Botswana day 3: Goodbye Chobe, Hello Okavango Delta

I set the alarm for 4:30 am again. I preferred waking up to the sound of my handphone alarm than the ringing of the telephone. After I’m dressed, I went and sat on the porch to view the stars. I shivered. It felt colder this morning compared to yesterday.

At 5:30 am, AC and I walked to the main building. Although not as cheery as the other guests, I was in a more cheerful mood than yesterday because I knew that there was a fresh, hot muffin waiting for me.

At 6 am, we departed for the morning game drive and were in Chobe National Park before the sun was up. We drove for a quite a while before finding animals. Along the way, I managed to doze off despite being bounced around on the jeep.

The first animal we saw was a whole troop of baboons walking along the dirt road.

Click on the image above to get the wallpaper version (2000 x 1500 px)

The sun had also risen above the horizon by now. Rati wanted to show us more animals so she did not stop for the sunrise. I had no choice but to quickly snapped a photograph while the jeep was moving.

We saw some buffaloes, a vulture and a giraffe.

We also saw three lion cubs which got everybody excited and we spent a long time taking photographs of them. Other jeeps came along and everyone stopped to look at the cubs. Soon, there were more jeeps than cubs. The poor lions cubs were somewhat intimidated by the many large, noisy, exhaust-belching jeeps and they moved to hide in the bushes.

Back at the lodge, we were asked very nicely by a staff to check out of our room at 9:30 am. As we were only leaving at 12 noon, she offered to give us another room so that we have somewhere to rest in. I was a bit puzzled. Why the double work? Couldn’t they just let the new guests have the other room? But I didn’t ask further as there must be some reason, even though I didn’t quite see the logic of it at the moment. We packed up once we finished breakfast. After we had checked out, we were shown to our new room which was located in the main building and overlooked the swimming pool. It was less scenic than our previous room and now I understood why we were asked to check out early. It was nice of the lodge to try and make sure that their guests stayed in rooms with scenic views.

We left for the airport with some other guests in a jeep driven by Rati at 12 noon. The airport was not big and Rati left after telling us to join a long queue. However, AC and I felt that something was wrong when we found out that the other guests were going to South Africa. AC and I were not going to South Africa so we shouldn’t be in the same queue. Luckily the travel agent had printed out all our flight details so we knew that we were flying by Mack Air to Stanley’s Camp. I looked around but I couldn’t see the Mack Air counter.

However, Rati had already left. So I told AC to stay in the queue while I asked the woman behind the tourist information counter. The woman was not much help but a Chobe Game Lodge employee nearby overheard our conversation and came forward to offer his help. He found a Mack Air employee who was holding a clipboard. The only thing identifying the Mack Air employee was “Mack Air” written on his brightly-colored safety jacket. I doubt I would have noticed it on my own.

The Mack Air employee found our names on the passenger list. So it was a relief. We could continue on our journey. The employee took our luggage and brought it to the luggage handler. We bid goodbye to the other guests from Chobe Game Lodge and joined a queue for the immigration counters.

Up until now, our trip was pretty smooth and this was the first hiccup. There was probably a breakdown of comms somewhere as the lodge staff were aware that AC and I were going on a Mack Air flight. However the information was not conveyed to Rati, who assumed that everyone was flying back to South Africa. Thank goodness the travel agent had printed out all the important information.

After passing through the immigration, we waited in the one and only boarding lounge until a Caucasian woman came to the door and called our names. Based on her accent, I thought that she might be from Australia. We would be flying with a Caucasian family of six. The Caucasian family had to be split up into two planes because they had a lot of people. The family seemed to take the splitting up in their stride except for the daughter who became a bit upset. We were led outside where the same Mack Air employee who attended to us asked us to identify our luggage so that he could load them onto the planes.

AC and I and couldn’t find our luggage so the employee went back into the airport building. After a few minutes, he reappeared holding our luggage in his hands. With everybody’s luggage accounted for, we took a 10 min walk to the parked planes. The aircraft was pretty small and could take only seven people, including the pilot. After putting our luggage into a small compartment at the bottom of the plane, all of us got on.

My pilot was the Australian lady. She started the ignition, the propeller starting spinning and then we’re off to the Okavango Delta!

Riding in the light aircraft was an interesting experience but it really quite uncomfortable. It was cramped, noisy, hot and stuffy. I could feel every movement the plane made, every dip, every turn, every swerve. I was starting to feel a little sick. It was a good thing that I fell asleep pretty quickly and couldn’t feel anything for the rest of the flight.

We landed at an airstrip to let the Caucasian family alight. There seemed to be some mixed up with their reservations and we were stuck for some time while they sorted things out. From what I overheard, it seemed that the Caucasian family were originally travelling with another family. When that family cancelled their reservations, the camp thought that both families cancelled. I didn’t mind the wait much as it gave me time to recover. I was glad to be on firm ground again.

After waiting for a while, AC got quite impatient. She wanted to set off again and reach our camp. I later found out that the reason for AC’s foul mood was because she was very hungry. And it’s no wonder, for we only had breakfast and it was now close to 3 pm. I couldn’t fault her for I can be ill-tempered too when I am hungry. Except this time, my stomach had not yet recovered from being air sick (plane sick?). Finally, a vehicle from the camp came to pick up the family and we could continue with our journey.

We arrived that the airstrip for Stanley’s Camp around 10 mins later. It was just a long, straight dirt road in the middle of nowhere. There was a small shed nearby containing three buckets and perhaps a fire extinguisher. There was nobody at the airstrip so we had to wait again. The sun was very hot and there was not a cloud in the sky. After taking a few photos, I took shelter from the scorching sun in the shade of the plane.

