Okavango and Other Deltas
Stirring to the sound of my alarm clock at 6am on our rest day in Maun, Botswana, the first thing I noticed was how heavy my eyelids felt. The second thing I noticed was the sound of the torrential rain and thunder raging outside my tent. The third thing I noticed (on the walk to the campsite bathroom) was that my raincoat is no longer waterproof. What a day to take a bush flight into the largest inland delta in the world!
Our pilot assured us that we would be taking off in a direction away from the lightening bolts and unlike some of my companions, I boarded the small prop plane with gusto. I love taking off and landing in remote places in those little death traps. We flew very low for about twenty minutes, which offered phenomenal first views of the Okavango Delta. From the sky, we saw elephants (finally!), giraffes, zebra, and a lush green waterworld extending toward every horizon. We are here during the rainy season, when water from Angola floods the delta across over 16,000 square kilometers. This just might rival the distance we are biking from Cairo to Cape Town.
After a bumpy landing on a small sand strip, we loaded into mokoros, which are traditional, dug-out wooden canoes. A guide powered us through the wildlife and weeds using a long wooden pole. It was so relaxing in the clean, endless waters, I fell asleep at one point. I woke up as we landed on an island, at which point the guides said we would commence the “nature walk.”. I looked at everyone’s cheap flip flops and shorts and said “What nature walk? We bike everyday and came here to sit in a canoe!”. Apparently the trip included a nature walk portion, which was basically like a safari except we walked through the bush without guns or cars. At one point, a black mamba crossed our path. This is one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. I’ll let you guess at whether our guides were carrying anti-venom. Hint…TIA.
Three hours of nature walking/bush-whacking through Africa in flip flops later, we returned to the canoes and airstrip. Boarding the plane, the pilot greeted us with the following statement: “Right, so here’s the deal. Runway’s a bit short for take-off. I’m going to gun it, pull her up, and hope we clear those trees over there. Hang on tight.”. We cleared the trees, and again enjoyed spectacular aerial scenery of the great Okavango flood plain.
I thought the flight would be the last view of a large swamp in Botswana. Our campsites the next few nights proved my assumption wrong. It is supposed to be dry and sunny in Botswana this time of year, but we experienced torrential rain and thunderstorms on each and every day and/or night here. Some of the thunderstorms were violent, and woke us up during a week where we rode an average of a century every single day.
This rainy week in Botswana included our longest single day on the Tour, 207 kilometers (or 130 miles). We woke up to a cold deluge. Packing up my tent at our wake-up time of 4:30am I wrapped myself in garbage bags to keep my core dry. I looked good in my hobo chic attire, but was in denial that I would be on my bike for over eight hours in cold rain.
Quite a few riders couldn’t handle the combination of bad weather and long mileage and got on the truck, but not Dr. Bill. Dr. Bill is a Canadian surgeon training nurses in Zambia, who is riding with us through Cape Town. The 207k day was his 71st birthday, and he was determined to ride the entire distance. How is that for inspirational? My friend Cat rode with him the entire way and said the pace would increase when he told one of his many stories! The ride finished at the Namibian border, which Dr. Bill reached before sunset, or rather before a few final rainshowers before bed.
Riding through Namibia immigration during a storm, several posters highlighted the country as one of eternal sunshine. We will find out over the next week!