This week I had an exciting week in the Okavango Delta in Botswana and finished the week in Etosha National Park in Namibia. After the Serengeti and Masai Mara, Etosha National Park has the best wildlife that we had seen in Africa.
The Okavango delta was a interesting experience as well. In the rainy season the delta floods with the rains from all over creating different waterways throughout the Delta. Animals make their way from island to island through the waters to hunt the food. During the dry season, it is more difficult for the animals because there is very little water bringing all the animals close together.
The morning we entered, we gathered all our tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear, and food and hopped on a truck that drove us to the edge of the Delta. Then, they loaded up many mokoro with all of our stuff. Mokoros are canoe-like boats that have a fiberglass bottom. Each mokoro had a driver at the back of the boat who would pole you down the narrow waterways into the delta. It was a calming experience riding in the mokoro and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. On the way in, they took us to the hippo pool where we could see one hippo in the distance.
We arrived at our campsite on a little island and set up camp for the night. We had a clearing in the trees where we set up the tents, they gathered firewood, and we used a flipped over mokoro as a table. It was a cozy camp that we would have for 2 nights. We had the afternoon for free time where we went down to the water edge, tanned, and played games. They also gave us a lesson on how to pole a mokoro and we all gave that a try.
That evening, we went for a two hour sunset walk through the Delta. They paddled us to another island and we began walking. Like other nature walks, you do no see as much wildlife as when you drive, but you have a sense that you are truly in the bush. We learned about many of the plants around including butterfly leaves (the leaves really do look like butterflies!). We learned about different trees and which animals eat them.
At the end of the hike, we saw a huge heard of zebra and we tracked them for awhile. The Chilean girls in our group even synchronized their steps to stalk them and they got really close!
The sunset that night was one of my favorites. It lit up the entire sky and created a red band that we had for a 360 degree view. The way it lit up the trees and the grasses was a stunning sight to see. Yet, we hiked for a bit long so, it was a quick march back to the boats before it got dark.
That evening we had spaghetti for dinner which Chris had cooked over the fire while we were on our hike. This camp was the only true bush camp that we had the whole time in Africa. I had expected more camps like this one and was excited to have the opportunity. Since there were no bathrooms, we even just had a designated hole that we were to use.
The following morning we woke up early for a 5 hour morning hike. We returned to the same island, retraced our steps, and went further this time. That morning was exciting because we saw fresh leopard and lion tracks. Our guides were following the tracks for awhile until the tracks went off in the completely wrong direction. I really wanted to see a leopard, but I was a bit scared at the prospect of seeing one on foot.
Our trekking that morning took us several times through water up to our knees. Our guides told us this is how the animals trek from one island to the next. Every time we approached one of these crossing we had to take off our shoes, hike up our pants, and go through the freezing cold water. As the sun became hotter, we welcomed these dips in the water to cool ourselves off.
We ended our hike at a valley that had grasses that were three different colors. In this valley, we saw three elephants eating in the distance. Though I had been closer to elephants in the truck and on a boat, it was still an amazing seen to see them in their element.
We returned to camp, ate lunch, and again enjoyed an afternoon of free time. We relaxed by the water and when we were hot, we went swimming in the water. The water was freezing! We became used to it after awhile and it was interesting because the water was red. We even had some fun photo shoots under water.
That evening, we went on an evening mokoro ride to an island with a large tree to watch the sunset. We all sat on a large fallen branch and watched the sun makes its decent. It wasn’t as spectacular as the night before, but we had a lot of fun hanging out with our guides. We even had races back in the mokoro.
The fun continued on into the night with entertainment provided after dinner by our guides. For about 20 minutes they sang many of their local songs to us and showed us some of the local dances. They had great voices and some were really into the dancing. They also taught us two games that we played which were called Chief and a version of simon says. It was a really fun night!
The following day was my birthday! I am now officially 29 years old. I can’t believe I only have one more year left in my 20’s! I have no idea where time has gone. I had an amazing birthday and my group make it really special. I woke up to Freya serenading me in my tent with Happy Birthday. Then, we rode in mokoros out of the Delta and drove back to camp to meet up with the rest of the group that opted not to go to the Delta.
