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.

Day 5 at the Okovango Delta

Today was a day that won’t be forgotten quickly. It is now 9:30pm and I am not sure that I will have energy to finish writing this tonight as I am exhausted. The kids were almost falling asleep into their food at supper they were so tired (and this after Helen, Stephen and I all had afternoon naps!). Well – let me tell you what happened.

We were woken up at 5:30am with the delivery of orange juice. Helen and I didn’t sleep brilliantly. We weren’t disturbed by animals (it is remarkably quiet except for the frogs who make the biggest noise for the smallest creatures – they are about 1cm long and yet they make a huge noise). The problem was twofold. Firstly, it is very hot and still at night. We do have aircon in the bedroom but as there are no windows at all (just mozzie netting), the aircon is actually trying to cool the whole Delta and that isn’t very effective. I have woken up each morning in a pool of sweat. The second problem was that our house is built right next to and slightly under a Marula tree and the fruits are ripe at the moment so they keep falling off onto our roof which makes a loud thud and reverberates through the whole house. As you can imagine that tends to wake you up as even the frogs noise doesn’t block that out.

We set off the game drive at around 6:30am as the sun was rising and we saw a reasonable amount of game and birds. We even saw Roan Antelope which is very rare and generally seen much less than any of the predators. With all our game park trips I think our kids have never seen them previously or if they had it certainly wasn’t up close. We also saw reedbuck which we hadn’t seen on this trip and a number of lifers as well as quite a few other birds which we hadn’t seen yet on the trip. The one special sighting was that of a Giant Eagle Owl which we heard hooting and then managed to spot it in the trees very close to the road. At about 9:30 it was evident we weren’t getting back to camp for breakfast and it also explained the 5 plastic chairs on the back of the game truck. Our ranger (Stanza) said that the plan was to get to a pan where there were lots of water birds and where some Flamingo’s had been spotted earlier this week (Flamingo’s don’t usually come to the Delta and so this is a very rare occurrence). We were just about a kilometre from the pan when we had to do a water crossing. And that is where the fun started as about half way through at the deepest point the truck lost momentum and the tyres dug in and there we were stuck! I was sitting in the front seat and within moments the water was filling the entire foot well (well being an operative word to describe it!). The water level was just below the fronts eat level actually. Ska and Stanza insisted we remain in the vehicle while they took off their socks and shoes and got the jack out.

Their first plan was to jack the vehicle up and put logs under all the wheels. This isn’t an easy task and they managed to only do one side when suddenly one of the trucks appeared. The driver was actually lost and looking for the other group (a group of Mexicans) to take them their breakfast. He dropped off a rope and promised to return after he had delivered breakfast to them. In the meanwhile they tried the jack and log method and the first attempt didn’t seem to move the truck anywhere and probably only dug it in further. By this stage the kids had figured that wading around in the water was a better option than being truck bound. As kids usually do they got more and more immersed in the water and eventually Stephen & Michael were swimming and Chloe was trying to figure out how to do it with her skirt on. When Michael took off his shirt she put it on and it was long enough to be a dress on Chloe and so that became her bathing costume.

After about 45 minutes of trying, Stanza suggested that we have breakfast in the water and not at the pan. So we all got out and unpacked the chairs, tables, cadac and skottle and food containers. We set them up in ankle deep water and Stanza and Ska started to prepare breakfast for us in the Delta! Getting stuck in the Delta turned out to be a lovely experience of breakfast in the Delta. You have to see the pictures to believe it! We had egg, bacon and sausage all freshly prepared by Stanza. After breakfast while we were still waiting for the help to arrive, Stanza took us on a walking safari down to the pan and we saw the Flamingo’s (3 of them) and various other water birds including 1 lifer. It was now getting very hot and I could feel myself burning despite liberally applying sun cream twice within an hour. The mozzies and flies (biting type) were also mobbing us and so we gave up relatively quickly on the bird watching and headed back to the vehicle. Ska had been hard at work jacking up each wheel and putting logs under them. We couldn’t take the heat anymore so we got into the vehicle to get some shade (all the game vehicles in Botswana are covered fortunately). Ska tried to drive the vehicle out and while he probably made it forward by 50cm or so, the wheels dug in again and even deeper this time. [I got this far last night and then sleep overcame me!] It was evident that we had to be pulled out. We had to wait for another 10 minutes or so and then Thsepo arrived in the Landcruiser bakkie and fortunately the rope held and he managed to pull us out. In total we were stuck in the crossing for 2 hours. We were a long way from camp still and so we started to head back but only got back at around 1:30pm in the end. The game drives take it out of you as the roads are incredibly bumpy and you are bouncing up and down all the time. They say the roads are so bad due to the sandy soil and the water. They are slightly better at Xudum than at Sandibe but both places are considerably worse than any other game park we have visited.

