Xudum in Okavango

(A re-post with added pictures, as I throw out paper photo albums after copying and uploading. Major un-cluttering happening as I prepare my home for the past sixteen years for sale. Next chapter about to begin!)

Another trip to the Delta!

Aitch and I flew from Maun to Xudum in August 2001 when Janet & Duncan were helping Landela Safaris run their show. We landed on the nearby bush strip. We had been before, in January 2000. This post has pictures from both trips.

– . . . in the Xudum area, east of the Sandveldt Tongue –
Xudum airstrip (2)
– Xudum landing strip in high water – a 2020 picture –

After a few days in camp they had business in Maun and we accompanied them on the drive out of the Delta to Maun in the Land Cruiser. Rickety bridges, deep water crossings with water washing over the bonnet onto the windscreen.

Xudum drift

On the drive back to camp after the day in the big smoke of the metropolis of Maun we entered a Tamboti grove and saw two leopard cubs in the road. They split and ran off to left and right, then ran alongside of us on either side for a minute calling to each other before we moved off and let them be.

We enjoyed mekoro trips, game drives & walks and afternoon boat trips stretching into evenings watching the sunset from the boat while fishing for silver catfish or silvertooth barbel – I forget what they called them. Later, wading in thigh-deep water sorting out the pumps, earning my keep as a guest of the lodge managers. Only afterwards did I think hmm, crocs.

Xudum (5)

Visited Rann’s camp for lunch where Keith and Angie Rowles were our hosts. That’s where we first heard the now-common salute before starting a meal: “Born Up a Tree.”

Janet moved us from camp to camp as guests arrive, filling in where there were gaps in other camps. We transferred by boat, mekoro or 4X4 vehicle. One night we stayed in a tree house in Little Xudum camp.

Okavango Xudum Camp

Lazy days in camp drinking G&T’s

Here’s Trish’s paper album – photographed and discarded:

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Later Xudum was taken over by super-luxury company ‘&Beyond.’ OTT luxury, and R15 000 per person per night! Very different to the lovely rustic – but still luxurious – tented camp it was when we were there. Should ‘conservationists’ really be using miles of glass and wooden decking and flooring in the bush!? Methinks rich spoilt children are doing the designing for Daddy’s company and perspective has flown out the canvas-zip window and crashed into the plate glass floor-length picture window.

In May 2019 it burnt down. Had it been canvas there’d have been less pollution from the fire and the re-build.

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Oddballs, Then and Now

It has gone wimpish! Actually Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge is still a wonderful, more affordable way to see the Okavango Delta and this post must be taken with a pinch of salt; My tongue is in my cheek;

This is classic “The Good Old Days Was Better” bulldust. As my friend Greg Bennett says, ‘The older we get the better we were.’

When WE went in 1993 (‘the olden daze’) we had to take our own food! And that ain’t easy when there’s a 10kg limit on the Cessna 206’s; because one naturally has to take binoculars, a spotting scope, a tripod, a camera and books:

I exaggerate, these were Jessie’s books for her field guide course last year, but still: weight. So we took very little food. At Oddballs we bought their last potatoes and onions in the supply store, and then we pitched our tent. Not like these wimpish days when the tent is semi-permanent, pitched for you on a wooden deck with shower en-suite!! Here’s THEN and NOW:

Yes, actually, Oddballs IS a luxury lodge!
– me in the wonderful communal showers –

Here’s Aitch snoozing inside an old Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge bedroom. And the wimpish new arrangement! Aargh!

Luckily, the rest is still the same! You head out on a mokoro with a guide who really knows his patch: Our guide was Thaba Kamanakao – Delta legend.

OddballsOkavango makoro

You pitch your own tent on an island without anyone else in sight:

OddballsOkavango Squirrel Camp

And you enjoy true wilderness. When you get back, Oddballs really does seem like a Palm Island Luxury Lodge:

Oddballs (5)

There’s a bar, there’s cold beer, gin and tonic and ice. You can order a meal! And – NOWADAYS! – a double bed is made up for you, ya bleedin’ wimps!

Go there NOW! It’s amazing . .

(you can also look here)

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Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge

Getting into Botswana’s Okavango Delta can be awfully expensive.

A cheaper way is to fly in to Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge, get on a mokoro and disappear off into the wild with a guide who knows where he’s going and what he’s doing. In 1993 Aitch and I did just that, spending a night at Oddballs, where you are given a little dome tent to pitch on the hard-baked earth.

You get visitors:

The name is ironic, see (“contrary to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this” – I made a quick check; don’t want to get ‘ironic’ wrong). While in camp you stock up on the meagre supplies available in their shop, like potatoes and onions; a tent, a braai grid; add it to the 10kg you’re allowed to bring in on the high-wing Cessna 206’s and you’re away! 10kg doesn’t go far when you’re a books, binocs and telescope junkie!

