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Poling in to the Delta

Posted on May 26, 2014

Okavango Delta, Botswana: Poling in to the Delta and camping overnight on one of the salt islands has has been one of our most memorable experiences to date. To understand the uniqueness of this trip requires understanding the uniqueness of this landscape.

The Okavango Delta is an enormous inland delta formed where the Okavango River reaches a tectonic trough in the central part of the Kalahari Desert. All the water reaching the Delta is ultimately evaporated and does not flow into any sea or ocean. This oasis spreads out over a 16,000 km² area, and is listed as one of the seven natural wonders of Africa.

The journey to the Delta was an adventure: we set out by 4×4 early in the morning and drove 2 hours through sand, mud and water into the last area that is accessible by vehicle. When we reached the end, we climbed a cow fence and met up with our crew on the water’s edge. From there, we got in our mokoro – a traditional dug out canoe made from the trunk of a sausage tree – and were poled through the waters of the Delta another 2 hours. We found shore on one of the salt islands – which is thought to have begun as a termite mound – and set up camp.

While on the island, we had about 5 hours of bush walking, which is a fun but fairly dangerous way of seeing the Delta’s wildlife. Our guide and head poler, M.B., gave us very specific instructions on how to stay safe – don’t talk and don’t make a move without his ok. We saw elephants, hippos, giraffes, zebra, buffalo, warthogs and wildebeests in the late afternoon and then again early in the morning. Along the way, M.B. also pointed out how the Bushmen lived on the land by using plant life and how to tell different piles of animal dung apart (see photo of him holding a cluster of impala poop pellets).

The beauty of this landscape is indescribable. Camping in the middle of nowhere surrounded by wildlife was a humbling experience, and the calm while out on the quiet water was truly beautiful. It was the quintessential back-to-nature experience and we loved it. We’re already daydreaming about ways to make it back to Botswana and specifically to the Delta for an even longer mokoro trip next time.

Chobe National Park

Posted on May 24, 2014

Kasane, Botswana:  After crossing the border from Namibia, we set up camp in Kasane on the edge of Chobe National Park. We drove through the park two days and took a boat tour another, which was the perfect combination of ways to see the most wildlife in this spectacular park.

What makes Chobe stunning is its water, rich riverbanks and marshes. There was no shortage of elephants, giraffe, hippos, warthogs, crocodiles, buffalo, lizards and monkeys to see.

A few of our favorite moments…

Giraffes ‘tenting’ their legs since they are too tall to reach the grass standing

Warthogs kneeling down to eat

Hippos popping up and down with their big eyeballs to see what we were all about, and then yawning with disinterest when they realized we were just humans

Teenage elephants playing, splashing and spraying each other in the river

Spying hippos & our favorite campsites

Posted on May 17, 2014

Caprivi Strip, Namibia: We’ve loved camping in Namibia. Two of our favorite spots were Roy’s Rest Camp outside Grootfontein and Ngepi in the Popa Falls area of the Caprivi Strip.

Roy’s is owned by a cattle ranger – cattle production is one of the biggest industries in Namibia – and is artfully designed with hanging metal sculptures and kitschy details. Felt a little like it could be a funky New Mexico ranch plopped in the middle of northeastern Namibia. We loved watching the sun go down in our bush camp, and then later sitting around the cozy campfire with a glass of wine.

We set up camp for two nights at Ngepi on the Kavango River and listened to the hippos call to each other up & down the water all night long. On our sunset river trip, we spied a few of these loud mouths poking their big eyeballs out of the water.  This place was also quirky and had a sense of humor: throughout the camp are littered funny little additions like Poopa Falls, an outhouse on stilts with a view of Popa Falls.

Namibia trees

Posted on May 15, 2014

Elephants & kissing rhinos

Posted on May 13, 2014

Etosha National Park: The next day, we were awake, tent up and in our truck looking for more wildlife before the sun was up. We saw tons more zebras, springbok, gemsbok, ostriches and kudu but the really exotic guys alluded us. We drove even further into the park, set up camp and decided to call it a day.

We’d heard the watering hole at this campsite was even better than the one the night before, so we headed there at sundown. Five elephants were gathered around, and again, we were awestruck by what was right in front of us. These gentle giants were quiet, calm and unfazed by the humans staring at them.

On our third day in the park, we headed back to the watering hole at sundown. The rhinos came out to play and this time, their entrance was a bit more dramatic. A male and a female engaged in a very flirtatious courting ritual and after the female shunned this poor guy, another male came out from hiding to spar with the first male. The female came back into the picture and all three played & bathed together in the water. And at one point, in a very sweet moment, two of the rhinos appeared to kiss. It was really unexpected to see, and showed the gentler side of these imposing giants.