As we were all tired and hot and full, we decided to skip lunch and all the afternoon activities and just spend the time in the camp. The staff were playing Delta Volleyball to which the kids were invited but they also decided to opt out of that after the morning spent swimming in the Delta. I feel asleep on the bed downstairs and Helen nodded off on the bed on the observation deck (yes – we have two beds!). Stephen also fell asleep later in the afternoon. We just spent the afternoon relaxing, swimming in the plunge pool (or at least Helen and Chloe swam) and just watching for game over the Delta. At about 5pm Helen suddenly noticed an African Barred Owlet sitting right in front of us in the tree. We weren’t sure how long he had been there but we had fantastic view of him before he flew into the neighbouring tree. Shortly after that we noticed a single elephant bull crossing the Delta toward the main lodge so we headed over to see how close it would come and to have some drinks before dinner. It didn’t get much closer but we did see it a few more times across the Delta.

Dinner was meant to be a bush dinner but when we heard that we had to share a table with 10 Mexicans we asked whether we could stay at the lodge rather. These guys were incredibly noisy and are big (no that is an understatement), MASSIVE drinkers. They kept apologising for their noisiness but quite honestly it does destroy some of the atmosphere of a peaceful game lodge. There was no surprise from the staff – they seemed to understand how we felt. To give you some idea of how they behaved, when I was over at the lodge at 4pm during afternoon tea, they were raiding the bar for Tequila instead of coffee. We were very glad in the end that we didn’t go over with them last night as they only left for dinner at 8:30pm and we were finished at 9pm. None of us would have made it and it would have been an unpleasant experience as well with the drinking, smoking and general loudness. (News of our comments about their noisiness must have gotten around because the manager even mentioned it to us this morning that things should be more peaceful now as they were leaving this morning.)

So another adventure filled day passed and we were all a little sunburnt for the experience and thoroughly exhausted but a day that definitely will not to be forgotten.

Yours from the sunburnt Temples.

Day 4 at the Okovango Delta

Either we are getting used to sleeping with the sounds of elephant and hippo eating or they both weren’t around last night (we think it was the latter). We decided not to go for an early morning drive as we had to leave at around 10am to be taken to the landing strip for our next flight to Xudum (pronounced Koo – dumb). We had a leisurely breakfast, packed up and said our goodbyes to the staff at the camp (who were excellent – we think the best we have experienced at any game lodge we have visited). We decided to take a slow ride to the landing strip and see if we could add to our bird list which was now over 100 birds. We did add one or two on route and in addition also saw another pride of Lion quite near the landing strip. We then had to clear the landing strip of game which turned out to be quite entertaining as there was a herd of giraffe (I am sure that is not the right collective noun for giraffe but can’t think what it is at the moment) on both sides of the landing strip.

The plane landed slightly earlier and after we had obtained our boarding passes and passed through security (of which there were neither) we switched places with another family who came out of the plane. The plane was a 6 seater Cessna. The luggage went underneath and we had to repack it slightly to ensure it fitted in. Then I got the seat next to the pilot (he wanted the heaviest upfront with him), and then Helen and Stephen behind us with Michael and Chloe at the back. The take off was smooth and I thought it was a fantastic 20 minute trip but when I turned around to see how the family was doing it was evident that only Stephen was enjoying it like me. Michael was as white as a sheet and looked as though he thought the plane would drop from the sky any minute and while Helen was smiling she told us later that she didn’t like the bumps and bobs that the plane did.

