Overlanding Africa (Pt.2)

A Baobab in Botswana

On our thirteenth day we left Namibia and crossed into Botswana. There were now only 17 members remaining in our Nomad family: 12 gals and 5 guys, and of those 5 guys only 2 were now named “Chris”! The main draws to Botswana are to visit two massive swaths of land both located in the far north of the country: the Okavango Delta and the excellent Chobe National Park. But the distances in Afica are great, so our first night we camped just outside of Ghanzi in an area inhabited by the San people. This was the only campsite in which “downgrading” our accommodation was an option and it was the only time on the trip when we opted not to camp. This was because we were given the option to spend the night in a “traditional” San-style hut. Yes it was made of mud and had a grass thatched roof, but that is where the traditional ended. It had two comfortable cots inside with mattresses and a power plug so we could charge our tech gear. It was nice though and we slept very well. That night we were treated to a very unorganized bushman dance and the disorganization didn’t end there. We signed up to go on a bushman walk the next morning but after waiting over an hour for the bushmen to show we cancelled our spots out of principle. A few members of our group did partake once the bushmen finally came, and, I have to admit, I feel like we missed out on a good time. Principles!

Our mokoro 'polers' leading us through the Okavango Delta

Back into Luther and on to Etsha, the gateway to the Okavango Delta. Once there we unloaded all necessary equipment and personal gear off Luther and packed them into tractor-pulled carts. We would say goodbye to Luther for the next 3 nights because we were about to enter the Okavango- a massive area of swamps and waterways, and anyways, it’s no place for a truck! The next morning we loaded our gear this time into boats which took it and us further into the delta. Our final destination was Nomad’s own permanent tented camp “Jumbo Junction” (aptly named as it sits on the “crossroads” {waterways actually} of a popular elephant migration route) and here we would spend the next two nights. More than 11 cubic kilometers of water flow from the Okavango River and into the delta every year, irrigating more than 15,000 square kilometers of the Kalahari Desert. The resulting waterways are an important migration route for many nomadic animals. The delta is also home to the Moremi Game Reserve (which unfortunately we did not visit). The Okavango Delta was one of the places that we were looking forward to the most on this overland safari, but I have to say we were a little disappointed. It wasn’t that the Delta region was disappointing, it is on the contrary a very beautiful place. It was that the camp, where it was and the activities on offer, that was a disappointment. We did get into traditional dugout canoes called mokoros and the polers took us through some picturesque canals which led to a large pool inhabited by a permanent population of hippos, and that was all well and nice. But after these short trips were over there was little for us to do back in camp as we were completely surrounded by marshlands. Other than the aforementioned hippos, some nice species of birds, and some frogs (that were the size of your pinky fingernail and very cute), there really wasn’t much else in the way of wildlife. I think that’s what the problem was for me. Whenever I saw images in magazines or documentaries on TV about the Okavango Delta, it was all about the scores of wildlife that inhabit the region and this just wasn’t what we saw at all. This was the only time on the trip that I felt that Nomad could have done better. Anyways, to amuse ourselves back at camp we had mokoro races and enjoyed sundowners in the natural pool. At least the camp was well stocked with beer!

Nile crocodile, Chobe N.P.

Photo-play with a lilac-breasted roller, Chobe N.P.

One of thousands in Chobe

Day 17 and we were reunited with Luther once again. We crossed back into Namibia and travelled through the Caprivi Strip en-route to Chobe National Park, back on the Botswana side. The next day we boarded safari trucks and went on an early morning game drive. Chobe is a stunning park and very lush when compared to say Etosha. On our drive we found a few elephants, hippos, a couple lions, and some very beautiful birdlife. Of course there were also plenty of impalas, zebras, baboons, warthogs, mongooses, and other critters as well. We were also very fortunate to have a rare encounter with a pack of 10 painted (wild) dogs just a few meters from our truck. The game drive on land was nice but the very best way to see Chobe is on its namesake River in the hours leading up to sunset. And this is exactly what we did later that same afternoon. This is when the park erupts with wildlife. Our Nomad crew boarded a large boat with a fine deck and set off onto the Chobe River for a 4 hour sunset cruise. In those four hours we saw over 300 elephants, a few giraffes, plenty of hippos, some crocodiles, and various grazing antelopes. It was so nice to watch all the animals interacting with each other and their environs along the riverside. Elephants were drinking and bathing and the young were practicing their wrestling techniques. Hippos were walking along the banks slipping in and out of the water as required to regulate their body temperatures. Kingfishers were perched upon branches dangling over the river, swooping down every couple of minutes for a fresh snack. Everywhere you looked some incredible display of nature was taking place. Without a doubt, this was the highlight of Botswana for us. But our single day in Chobe was sadly over and the next morning we had to pack up once again, but this would be the last time- there was only one more sleep left and Nomad arranged very nice rooms for us in the town of Victoria Falls.

Wild dogs, Chobe N.P.

It was just a short drive from Chobe to the Zimbabwean border and onto Victoria Falls. We arrived in Vic Falls before noon and headed directly to the main attraction; one of the Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site… the largest waterfalls on Earth. These things are big! They’re 1.7 kilometers long, 108 meters high and during the wet season (like when we were there), 3000 tonnes of water per second spill over it’s edges. It really is an impressive sight. The locals still refer to it as “Mosi-oa-Tunya” which means “the smoke that thunders” and there was a lot of smoke thundering while we were there. In fact, maybe a little too much. There were only a few vantage points along the footpath along the falls where you could really appreciate it and get a good look at it. Most of the way it was hidden in a veil of heavy spray and you were drenched from head to feet as a result. The falls straddle the borders between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Zimbabwe has the most of the falls, but on the Zambian side you can get much closer to them. Both are very beautiful in their own ways and people are usually split on which side they prefer. We preferred the Zambian side simply because there were more diverse views to appreciate it from. The Zambian side is also $10 dollars cheaper to visit. We visited the Zambian side once our Nomad tour was over and were already staying in the town of Livingstone.

The varying views of Victoria Falls

Vic Falls from the Zambian side

After we finished with the falls we were taken to a tour company that organizes all sorts of ways to separate you from your money! Members of our group went bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, river boarding, and some went walking with lions. We and two others from our group took a 15-minute helicopter flight over the falls. The flight was good (and expensive), but my only advice if you choose this activity is don’t sit up front next to the pilot. My initial thought was that would be the best place to sit to get the best views and best shots from. Wrong! There are too many instrument panels in the way and then there is the pilot too who blocks your whole left side. Just saying. The others in the back seats had a great flight though and I’m sure they got some fantastic photos. That night we stayed at our hotel for dinner and there we all had to say our final goodbyes. It was kind of a sombre evening, much more so than our last group dinner in Windhoek. But we had all spent the last 20 days together and shared a lot of memorable experiences with one another and saying goodbye is never a fun thing to do. For most, they would be flying back to their countries of origin a day later, some a week. We on the other hand still had a few months to go. Until that point everything had been done for us. We were driven in comfort from destination to destination and at each destination our accommodations had been arranged in advance. Meals were provided and ready for us at set times. Everything was explained, all questions answered. If we had problems, someone would help solve them. But now it was time to set-off on our own, and while the Nomad motto was “it’s not a holiday, it’s an adventure“, it sure felt like a holiday to us! The real adventure was just beginning.

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