Head North!

On the road less travelled . .

I paid and moved on after posing a big challenge to Swamp Stop’s sewerage system. I’d cooked wors, pap, steak and chicken high sosaties and it took two flushes to get rid of it. Did I say cooked? I mean eaten. Cecelia had cooked it. Also potatoes in foil, butternut and a salad. Her broad beam and broad smile had convinced me immediately that her offer of supper would surpass my intended cold baked beans straight outa the tin. And it did, it was delicious.

Two misbehaving teenage fishermen Peter and Ken (ages 75 and 79) were camped next to me the two nights. I tried to get them to behave, but would they listen? Constant gin, beer, wine and tall tales of the bream they were going to catch. Next time. They did catch some fine tigers and barbel, it must be said. They told frightening tales of the terrible A35 road after I had said the road was fine. ‘No it’s not!’ said the driver of the new Discovery, ‘It’s a nightmare! I couldn’t even go 70,75 towing my Conqueror off-road trailer!’ I had to admit I cruise a lot slower and no trailer, so the road was fine for me. Also, I was driving a Ford Ranger – Ja, they made the obligatory groans that all envious okes seem to do when I mention this fact.

When I left camp after breakfast (Cecelia’s scrambled eggs) I thought, Can 154 Years of Experience be wrong? so I decided to dodge the now dreaded and newly notorious A35 and get to Nxamasere off the grid, taking a road parallel and nearer the Okavango’s western-most channel. ‘You can’t go that way!’ they told me in Sepupa village but I read somewhere, “All Roads Lead to Nxamasere,” so I felt confident. I think that’s what it said.

And I was right. It was a magic little bush track, smooth sand mostly and winding along merrily, scratching my pristine 15yr-old paintwork only occasionally. After an hour I stopped for a pee in the cool shade of a magnificent Knob Thorn.

So two magnificent knobs there.

At times the road did seem to peter swanie out a bit, but it would re-appear, and every now and then blue concrete beacons marked WP would appear reassuringly. I thought, If this route goes to Western Province I’m sure it goes through Namibia, and Nxamasere will be en route.

At Kajaja health post two men were building a house right on the road. They gave me a smile and a big wave so I asked them (quickly trying, but failing, to ask them a question that could not be answered ‘YES’). ‘NO,’ they said, You cannot get to Nxamasere this way, you have to take the tar road.’ OK, thanks, I said, I’m sure you’re right, but I am going to try. I’ll see you back here if I fail, to admit to you: You Were Right. They thought that was helluva funny. I started to move off and he said, ‘Wait! Let me ask our father.’ I bowed my head and closed my eyes but he meant his earthly father who was sitting on a chair under a shady tree behind the house they were building. “Dad! he shouted in fluent seTswana, ‘Can one get to Nxamasere this way? There’s an ancient white-haired goat here who is determined not to drive on tar.’ No, said our father, There is no way to Nxamasere that way. ‘Our father says no, there is no way to Nxamasere that way,’ said my man. OK, I said, I’m sure he is right, so I will come back if I get stuck and I will say to you, I admit: You Were Right.

The road meandered on vaguely northwards, maybe a bit more overgrown and a touch less confidently, but on it meandered nevertheless, with an occasional detour and only one bit of gardening needed where a tree had fallen across and needed a bit of a chop, a rope and a backward tug to make a gap. It was surrounded by elephant droppings so maybe those pachyderm foresters had felled it. Still a smooth sandy track, no corrugations, hard enough to not deflate my tyres; occasionally a patch of calcrete which made me think maybe this was the old great north road before the A35? Second gear 30kmh; Third gear 40kmh at times.

Then it did peter out. I took a left detour but that turned back towards Kajaja; a right detour going downhill towards the channel ran into some dongas where lots of sand had been extracted. They call them ‘borrow pits’ – I think that is seTswana for ‘quarry.’

Defeat.

I arrived back in Kajaja with a grin and my men grinned back. Our father waved from under the tree. You Were Right, I said, triggering laughter again, and made my way with my exhaust between my legs to the tar.

And I was right. It was bladdy awful. Smooth; Straight; Wide; Boring.

Even this donkey felt my disappointment, as you can see.

~~oo0oo~~

Okavango Delta – the 2020 flood

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.

– Maun is left (west) of the number 1 below the B of Botswana –

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.

– there’s Maun and its airstrip – the flood is about 21km from the Tamalakhane river confluence –

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.

– watch the waters flowing steadily South Eastward in the Boro river towards the Tamalakhane river which flows South Westward towards Maun –

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.

– 8 May and the headwaters reach the confluence of the Boro with the Tamalakhane – that was quicker, mostly in a riverbed now –

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.

– the late night vigil with friends and crocodiles –

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.

– a few days after arrival, the pools above and below Old Bridge are filling up –
– the pool below Old Bridge even better –

Meantime, further downstream, here’s what the dry river bed looked like outside Janet’s front gate:

– the road and the river 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.

Wilmot Island – Thamalakane river

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!

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

More:

Okavango Research Institute

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.

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)

~~~oo0oo~~~