Chilling out in Maun, Botswana
It's been a long day for us all and feeling like we have a bit of cabin fever from sitting in the car for 2 days straight so it is a huge relief to arrive in Maun. Our first stop was trying to find places that can service the White Elephant and get all the other work done. This we manage to source and arrange an early start on the work the following day. Because we arrived in Maun early we had no accommodation booked and we wanted to stay at Old Bridge Backpackers but there was no space so we went to Audi camp another site down the road for 2 nights and arrange to camp at Old Bridge Backpackers for the next 6 nights. Edwina and the kids stay put at Audi Campsite the following day whilst I head into town to sort the truck. Arriving at Old Bridge Campsite was great, it has a really cool vibe about it, it is relaxed and has a fantastic area to relax and watch the crocodiles, farmers' cows, goats and hippos intermingle in the small area of river that has dried up due to the lack of rain.
On our first night here and after a spending some of the day out searching to no avail for a wooden Mokoro (A wooden canoe used in the delta) replica to take back to the UK we meet Shylock who comes to Old Bridge every Saturday afternoon to sell wood carvings, I check out his work of Hippos, giraffes etc. and ask him if he can carve us a Mokoro he said he could so we cut a bit of string to show the size we want and arrange to meet him the following morning so we can go to his place and see him carving. Shylock is 35 years old, he is from Zimbabwe and came to Botswana 2011 leaving behind his wife and 3 children ages 12yrs, 6 yrs and 6 mths. He came to Botswana to find work as wood carvers in Zimbabwe is a very popular career and very competitive. Shylock got a 5 year visa and recently got it renewed, he stays with a lovely family who support his creative ability and they suggested that he should quit his job as a handyman which he had been doing for the past 5 years and set up his own business so he can focus on his fantastic carving skills. So just over 2 weeks ago he approached the Old Bridge Backpackers and started out on his venture. The following morning we go to Shylock accommodation and watch him work on a solid piece of Ladywood, he starts to chop away with a hand axe creating the shape of the Mokoro, we leave him after about an hour knowing that it would be a few days before we would see the end result. We spent the rest of the day relaxing around the backpackers, doing lessons and the kids managed to meet some local family kids who come to the backpackers for dinner. To our surprise Shylock turns up in the evening with the completed Mokoro, we are shocked at how quickly he carved it and made up with the final result. We parade it around the bar and other guests are interested in getting a Mokoro, Shylock takes the orders and thanks us for the idea, hopefully it will be a bestseller for him.
We spend our days at Old Bridge relaxing whilst the car is being worked on, the locals come to the bar regularly and after school bring their kids, as much as the kids liked playing with their kids, especially pool, we felt disheartened that the parents would just prop themselves up at the bar all day usually drinking from 10am.
We have been surprised by how cold it is in Africa at night at this time of year, we keep heading north and thinking it will warm up but it never does, it's time to take action and I go and buy a new sleeping bag and have the warmest night I have had since it got cold on the Garden Route in SA. Edwina doesn't seem to be feeling the cold nearly as much as me, maybe it's something in her southern hemisphere bones.
The Okavango Delta was on our list of must-dos and to make sure the kids got the most out of it we booked a helicopter flight over the Okavango Delta, followed by a traditional mokoro trip into its heart.
We leave in the morning, driving along a bumpy road up to Boro where our helicopter was waiting. The helicopter only seated three people so we took it in two shifts. Edwina, Arabella and Luca were first up. Then Maddalena and I would follow.
The helicopter had its doors taken off to allow taking photos, which initially worried the kids. But once they were secured by the seatbelts and felt safe the fun began.
Me and Maddalena watched them take off and 25 minutes later it was our go. As there was three seats and only two of us, Edwina came again. Maddalena held my hand as it took off but within a minute she was relaxed and enjoying the flight.
