the ride in

Not a single drop of rain in Maun in 6 months. It’s a drought, but not exceptional, and the rains are expected next month

pula

(big post)

“Pula” means “rain” in Tswana and also the name of the currency, which makes sense for a country as dry as this.

Here’s what the river outside my place looks like now. Yup, dry as a bone

Plus dried out bivalves. They’re the second favourite food of the Africa openbill, which can take a couple of minutes to open one up, whereas it can extract the guts from a snail in a couple of seconds with the help of a surgically sharp protrusion on the bill

And a few months ago, crocs and water lilies. Looks like a Seurat painting on the right there…

And halfway between those two shots, these kids

They fish out the remainder of the bream and catfish (before the catfish can bury themselves in the mud and hibernate). Cool video

Sooo, to back up a bit, the Okavango Delta (blue) is fed by rains from the Angolan highlands, below. From the southern end of the Delta it flows southwest down the Thamalakane river (above pics), along a (relatively recent, 50,000 years) fault line, to Lake Ngami, where it mostly evaporates off

Here I was months ago on the banks of (dry at the time) Lake Mgami

So, other than the summer rains (northern hemisphere winter), everything depends on the Angolan drainage. The rains there in December/January can take up to six months (i.e. now) to slowly complete the journey from mountains to the Thamalakane and onwards.

But the water hasn’t arrived yet. I’m in the Delta regularly, and it’s coming. We’re measuring it at a place we pass regularly, but there’s some doubt and worry about how much will make it beyond the Delta. It’s forecast to be a very bad year.

First, some views of the dry Delta from an Robinson R44 I took on a project. The objective was to follow the northern estuary up to the panhandle and see if it was free of papyrus.

Here we go from Maun International Airport, lol. I’ve flown to Gaborone, the capital, from here. Its about 1/2 the size of, say, the Kelowna airport, and like everything in Botswana very friendly if very slow, with a couple of design clusterfucks. But like most things here, hard not to love.

(lots of small prop planes, maybe 30 or so, for accessing lodges with private strips in the Delta)

Yay! Last time I was in a R44 was with Miss G in New Zealand a few years ago. (excuse the rare selfie, but I’m not obscuring anything. I don’t understand selfies in travel pictures: pics are for information, that’s their sole reason for being, we know what the writer looks like, but we don’t know what is behind him/her looks like, but whatever)

I took the Garmin GPS along for the 2 1/2 flight round trip to the delta mouth

(On the subject of fucking Garmin, I was reading about the Botswana guy, Ross Branch, who came 12th and was top rookie in last year’s Dakar

And his GPS nearly took him out of the race on day one!

And I was speaking to Miss S the other day and she had a massive Garmin failure here in Africa when she went through. As I’ve said a few times, if you’re going to use their crap gear, take a compass and a map)

Back to the Delta:

Following the channel up to check the water in the lagoon

It’s very low. Back to following the river

To where the papyrus blocks passage. Damn, won’t be coming this way by water…

Lots of animals of course, all on the move between the shrinking water holes. Maybe 100 buffalo. Wouldn’t want to be down there right now

A magnificent elephant train, following the matriarch

We’d do some low loops over cool things

Like these brown hyenas, one of 2 species here

A couple of elephants contemplate a huge mass of hippos

Some areas are very dry. Below, all those brown areas are deep water for most of the year and the clumps of trees are islands. Termites built the islands off what was originally a flatter flood plain. Mounds are everywhere on higher ground

We stop and take the doors off and smoke ciggies

Here’s what its looked like a few months ago, before the seasonal drought, from a makoro

Traditional makoro carved from hardwood (the best tree for this is Schinziophyton rautanenii). They’re used for fishing and general transport around the Delta. This pic from a few days ago, everything looking very dry

And from a few months ago. There’s no reason whites can’t own their own makoro but few do. It’s employment for hundreds and only costs a few pula to get around, and poling is a little tricky apparently

Like this

Nice. The water is tinted slightly brown from tannin but otherwise clear as crystal

