Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Botswana - The Okavango Delta

(A funky little frog sitting on a reed in the waters of the Okavango Delta.)

If Chobe National Park was a surprise highlight, the Okavango Delta was something that I'd been looking forward to for some time (though – as you can see below – there were still some surprise thrills). The Delta is for many people the highlight of a visit to Botswana. It is the largest inland delta in the world covering some 20,000 square kilometers.

The first impression we got of the Delta came from just a couple of centimeters above the water. Twenty of us took a trip into the Delta in a type of two-man canoe known locally as a Mokori. Each canoe was punted by one of the local people, acting as a poler. This was a unique and incredibly relaxing experience. From down at the water level, the Delta is a maze of islands and waterways. The water is nowhere deeper than a couple of metres and reeds and grasses poke out of the water everywhere, making the land and water seem to merge in places.

After sailing out into the heart of the Delta, we stopped at a large island and stayed there for two nights. We were able to try out our skills piloting the Mokoris, with limited success. Nick and I were able to punt our way over to the ‘hippo pool’ where we could see hippos and elephants in the distance.

The above photo is of Debbie and Numpty on the delta. Numpty used to be called Nicki, but was awarded the ‘numpty’ so many times – six times to be exact - that everyone started to call her numpty. Seems a tad unfair now, given that in the Delta I got the numpty for the sixth time myself…

On the first day in the Delta, I’d fallen out of a Mokori, while trying to race across a stretch of the Delta. I had been picking up the technique pretty well, but then, as I always do with snowboarding and windsurfing, I got to cocky and came a cropper. Pretty harsh to get numpty for the fifth time, just for that I felt.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that I was ‘given’ the numpty the sixth time. In fact, after a big night in the delta, I opted to keep it for myself. I received so many nominations the next day, that I have to admit that anything else would have been a travesty. Singing the Scottish national anthem at deafening volume and falling over while dancing and flattening “Big Momma’s” (LEFT) tent being perhaps the most noteworthy nominations.

I can only say that I’ve since vowed to mend my ways (!) and have not received the numpty again since. Although there was a very near miss a week later, when I was nominated for

(a) getting up at 6am to go on a game drive, but then missing the truck and having to wait at the camp… because I wandered off to check when the internet would be open (gotta admire that commitment to the website)

(b) being annoyed because someone had ‘stolen’ my battery charger from the toilets and then finding it later in the pocket of my jeans

(c) leaving a plastic plate next to the fire and returning only after it had melted into a kinda bowl shape. (I was told that unfortunately there was no need for extra bowls, so sadly the plate hit the bin)


(d) being caught writing a postcard to myself… which started “Hi Calum, remember this...”. Now to be honest, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing yourself a postcard. Isn’t it a great way to remember your holidays? (Rhetorical question)

(Me, Sheena, Alex, Brock and Sam looking extremely relieved to be back on solid ground.)

After returning to camp from our two-night trip out across the waters, we had an opportunity to see the Delta from a very different perspective. Five of us - Brock, Alex, Sam (Girl), Sheena and I took a scenic flight in a 6 seater Cessna out over the Delta.

This was a very special way of seeing how vast and beautiful the Delta was. The dots in the photos below are herds of elephant or water buffalo. We also saw giraffes. It was an amazing feeling spotting the animals from 350 feet up.

However, none of us will remember the flight primarily for the animals... our pilot, 24-year old Chris (RIGHT) turned out to have a penchant for stunt flying. After a few minutes of flying over the Delta, he brought the plane right down until we were flying at full-speed just a baw-hair above the water.

As trees approached ahead, he pulled the plane into a steep climb and then when we were a couple of hundred feet up, levelled off suddenly, giving us a sudden sensation of weightlessness and making my binoculars fly to the back of the cabin.

After he'd done this another twice, each time flying below the level of the tree-tops, the five of us were both traumatised and grinning like idiots. I was also sweating prefusely, though perhaps not as freaked out as Sam, who (RIGHT) had to bury her face in my shoulder any time the pilot started doing anything crazy.

This was definitely another absolute highlight of Africa. I'm grinning again any time I think about it.

(LEFT: The Delta looked beautiful from the air. A rich green and blue mosaic with the light brown of trees and occassional reds and yellows.)

(Animals appeared infrequently, but often in large numbers. To see a line of elephants wading through the shallows was breathtaking. One herd numbered thirty or more, water buffalo perhaps two or three times as many again.)

(Flying at top speed below the tops of the trees. The Okavango Delta wasn't just about relaxation...)


helen@drongan said...

Heads of Ayr farm park will never have the same appeal after reading this! We're having a great time touring with you Calum, luv from The Frames xx

Calum said...

thanks. looking forward to seeing you all when i'm back in Ayr next month.