The ScienceAnd blog

By George F. Hart

The Okavango Delta, Botswana: 2008.

A short account

Slide show 01: twelve high resolution images to get the feeling.

May 5th

Flight CO32 to London [LHR] from Houston [IAH].  Left 10.25pm arrived London 2.05 pm on 6th.

May 6th

Flight BA55 from London to Johannesburg [JB]. Left 7.05 pm arrived 6.50am.  in Johannesburg.  We had to officially enter South Africa to pick up our baggage prior to getting our boarding passes for Air Botswana.  Jo'burg AIrport is now a modern place and we spent a few hours awaiting Tony Cessford's arrival from Cape Town.

May 7th

Met Tony Cessford at Jo'burg airport and continued on to Botswana on flight BP212 leaving Jo'burg at 10.10am. and arriving in Maun [MUB] at 11.56 am.  From Maun took a connecting flight to Pom Pom Camp in the Okavango Delta. Temperature in Maun with a high of 90 F. Trip on Botswana Air was uneventful. We took a small cargo-type plane to Pom Pom camp.  We observed a lot of elephants and antelopes from the air.

POM POM CAMP.  This is situated at the headwaters of the Xudum River System, on the western boundary of the Moremi Game Reserve.  It consists of 9 luxury safari tents under canvas.  The camp is just as I expected it to be - a really great safari setting by a water hole with it's resident hippos and crocodile.  Lots of catfish and some small tiger fish in the water by the bank.  The managers are Kim and Andrea who have been here for three weeks - they are fill-in managers for various camps. This camp is owned by Chobi Lodge.

We all went on an evening drive-around and saw a lot of buck and two male lions, 3 male giraffe, kudu, and reed buck.  One of the other guides saw a black mamba.  We stayed out after dark and looked for night game.  Saw a black backed jackal.  We had supper around 2015 hrs and then were driven the 100 yards to our tent. We were not allowed to walk!  During the day it is OK to walk but at night we might get jumped by a lion or leopard - not too good a prospect. Most of the group staying here are Dutch or Belgium.  People come here for a few days to a week it seems.  I cooled off in the pool before supper.

May 8th


Gully, Driks, and Lenon were our guides today.  Polling through the marsh was wonderful with reeds above our heads and in water from 6 ft to 3 ft deep.  The hippos are in the big pool next to the camp but we went around them as they do not like people intruding on their water space.  When we returned we went across the pool as the hippos were onshore - later they came into the pool whilst we were eating lunch.  Tony is very knowledgeable about the wild life in this part of Africa - he worked here for at least 2 years as a bush geologist for Anglo-America before going to Wits in 1963 to do his Mining Geology Bachelors degree.  He got a geology degree in the UK in the 1950's before coming out to Africa.   After his Wits degree he started an M.Sc. with me on an Oil and Gas prospect of the Southern Cape, financed by Ted Bear and Phil Kistler, but just as he was writing his thesis up he took a job with an oil company and never finished his M.Sc.

The guy who is managing this camp - Andrea - used to be a crocodile hunter prior to this job - catching them for crocodile farms.  They use a sharp hook with a rope attached to a spear and spear the croc behind the ear-skin.  It takes off with the string which is attached to a float.  The small to medium crocs tire themselves out quickly and then they are pulled out of the water. The bigger crocs are attached to the boat and take about 2 hours to tire out.

The Mokoro [local canoe] trip on the delta was very pleasant.  Gully polled us through the reeds.  Tony and I were in one mokoro and Vaughan and James in another.  Saw Grey Lowris birds and many others. Two kinds of Palm trees [Laha Palm  of which the fruit is eaten by elephants] and the Common Palm. The islands within the lake are formed by termite mounds - the trees take over after the mound starts.  We saw some strangler trees - this is a tree that grows next to another on the mounds and then strangles it as it grows upwards and around it.   There are numerous painted frogs, birds, insects and water lilies in the water. We stopped for a snack on a large island in the marsh.  The white and purple ground lilies have trumpet shaped flowers and a ball at the roots.  If bitten by a snake the stem is chewed as an anti-venom remedy.

After the mokoro trip we had lunch and then rested until it was time to leave for game viewing at 15.30 hrs.  We had a huge bull elephant around our tent after lunch.  It was on Vaughan and James veranda when they first noticed it. Shook them up a bit I think.  James looked for a knife so he cut cut his way out of the tent if necessary!  It then came around Tony and I's tent and it got within a few feet of us.   Absolutely incredible!  James went fishing in the afternoon.   He caught about 25 brim [very much like the North American wide mouthed bass]. Vaughan, Tony and I went on a game viewing trip which was wonderful. We saw a large number of elephants in a herd of about 50-60 individuals. We got back to camp around 20 hrs.  Andrea and Kim really do a fine job of running this place.  We spent after dinner around the camp fire and turned in around 21.30 hrs.

