Travelling with Alex – Part III: A celebrity stop, a mokoro and the milky way

Maun Travel Blog

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A kingfisher with a fish

Because our travel arrangements were a bit complicated we had to fly from the far north east back to Gabs and the next morning back up north west by plane…Air Botswana was due to leave at 8 AM so we made it to the airport by 7. Well, in theory they were leaving at 8…in practice we were told the flight had been delayed to 10 AM without a particular reason. Air Botswana is an airline with 5 planes or so and this one had been in Gabs all night…well, we tried to take it the Botswana way and relax. Alex broke a record in postcard production writing approx. 30 cards at the airport.

 

We arrived in Maun around noon and the sun was blazing.

Walking safari
The weather up there is much warmer than in Gabs (at least during the day) and we were picked up by a driver of the backpacker we had booked. Alex discovered the craft shop across the road in no minute and vanished there right away. The driver was really friendly and took us with his shining blue pick up about 15 km out of Maun to one arm of the Okavango Delta. I was sitting in the back on the truck and enjoyed myself tremendously. Maun is a small village but has grown to be Botswana’s tourism hub in the last years since they built a paved road to there in the 1990ies.

 

The Old Bridge Backpacker’s (www.maun-backpackers.com) is incredibly nicely located right at one arm of the Okavango.

Close to an elephant
It is rather new, just a couple of years old. The owner (or what seemed to be the owner) is David and was very friendly like all of the people there. The showers are under the blue sky and everything is very clean. We had booked a double tent with beds for a mere 9 euros per person/night. It is very calm and quiet. When the Okavango has less water, the hippos bath in the pool right next to the backpacker’s which must be a very nice sight (and sound), too. At this time we saw a lot of Kingfisher’s munching away on freshly caught fish right beside us.

 

The backpacker’s is full of interesting people: young ones (there was a group of 5 American girls that study at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and had taken the bus up there), world travellers (we met and talked for a long time with an English couple in their mid-30ies that has been touring the world for more than 4 years now! �" They started in South America, via New Zealand and Australia to SouthEast-Asia, then on to Africa where they had been for 8 months already and had witnessed the violence in Kenya), and a whole bunch of middle-aged to aged whites that started drinking at the bar at 10 AM and never stopped.

After the swim
Over the log fires we were listening to stories of hippo-hunting and other adventures…J

 

In the evening, David took us and some others on a ride on his motorboat and we saw a beautiful sunset, zebras along the river, a couple of hippos and many many birds.

 

For the following day we had booked a mokoro (a traditional dugout canoe) tour which was reasonably cheap at the backpacker’s: 65 euros per person for a two-day trip. We talked about the trip with the English in the evening because they had taken it two days before us. They were very disappointed by the trip, the mokoro guide having been very lazy and not at explaining anything.

A visitor close by our camp
This was the second time that we heard that someone was not satisfied with the tour. We therefore steeled ourselves and prepared for a rather rough time…as it turned out this was the best that we could have done. We bought provisions for three people (us and the guide), took a tent and cooking gear and then were brought by boat to the mokoro guide village of “Boro” where we were assigned a guide, Sam.

 

He asked us to walk with him to the village because he had not been prepared to go on a two-day trip. The village was quite traditional but very poor. However children, as mostly here, were laughing and smiling a lot and Sam was very friendly. We talked and helped him carry his stuff back to the boat. We then took off for a 2 ½ hour mokoro ride to our campsite. It was plain-right beautiful. The serenity of the landscape, the soft whispering of the wind in the willows, the peaceful sound of water being moved.

Getting closer to the mokoro
We sat on chairs in the boat which’s rims were just inches from the water. Sam started explaining a lot, we passed seas of water lilies and we felt it was just the right thing: no need for talking, just enjoying the dragon flies (loads of red dragon flies) and the birds. We did not see any hippos or crocodiles for which I was thankful!

 

The Okavango Delta is one of the largest deltas that end in a country rather than the sea. At this season is has a lot of water although the water will continue to rise until end of June. It is renowned for the multitude of bird species and the vast area it covers is mostly protected as a nature reserve.

 

When we arrived at the campsite it turned out that a big Australian crowd was camping just 200 m down the river.

Two baobabs
At first I was a bit disappointed but it turned out alright. On the other side of the camp we saw an elephant drinking from the river, maybe 200 m away from us. We set up camp and after some resting on Sam’s part he taught me some poling. The mokoro is very hard to steer and keeping balance is incredibly hard. We didn’t fall however for which I am very proud! Sam then invited me to go swimming in the Okavango and I did not decline. The water was quite cold but I enjoyed it very much.

