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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beautiful Botswana – Okavango Delta


I cannot say that I am pleased to be back in this ungodly miserable province of Gauteng. In fact I’m feeling rather depressed -- to put it mildly.  My two-week trip to the Okavango Delta in Botswana was way too short for my liking.  Although this has not been my first trip to Botswana (the last one being in October 2006 when I visited a place called Deception Valley near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve), it was the first time I travelled so far north into the country. The total distance travelled, there and back to Pretoria, was about 3,300 kilometers.

The trip was not meant to be a vacation, but it turned out to be a most awe-inspiring break from the unrelenting boredom of city life, a much needed breath of fresh air, so to speak!  Our main objective was to help with carpentry-work on a houseboat, called Ngwesi”, which was moored in the village of Shakawe on the banks of the Okavango river, situated at the north-western end of the Okavango Panhandle. The sleepy village lies about 13 kilometres from the Mohembo border post on the Namibian Caprivi Strip.

(Incidentally, Shakawe or Shake-away as some villagers prefer to call it, was previously known as Kashiana.  Apparently the name Shakawe is derived from a small indigenous plant. – Source)

Although much time was spent doing renovations on the Ngwesi houseboat, we also had plenty of time for recreational activities such as fishing and short excursions up and down the river on a motor-powered swamp cruiser (aka tender boat or Aliboat). On two occasions when we attempted longer cruises of 10-plus kilometers up the river, heavy rainfall accompanied by poor visibility forced us to make a hasty u-turn back home. Those ‘failed’ excursions however, were remarkable adventures of a totally different kind.  Although it is difficult to describe the gripping experiences in words, I am totally convinced that it was the stiff shots of whiskey and strong black coffee, served by the friendly barman at Drotsky's Cabins, that prevented our cold and wet bodies from shivering to death.

Fishing

The window-period between 17:30 and 18:30 was the best time for catching fish - mainly Tigers and Bream. The fact that we used synthetic lures and not live bait saved a good deal of time, as it was simply a matter of grabbing a rod and casting in the right spot. The thrill of landing a Tigerfish is also something one cannot describe in words!  With the exception of one nice-sized Tigerfish, which we kept for a taster, the rest were all released back into the Okavango – in the interest of preserving this amazing species.

I did manage to catch a good-sized 1,8 kg Thin-Nosed Bream on the eve before our departure. As we were planning on sleeping over at friends living on a farm near Ghanzi on our way back to SA, and had nothing to present to our Botswana hosts, we decided to clean the fish and take it with us. The fish served as a starter-snack for six people, and was one of the most appetizing fish dishes I have ever tasted!

Incidentally, the Ghanzi district of Botswana has a huge white Afrikaner population of farmers, and is often referred to as die klein Suid Afrika binne Botswana -- the small South Africa within Botswana.

The Water Problem in Shakawe

Besides frequent power shortages and connectivity problems to the Internet, which did not bother me in the least, access to water in the village of Shakawe was a major issue. Although generator-powered electricity and water was freely available on the houseboat, we didn’t sleep over on the boat as all the cabins were in the process of overhaul.

I eventually lost count of the times we arrived home after a hard days work, only to find that there was not a single drop of water in the taps. ('Home' was an interim dwelling with a fully equipped large bathroom and small kitchen, situated about 1 kilometer from the boat). At first we accepted this minor dilemma as a typical ‘African experience’, but as the days passed by this little hindrance became somewhat of a nuisance, as the water would suddenly arrive and then vanish again in an instant, usually at a time while you were standing kaalgat under the shower, all soaped up.  There was enough fresh water in the place to supply the whole of Botswana (maybe the entire Southern Africa), but yet Shakawe had persistent water shortages!

We later learned that whoever planned the village water-supply system never took into account that there would be a gradual expansion of the population in the area. Pumps were also assembled below the river flood-line, which was apparently one of the main causes why the pumps never functioned properly.  At the end of the day, the water issue (coupled with Botswana’s fantastically managed economy) was a topic of much humour and laughter, but I’ll rather refrain from repeating the jokes in this posting as it would immediately be classified as racist gossip. All I can say is: This Is Africa!”

Related Info.

Although there is much tourist related information about Botswana and the Okavango Delta available online as well as in print form, I will - for the sake of those who are planning a trip to Shakawe and/or neighbouring areas, provide the following bits-and-pieces of lesser known info:

The Okavango river is delightfully warm and crystal-clear, but I would not recommend that you try swimming in it. Besides hippos, the river is also teeming with crocodiles. Do not, for one moment, think that because you cannot see a crocodile, or have not seen one in a while, that there are no crocs in the immediate vicinity.

With a few exceptions here and there, the main tarred road, from the Lobatse border post through Kanye, Jwaneng, Tshane, Ghanzi, and Tsau, is in a relatively good condition.  You will in fact be able to reach Shakawe without a 4x4 vehicle, if you really must!  Cattle, donkeys, horses, and goats are everywhere - all over Botswana’s roads!  Although the grass verges on both sides of the main tarred roads are kept short on vast stretches of the main road, which helps a lot for safe driving visibility, it is recommend to always stick to the prescribed speed limits – no matter how slow it gets! For some strange reason donkeys and goats just love lying in the middle of the road, particularly in sections where there’s a traditional African village situated nearby. Driving long distances at night is thus not recommended at all!