May 9th


Got up around 6.30am to go on a foot safari - we mainly looked at the vegetation.  We got a call on the radio that the other group had seen a leopard and were watching it so we called camp for a truck and when it arrived we high-tailed it to see the leopard.  We spent about 40 minutes right next to it simply observing it and it observing us.  Afterwards we went to a pleasant location and had a lunch-snack, which was already set-up when we arrived.  On the return trip to camp we got right next to a big bull elephant. It turned and started a fake run at us - Vaughan had his video rolling.  I yelped and Vaughan who was closest to it jumped out of his seat onto James, who was about  to jump out of the truck and run for it.  We all had a good laugh.  We returned to camp for lunch, which included some of James' fish then to the tent for a siesta until 15.30 hrs.  After that we went on a safari drive but saw little during daylight.  However, after it got dark we had great views of hyena, jackal and wild cat [very much like a domestic cat - grey in color]

May 10th

We did another mokoro trip in the morning and got fairly close to a hippo pod.  The big bull warned us off a couple of times  when we tried to come out of the reeds in which we were hiding. We spent the rest of the morning looking at frogs, birds etc and then returned to camp around 9.30 am for the 10.45 am flight back to Maun. We all highly recommend Pom Pom Camp  for anyone who wants this kind of safari.

Animal list for Pom Pom camp: African wild cat, hyena, jackal, hippo, leopard, lion, elephant, wildebeest, springbok, reed buck, red buck catfish, brim, and possibly a Mamba.

Return to Maun and pick up an AVIS truck.

Drove  to nGUMA ISLAND LODGE on the river Okavango.  This is in the south western part of the Okavango Delta overlooking the largest lagoon of the delta.  There are 6 safari tents under thatch on concrete platforms. The rooms are on stilts and made of non-local wood.  The camp is run by Nookie Randall.  Her husband Geoff. died a couple of years ago of cancer. Her son died a few years prior to that.  We saw Cape Clawless Otters around the dock.  Has an excellent bar with numerous bottles of single malt Scotch which Geoff collected. It is an excellent river camp with very good fishing.

We did a motor launch trip.

May 11th

Drive through Caprivi Strip, to the SUSUWE LODGE, Namibia.  This is on the banks of the Kwando River and consists of 6 luxurious camp sites.

Leaving the camp we drove north up the western side of the Okavango Swamp to the Namibian border where we crossed into the Caprivi Strip.  We did the Mahengu Game loop after crossing the border. I never thought I would drive through the Caprivi Strip - this was an incredible event for me as it was full of terrorists when I was last in the region in early 1966. We saw a lot of wart hog, zebra, kudu, and assorted buck.  The Military Road we drove on was like a Federal Highway in the USA.- except it was one lane each way.  The vegetation is high and abundant, which surprised me: although it is the wet season and the flood is about to start.  This would have been a great trip to bring Clare and Anthony - I wish they were with us.

We met our guide at Kwando River Bridge, 35 minutes to the lodge from here [this is the Kangola checkpoint]- a foot and mouth barrier].  The Susuwe Lodge is on the banks of the river. 

The food accommodations and food are both very good and there is a pleasant management.  We went on an evening boat ride up river and had a sundowner at a hippo pool where there was a big male and female and a young hippo about a year old [it was big for a one year old!].

  Supper was Kudu which was excellent and we spent the evening chattering about US policy with the proprietress and Vaughan.  I had a long soaking bath.  James is having trouble with Vaughan keeping him awake snoring.  I offered to swap rooms with him but he wants to keep the arrangement 'as is'. He is not getting much sleep.  There was Genet cat on the stoop during supper -apparently he has been coming for many years and is not scared by humans. V, J and Tony got good photos.  There is a hippo outside our bedroom at the moment I am writing!  Saw a mottled plover [Dickenson's Kestrel].

May 12th

Today we drive to Kasane to stay at the CHOBE SAFARI LODGE, Botswana.  It is on the northern border of Botswana along the Chobi River.  I came to this area in 1966 when I led the geographical safari for Wits. We got up at 6.30 am to go on a game drive for 3 hours before breakfast at 9.00am.  We saw very little game but lots of birds.   Filled up the car - 780 rand for 83.8 liters.  Driving we saw again a lot of birds but few animals. The military road is excellent and we took 1hr 20 minutes to make Katima-Miulilo [110kms].  The border station on the Namibian side is Ngoma. This trip has really given me some perspective on how quickly a place can begin to be urbanized and westernized.  We went through the border check point without any problem and entered the Chobi National Park, staying on the Military road until we reached Kasane and the Chobi Safari Lodge.  We saw 1 elephant and various buck, monkey, warthogs and baboons.  There were a lot of birds - Tony certainly knows his birds!  There were magnificant ground hornbills.