The helicopter gives a different perspective to the delta, revealing a vast expanse riddled with channels. Normally at this time of year the delta would be flooded, but with the rains coming late the delta was pretty dry. As the helicopter flies close to the ground we see a large herd of elephants, a group of giraffes drinking and a large herd of buffalo. On her first flight Edwina had seen a dead elephant being eaten by vultures and could smell the rotten flesh from the air.
Back on the ground with meet up with Oscar, our poler and guide on the mokoro. Mokoro are traditional wooden canoes and the best way to get around. Best of all, the polers' society is community based, with only locals allowed to pole tourists into the delta and the money made from the mokoro tours injected directly back into the community.
We set off down a slim channel, where the dark waters reflected the clouds and sky perfectly. The ride is tranquil and beautiful and after 2 hours we stop for lunch. While we are eating a herd of elephants, including four bulls, approach so we finish up eating and walk out to greet them.
It was an amazing and scary experience for the kids. Our guide takes us to within a stone's throw from the elephants, we knew if they wanted, they could easily catch us. Our guide ensures us that this won't happen and that elephant's don't have good eyesight and unless they feel threaten or have young won't attack.
After the elephants pass, we carry on walking and see zebras and wildebeest. All too soon we head back to the mokoro, the slow river ride downstream was peaceful. Serenaded by the birds, the rustling of the grass and the gentle movement of the water was enough to send Edwina off to sleep.
We weren't sure of where we would go after Maun we wanted to head into Moremi National Park and then drive to Sauvti and then onto Chobe riverfront and come out at Kasane but the guide book did not recommend solo trips as the tracks were deep sand and there were many of them, making it easy to get lost. After driving across the Namib desert we had learnt a lot of sand driving techniques and we were confident that we could make it, but with the kids in the car your always hesitate and you maternal instincts kick in. You don't want to take them into anything that could have consequences so we decide to look for a guide to take us.
After a bit of searching we find Lucky the owner of Gifts of the Kalahari, we were pleased to have found a local company and not a South African owned. We decided on a 5 night/ 6 day adventure, the camps in the park are not fenced and it will be interesting to see how the kids react. We would be hiring a safari vehicle which we could sit in but when we get to camp we can all go in on safari drives. To keep the costs down we decide to cook for ourselves, I ask Lucky if he wants us to cook for the guide, which he says would be great, I jest to Lucky "Tell the guide to bring some papas in case he doesn't like my wife's cooking", Lucky and the receptionist burst into laughter.
Back at Old Bridge Backpackers we have neighbours in camp, a kiwi called Vincent and Nikita an Aussie who's blog is girl, guy and a goat. They have just driven solo from Kasane to Maun, the reverse route of what we were planning, they said the trip was fantastic, the roads were not that sandy and if we followed the tracks for Africa GPS we would be fine. Even after hearing their story we still felt we made the right decision as we would be more adventurous going off the main routes and we would be able to see more wildlife as in affect we would be hiring a guide, naturist, navigator, mechanic, recovery truck, wildlife tracker and children's entertainer.
We complete a large supermarket shop and visit the butchers to stock up on vacuum packed meats, I collect 2 chilli bins off Lucky and Edwina packs all the food supplies for the next 6 days and uses the backpackers kitchen to make up a meal of stuffed peppers with pork mince to have one night on safari. Having the safari truck enable us to be well stocked on food as the chilli bins would just go onto the back of the safari truck, it would be impossible to store all the fresh food for the week. I fill the water tank with 60 litres of non-drinking water and we are ready to go first thing in the morning. We have all really enjoyed our week at Old Bridge being stationary longer allowed time for school work but most importantly enabled Edwina to try out lots of different recipes on the wood fire, the biggest success being a pot pizza roll and flaky pastry mince pies.
Shylock comes by the camp in the evening to bid us farewell we sit chatting around the campfire and we give him some water pistols and small kiddies backpack for him to take to his children the next time he visits them in Zimbabwe.
After talking to Vincent and Nikita we are all excited about the adventure ahead.