When we returned Aimee, Mel, Kirsty, and El had a happy birthday banner ready for me, birthday hats, and even threw some water balloons at us as we got off the truck. These were probably much needed since I smelled so bad. Annie, Jess, and Bellz got me a cake and they all sang happy birthday. It was such a nice surprise!
That afternoon I did laundry, showered, ate lunch, and blogged. Then, Jess, Freya, Lucy, Elsie, and I went on the truck in town to the local airstrip. We had booked a ride on a Cessna, which is a 6 seater airplane to take a airplane “game drive” over the Delta. The rest of the group had taken this trip while we were in the Delta and told us that it was a must. I really agree with them. It was also really interesting because we had just stayed in the Delta for 2 nights, so it was fun to see what it looked like from above. The girls even let me have the copilot seat since it was my birthday. It was a dream come true!
From the air we saw herds of antelope, giraffe, elephant, and zebra. We could see all the waterways that we rode on and the landscape was so diverse. We had an amazing time and our pilot fed into that doing crazy banking turns, flying really close to the ground, and even going upside down. We screamed in delight every single time. We even saw a rhino, which was special according to our pilot. He was as excited as we were and circled around 3 times to see it.
The amazing thing about flying above is that down below you cannot grasp the actual span of land that is the national park. Also, it is hard to understand how many herds are roaming the park and the interactions that they have with one another. This was one of my favorite experiences on the trip. That night, my birthday was completed with Anika make bag puppets spelling happy birthday and some wine by the fire. Unfortunately that was the last day with our final two couples, Agi and Joe, and Chris and Holly. Each of these couples were supposed to go to the end with us, but for various reasons had to leave the trip early. It was sad to see them go. Agi even make a wonderful poem for all of us.
The next day we woke up and had a drive day. It was hard getting back on the truck after being away from it for 3 days. We crossed into Namibia and drove to Rainbow Lodge campsite in Divundu, which was a beautiful campsite right on the water with a gorgeous sunset.
The highlight of the day was seeing a black mamba snake. These snakes are really poisonous and if you were bitten are pretty much guaranteed to die. Luckily for us, we saw if the the safety of the truck. Unluckily for the snake, it had been run over by a car. It was still holding on to life and moving around, but you could tell a part of it had been flattened and it couldn’t move that part of its body.
The following day was another drive day as we approached Etosha National Park. We stopped in Rundu for a shopping trip and it is amazing how much better the grocery stores got as we moved further south. Additionally, campsites are much better in the south and we were almost guaranteed hot water every night. We stopped in Grootfontein for the night where I worked out, blogged, and listened to a chorus of frogs serenade us for the night.
The following day we had a early start by first heading to the world’s largest meteorite. It was a really short stop, but very interesting. I had never seen a meteorite before and we could climb on it and take pictures. I liked just touching the rock and thinking about its journey in space before it came crashing to Earth.
Finally, we entered Etosha National Park! I had heard this was one of the best parks in Africa and I was not disappointed. Since the park is in the desert, animals come closer together than in other parks because they need to access the watering holes. Therefore, we would drive around the park and see very few animals and then drive to a watering hole and see hundreds! The fun thing about this is to see all of the animals together where in other parks they would not mix as much.
We entered the park in the early afternoon and we went to one watering hole before heading to set up camp and eat lunch. Our first watering hole was fun because we saw an entire family of giraffe drinking at the watering hole. It is really fun to watch giraffe drink because they open their front legs really wide and then bend over to drink. It is a comical sight.
After lunch, we headed out on our afternoon game drive. When we arrived at the first watering hole, we saw zebra, springbok, impala, and two elephants. The two elephants were male elephants and it was really cute because they came together and joined trunks. They were also “5 legged” as they did this, so I am not sure of the sexual orientation of these elephants.