The next morning we pushed off in our gentles S-shaped tree trunk mokoro to enjoy six nights out on the water in the care of a wonderful man named Thaba Kamanakao. He rigged up the seats so they were really comfy, the backrests enabling you to fall asleep at times!

Thaba said we could choose where we wanted to camp – anywhere. Soon after lunch we saw a magnificent jackalberry tree on an island and said ‘there!’ – my guess is he knew that! We set up camp – our tent and two deckchairs and a ready-made campfire spot which he’d likely used many times before. The rest if the day was given to lurking, loafing, listening, lazing. Thaba set his gill nets, gathered firewood, pitched his smaller tent and set his chair at the fire. We were all quiet most of the time, listening and loving as night fell. After we’d eaten we sat talking and listening some more. Then Thaba played his mbira – his ‘thumb harp’ – and sang to us; I’ll never forget his introduction as we switched on our tape recorder: ‘My name is Thaba; Thaba Kamanakao; Kamanakao is surname;

– shady jackalberry camp –

We chose not to move camp each day, electing to sleep three nights under a jackalberry and three nights under a mangosteen, both giving welcome shade and birdlife. We had little food, but Thaba provided us with the fish he caught in his gill net each night.

I ate the barbel and he and Aitch the bream. Lucky me, it was delicious! He also loved barbel, but his lifestyle advisor – a sangoma? a shaman? a nutritionist? – had told him he wasn’t allowed it! So a myth robbed a man of a useful source of protein. The first night we were joined by newly-qualified Pommy doctors Louise and Richard and their guide “BT.”

When we moved camp from the camp Aitch named Jackalberry Camp, to her new chosen Mangosteen or Squirrel Camp, we decided we needed a bath on the way, so Thaba took us to a stunning clear lagoon, carefully checked for big things that could bite and then stood guard on the mokoro while we swam and rinsed – no soap, please! Anyone going to this beautiful inland delta: Pack some small swimming goggles and an underwater camera if you can. The clarity of that water is awesome.

Beautiful underwater pic by David Doubilet – to show the clarity.

OddballsOkavango Camp

Squirrel Camp nights were again spent cooking and sitting around the fire; talking and listening to Thaba playing his mbira and singing;

Days were spent birding the camp, hiking the island and an daily foray in the mokoro. Once we we were ‘moved off’ by an impatient ele, Aitch getting mildly reprimanded for turning round to get a fuzzy picture as we retreated. Another time Thaba – scouting ahead – spooked a herd of buffalo, who thundered in a tight mass towards us. We climbed the nearby termite mound – Thaba had told us to stay next to or on it – and they thundered all around us;

– our ‘buffalo hide’ termite mound –

We would sally out daily on short mokoro trips,

– colourful dragonflies, lilies and reed frogs at eye level –

Back before the sun got too high so we could loaf in our shady camp, where the squirrels and birds kept us entertained for hours. Six lazy, wonderful, awesome days.

One night a herd of eles moved in and we lay listening to their tummy rumbles. We kept dead quiet and just peered at them in the moonlight through the tent flap, as they had a little baby with them and we didn’t want to upset mama.

Botswana Oddballs Savuti (2 small)
– still life with Sausage Tree flowers & leaves – Aitch saw the beauty at her feet –

Then we headed back reluctantly for a last night at Oddballs. Warm showers under the open sky; cold beer & gin’n’tonics on the deck, ice tinkling in the glass; watching spotted-necked otters in the lagoon, lounging in comfy chairs. Topped off that evening by a big hearty hot meal prepared for us and plonked onto a table on the deck. We ate watching the sunset turn the water .

And suddenly it dawned on us that, even though we did have to pitch our own tent again, Oddballs really IS a Luxury Lodge!

Oddballs (5)
– chandeliers of sausage tree flowers hang over the lagoon –

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Oddballs is fancier nowadays.

mokoro – dugout canoe; one mokoro, two mekoro

sangoma – shaman? traditional healer? medicine man? says he communes with the ancestors

mbira – thumb piano or thumb harp musical instrument

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postscript 2018: This post was found by Thaba’s son, who informed me in the comments below that Thaba the legend had passed away. Damn!

R.I.P Thaba Kamanakao; You made our trip unforgettable.

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Read an account of another 1993 trip to the Okavango Delta – Delta Camp right next to Oddballs) by Bill Keller, a US journalist for the NY Times based in Joburg.

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(Here’s Trish’s 1993 photo album. I have copied, posted it here and discarded the album in my downsizinfg while selling our home in 2021)