Thursday, September 19, 2013

Creedence or Ike and Tina?

Two boats, three South Africans, four gallons of special creamer, five Americans, and one hundred eggs. Except I forgot to buy the eggs. Luckily our menu planner was inexperienced enough that we didn't miss them on our float across the whole of the Okavango Delta.

My days of dragging sleds and hauling heavy packs up mountains are behind me but I still like to do things most people don't. So when I learned that more people see the view from the top of Everest every year then see the Okavango from top to bottom or bottom to top for that matter, I figured I had to do it before my time in Bots was done.

The group had a mix of backgrounds, several have spent a month or more in a tent at one go, some had never been a day without a shower. All had river experience, some had power boat experience, but none had been on that stretch of water before. But the days of Livingstone are far gone. We had a map and GPS. The Delta doesn't follow the normal rules of the river and we sometimes found ourselves on the wrong channel. We could tell where we were on the map, it didn't really help us choose routes, but only to mark our progress.

The top end of the Delta feels a bit claustrophobic with papyrus and reeds beating the boat, filling it with leaves and spiders and more than a few bats, one of which lit for a moment on a whiskey bottle. "As soon as you see it, it's full taps." That advice from the scout boat on how to deal with the first blockage. Papyrus mat gets stuck in some of the tighter turns.

Water flowed below but since we weren't in submarines, it took about two hours of pulling reeds from in front of the boat, standing on the blockage with the occasional foot going through to the dark water below (best to not think about crocs that may be lurking) and using both boats together to plow through the 100 meter long mess.

On the fourth day (much the same as in Genesis- let there be light) we broke out of the reeds into the floodplain. The newbies got to see their first elephants, lechwe, and hippos. The swim spots got better which meant more sand over a wider area to feel better about the proximity of crocodiles. And we began to hear lions at night. We decided to do a layover day to rest up for the boat dragging session to come.

Xo(pronounced by making a 'k' sound while trying to get a piece of phlegm stuck in the back of your throat) Flats is the first place the water can truly spread into the grasses and make floating difficult. To prep, we did our best to drink as much beer as possible to lighten the load and lessen the boat's draft. We were told that Xo Flats would be the crux of the trip, especially so late in the season when the floods had mostly receded. But the forecasters were too pessimistic, we only had to pull the big boat a couple of times and never had to portage gear.

We stopped at Eagle Island for ice and a helicopter ride for the mates from the States. Two lions cooperated by feeding on a buffalo during the flight.

In the first five days, we saw only one boat and those folks were doing a day trip from Xigera (again with the 'k' but no phlem). The bottom end of the river is busier due to its proximity to Maun but still we met just a few groups headed upstream while we were on our way to a bacon cheeseburger at River Lodge.

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