Last year Maun received none of the floodwaters that usually arrive in winter. The summer rains in Angola 1000km to the north had been poor, and the flood just didn’t get right through the Okavango Delta to Maun; Well below average summer rainfall added to the drought. Rainy season is December to March in Angola and Botswana. So this winter, as word got out that the highlands in Angola had had good summer rain, and knowing that local rainfall had been above average, filling the pans and raising the underground water table, word got out that the flood was a big one and there was a lot of excitement in town.
Everybody who’s like me (!) followed the progress of the water flowing south with great interest. The levels are monitored as the mighty Okavango leaves Namibia and enters Botswana and spreads out into its beautiful delta in the Kalahari desert.
The highlands in central Angola is where the water is coming from – 1000km north as the crow flies. Rain that fell in January and February is reaching Maun in May. It travels the first 700km in about a month, then slows down as it spreads out in a fan in its dryland delta on the sands of the Kalahari.
The focus of the townspeople of Maun was when the floodwaters would reach Old Bridge. My main focus was when it would reach little sis Janet’s home 13km further downstream. We started getting updates when the headwaters of the flood reached the Boro river, which flows into the Thamalakane.
Monitoring the incoming flood was Hennie Rawlinson, a neighbour two doors down from Janet in Tsanakona ward. Janet’s lovely cottage on the river is the feature pic above. Hennie had the inspired idea to turn the event into a fundraiser for WoMen Against Rape and the Polokong center by allowing people to follow him daily as he tracked the headwaters. On average the flood moves about 2km per day, but that’s a huge variable, depending on the terrain, the foliage and the water table, the porousness of the sand its moving over, how much its channeled or spread out at that point, etc. Even in a river bed, where it moves quicker, it will reach a pool and have to fill that up before overflowing and moving on. So there can be long hours of ‘no progress’ – no forward progress, that is.
Hennie traveled into the Delta fringe to find the headwaters. Here’s one of his videos:
Then the water reached the confluence of the Boro and the Thamalakane! Great day! But wait! It headed NORTH East! It had to fill up a few pools and only then did it push South East towards Maun.
Much excitement as the water past under the high new bridge across the Thamalakane and approached Old Bridge, a historic landmark with a backpackers and pub just downstream of it on the left bank; and the site Hennie had chosen for his ‘Finish Marker.’ Other denizens of Maun also awaited the flood:
Finally the time came when the pool before Old Bridge started filling up and Hennie decided the flood would flow under it that night. He and a few others got permits to be up all night on the bridge as Maun was under corona virus stay-at-home orders like most places.
They waited all night, along with a crocodile or two. The water took a couple hours longer, and arrived in the wee hours of the next morning:
The fundraiser: The Rawlinsons tallied up all the donations and announced: The final amount we have raised is: P50 511 – We will be handing the money over to WoMen Against Rape and the Polokong center this week. The winner who guessed the time the water would arrive was James Stenner and that couldn’t have been luckier, as he had pledged the prize – a chopper flight over the Delta – to three deserving people of his choice who are involved in research on the delta but have never flown over it! What a mensch! He runs luxury mobile safaris – have a look at his website.
Meantime, further downstream, here’s what the dry river bed looked like outside Janet’s front gate:
We had started our own little competition: When will Janet’s size three clogs get wet? So she went out in them to show us how dry the riverbed was . .
and then when the water started seeping into the grass, showed us the first time her clogs could get wet in many months – a year!
From the air you could see more: the flood was approaching. That’s ‘Wilmot Island’ in the riverbed in the distance – dry – water arriving – water filling up. Over the course of just three days. Janet’s home is in the lower left corner just out of picture.
On the ground her view changed from the one above to:
One of her neighbours in Tsanakona ward made a collage of the view from his gate:
In dry times the river is a road and many streets cross straight across it. When the flood arrives you have to cross at the three big bridges:
And so Maun celebrates and heaves a huge sigh of relief. Residents flocked to the waters, welcoming it and scooping up some from the very front of the headwaters to take home. Pula!! The waters have arrived!
Of course the water doesnt stop till it has evaporated, sunk into the Kalahari sand or been pumped out and used by us humans. It carries on! Onward towards the Boteti and Nhabe rivers, with their endpoints in Lake Xau and Lake Ngami respectively. There it does stop. Those are lowpoints and there’s nowhere else to go.
I may post on that. The headwaters have already reached the split where the Boteti flows SE and the Nhabe SW.
Read how the Okavango may just be the site where humankind originated! Latest mitochondrial research moves the probable origin site of the direct ancestors of people alive today. Fascinating work by an Aussie scientist.