 

Around 4:30 PM we took a first short bush safari by foot, saw some baobabs and Sam explained many bird calls and showed animal footprints to us, trying to give us a feeling for the bush. We returned to the camp around 6 PM for a beautiful sunset. For roughly 20 minutes we were surrounded by mosquitoes which soon left us alone because it was too cold for them.

Birds, birds, birds
The repellent we had bought in the delta did its job, too. It grew cold quickly, but we were warmed by a fire and the sight of the starlit sky was keeping us warm for quite a bit. The milky way was so clearly identifiable that I stood there gazing in amazement. I never saw it that light and shining. Before long we joined the Aussies in their camp, where the mokoro guides and polers were performing, singing and dancing to traditional songs. It was great fun, very authentic in the way they presented. It seems like this is still very much their culture and not some tourist thing. We then were invited to also sing, which we did, and then games were being played…it was great fun.

 

We went to bed around 11 PM because we were cold and due to start at 6 AM the next morning. The night was okay, we did not hear the hyena howl…Sam told us the next morning that he heard them…

 

We started out on a 4 hour walking safari and watched the sun rise over the bush.

A happy group
It was a majestic sight! We then walked the islands in the delta and saw quite a number of elephants, some very close (maybe 50 m), a herd of wild beast (or gnus), and impalas. Unfortunately we did not see giraffes or zebras…which I had hoped for very much. But the walk really was impressive. Sam was explaining so many things, and it seems that we caught a lion between us and the impalas while he was trying to hunt them. We later saw footprints that indicated a lion had been there…we could not see it because of the grass. And luckily it decided to simply give up and go away. It was quite a rewarding walk and we were very hungry when we returned around 11 AM. I went for another swim and then we packed up and Sam brought us back to Boro.

 

We talked a lot and I feel like there was some kind of connection. I told him that we had heard bad stories about mokoro trips and he was very disappointed with his colleagues.

Sunrise
We later exchanged phone numbers and he told me that we could be going with him again for much cheaper than the 65 euros (of which he only got 15 euros anyway)…so I am spreading the word and Johann, the other German here, has already booked him for a trip in late June. I intend to go back to Maun in July and will book him again then.

 

We returned to the backpacker’s and had a very calm evening. The next day we were flying over the delta for an hour. It was wonderful: you get to appreciate the vastness so much better and we saw loads of elephants, giraffes, hippos, buffaloes, zebras and wild beast. This is such a beautiful spot. It made me gasp more than once. It is endangered because Namibia intends to build a large dam. Let’s hope that this will not happen because it might mean the end of a very special ecosystem that is so much worthy of preservation.

Buffaloes

 

On a side note our pilot told us that the Old Bridge Backpacker’s was host to Prince Harry and his girlfriend when they visited Botswana earlier this year or late last year…the girlfriend is now pregnant, it is said the baby was conceived in Botswana, and the Queen and Prince Charles are not amused…so, in a way, we had in fact ended up in another celebrity spot! J

 

We returned to Gabs that same evening and Alex was leaving the next day. It was a very intense 10 days, I thoroughly enjoyed them. The beauty of this country definitely lies in its north. Travelling with Alex turned out to be very easy and agreeable.

An elephant drinking
It pays off to have these long lasting friendships.

 

I was back at work the next day…

 

remembering and dreaming of the beauties I had been able to see and experience.
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A kingfisher with a fish
A kingfisher with a fish
Walking safari
Walking safari
Close to an elephant
Close to an elephant
After the swim
After the swim
A visitor close by our camp
A visitor close by our camp
Getting closer to the mokoro
Getting closer to the mokoro
Two baobabs
Two baobabs
Birds, birds, birds
Birds, birds, birds
A happy group
A happy group
Sunrise
Sunrise
Buffaloes
Buffaloes
An elephant drinking
An elephant drinking
...and drinking more...
...and drinking more...
Elephant herd in the delta
Elephant herd in the delta
Aerial view
Aerial view
Me poling
Me poling
Sam and I
Sam and I
Another aerial
Another aerial
Traffic on the river
Traffic on the river
Our tent at the backpackers
Our tent at the backpacker's
Me and a baobab
Me and a baobab
Resting
Resting
Singing
Singing
Hunting Sam
Hunting Sam
Drying in the sun
Drying in the sun
Dancing and singing
Dancing and singing
Sunset
Sunset
Hunting a Jakara
Hunting a Jakara
Swimming in the Okavango
Swimming in the Okavango
Our campsite
Our campsite
Mokoro ride
Mokoro ride
And another aerial
And another aerial
The boat
The boat
View from my favourite spot at the…
View from my favourite spot at th…
Mokoro
Mokoro
Wading
Wading
Where are the zebras and giraffes?
Where are the zebras and giraffes?
Wild beast 1
Wild beast 1
Wild beast 2
Wild beast 2
Relaxing at the backpackers
Relaxing at the backpacker's
Maun
photo by: Biedjee