If you were reading this blog in March and April, you may remember that I extended my first tour of this trip largely because I couldn’t bring myself to pass up a second visit to the Okavango Delta. After that trip, I wrote that I could go there a hundred times and still be taken aback each time by how beautiful it is. I guess I’m hoping to actually test that theory, because when Bianca, a friend from my Mozambique tour, asked me in July whether I’d like to go back again, I couldn’t resist. Again.
Despite having written about the Delta before, I don’t think I ever actually explained what it is (partially because it took a few trips before I started paying attention to that kind of information). The Okavango Delta is the world’s largest inland delta, created by the draining of the Okavango River into a tectonic trough (don’t ask me what that is) in the eastern Kalahari. The source of the Okavango River is seasonal flooding in the Angolan highlands. From Angola, the River flows south into Namibia before entering Botswana and eventually draining into the Delta. Because the climate gets so hot and so dry, the River has no outlet — the water eventually evaporates, but is quickly replaced by the next floods so that the Delta never dries out.
On the flight in from Maun, we were able to watch the landscape change in minutes — seconds, even — from brown and yellow to green and blue.
Bianca got to co-pilot!
It was fun to see lots of familiar faces when we got to the place where we were staying, although you know you’ve crossed the line from normal guest to hotel stalker when at least three people’s welcomes include “I can’t believe you’re here again!” and the manager tells you to skip part of the safety briefing because “I think you know this by now.” It was a little embarrassing, but it’s always nice to get that home-away-from-home-away-from-home feeling. And I’m happy to report that after three days there, my fellow travelers (also awesome, which was an extra bonus) had stopped wondering why I was there for the third time and started thinking of ways that we could all “accidentally” miss the plane back and stay for a while longer.
I think that my hundred-times proposition would turn out to be true even if each trip was identical to the one before, but as it turned out I didn’t have to worry about that. Both of my previous stays in the Delta had been during the rainy season, and visiting the Delta during the dry season in July was like visiting a slightly-different-but-equally-wonderful place. As I mentioned, the Delta never dries out, but the lack of rain still changes the environment. In July, I saw reds and browns in grass that had been completely green a few months earlier; narrow channels where there had been wide ones; clear blue skies where I was used to seeing clouds, and more hippos than lily pads.
The sunset was beautiful, as always, but completely different, with the clouds gone and the dry-tipped grasses absorbing the colors from the sky instead.
One of the biggest differences between the dry-season Delta and the rainy-season Delta was the number of animals. During the rainy season, animals can find water sources all over Botswana, and they prefer to spread out into their own spaces. During the dry season, when water is scarce, they’re forced to stay close to permanent water sources, and the Delta is an obvious choice. I’ve always seen animals in the Delta, especially elephants, but never the way that we did on this trip. The fruit on the palm trees was ripe, and the elephants were in and around our campsite constantly, shaking the palm trees so that the fruit would fall down for them to eat off of the ground. At night, we could hear the clatter of palm leaves banging against each other and during the day, the elephants would block the paths back to our cabins, stranding us (happily) in the common areas.
Doing some birdwatching in the lounge area:
The bird perched on this light fixture (top right of the photo) matches it perfectly!
We also got a pretty close-up view of a leopard in a tree, which was exciting because I’ve never seen any cats in the Delta before and especially because seeing a leopard is so rare.
As usual, we owed the sighting to an eagle-eyed safari guide, who stopped to take a closer look at this tree, which nobody else had noticed.
It’s called a sausage tree, because of the shape of the fruits that grow and hang from it, and it’s a favorite for leopards. As we got closer, we saw this guy lying in the branches, moving around to get comfortable and hanging his paws off of the branches. In the second photo, you can also see an African Fish Eagle booking it out of the tree after seeing the leopard get up to change position.
We watched him for a while, getting progressively closer and eventually finding a viewpoint from where we could look right into his eyes. He was surprisingly relaxed, probably because he had eaten recently (according to our guide, who said he could tell from the round belly).
Eventually he got up, turned around, sauntered down the tree trunk as comfortably as if it was horizontal, and disappeared into the bush (as leopards tend to do).
All in all, it’s safe to say that I was happy I decided to go back 🙂 Again!