We did get a fantastic view of the Delta and while I didn’t see any fame from the air, Stephen saw elephant and giraffe on his side of the plane. We landed at about 11:45am at Pom Pom which is the airstrip for Xarana (sister camp of Xudum). The Xudum airstrip was under water about a month ago and had not yet been approved by the government for re-opening yet though the Xudum manager says it is now repaired. We therefore had to take a game vehicle to Xarana (about 40 minutes) and then a boat from Xarana to Xudum (another 40 minutes). The road trip took slightly longer as we ended up seeing a whole lot of birds and our ranger (Stanza) tried to spot a Pel’s Fishing Owl for us at various places. Eventually we were radioed to ask where we were as they needed the game truck for another collection. Xarana is a beautiful tented camp which (if we ever come back to the Delta), we would definitely select as a place to stay. We just had time for a quick pit stop and then we were onto the boat. 2 minutes outside of Xarana the fuel ran out and we had to switch over to the reserve tank. Unfortunately they then couldn’t get the engine going again and I had visions of someone swimming back to Xarana to get help. Fortunately they figured out where the blockage was and we were off again up top speed with Sta (our tracker) at the wheel. As he was going quite fast the water was spraying up and wetting us from time to time which was really cooling in the hot Botswana midday heat.

We arrived at Xudum at 2pm and had lunch and then we were shown to our rooms which are beautiful wooden structures with their own splash pools on the side of the Delta. You have your own viewing deck over the Delta. We met back at the lodge just after 4pm and then went on a Mokoro again with Stanza taking the kids and Sta taking Helen and myself. It was very peaceful and we were in the Mokoro for about an hour and half. Very enjoyable even in the heat and despite the insects and spider webs. We got back and had a drink and watched the sunset from the lodge and I downloaded and sent some emails. After dinner it was back to the rooms and asleep at around 10pm as we had a morning game drive again at 6am.

Cheers from the mozzie chewed Temples!

Day 3 at the Okovango Delta

We were again up for the 5:30am morning drive and it was pretty much a repeat pattern in that we didn’t see much game but we did see quite a few more birds.  By the end of the drive we were on over 90 birds and closing in on 100.  Our target is 150 so that definitely seems reachable.  When we got back Speedy said we were going to fish for our lunch so we had 30 minutes to ‘freshen up’ and then we were into the boat.  The giveaway sign was that Thusi (our butler) also came with us so we knew we were going to have lunch somewhere else.  They took us into the Santandibe River and we followed the main channel until we got to an Island which was previously used by the local people when they hunted (they usually hunted hippo as they believed the meat was very good for you).   On the island was a picnic laid out for us under the trees and so we disembarked from the boat, got our land legs back and once we had gotten rids of the ants that had attacked the ‘stokbrood’, we settled down for a peaceful lunch under the trees and did a little more bird watching.   On the trip back everyone nodding off for a few minutes as it was so peaceful on the river and what we our full stomachs it really was the only thing you could do.

That evening we decided on only a short game drive as it had been a full day and so we left at 5pm (you usually leave at 4pm) and we just stayed close to the camp.  Speedy took us to see the remains of an elephant bull (including his tusks which were still there).  The elephant had been injured in a fight with another one and as he was hanging around the camp and being quite aggressive (and the wound wasn’t healing), the government had agreed that it could be shot.  (You cannot do anything in Botswana without the government approving it.)  The tusks are meant to be collected by a government agency but as they already have so much ivory stored they haven’t been yet to collect these but it is illegal for them to even move them off the spot (and it seems no one does!).  We then got a lesson in poaching & culling from Speedy and Steve who were both very passionate and knowledgeable on the subject.  It was a very educational drive.  We then stopped to have drinks next to a patch of water and as we did a hippo came up out of the water and grunted and opened its mouth in a show of aggression to us.  He just wanted to chase us away and Speedy just clapped his hands and shouted out him.  The hippo kept up his show for about 10 minutes or so while we were having drinks and snacks and watching the sun set over the Delta.  It then figured we weren’t going to do anything and ignored us until we pulled away again when he again displayed his aggression.  It was an amusing and entertaining drinks stop.

Day 2 at the Okovango Delta

We were woken up at 5:30am for a morning game drive.  After a quick breakfast we headed out in the game truck and while we saw the usual game (giraffe, elephant, impala, lechwe etc), we didn’t see much else except adding significantly to our bird list.  While looking at one particular bird and trying to identify it (we probably spent 15-20 minutes doing that), Michael suddenly pointed out the buffalo on the other side of the game vehicle!  We were so busy watching the bird that we didn’t even notice the buffalo for the first 10 minutes or so.

