A Dung Filled Delta

By Tarynne

Thursday – Maun Sitatunga Camp

After 280 km we arrived at Maun. The fifth largest town in Botswana is a small village where undoubtedly the number of chickens, donkeys, and goats hanging at the bus station exceeds the total number of residents.

There were some hungry campers on board so Prosper decided to let us loose for a few hours to get lunch. As appealing as Bimbos is, James and I decided to search for Internet so y’all could read about Etosha. Quickly we were reminded that Botswana isn’t South Africa and the further we travel east, the more conveniences (wifi, credit cards, real food, water) we are leaving behind. While James persistently tried to figure out how to hijack internet I opted to cruise around and check out the funky village. It may feel like a creepy petting zoo, but it’s filled with sincere, inviting, patient people.

By 3 p.m. threatening black clouds rolled over us and we quickly (in a group of 21 people that means 45 minutes late) loaded the truck and made the quick drive into camp. Lightening lit up the black sky and thunder cracked above us as we assembled our tents. Yeah the one with metal poles, right under the tallest tree we could find. Don’ t judge. We were desperate to avoid another near-drowning repeat of the day before.

Chef James was on cooking duty and with not much else to do in the downpour his team got busy preparing dinner. Everyone was thrilled dinner was early (anytime before 8 p.m.) and the battle over the last burger patty suggested it was a success. My tummy was thrilled to see real food and James’ stir fry was the best V-day dinner I could ask for.

We called it an early night so we could be alive for the delta trip the next day.

Friday – Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta is a natural wetland which covers 640,000 acres in northern Botswana. The Okavango River rises in Angola and flows south dividing repeatedly after crossing into Botswana to form an intricate floodplain of channels, which spread out into a broad flat inland delta.

We woke up around 6 a.m. and packed our tent, sleeping bags, mattresses, water, malaria meds, Deet, and hopped on an open truck. By 7 a.m. we started the hour and a half drive through the woods catching serious air and dodging branches.

We arrived at the boat departure point and loaded our belongings and selves into a dugout tree canoe (mokoro).

Our porter was a petite and sweet little thing that took us on our hour and a half cruise down the labyrinthine channels of the Okavango Delta. It was an entertaining experience, to sit inside a tree and glide through tunnels of long grasses and have lily pads get stuck between our toes which were sneaking over the sides of the boat. It felt like Splash Mountain, minus the mountain, but easily just as fun.

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We arrived on some little random island and setup camp. It was pretty quick and easy to get organized since all we brought were the clothes we were wearing. We had three guides and all of our porters (basically a dozen people) that also would be sharing the cozy camp with us.

We gathered and were briefed on the essentials: how to poop in a hole, not to swim deeper than chest level to avoid wrestling with crocodiles, and the seriousness in using your headlamp to check for big eyeballs staring back at you from the bush if you are taking care of business at night. Oh yeah, if you find yourself in a stare-down with a lion or rhino, don’t scream, but just calmly go back to your tent. Sure. Wear shoes and long pants always around here so that when you step on a Black Mamba you increase your chances of survival. Good God. Now I know exactly how the damn white goat in the T-Rex tank in Jurassic park must’ve felt.

My brief “holy crap we’re going to die” freakout subsided once Prosper informed me he brought anti-venom, so off we trekked through the long grass to the swimming hole. The water is warm. It’s also copper and smells like a sewage treatment plant. After my toes and water-baby James had a swim we ran back to camp and had lunch. The 14th time we’ve had bread, tomato, cucumber and the worlds most inedible looking mystery meat. Yum.

With the sun blazing we were told we had until 4 p.m. to do whatever we wanted. There was a funny moment when we all just kinda stared at each other and shared the same thought “What the hell is there to do in the middle of the bushes, on an island, and nobody brought a dang thing to do.” Thank God I’d invited Winnie the Pooh cards on this delta excursion. So we sat in the dirt and played speed until James was sick of losing. It’s amusing how quickly we exchanged adulthood for the opportunity to act like careless kids. To play in the dirt, run around barefoot, have no clue what time or what day it is, and wear tree leaves on our clothing without a worry. So yeah, we truly enjoyed this bush camp and the opportunity to do nothing.

After cards we hoped into the mokoros and grabbed a stick and tried driving the trees. Turns out its not as effortless as it looks. We spent the majority of the time stuck atop chunks of grass rather than gliding smoothly down the canals. Anyways, it sucked up a good couple of hours and we returned to camp and gathered with the group for our guided nature walk.

Porters toted us to another island where we disembarked our trees and split into three groups. We walked maybe 20 minutes before seeing a small pack of zebras. We continued on, excited to see what other surprises the delta had in store for us.

The delta is beautiful. It’s quiet. Long grass dances gently in the kind wind. It smells clean and sweet.

Unfortunately the only surprises the delta had to offer us that day was dry elephant shit and warthog holes. Pretty exciting stuff. I was fortunate enough to lose my lens cap so at least I had that to scavenge for on the return walk. James and I kept ourselves entertained (okay, I did, he was a good sport) by decorating James in a sleek camouflage headdress and throwing fossilized poop at one another.

After two hours of poop viewing and walking in the most ridiculous desert attire imaginable, we jumped back into the boats and were treated to the most beautiful surprise of the day. The sunset was the most breathtaking I’ve ever witnessed. We skated across the calm water and watched the incredible show.

