Sunday Morning ~ Chitabe Camp, Botswana
August 12, 2018
“Don’t panic until I do.” That’s what our guide Stuart told us as we set off on a walking safari on Wednesday. His English wasn’t that great and he seemed a little low on energy, so I was a little apprehensive as we started off. This was part of our mokoro camping trip into the Okavango Delta. We’ve been camping all along at campgrounds where there is running water and fireplaces. This was sort of a sub-camping trip where we had to carry all our stuff on a mokoro and make camp on a little deserted island with absolutely no amenities. A mokoro is a small boat that looks like a dug-out canoe but is made of fiberglass. It’s a bit tippy. The poler, who was also our guide, stands at the back with a big pole he uses to move us along the waterway. It’s like punting with crocodiles. After we got to the island where we set up camp, we took the mokoro to a bigger island for our safari. That’s where we got the instructions to stay in single file, speak in quiet voices, and don’t panic until Stuart does.
Getting to Botswana was simple from Windhoek. Crossing the border was cake, and the only thing we had to watch out for was cattle on the road. They are everywhere. We got to Maun and found a place to camp right on the river at a backpackers lodge where they can arrange all sorts of activities. On a chalkboard behind the bar was a list of prices for mokoro trips and it was really cheap! We thought that would be a good start to seeing some of the inner delta. Certainly no problem with availability; you sign up, pay your money, and a forty-five minute speed boat ride takes you to a village where the mokoro station is. There, you put all your camping equipment, food, and anything else you need for the trip into one of these little boats and your poler/guide takes you along peaceful, spectacular waterways another hour and a half to a camping spot. You are completely at his mercy as he poles along the crocodile-laden waters humming to himself. Not being such a big boat person, I thought I was heroic by not flipping out about this. His instructions as we got into this thin craft with all our gear was, “Act like a sack of potatoes and don’t move.” The water isn’t deep or cold so I wasn’t worried about drowning this time, but I was not eager to lose a limb to Charlie the croc if we tipped over. I murmured to George, “Did you hear that? Don’t move!” I was worried he’d try to stand up or something to try to take a picture.
Stuart’s job was to get us there, keep us alive, and get us back to the village where the speed boat would collect us on Friday. It was up to us to cook for ourselves and look after our stuff, etc. Another couple from UK was camping near us with a different guide who was a bit livelier. Stuart seemed a little depressed. The other guide dug a hole which was to be our toilet for the three days then showed us some necklaces he’d made, took out his guitar, and sang. Stuart asked us if we’d brought toilet paper. We said we had and his only response was, “good”. He was making me nervous. He didn’t have a tent with him so ended up sleeping in the other guide’s tiny tent. He also didn’t bring any food. We weren’t supposed to have to feed him, but we ended up sharing some of what we’d brought because he looked hungry and it was awkward to eat with him sitting there. Like I said, this little activity was cheap. It ended up being really wonderful though, and by the end of the three days, I was quite fond of Stuart. He would pole us over to these other islands and we’d walk for hours seeing various antelope and zebra in the distance. There are supposedly lions around there but we didn’t come across any, for which I was grateful in this circumstance. Especially after his “don’t panic until I do” comment. We’d get up at six, pole over to another island and walk for two or three hours, go back to camp and have several hours to read, paint, or talk, then around five we’d go off in the mokoro again to watch the hippos while the sun set. It was so peaceful and laid back and since we’ve been moving so much, it felt good to sit for awhile and just take it all in.
My focus had been on Namibia but George had really wanted to spend some time in the Okavango, so we planned the route back to Malawi through Botswana. I’m not sure I even knew what a delta was. I certainly didn’t have a good picture of this place in my mind, but had heard raves from people who’d been here. I’d heard prince Harry loved it and brought Megan camping here before he proposed. I asked the couple (Tom and Anna) from UK if they knew where the royal couple had camped? Tom said, “No, Harry and I don’t talk much anymore since he met Megan.” Tom was not a big fan of the royals and said his idea was to sell them to the Americans and use the money to pay off the national debt. I found Tom endlessly amusing.