Veterinary check points (road blocks) are abundant on Botswana’s main routes, as the country is quite serious about protecting itself against Foot and Mouth Disease. Some officials manning these check points appear rather lax, but one never knows when you’re going to run into the serious officious type, so it’s best to always be prepared for the possibility that you may be held up, while your vehicle and luggage are searched. Don’t even bother trying to transport fresh meat, milk, or cheese, as it will most likely be confiscated.

The police and the military rule the inhabitants of Botswana! The locals thus have the utmost respect (fear) for anyone wearing a uniform. Besides adhering to the speed limit, and stopping at pedestrian crossings – (even if the ‘pedestrian’ is one lonesome goat), never forget to wear your safety belt at all times! If you break the rules you can be sure that I policeman will jump out of the bushes faster than a croc will appear from the Okavango, to yank its unwary prey into deep waters.

I suspect that the local inhabitant’s respect for the military stems from the fact that their current President, Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, also served as Commander of the Botswana Defence Force. He is also the Paramount Chief of the Bamangwato tribe.

Booze, cigarettes, and other non-essential luxury commodities are extremely expensive in Botswana. If you’re dependant on these luxuries then it’s advisable that you stock-up before entering the country.  Meat, especially beef, is cheap and plentiful. The availability of fresh milk, fruit, and veggies, varies depending in what region of Botswana you happen to be visiting. Fuel is about R3 per litre cheaper than in South Africa, but not all fuel stations always have fuel. The best approach is to fill-up whenever you can, and to carry a small amount of extra fuel with you, just in case you run out.

You will never find the local inhabitants of Botswana begging for food or money like you see in the cities and towns of South Africa.  As I’ve mentioned before, meat is cheap and plentiful. Fat healthy cattle and goats roam freely all over the place, and firewood is plentiful.  Anyone living on the banks of the Okavango river will never suffer from hunger pains. Besides fish, various traditional fruits like tswii and nquma are also freely available for local consumption.

Shakawe (and many other small villages) have a local supermarket called ‘Choppies’, which stock basic necessities. Bags containing small ice cubes are non-existent, but you’ll always find huge blocks of solid ice in most ‘Choppies’ supermarkets. They also sell 500ml bottles of frozen water, which come in handy when travelling long distances, or when the huge solid ice blocks do not fit in your cooler.

You can pay with rands at most places in Botswana, but it’s best to have cash in Pula with you, as they do not accept South African coins. The exchange rate in Shakawe was 160 Pula = R200.

Well folks, that’s about all I have to say about Botswana and my enjoyable trip to the Okavango.  There is much more to tell, but I think it’s best to keep this posting short. I’ve posted a few pics below. Click on the images for a larger view. More pics can be viewed on this public link on Facebook.

Please take note that although I have been speaking Afrikaans non-stop for two weeks and that my English is somewhat rusty, I will continue posting quality articles related to the theme of this blog, so please subscribe in a reader or bookmark this blog.

A final thought before I conclude this posting…

Bookings for the Ngwesi Houseboat:

If there is anyone interested in spending some time on the newly renovated Ngwesi houseboat, please drop me an email, as I will be able to arrange special tariffs, depending on how many people are involved, and whether transport will be by road or by air. The boat can accommodate a maximum number of 10 people – with two people sharing a cabin (equipped with single beds, mosquito nets, on suite showers, and toilets). Excellent bar and kitchen facilities are available on the boat. Besides fishing, bird watching, and visiting other places of interest on the Okavango river, the trip can also be combined with other activities in Botswana such as game viewing. If you love Africa and have never been to the Okavango Delta before, then I can assure you that the experience will be a most pleasurable and unforgettable one. Alternatively, you may contact Wanda Wolmarans directly on email: res@africa.co.bw – Don’t forget to mention TIA MYSOA or my name ‘Glenn’ as a reference.




Take Note: The houseboat featured in the photograph below is not the Ngwesi, but another boat passing by on the Okavango.


The walls of the traditional hut featured in this photograph was built with a mixture of mud, bamboo, and tin cans.


Nice bread sold here!


Peace and tranquility at its very best...




Click on the above images for a larger view. 
More pics can be viewed on this public link on Facebook.
 

5 comments :

Anonymous said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Let me be the first to welcome you home to our shitty Gauteng. I knew you would be depressed, it happens to most people going into the bush and comeing back to gangsters paradise and the daily crap we have to contend with. I think you said you were in the police force in the good old days, maybe you never went to the border, I looked at your photos and it brought back many mamories, as I said I flew and drove in the Okavango Delta many times and the caprivi strip, and based in Katima Mulilo and other camps. Anyhow glad to have you back safe and sound.

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

@ Anon above
Thanks for the warm welcome back. As you said... it is really depressing to be back. Watching the news on telly doesn't help much either!

You should make a plan to visit the caprivi strip again and relive the memories. It can only be good for the soul.

Macaw said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Welcome back. SWA/Bots are stunning natural places.

Anonymous said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Welcome back! Looking forward to your posts again...

Anonymous said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Anon again, you are welcome. Try for a while to keep away from the telly and Radio 702, give your soul a longer break. Ease into the real world in Pretoria/JHB. Forgive my previous spelling... finger problems. Hope to see some new articles in the future, have a rest but not too long, just in case you get writers block. Also looking foward to new facts and your comments and opinions.

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