Final Day at the Okovango Delta

We were woken up again at 6am so that we could have our sunrise boat cruise with the hope of adding a few more birds to our list as well. It was still cloudy from the previous evening’s thunderstorm and much cooler than we had previously experienced (probably in the earlier 20s). After our morning coffee and hot chocolate we were in the boat and off into the Delta. It started to drizzle lightly but not before we had seen 2 lifers (one quite rare bird and only found in the Delta but we had a very good sighting of it quite close by). The ranger handed out poncho’s but we didn’t feel it was necessary to wear them as it was only raining softly still. We then set out to see if we could find Pel’s Fishing Owl (a bird that had eluded us so far and yet a special of the area – people come from all over the world to see this Owl in the Delta). We went to Pel’s crossing because this was known (as you can guess from the name) to be a place where you found the bird and it was thought it had a nest in the area. We heard it hoot 3 or 4 times and it came behind us on an island. Stanza decided to get off the boat to see if he could find it and so we dropped him off and then we tried to see it from the waterside. However, after trying for around 20 minutes we couldn’t find it and we picked up Stanza about 300 meters further down (he had to wade back out to get into the boat). It was no raining quite hard as well and so the poncho’s were put on by everyone, camera equipment went into a black bag and we headed back to the lodge at top speed with the raining blitzing in our faces.

At one of the big open areas Ska spotted a hippo and pulled in close for us to have better view. It was a little too close for my comfort and given the comments of Stephen and Michael about how fast can a hippo swim etc, I suspect I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. Just when we were looking at one then number two came up followed by number three as well. And we weren’t more than 15 meters away (I suspect). Speedy had told us that when you at first see 1 hippo, you can bank on there being another 9 underwater nearby. As we had seen 3 I was still wondering where the other 7 were. I got a little more edgy when he cut the motor of the boat as well! Fortunately it did start first time and we left the hippo watching us carefully in our retreat.

We got back just after 8am and had breakfast and then we went to pack up. They had told us our flight was leaving from the landing strip at 12:55 and so we need to leave Xudum at around 11am as the boat trip would take about 40 minutes to Xarana and then a drive back to the landing strip would be another 40 minutes. I wasn’t looking forward to either as it was raining quite hard and was getting colder and colder as well. We finished packing up at around 9:45am and instead of sitting in the room we decided to go to the lodge and wait as we could at least get internet access from there. When we got there, the camp manager (Johann) came over to say that he was very concerned about the rain and that we would get very wet on the way back via boat & game truck and so he had ordered a helicopter to transfer us to the landstrip (at their expense – $900 per trip!). This was obviously very disappointing for everyone as we wouldn’t be able to see any more game (or not!). It meant two trips as the helicopter could only take 4 passengers and it was decided that the entrepid people should go first (Chloe and me) and then the more scared threesome (Stephen, Michael and Helen) would go second. The helipad was underwater so the manager said he would get him to land right in front of the lodge. The helicopter arrived at 12:15 and everyone came out to have a look and say goodbye. I had to help Chloe into the helicopter due to the force of the wind from the blades. It was only a 10 minute flip to the landing strip (much too short for my liking!). The Xudum landing strip (which we flew over) was totally under water and I wondered what the Pom Pom airstrip would look like. It was much better but also quite muddy.

Soon after we were dropped off a small plane did a flyby and then landed so it was clear that the runway was still in working condition. At about the same time Helen arrived with the 2 boys and then the rain stopped and it suddenly got quite humid and hot. Our plane (fortunately for Michael who didn’t enjoy the 6-seater experience) was a 14-seater Cessna Caravan (the same one we had flown from Maun to Sandibe on) and it arrived about 20 minutes later at 13:15. 20 minutes later we were in Maun and after a short walk inside the terminal building.

There were only 2 check in desks and neither of them had any signage above saying Air Botswana but I figured that they could only be Air Botswana. The check in process was manual – handwritten boarding cards, handwritten bag tags – no seat allocations and our names just crossed off the computer printout she had. This whol process still managed to take 5 minutes though as it was clearly interrupting her conversation with her colleague. The bags were simply piled on top of each on a baggage cart and that was that. We were told boarding would only take place at 2:15pm and so we had 30 minutes to kill doing duty free shopping (oh no – that’s right there weren’t any shops in the airport). Helen decided to be adventurous and to have a look at the shops outside and about 3 minutes later she was back with us again. I never even bothered to ask why she took so long – I knew as I had been to the bank on the 1st day we arrived. We then went through security which was a long line of people going through a single scanner (Helen was no doubt itching to offer to re-organise it again for them). The fire alarm went off twice while we waited in the queue but no-one moved so it was obviously a regular occurence. The scanner beeped for me despite the fact I was wearing exactly the same clothes I was wearing when we arrived and it didn’t then – how is that possible?!

After security we had to go to passport control. When we got to the counter we were handed the forms to fill in and they only gave Helen one. It took a reasonable amount of convincing to get another form and we were told the children didn’t need to fill it in they were covered under our forms. There were 2 counters open but the one lady after handing over the forms announced she was now closed and then left! We completed the forms (no pens around but fortunately I had one) and handed it back to the lady who then officiously stamped the form, our passports and our boarding cards. After passport control we had to pass through customs which involved another lady who stamped our boarding cards again (nothing else happened just a stamp, no questions, nothing!). If you didn’t know, 70% of Batswana (that is what you call the people of Botswana), are employed by the government. I think 50% of them must be employed at Maun airport to stamp your passport and the other 50% were on lunch. We were then through into the international departure lounge which looked remarkably similarly to the domestic departure lounge we had experienced 6 days earlier (including the sign in the toilet of ‘No water in the bathroom by order of the management’).

Our flight to Johannesburg left slightly late and so we arrived in Johannesburg at 5pm just at the same time as the Delta flight from Atlanta and various other SAA flights from other parts of Africa. The queue at immigration was quite long and it took us about 20 minutes to get through. Our luggage was already waiting for us at the carosel and then we were through to check-in for a BA flight back to Cape Town which left at 7pm. It was on-time and we got back to Cape Town just after 9pm. We were all quite tired and the kids were asleep within 30 minutes of getting home.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable 6 days and the last 3 days in particular were very relaxing (which is what Helen and I in particular needed).

Yours until next time.

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