Then, from behind us, a black rhino started to make his way over to the watering hole. We were all really interested in what was going to happen between the elephant and the rhino. Black rhinos are known to be aggressive, so I thought that the rhino would charge the elephant. Instead, the elephant intimidated the rhino and would not let him drink. Then, he kept taunting him by drinking water right in front of him. It was quite rude!
The rest of the drive we saw a lot of the typical animals that we see on game drives. We saw springbok, kudu, elephants, giraffe, and were introduced to oryx for the first time. It was a wonderful game drive. We arrived at the camp around 5 and had to cook quickly because some of us had signed up for a night game drive. This was the first time on the trip we were able to go out into the park at night and I was really excited!
Right away our night game drive was a success. We saw a black rhino in the bushes and 2 jackals about 15 minutes after starting the drive. Our next stop was to a watering hole to find a lion, but we never saw him. We did see lots of hyena in the area and one was annoyed that we kept shining a light at him.
Next, we went to a watering hole and saw an entire family of elephants! There were so many of them and there were even small babies. We watched them drink and play in the water. Then, a solitary male came to drink. He was a really loud drinker. He left when the watering hole started to become overrun by hyena.
Finally, we visited our last watering hole and we saw 3 black rhino and 5 hyena around the watering hole. Evidently the black rhinos would not be friends, but they didn’t seem to mind each other’s presence. They did mind the hyena and it was fun to watch because they would chase them away from the hole. All in all it was an amazing night!
The following morning I woke up to an awful screaming. I have never heard someone scream like that in my life. It was a life or death type of scream. We found out later that outside of our camp walls, a man was walking to work and was chased by a lion. How scary is that? The park heard his screams and chased the lion away with a car. I am not sure what happened to the man, but I am really happy that I don’t have to worry about lions chasing me on my way to work.
A springbok and a jackal
This was our last game drive in Africa. I was really sad about this because game drives have been one of my favorite parts of the trip. We were hoping that today would be cat day because the previous day we didn’t see any cats. Also, this was our last chance to spot a leopard. Right from the start it was a successful day. We spotted 2 lions from afar. Then, shortly after, we spotted our first leopard! He was sitting on the side of the rode ready to pounce on some springbok. Unfortunately, in our excitement we scared him away really quickly. It was still amazing to see him really close for a short time.
Our final stop on the morning game drive was to one final watering hole. This was a fun watering hole because there were giraffe, zebra, oryx, springbok, and even a lion all together. The lion was a young male and he was watching all of the springbok really carefully. We thought he may spring on one since the springbok were oblivious that he was there. Instead, he just watched and stalked.
After the morning game drive, we stopped at our new campsite to set up and eat lunch. This campsite was amazing because there was a watering hole right at the campsite with benches to view. Also, it was a really popular watering hole! We must have seen hundreds of animals at this watering hole. There zebra, springbok, jackals, and oryx. We saw a hilarious baby zebra who was just running into crowds of springbok and breaking them up. It was amazing!
On the afternoon game drive we literally saw nothing. I was amazed that we saw so little! It was ok though because after dinner we returned to the watering hole for sunset. We saw 3 giraffes approach the hole for a drink and we saw springbok around the hole as well. It was amazing to see this sight with the background of the sunset. Just beautiful!
After dark, we had another amazing show at the watering hole. When we returned from dinner, there were two white rhino at the watering hole. They were shortly joined by a black rhino and then an elephant! It was crazy. In the water one of the white rhino and the black rhino were really close to each other, almost like a stand off. At first it didn’t look like they were going to fight, so we thought they might be lovers. We were dictating it as a real life Romeo and Juliet situation. Then, they did start to fight and the white rhino drove the black rhino away from the watering hole.
The elephant was not bothered by this whole situation and just kept drinking the water. Later on, there were two more rhinos at the watering hole. It was an amazing experience just to be able to sit on a bench and watch all of this. I didn’t want to go to bed. The entertaining part about this campsite as well is that jackals can get through the fence and were running around the campsite. At one point, one lady was so excited to see jackals by the watering hole and didn’t know there were two jackals right behind her. This was my favorite campsite of the trip! Etosha National Park is a wonderful place and I highly suggest everyone make it a part of their African adventure!