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We returned to camp and Prosper had dinner ready for us. We sat around the fire and chowed down our beef stew. The stars were absolutely incredible and the fireflies twinkled across the grass.

While standing quietly reflecting on the hilariously bizarre day that we’d just had, one of the guides came to the water and started talking to me. He was curious and asked many questions, where we come from, what we do, what home is like, what we think of Africa, why did we want to come here. Then I learned he’s the same age, and that being on this planet for the same number of years is the only thing I can relate to with him. His parents died when he was young, and ever since he’s been caring for his three siblings. He couldn’t go to school because he was forced to work to provide for them and himself. He lives in the small village that we departed from. There’s really nothing there but clay huts. Not even a store. He grows some vegetables there and takes the opportunity to serve as a porter and guide when it’s available. He learned English from interacting with tourists. He’s never been anywhere but Maun and his little village. He probably never will. He wants to, and after sharing our itinerary with him he responded “I can’t imagine.” Wow, I bet. The conversation was a playful smack in the face that we all are pretty lucky. If you’re reading this, you know how to read. And holy crap you have a computer. You probably have the ability to travel further than a 15 mile radius during your lifetime. Remember that in itself can be incredible.

We went to bed with the Batswanas singing around the fire. Unfortunately by 12:30 a.m. I discovered that the beef stew wasn’t exactly gluten free. Lets just say it was a rough night. While violently ill in the middle of the bushes I could only concentrate on doing 360s to scan for the big five. I’m sure whatever animal witnessed that disaster was entertained.

Saturday – Okavango Delta & Maun Sitatunga Camp

I couldn’t have been more excited to see the sun waking. Everyone was up by 6:15 a.m. and we were herded into a single file line by 7 a.m. to start another walk. We were expecting to see more poop and more holes, but we didn’t care and simply wanted to move around a bit to start our day. After 45 minutes we returned to camp and packed up and loaded back into the boats.

We made the cruise back to land and then headed to the nearby helipad so that six people in the group could do their delta flights. We waited for an hour for the helicopter to arrive. With no one doing a thing to figure out if the helicopter even existed or not, James and I decided to checkout the village we were parked next to. The village was made up of several clay huts and plenty of donkeys.

We of course had a tennis ball in hand and we were greeted by three adorably curious kids. They were maybe four or five years old. We threw the girl the ball, and unsure if we’d return her throw, she turned and walked away with ball. Well, good thing one of the boys had a plastic toy truck we could play with to continue the interaction. We sat in the dirt and played with the boy and this truck.

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The little clepto returned with the ball and saw that we could be trusted. We then played catch with the kids for nearly an hour. One of these boys had a serious arm and we may or may not have messed around seeing how far he could throw. James signed himself up to be his agent and you can look forward to this stud playing QB for the Cougs in 2025.

We had to tear ourselves away from the now nearly dozen contagious giggles and bright smiles to return to the truck. Dirty, stinky and hungry we cruised back to camp where we all showered and ate, wait for it, sandwiches. The rest of the day was chill. We had a quick chance to be driven to town to get groceries and use internet. Well by the time we actually all were ready it was 4 p.m. and on Saturday everything closes at 2 p.m. While everyone else was SOL, mister pro internet thief had us covered. We sat on the sidewalk stealing internet from a closed shop while we posted the previous blog. Then we went to the grocery store and James purchased essentials: plastic beer pong cups and a nerf-like gun equipped with four ping pong balls as ammunition. How can you not love this guy? An hour later we returned to camp, washed laundry and played football until the darkness set in and forced us to quit playing and start drinking.

Our group is pretty cool. There’s a wild streak in just about everyone and we collectively have the ability to completely disrupt civilization and take over the joint. This night wasn’t the first time for our group to deliver. After a few games of kings, four corners, and flip cup, we were behind the bar with our iPods DJing the place, and monkey-barring from the beams supporting the ceiling. It was out of control and absolutely awesome.

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The next morning, however, not so awesome.

Sunday – Elephant Sands

It was a rough wake up call, as mostly everyone had packed their tents and were closing out tabs and boarding the truck. We scrambled half drunk to get it together and went to pay our tabs. Madam T-money, James Is Hot, and Dino (the owner’s pet chihuahua) managed to rack up a 600 pula tab and a good laugh.

We snoozed the 400km to Nata, stopping once quickly. Oh yeah, and we nearly nailed an elephant on the drive. We arrived at our next campsite Elephant Sands Lodge by 1 p.m. after briefly getting stuck in the sand. We setup our home “Tent 689” (a.k.a. Fat Bastard Africa) and went off to checkout the place.

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Elephant Sands is a sweet campground. They have a bar, pool, and firepit which overlooks a watering hole. Elephants roam freely. Supposedly.

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It was a sweet day that we all needed to recover. Unfortunately no elephants were to be seen. We still had fun hanging by the pool, playing football, drinking Fat Bastard, and enjoying our free time.

Dinner was late (as always) and we were in bed shortly after.

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About Tarynne Mingione

Registered Dietitian (RD, CD), Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 200)
This entry was posted in Botswana and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Dung Filled Delta

  1. Johnny P says:

    Great post, we enjoyed reading it over a lunchtime beer in Key West, 2nd home of the Cougs.
    John & Jude xx

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