After 2 years of planning, dozens of hours of traveling (literally to the other side of the world), the four of us were finally there. Our small Safari Air plane was taking your humble narrator, lovely wife Sylvia, and dear friends Greg and Oscar over the Okavango Delta. We took in the sights of channels of water, branches of the Okavango River, with interspersed ponds and marshes. There were islands of dry land and sand, and — yes, there they were — our first animals sightings; hippos bobbing in the water, herds of elephants working their way through the brush, and buffalo on the plains. It is the water of the delta that provides its life and is the magnet to the wildlife. The water that enters the delta stays there — it’s either consumed by plants and animals, evaporates, or is absorbed into the the soil. Like the Great Basin in the United States, none of the water in the delta flows into an ocean.
Situated in northern Botswana, the delta is a unique ecosystem. It’s the world’s largest inland delta and its annual flooding provides an oasis of greenery in the midst of the incredibly dry Kalahari desert. Because of the water, you’ll see a large variety of animal and especially bird life. You can see a nice sampling of the delta and its wildlife in this National Geographic video. As the Boatswain government has developed tourism in this area with care (preserving the ecosystem, providing jobs and treating tourists to a rare opportunity) — you have the chance to see large numbers of animals nearly in private. It is common that you never encounter another vehicle when out on safari in the Okavango (compare that with the national parks of East Africa where dozens of vehicles may crowd an animal) and you can see how this experience is well worthwhile. This opportunity does not come cheap — you’ll pay a good price for the privilege of exploring the Okavango Delta but you will also be rewarded with a great and memorable experience.
Bird watching in the delta is exceptional. I like birds, although I’m not an avid birder. But the diversity, color and large number of birds we experienced during our five day visit to the Okavango was incredible! Photos of some of the species we encountered are found in my accompanying slide shows.
The Moremi Game Reserve is a national park which covers a large part of the eastern Okavango Delta. Our vendor was “And Beyond” and their lodges, Xudum (pronounced Koo-Dum) and Sandibe (which I’ll write about later) were situated just south of the park boundary. The main advantage of being on a consignment outside of the national park is your ability to travel off-road. Our guides at these lodges took great advantage of this and often drove and positioned our Land-Cruiser off-road to optimize our views of different animals (without hassling them, of course).
Xudum is situated in a very “wet” part of the delta — an island that most of the year can only be reached by boat. It is surrounded by large ponds and small lakes of water that largely evaporates during the dry season. Xudum features a small number of large square bungalows — I thought they were awkwardly situated and did not blend in well with the scenery the way other lodges in the Delta did. But the accommodations were luxurious and very spacious. Each bungalow had its own private pool, elevated sitting deck and first floor sitting deck, massive bathroom with bathtub and shower, sofa, sitting chairs, etc. The pool was a God-send as it was incredibly hot during our visit and offered us a chance of quickly cooling down. Also very appreciated were the thorough cleaning and laundry service provided, wonderful meals, and expert guides and game spotters.
We were at Xudum during the dry season so the number of animals we saw was not great, but we had some very good sightings. We also did a mokoro (native canoe) ride one evening which was memorable and a nice quiet way to explore the waters of the delta. A mokoro will allow you to see many water birds but is not good for wildlife viewing. Despite its remoteness, modern amenities were to be easily found, including fine food and drink and even wireless internet access (slow, but it was nice to get in touch with the kids).
I’ll explore animals of the delta a little more in my next posting on Sandibe.
(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance slideshow)