Great birdwatching

Through the lilies

There are only 2 hazards, crocs and hippos. The hippos are a particular problem as they attack makoros regularly and deaths happen every year. Below we’ve seen a hippo, stop the boat and wait for it to surface, consider us, and hopefully move on. Without exaggeration, it’s never an encounter to take casually. I recently downloaded a great new documentary “Into the Okavango” (NatGio) off iTunes, and the photo team were attacked and one makoro wrecked

Here’s a mature hippo skull. The Delta is littered with bones

And a baby hippo skull

Makoro trips are a popular tourist thing. Here a French group, complete with guides and supply boats pass us

Talking of hippos, we saw a cool thing out on the Delta a few days ago. It’s now dry and there’s pressure on the crocs and hippos to find water that isn’t drying out. As we 4X4’d past this, we saw some bumps/hippos in the thickening water

And a little further a huge herd in thick mud

The video. They just lie there, doing nothing, except yawn, fart, grunt, and only once in a while. It’s kind of meditative watching, seeing a bunch of big living objects being so unplugged all day. My theory: group “glow”

Next post, some scenes from recent longer trips into the Delta.

old, green

Watch strap, 7 years old, promised to Miss G

Tricky corner, the Old Bridge pub

salon change, plus intestines

So I changed salon. Now I go to Gee’s Hair Spray

Way upscale. #2 sides and back, #3 up top. The art is the transition zone

Change of subject

Top left in this picture is a pile of intestine. Bottom right is the stomach

Here are the remains of the Impala they belonged to. The kill is about 4 hours old

So, for a six-pack of Kokanee, what animal does such a careful dissection, under time pressure before a lion chases it off the kill?

update

I’m helping a friend who has an operating deadline less than 2 months from now. Fortunately there’s something relevant I can contribute to, so we’ve been busy.

Our 05:30 start into the Delta. Recently I’ve been doing this a few days a week.

We see the animals and birds in dense concentrations around us when the sun comes up, like this

I’ve been learning the rules about encounters with the wildlife than can hurt you. In the above situation, they’re pissed because we’re between the water and where they want to get to, the trees to the left. The same is true of hippos in reverse.

The most dangerous are the gigantic buffalo. If you surprise one, they go into an instant fight-or-flight thinking process for maybe 5 seconds. The idea is to turn sideways and not directly look at them. If they charge, run. If there are a group of you, run in different directions.

If an elephant charges, run and rip off your hat or shirt. They’ll generally stop, grab it and smell it, before continuing, if they do, buying you time.

There are tons of crocs on the banks between the papyrus. They’re safe because the don’t chase backwards over land.

Below, a nice spot below where the elephants come to drink. They much prefer the mineral-rich muddy pools to the gin-clear water of the channels and lagoons. CN makes brunch, maybe 6 weeks ago. Something has changed since then…

Next post, we’ll talk about this

so 3

I’ve been working on a simple project here for a while. One of the 2 reasons I’ve been quiet.

Here’s the company name, after a sensible 30 seconds of sober thought in an office in downtown Maun. Not a booze/weed/can’t-remember-what-else induced catastrophic name choice at 3 in the morning like the big ARC was years ago

I kindof like it. It’s deceptively innocent.

so 2

Here’s a beautiful hornbill, about 18″ tip-to-tip

I’ve been reading about each of the exotic birds I see regularly. They all seem to have an interesting trait or two. This Southern Red-billed hornbill is a bit unremarkable for peculiarities though, other than its beauty, except the ‘locked-up’ status of the female during incubation. From Wiki:

During incubation, the female lays three to six white eggs in a tree hole, which is blocked off with a plaster of mud, droppings and fruit pulp. There is only one narrow aperture, just big enough for the male to transfer food to the mother and the chicks. When the chicks and the female are too big for the nest, the mother breaks out and rebuilds the wall. Then both parents feed the chicks.

(just practicing posting…)

so

Q: What is this?

a) a dragonfly

b) the first step in catching up on blogs?