The Chobe Safari Lodge is very luxurious and pleasant but the food is atrociously cooked.  They had wonderful produce: including kudu, duck, warthog, lamb, and impala but it was absolutely ruined in the cooking and preparation - what a terrible shame. They need to get rid of the buffet and get in a professional chef.

May 13th

CHOBE SAFARI LODGE.  James is sick with a stomach problem.  I checked some prices in the local African art store - they are pretty much the same as in the USA!  Talking drum $1,100 and small doors $600.  The prices are is way too high as the doors should be around $100 and the drum about $500.  Tony, Vaughan and I went on a car trip and saw puku, crocs, hippos, warthog, impala and elephant.  We drove the whole park and Tony did all the driving as usual.  At 15.00 hrs we are due on a boat trip - James disappeared and we are not sure where he is.  We left on the river cruise without him.  It was a fantastic trip and a pity he missed it. We saw 4 herds of elephant and a 5th in the distance crossing the Chobi River.  Lots of crocodiles, cape buffalo, two lionesses, kudu, land monitor, puku, water monitor, baboons, velvet monkeys, impala, and Letchwe buck.

We returned to camp at 1800hr but still no James. I am getting a little worried.  This is a small town so he should be back by now.  We went to supper and Vaughan went to the Internet Cafe to change his flight from Houston to New Orleans.  When he returned a found a note in his room from James.  He has left!  He flew from Kasane to Gaberones to Johannesburg and picked up the evening Air France Plane to Paris!  He will be home tomorrow.  We are all a little stunned!  The note said he felt terrible with pain in his upper stomach below his sternum and a headache.  Poor Jimp's.  I love my kids so very much and feel so sorry for him.  He had two slight anxiety attacks so  made up his mind to high-tail it home.  We are all sad that he left, understand why he did but at the same time will dearly miss him. It brought on a bought of depression  but the trip is still a good one and Vaughan is good company as we do think VERY much the same way [poor Vaughan!]. Tony is great to be with - he is such a dependable and reliable fellow, as he always was even as a young man. He still keeps his own council but has that rare form a humor that distinguishes him.  He is the same  lovable character I knew when we were all young in Africa - I appreciate his friendship over all the years we have known one another. 

I had booked two tickets to Victoria Falls for tomorrow for Vaughan and James. I paid the boat tickets and Vaughan paid for the Falls trip [$110].

May 14th


Off to Victoria Falls at 0800 with Vaughan.  Tony will redo the Chobi Park trip in the car by himself looking at the birds - he did see a Sable antelope.

The trip to Victoria Falls was easy and well worth while.  We passed through Zimbabwe customs without any problem [$30 visa and $20 entrance to Falls].  The Falls were magnificent  and this time I saw the Livingstone statue which I think I missed on my last trip here in 1966.  We ate lunch in town and then went to the market.  I bought a beautiful carved set of elephants [$150] and a statue of two Kalahari San Bushmen hunting with a dog - a really nice piece for $100.  I hope they get home OK as time is short prior to leaving and I may not have time enough to pack them properly. It is really good stuff!  Vaughan bought a carving of the big 5 for $10 almost getting grapped by a police-man when he did so, and I got a dance mask for James' collection. Vaughan also bought an elephant hair bracelet.

The trip back to Botswana was uneventful and we passed through immigration again easily.  Tony spent the day in the park.  After a shower we sat around the bar drinking tonic water.  Vaughan and Tony had their evening double gin and tonics.  Supper was badly prepared again.  I think I need to tell them they have a problem!

May 15th

Drove to Nata down the old Hunters Road - which is now a paved but badly pot-hole rutted highway.  Nata is now a fairly large place - not like the few huts and a gas station the last time I was here in 1966. From Nata we moved along a good road to Maun and then to the LEHUTUTUTU LODGE.

The lodge has a pleasant site on the banks of the river.  I liked the proprietor who is an old-style white African. He has lived in Botswana all his life, having been born here, but he has a little of the Afrikaner mentality regarding black Africans.  Apparently, Botswana - because it was a British protectorate - never suffered the white oppression that South Africa did under the apartheid regime.  As a result there is a fairly good relationship amongst the different ethnic groups - they are all Botswana.

I enjoyed the food: a relief from the crap at Kasane.

May 16th


May 17th

Returned to car to Avis and we left Maun on flight BP211 at 15.00 hrs and arrived Jo'burg at 16.40 hrs. Left Jo'burg on flight AF997 at 23.55 hrs and arrived Paris [CDG] at 10.25 am on 18th.

May 18th

Left Paris on flight CO11 at 12.55 pm and arrived Houston at 4.30 pm

May 19th

In Houston at Winnie and James home.  Clare arrived back from UK.

May 20th

Clare and I left Houston on flight 2480 at 1.30 pm and arrive in Denver at 2.55 pm.