That afternoon we were taken for a trip in a Mokoro.  This is a traditional dug-out canoe which they use in the Delta.  It was traditionally made from the trunk of a sausage tree but the government stopped that about 10-15 years ago as it was resulting in too many trees being chopped down.  Now they are fibreglass only.  They are poled by a person standing at the back.  We were just told to sit like a bag of potatoes as they do not want you shifting your weight as they do the balancing with their feet.  It was a very peaceful and pleasant experience.  The kids went with Speedy and Helen and I were with Steve.  It was only a short ride (about 10-15 minutes) and then we spent the balance of the afternoon with another game ride.  At the end of the day we finished on around 80 birds.

It is probably worth saying that by the end of Day Two we had been bitten by mozzies all over.  Peaceful Sleep seems to attract mozzies in the delta rather than repel them.  That night Chloe got bitten 14 times on her hand, I have multiple bites around my shins (and so does Michael) and it seems that only Helen doesn’t get bitten much (we think it something to do with the sourness of her blood).  They even manage to bite right through our shirts – both Stephen and I have had bites through our shirts.  As there is always water nearby there are generally insects around so if you can’t take insects then the Delta is definitely not for you!

Michael didn’t sleep that well as he woke up at around 2am to munching outside his room.  He said it was so loud he was scared stiff (and I know the feeling from the previous evening).  He thought it was a hippo originally until we saw the elephant tracks on the path around their house and the large present he had left behind on the path as well.  Helen and I also heard the hippo splashing around in the water again that night.

Day 1 at the Okovango Delta

We woke up at 4am as we had to catch a 6am flight to Johannesburg. It is amazing how quickly the kids wake up when you are going on holiday versus trying to wake them up for school! We left home at 4:45am and got to the airport in plenty of time to check in. The flight was on time and uneventful with most of us sleeping for the 2 hours to Jhb. We then had to go to international departures to check in for our flight to Maun (pronounced Ma – ung 2 syllables not 1 as we discovered). We travelled on Air Botswana and it was a prop plane (4 seats across). The plane was pretty full with what was clearly mostly tourists and the balance being a few school borders heading home for the school holidays. Our plane left at 10:10 and again the flight was uneventful. We arrived in Maun at 12:30pm. The heat immediately hit us as they opened the door (it was around 30 degrees Celsius). We then all walked from the plane to the airport building (not hard to find as it was the only building in sight!). Clearing passport control was a tedious process as they had 4 counters with only 2 open – one for residents and one for visitors. As there were only 3 or 4 residents on the plane that queue quickly dissipated. As most of the tourists were Europeans, they all remained in the ‘Visitor’ queue while the South Africans all tried their luck in the residents queue (including us). That mean we got through passport considerably quicker than most people.

There is no baggage belt at Maun airport – only a place where they simply put your luggage and you go forward and take yours and head out. Ours was waiting for us already when we got through passport control and so we were quickly out into the arrivals hall which was smaller than our lounge with about 20 tour operators all waiting for us. We were met by an &Beyond agent and were told that our next flight to Sandibe (our lodge) would depart at 1:30pm. We had to wait for 2 other groups of people so while the family waited I went to draw some Pula. No banks to be found in the airport. I discovered that there was a bank across the road though in the local strip mall (for the Americans reading this take your usual strip mall and divide by 100 and that is the size I am talking about). I did find a Standard Bank and an single ATM which did incredibly dispense some money to me.

When I got back to the family, Helen had been provided the airtickets for the next 3 flights we would do on Safair Air (paper handwritten ones which I could have done myself on some spare scrap paper if they had told me too!). We then were told to proceed through security to the domestic departure lounge. Now at this point you all have a wrong picture in your mind of what that looked like. Firstly it was a single scanner through which we scanned our luggage as well and after taking about 10 minutes for us to get through it (I am not exaggerating), Helen concluded by saying they should hire her to improve/change their system. (I don‘t think they thought anything was wrong with their system!) We were then in the departure lounge which only had about 30 chairs in it set up in school room style (all facing the same direction for those of you who have forgotten what a school room looks like). The departures hall was directly next to the arrivals – like a lounge next to the dining room (and about that size as well!). I ventured going to the toilet and there was a notice up inside saying “No water in the toilets by order of the management”!

