Journey to the Okavango Delta

Posted on 16 February 2012

When Greg asked me if I wanted to go to the Okavango Delta in Botswana with him, my immediate response was, ‘Yes!’

I didn’t know much about the area, but the way he described it made it seem like it was one of the most magical places on earth. Secret channels and pools, spinning a web around a mass of isolated islands, some unexplored and totally wild, with lions hiding in tall grass, and herds of elephants secreting themselves in the trees. His whole face changed as he spoke about it, his eyes were more animated, and I could see he was remembering all the adventures he had experienced there. ‘It’s wild though Sam. It’s going to be unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced. We literally just pack the boats with everything we need, set off through the channels and park off on one of the islands, where you can go three weeks without seeing another person. We walk through the bush and stumble onto lions, elephants and hippos and last time I almost sat on a black mamba. Are you sure you’re up to it?’

At this point I wasn’t so sure at all, but I wasn’t about to admit that! We had been dating for about six months, and I was still trying to impress, so, gulping a little bit, I nodded, and smiled brightly, secretly planning to go home and read up on what to do when one encounters elephants or how its best to react when a snake takes a chunk out of your leg.

My research did not help very much. When encountering elephants, apparently it’s best to stay still as long as possible and look them in the eye, with the idea that they find this intimidating. Um, have you seen how big an elephant is? Do you know I’m 5 ft 2 (if that)? I wasn’t sure this strategy was going to work for me. Lions were the same- ‘if a lion looks like it is going to come for you, one should stand still and make oneself appear as big as possible while creating lots of noise.’ Perfect. So when the big male lion decides I’m breakfast I’m supposed to stand there, and look appetizing while advertising my presence to the rest of the pride. I couldn’t wait. Oh also do not try and climb a tree- lions can climb too- who knew? And you could encounter a not- so-friendly leopard up there too.

My confidence was lessening, and I began to feel a bit afraid. I had been to nature reserves and parks before, but that was always to stay in the park accommodation, and to explore by vehicle as opposed to on foot. I was beginning to realise that this was going to be an altogether different experience and that everything there was bigger, stronger, faster or more cunning than me. I was also worried about my hair, it has a tendency to frizz, and Greg hadn’t seen it in uncontrolled wild mode yet- well at least I’d fit in looking like a crazy bush lady and I could possibly scare off a few lions.

What to pack was also turning out to be quite a problem. I had been told we were possibly going to be wading through hip- high water, crawling through mud, and stalking through grass as tall as my head (all confidence building stuff) so I realized I needed a wardrobe revamp. Inspired by the chameleon, I decided camouflage was the way forward, so bought all the brown, grey, and green clothes I could find and hoped I resembled a bush. If you can’t outrun the ellie, you can at least try and fool him! A wide brim bush hat completed my look, and standing looking at myself in the mirror, I felt quite proud of what I had achieved. I certainly looked the part- nature enthusiast/ bush/ foreign tourist on safari, thus, with a last longing look at my hair straightener I closed my bag and set off to meet Greg. Greg took one look at my bag and promptly repacked the entire thing, discarding half my carefully selected outfits, and chucking the rest of it into a waterproof backpack. And then we were off.

We flew to Windhoek and stayed on a farm there for a night, and picked up the Prado. The next day we started the long drive to Etsha 13 and Nguma Island Lodge. Dodging dozy donkeys and avoiding curious cows who stand in the middle of the road makes for an entertaining and at times, terrifying drive. It’s not advisable to drive at night, as the animals are difficult to spot and there have been many accidents along the roads. We had to stop at Maun on the way to buy our food (Ron’s butchery and Spar) and fill up with fuel.

I cannot remember the name of the place we stayed at on the way to Nguma, and to be honest I’m not sure I want to! I was grumpy and stiff from sitting in the car all day, and hungry too. I needed supper and sleep, and so we stopped at the first decent looking place we could find in Ghanzi. There was loud music coming from the dining room, but the rooms were OK so we decided to stay. Venturing into the dining room, I felt a little bit nauseous when I saw the flies buzzing around the food. Pap and chicken stew were on buffet, so I helped myself to some pap and then stood examining the stew for a while, building up courage. A greasy, orange slime covered the top of it, but I closed my eyes and dug out a piece of chicken. As I sat down to eat I was about to munch my chicken when I noticed a stringy feather, clinging to a boiled down foot… I put my cutlery down and ran away, leaving Greg happily munching his pap.

The next day we drove for six hours or so before reaching the turn off for Nguma Island Lodge. The road was flooded but Nookie said that we could probably manage it in the Prado, with Alex, her manager, going ahead to guide us. Greg’s eyes widened, and his mouth formed a grim line when he saw the water. It was literally a giant lake, stretching as far as the eye could see, with water birds standing gracefully submerged where the road had once been, amidst crocs and the occasional elephant, come down for a drink.

Alex smiled at us, and greeted us with a traditional hand- shake and laughed when he saw Greg’s face. They’re old friends so Alex didn’t hold back with teasing him, and eventually Greg decided he was ready to tackle our watery nemesis. Alex went ahead in his jeep and made it look easy, so we slid into the mud after him, and kept the engine revs up, as we carefully followed his tracks, and edged our way as quickly as possible through the pools. The lake rose up to the bottom of my window at one point, and it felt like we were on a boat. The engine roared it’s disgust, but the car kept chugging along, and finally we were at the last hurdle. There was a patch of dry land to park on, and then Bashee and Max and some of the other guys arrived in mekoros to ferry us across the last bit of water that was too deep for the car. Loading our bags and ourselves onto the slender and not so steady mekoro was entertaining, but luckily (and surprisingly) I managed not to fall into the swamp, and we arrived at the lodge, relieved and happy.

Nguma Island Lodge is beautiful. Luxurious tents are built on stilts, connected by a central walkway that leads to the main dining area and the lagoon, or to the shady camping area. The water had flooded the ground below the tents, and was softly flowing through the trees. Nookie’s resident pet hippo could be heard snuffling around the garden, or snorting in the lagoon, and as night fell, the tiny skops owl added his voice to the cricket and frog’s chorus. We joined Nookie in the lodge dining area and my nose started going crazy as the scent of roast potatoes and scrumptious roast chicken wafted through the air. Nookie’s staff are lovely- they are all friendly and attentive and they honestly make the most divine roast potatoes I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve been to the lodge a few times now, and I think Nookie knows that her potatoes are one of the highlights of my life thus far (sad but true, and completely understandable once you taste them) so she always has some waiting for me.

She makes amazing jams, preserved chillies, marmalade and honey as well. After eating an embarrassing amount of potatoes and pudding, I scampered back to my tent along the walkway, listening to the distant calls of lions waking up for the hunt and the grunting of the hippos, during their night- time food forage. I felt so at peace, and had a wonderful night’s sleep, which was a jolly good thing, because I was going to need energy the next day! The following morning I watched the sky change colour, dappling its pink-purple reflection on the lagoon as the sun swiftly rose. Breakfast was amazing, and then we had to get to work. Packing the boats with all the camping gear we would need for the next two weeks, was no easy task, and it was going to take us the next two days to get everything ready. I was not looking forward to the packing, but I wasn’t too sad about the fact that it meant we were going to stay at Nguma for another two days, gorging on sandwiches, potatoes and puddings, and safely out of reach from anything that could potentially eat me.


For accommodation in the Okavango, Getaway Accomodation has some great options!



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