After there was still no sight of the pickup, the pilot contacted the camp via the plane’s radio and was informed that the jeep sent to pick us up broke down along the way so the camp was sending another one jeep. We settled down to wait. Then suddenly we saw someone running towards us from the treeline. He was a tall, lanky man with a shaven head. He was dressed in safari attire and carried a boot in each hand. It turned out that he was the rep who was sent to pick us up. After his jeep broke down, he decided to run through the bush to meet us.

He was called On. When he reached where we were standing, we applauded him for his bravery in running alone through the bush and barefooted some more. On claimed that it was faster for him to run barefooted than in boots.

We said goodbye to the pilot and moved to stand under a tree. I was a bit sad to see the plane leave because it provided more shade than the tree.

While waiting, On put on his boots and told us what happened. He was on his way to pick us up and came across another jeep stuck in the water. So On tried to pull it out using his jeep. But in the process of doing so, his own jeep got stuck too. So the camp had to send a third jeep to pick us up and rescue the guests from the first jeep. After a while, the third jeep arrived and all of us got onto it. Then we drove to where the first and second jeep were still stuck. The passengers in the first jeep were a family of four from Australia and they climbed into our jeep to return to the camp.

When we arrived at the camp, there were a row of people waiting to greet us. The employees sang two African songs to welcome us. We were each given a chilled welcome drink and handmade rattan bracelet with our names woven into it. That’s pretty cool.

Then we proceed to the main building for a briefing and afternoon tea. One of the optional side activities at the camp was a morning walk and lunch with some hand-raised African elephants. The Australian family had already indicated their interest and we were asked if we were interested. We decided not to go for it as we would have to pay another USD 200 or 300 for the activity. Plus, elephants are common in our part of the world. As AC put it, “If I wanted to spend time with an elephant, I would have already done it in Thailand.”

We were also briefed on the safety precautions at the camp. Then we were shown to our tents. There were only eight tents, meaning that at any one time, the camp could only have a maximum of 16 guests. The tents were arranged in a straight line leading away from the main building, with number 1 being the closest. We had number 7 which felt like a long way away from the main building. For the rest of the stay, AC and I kept thinking that we had walked long enough to reach our tent but then we looked at the marker and we were only at number 4 or 5.

Even though we were staying in a tent, it was a very luxurious tent, with a porch, proper beds, working shower (with hot water) and toilet. No hardship at all!

I felt really pampered to to have such wonderful lodgings at the safari. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that it felt a little wrong somehow, that I shouldn’t have it so easy in the middle of the safari.

At 5 pm, we went for a game drive together with the Australian family. On was our guide, and assisting him was a tracker. The tracker did not seem to speak any English so we communicated only with On. Along the way, On stopped the jeep near a bush and broke off a twig. He passed it to us. There was a strong herb scent from the leaves. On told us that the plant was a wild sage and locals used it to fend off mosquitoes. They took the leaves and burnt them, using the smoke to chase away mosquitoes.

We saw some interesting birds and some elephants. On also stopped the jeep to point our some impala tracks and a termite hill that was almost six meters tall. On explained that termite hills are important to the Okavango Delta ecosystem. They trapped seeds which grew into trees and bushes, and in turn trapped more sediment, turning the termite hill into an island.

We also came across two young bull elephants. When we stopped nearby, One of them lifted up his trunk that he could sniff us. We must smelled confusing, a bouquet of petrol, exhaust fumes, sweat and mosquito repellent scents. After a while, the two bulls started play fighting as if they were putting up a show for us.

Even though we did not see a lot of animals, it was nice riding in the jeep. It was especially fun whenever we had to drive into the wet portions. The water level could be higher than our knees so some water would get into the jeep. On always remind us to lift our feet when we were approaching a wet portion. After a while, we got used to it and lifted our feet automatically.

On told us that this portion of land was privately owned by Sanctuary Retreats (the company who owned Stanley’s Camp as well as other camps) and was shared with the nearby Baine’s Camp. This was good as it meant that there was less traffic than Chobe National Park. We also did not have to keep to the roads and On could drive into the bush for us to take a closer look at the animals. The rules for animal sighting were also stricter. On told us that there could only be a maximum of three jeeps at any animal sighting. If a fourth jeep arrived, the first jeep had to leave.

Click on the image above to get the wallpaper version (2000 x 1500 px)

When it was almost sunset, On found a clearing, stopped the jeep and all of us got off. On and the tracker set up a small table and took out some dim sum baskets. In the baskets were snacks like dried fruits, beef jerky and buns. On provided some wet wipes so that we could clean our hands before eating the snacks. In a cooler bag, were cold drinks like mineral water, juices and even beer and whiskey. It was nice to be able to cool off with a nice cold drink.

Click on the image above to get the wallpaper version (2000 x 1125 px)

We watched the sun until it disappeared below the horizon. It was a lovely sunset.

Click on the image above to get the wallpaper version (2000 x 1125 px)

Then we packed up and continued driving through the night until 6:30 pm. Although the trackers shone a large spotlight around, we were not able to find any animals. Once the sun had disappeared from the sky, it became chilly very fast. I had to put on my down jacket to stay warm.

We returned to our tents to freshen up after the drive. At 7 pm, a staff came to fetch us to the main lodge for dinner. Dinner was very good and the food was comparable to some of the better restaurants I’ve been to. We were introduced to the chefs, a local man and a woman. AC shook hands with the male chef while the friendly female chef gave AC a hug. It was a good thing AC went first as I am not a hugging type of person. So when it was my turn, I was mentally prepared to give a hug.

AC and I took a hot shower after dinner. There was a small bottle of port in our tent and we drank to warm ourselves up. It had turned rather cold and we had to wear long johns underneath our pajamas. There was no need for any aircon at all.

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