After waiting around for about 10-15 minutes we were called – no not over a loudspeaker – in person by the pilot and his assistant – for our flight. Our luggage was loaded onto a bakkie and we had to walk. Our plane was the furthest parked from the departures hall out of any of the planes. We walked over chatting to the pilot who was from New Zealand. It was actually the biggest ‘small’ plane in Maun – about a 15-20 seater. As we were first on, we got the front few rows of seats and so Michael & I were directly behind the pilot. It was fascinating watching everything from take off to landing. After we were loaded we got the 10 second safety briefing which was “First Aid box at the back, exits front and back, fire extinguisher over there, let’s go”. Prop fired up, we taxied to the main runway and off we went. Very smooth takeoff and generally a smooth a pleasant flight and all too soon (in my opinion) we were heading down to the landing strip in the middle of nowhere it seemed to me. Great landing and with a few seconds we were off the plane and meeting our ranger for the 3 days (Speedy). We had to wait for the arrival of another plane with a couple on board. Our luggage was loaded onto one game truck and we were on the other. We couldn’t understand why they didn’t just put the luggage at our feet but we soon discovered why.

Speedy told us that it would take roughly an hour to get to the lodge. The reason is that the landing strip is the only piece of dry land large enough to hold it nearby. We set off to the lodge and Speedy told us there would be 3 water crossings we would have to do. We saw a reasonable smattering of game on route (giraffe, kudu, impala, elephant) and one new buck for us – Red Lechwe. It is found predominantly in the Okavango Delta and likes standing in the water and apparently runs very easily through the water to get away from predators. It looks very similar in size and colour to Impala. Within about 30 minutes we came to our first water crossing where we saw a Slaty Egret (endangered bird) and a Pied Kingfisher (these were some of the first of many birds for us). The water crossings are all incredibly deep. The water comes up to the bonnet of the Landcruiser and floods the driver seats and the first row of seats have to pick their feet up or they get very wet. Speedy had to open his door to let the water out when we got to the other side. We had another 2 of those to do and we navigated some of the worst roads I have ever experienced in a game park. They are wet, muddy and seriously in need of re-grading. Who needs a roller coaster when you can experience the thrill in a game park instead!

We did get to the camp safely where we were met with singing and dancing from the staff. It always amazes me how quickly they remember each of our names. Fortunately they were name badges otherwise I would be terribly embarrassed. As we hadn’t yet had lunch and it was now 3pm, we agreed to simply drop our bags in the room and be back at 3:30pm for High Tea. We did that and then headed off (after meeting our tracker -Steve) for our first game drive. There is only one road in and out of the camp so the 3 water crossings happen each time you leave and return. The game drive was enjoyable and we saw 4 of the big five (they don’t have Rhino in the Delta at the moment). We saw the leopard on the way back into camp after the sun had already set. We also finished the day with around 35 birds and about 8 lifers. As we were all exhausted we had dinner and we were in bed by 9:30pm and Helen was asleep by 9:31pm. The kids slept together in one “hut” and Helen and I in the other. At 1:30am I woke up (wide awake) thinking they had knocked with our wake up call. I checked my watch and my cellphone (no reception but I use it as an alarm clock) and they both said 1:30pm which I didn’t believe as I was sure they had knocked. I woke Helen up and she checked and it was 1:30am on her watch too. I was obviously dreaming but it took me about 30 minutes to convince myself I was!

However, it took me longer to fall asleep again thanks to the hippo splashing around right in front of our accommodation. I know at night the sounds of the bush travel far but this really was right in front of our house and the next morning when we woke up it was clear that he had exited the delta right next to our house and gone back in again that way too. In fact at about 10pm just before I went to sleep it bumped again the house and made a thudding noise probably while it was climbing out. At 2am it sounded rather scary and so it took awhile to convince myself it was safe to go to back to sleep. What didn’t help was the elephant trumpeting in camp as well (and his footprints were clearly evident on the path the next morning!). Then if you added in the heavy rain (thunderstorm actually) that happened during night it was quite an eventful first evening.