Botswana, like Namibia, does a fantastic job with tourism and the Okavango is a very popular destination. Since we’d not made advanced plans we weren’t sure what we’d do. Everyone told us we’d have to make reservations at least a year in advance to get into one of the remote lodges you have to fly into, but knowing they are super expensive, we weren’t planning on staying at one anyway. We thought we might take one of the hour-long scenic flights. But then we started talking about it and thought, hey, we’re probably never going to be here again, so lets just check it out. So the day before we left on the mokoro trip we went into the office in Maun that manages the lodges run by a company called Wilderness Safaris. We thought we’d just see if there was a chance there was an opening for a couple of nights. We didn’t care which camp it was. Well, it turns out that not only was there an opening, but since we’d worked in Africa we got a very reduced rate (like a third of the standard rate) so we signed up. The price included the flight, all the activities, and even drinks! Woohoo! So knowing we were booked for some luxury, we went off with Stuart and enjoyed, what we now know was, the other extreme.
By the time we got back to Maun on Friday we had layers of sunscreen, bug repellent, sweat, and dirt, about an inch thick over just about all of us. I thought I might just throw my clothes away instead of trying to wash them. But it was a good kind of dirty. A satisfying dirty. The kind of dirty that makes showering a religious experience.
Saturday morning we were up bright and early to break down the tent and pack up for our ten o’clock flight. Every time I think this trip can’t get any better, we stay at a place that makes me pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. I see why Harry loves it here. I mean, really. Oh Em Gee.
We left the car at the Wilderness Safaris office and crossed the street to the tiny airport where we boarded the tiny plane that flies fortunate people like us into these camps. The camps are scattered throughout the delta which covers an area the size of Denmark. Our flight was short, only twenty minutes, and we were the only people on it. We landed on the dusty airstrip with a giraffe standing by the windsock and as we taxied toward the waiting land rover an ostrich ran in front of us. This was really cool. We thanked our young pilot and got into the waiting vehicle with a driver, named Tank, who greeted us like we were long lost relatives. We hadn’t even left the airstrip and I already thought it was worth the price of the trip. It took about thirty five minutes to drive from there to the camp and the animals we saw on the way were phenomenal! Herds of impala, elephants, zebra, birds, all over the place. It was unbelievable! We pull up to the camp and five staff members are at the entrance singing a welcome to us. They helped us down from the vehicle as they introduced themselves and shook our hands. They didn’t let us carry a thing. We followed them into the main thatched room where an gorgeous brunch was laid out. We got ourselves a plate of food and the manager got one for himself and sat and ate with us while he explained how everything works and what the schedule would be. After lunch we would be free until 3:30 when they served high tea. Then we would leave for the evening game drive and return around seven for dinner. After brunch he walked us to our chalet and gave us an orientation. He explained the in and outdoor showers, that they prefer we use their eco-friendly products for bathing, showed us how the lights work, where to leave any laundry we want washed, etc. etc. then left us to rest until tea. We both burst out laughing thinking a few days before our guide made sure we’d brought our own toilet paper.
I went onto the porch to soak my feet (which were still dirty after the holy shower) and read while George sat inside at the desk to write. I heard some rustling of branches, looked up and hissed, “George! Get out here! Look at this!” and George comes out of the chalet with his binoculars around his neck. I said, “Uh, you won’t need those.” Ten feet from the edge of the porch was a mother and baby elephant browsing away on the tree next to us. They didn’t pay any attention to us, munched for awhile, and moved on. We kept saying, “Oh my God, we just got here!”
I was still full from lunch but that didn’t stop me from eating some of the savory pastries at tea before we got into a safari vehicle with a Scottish family to head out for the evening game drive. Before we left, Ebs, our guide for the duration of our stay, asked what I’d like to drink for sundowners. I told him I’d have red wine since it was rather chilly, and he asked (I swear to God) “Would you like a full bodied or medium bodied?” Since I’ve gotten used to a Malawian waiter asking, “Red? Uh, let me check if we have any.” And if they do, it comes out of a box. I couldn’t stop laughing.
The amount of game here is staggering! Seriously! A herd of five hundred buffalo! But the most exciting thing we saw last night was two lionesses and six cubs dining on a zebra. I am very glad I didn’t see the actual kill which had happened the night before, as I love zebra. But to see these powerful creatures eating and guarding their food with their cubs was amazing. The cubs would nurse, then frolick, then lick the zebra meat or pull at it. The lionesses would eat some, then lie down and sleep while the cubs suckled. It was incredible. We watched that for quite a while before finding a place to stop for wine and the gorgeous red sunset I never get tired of. We saw more animals on the way back to camp as it got colder and colder, and as we arrived in the dark and descended from the vehicle, a staff person was there to hand us a warm washcloth for our hands and face. I’m like, are you kidding? Then we walk into the dining area where we were handed a glass of sparkling wine to sip while we waited for dinner to be served.
I never want to leave this place.
…to be continued….
Love to all,