Zebras, giraffes & rhinos

Posted on May 13, 2014

Etosha National Park, Namibia: Within 2 km of entering, we spotted a dozen zebras grazing in the grass and we were hooked on Etosha. We were immediately taken with the park’s beauty and the possibility of seeing Africa’s wildlife just feet from our camper truck.

That first day, we drove around for a few hours and saw hundreds more zebras, springbok, wildebeast and some oryx. After being in the hot sun all day and still feeling crappy from the malaria meds we’re taking, we were ready to head to camp. But we decided on one more turn, and just around the corner were 10 giraffes in the bush. We sat there in our car, cameras and binoculars in hand, watching them nibble thorn bushes and bat their long eyelashes. It was exciting to see these gentle & graceful animals so early in our visit…and so close!!

We found our campsite and headed to the watering hole. We sat there for a bit and said This isn’t going to happen. There’s no way animals come here while dozens of campers sit around expecting their arrival. But then, a lone rhinoceros quietly entered stage right. He approached the watering hole slowly while his mate and their baby sauntered over after. We gawked for an hour until they left as quietly as they appeared.

And so was our first day in Etosha – zebras, giraffe and some rhinos. We could barely fall asleep we were so excited.

My African birthday

Posted on May 8, 2014

Khorixas, Namibia: On my birthday, I had hoped to see a giraffe, zebra or elephant. Instead, I was paid a visit from the birthday bananasaurus, a special singing banana that Thomas debuted in 2013. This little guy traveled all the way from Turks & Caicos where he made his last appearance to the Damaraland, Namibia. After a tune and birthday breakfast, we decided to take a one-night break from camping to celebrate in a lodge.

The cute bungalow where we stayed between Khorixas and Outjo, Namibia, served kudu steaks & a nice South African wine for dinner. We watched the sundown, sat by the fire and were serenaded by the native Damara employees who closed out the night with lively song & dance.

Swakopmund & Skeleton Coast

Posted on May 7, 2014

Henties Bay, Namibia: From Sossusvlei, we drove several hours on the gravel roads through the Namib Desert on our way to Swakopmund. We were looking forward to making it to this booming metropolis because the guide book said (a) it was ‘anything but boring’ and (b) the effect of the hot desert against the icy Atlantic made it feel ‘like a movie set.’ Unfortunately, the guide book was wrong. Swakopmund was most certainly boring and actually felt pretty weird. Sure, the fog was a bit reminiscent of San Francisco, but instead of being romantic & mysterious, it was eerie & sketchy.

We found this small city is most definitely still in the throes of segregation, and the inequality between races is pronounced. There are Germans – all of whom immediately spoke German to us assuming we knew it – and there are native Namibians. There seemed to be little mixing of the two.

Our one night there, we found a good German dinner, stocked up on provisions & then immediately continued along our way. From there, we headed north along the Skeleton Coast. This is a treacherous stretch of coast where many ships have become graveyards. The rolling fogs and swirling sandstorms create a ghostly and isolating experience, and it’s among the most remote and inaccessible areas in Namibia. There was no one else around, and again, we felt the eeriness of this region & a little out of sorts.

Camping in Namibia

Posted on May 6, 2014

Windhoek, Namibia:  We picked up our 4×4 in Windhoek and drove south towards Sossusvlei. Based on what we’d learned from our camping experience in New Zealand, we thought it would be reasonable to make it 220 km on our first afternoon. We were wrong. The roads turned from paved to gravel within 20 km of leaving Windhoek, so we were slowed considerably. At twilight, we started seeing wildlife come out for a visit, so we decided to pull off and call it a night. Our campground was situated 8 km off the main ‘road’ overlooking an idyllic canyon where the only others close by were the cicadas who hummed us to sleep.

On day 2, we awoke with the rising sun at 5:30am, packed up our cozy second story tent and headed south to Sossusvlei. The path was full of kudu antelope, a few baboons, some springbok and a friendly fox. Once entering the park, we drove another 65k into the Namib-Naukluft National Park in search of some petrified trees. We didn’t realize it would be so early into our trek that we’d encounter sand driving and the need to engage the 4×4 capabilities of our truck. Thankfully, the car handled it well and we didn’t have to use the sand tracks, rope tow or shovel stowed in the back that many told us we’d inevitably need to use. Camping in Africa…so far, so good.