Botswana: Above the Okavango

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(Last Updated On: September 20, 2015)

We get up early. The tents are packed while we eat breakfast. Soon we are all hauling things to the shore where the polers load the mekoro.

I had hoped that leaving this early would allow me to see the night-blooming waterlilies in bloom. Instead, it is too late for the night blooming lilies and too early for the day-bloomer.

It is lovely even without the water lilies.

Botswana Okavango - ExplorationVacation - 09-19 poling backBotswana Okavango - ExplorationVacation - 09-18 papyrus closeup.0Botswana Okavango - ExplorationVacation - leaving in mokorosToo quickly we are back on shore.

We return to the Poler’s Trust to drop off most of the poler’s gear and gather the rest of ours. Then it is back to the boat landing in Seronga. Soon we are back on the river heading toward the Swamp Stop.

It is again lovely and quiet. Today we see more crocs – huge ones, sunning themselves near the water. They are gigantic. As we approach, they slide into the river and disappear from view.

Botswana Okavango - ExplorationVacation - 09-19 Nile crocReturn to Maun

We are on a tight schedule today:

Upon your return to “civilization” in Seronga, your group will head back to Maun and another night at Discovery Bed & Breakfast. Your guide is available to take you around town if you wish to do some shopping or see the sights. If you would like, a one-hour scenic flight over the Delta can also be arranged. The scenic flight is a wonderful way to get the proper perspective of the area as well as some serious game viewing!

We have opted to take the scenic flight, so must be back in Maun before 5 p.m. Kaiser thinks the flight is at 4, but my husband and I decide not to correct him, hoping this ensures we are there on time.

It is very windy, with lots and lots of dust in the air. Near Maun we come across a dust devil that forms the classic shape of a tornado. It is a tall, thin funnel of sand twisting high into the air. After we have driven through the edge of it I turn and watch it whirl away in the opposite direction. It is an awesome thing.

In the Air Over the Delta

We arrive in Maun before four and K goes in to check on the flight while my husband and I run into a nearby bank to change some money. I have forgotten how much paperwork is involved in changing money in a country long-familiar with the bureaucracy of the former British Empire. K is impatient when we finally return. Rather than spending an hour shopping, we can take an earlier flight and she is eager to go.

Changing the flight quickly becomes complicated. K misunderstood the price originally quoted to her, so that must be cleared up. Then there is a question of which flight to take, as there are several options. Once that is decided, there is an issue with processing the credit cards for payment. I avoid most of this, waiting with K’s parents in the comfortable airport lobby. As time passes and the shadows get longer, I collect our Leathermen, Swiss Army knives, and pocket knives and give them to Kaiser for safekeeping. At least we are ready for security.

Eventually we walk through security, cross the tarmac, and board the plane with our pilot. The plane has engines on each side and too few windows. Our pilot tells us what we will see and then we take off.

The village sprawls across the landscape below us. Soon we move beyond Maun and are flying above the plain with it’s scrubby brush. Our pilot points out animals below us, but it is very hard to hear and the sun on my side is harsh and blinding. Then he banks I can see elephants below, moving single file in small groups. Then there is a herd of maybe 30 giraffe floating over the ground below. There are antelope, more elephants, and a herd of Cape buffalo.

The plane is unbearably hot. I feel nauseous and lightheaded, but am determined to keep looking and photographing the earth below.

Once we turn back, I am no longer blinded by the sun.

Botswana Okavango - ExplorationVacation - 09-19 aerial1The Okavango Delta lies in a depression created by a series of fault lines. However, rather than a vast featureless marsh, this results in a complex mix of water, islands, vegetation, hippo trails, and sandy channels.

Botswana Okavango - ExplorationVacation - 09-19 aerial4Botswana Okavango - ExplorationVacation - 2005-09-19_10-15-23 aerialBotswana Okavango - ExplorationVacation - 09-19 aerial8From the air, many generally round islands are visible. These form when a mound of soil, perhaps a termite mound, remains above flood level. Over time trees and plants take root. As the trees grow, their thirsty roots lower the water table immediately below the island, which allows water from the surrounding floodplain to infill.

Botswana Okavango - ExplorationVacation - 09-19 aerial3 Botswana Okavango - ExplorationVacation - 09-19_10-12-27 aerialWhile the tree roots take up water, most salts remain behind and the salinity of the water under the island increases.

Over time the island expands, but the center becomes increasingly saline. The trees then begin to die off, killed by the increasing salinity, eventually leaving only a ring around the island’s perimeter.

Botswana Okavango - ExplorationVacation - 09-19 aerial2 of islandThe linear islands lined with papyrus form differently. Papyrus grows quickly and dies fast, forming a thick mat that gradually forms peat.

Botswana Okavango - ExplorationVacation - 2005-09-19_10-28-39 aerialAs sediment is deposited on the floor of the channel, it raises the water level and the peat. Once this wet mat of peat is cut through by a hippo, the water level drops to that of the surrounding area, leaving a raised line of sand and high beds of peat. Time and fire combine over time to turn the peat into rich grasses and shrubs.

(Thanks to McIntyre’s Bradt Botswana Travel Guide for clearly explaning the delta’s formation.)

Botswana Okavango - ExplorationVacation - 09-19 aerial6Again Maun sprawls below us in the long shadows. Soon the airplane doors are opened. Even though the air temperature outside is still in the 90s, it feels cool as it rushes into the overheated plane.

Soon we are back at Discovery Bed and Breakfast. It is like returning to visit a friend. I am so happy to be back here. Betty greets us with something sparkly to drink and she and my husband visit while I shower and try to find an electric plug that will work with my converter or a converter that will work with my and M’s battery chargers. At last, I too feel I can relax and visit with Betty. Ah, joy.

Dinner is lovely. We dine on chicken curry and garlic roasted leg of lamb as the soft darkness surrounds us.

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