, and even a bit comforting.
After we said good-bye to our guides, we headed back to civilization.

"Civilization" in northern Botswana means a good meal, a tent with nice beds, a good view of a river, and an open-air bathroom.  It was an excellent end to a wonderful safari experience.


A. Sofia said...

Wow wow wow. And your prose brings a smile to my face. Miss all four of you lovely travelers.

Jason said...

Thank you so much, Alexa! The gang's all with me as I type this, and everyone says an enthusiastic hello. We miss you!

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