Vicarious Tourism: Okavango Delta

Somehow I managed to convince my bosses to send me to Botswana earlier this month for training, and I added a couple fun days on the end to go see the Okavango Delta, one of the world’s more unique ecosystems.  The Okavango River and its tributaries are mostly filled by rainfall in Angola, which, instead of finding its way to a lake or ocean, simply flows into the Kalahari desert and dries up. But before it does that it forms a vast and varied river delta in northern Botswana that serves as home to an astounding quantity and variety of wildlife.

It was entirely different from previous safaris I had been on in Tanzania and South Africa, where you do your game viewing from the safe remove of a Land Cruiser or similar vehicle, ensconced in steel high above the ground. In the Delta you get around in a makoro, a traditional dugout canoe poled by your guide, who also leads you around on foot on the larger islands. It’s a much quieter, more intimate experience, with far less bumping around and dust. It kind of reminded me of kayaking in my home wetlands in southeast Texas, but with more hippos and elephants and whatnot.

Yes, it can be harder to spot the animals through the tall grass, but I still saw lots, and even when there aren’t really any interesting critters around you can still learn about plants and animal tracks and droppings. (Male giraffe droppings are pointier on one end than female giraffe droppings. Who knew?) I learned that elephants like to use termite mounds as pillows, because their heads are really heavy and make it hard to get up from the ground. I learned that lions roll in dusty-smelling wild sage, which was everywhere, to make it harder for prey downwind to smell them.
The lodge I stayed at (and highly recommend) is truly in the middle of nowhere, only reachable by tiny charter aircraft landing on a packed-earth airstrip. There’s no internet and no phone service, but plenty of good food and hot water. And it is VERY close to nature, for better and for worse. The first night I was awakened by a hippo with poor table manners splashing and sloshing in the water outside my tent as he sucked up the tender new grass. The second night I had an elephant on either side of my tent snacking loudly on grass and saplings. Every so often one of them would casually brush up against the platform my tent was on and the whole thing would shake. So I didn’t sleep that well, but for really cool reasons. It was a quick trip, just a few days, but well worth it.