Now that we’ve been on the Moremi Game Reserve road for a bit and are heading towards the coolest named place on the trip so far, the annoyance of the morning’s slow start with the Cat Boys and flight bookings has subsided and has been replaced with excitement. The road is windy, bumpy, and rough. I’m sitting in the back and the holy shit handles are getting a lot of use. Peter has the steering wheel on a swivel, all left, quickly all right, left, right, further right, crashing across the grassland and sand.
Out the windows, animals drawn to the nearby waters around the Okavango Delta are coming in from all sides. All manner of fantastically horned antelope that we didn’t even know existed start popping up from the brush. The cute Puku. The more formidable looking Red Hartebeest. Tsessebe grazing in the grass. We have to stop for a herd of wildebeests to pass by.
Mostly Puku grazing along the road. Cute little duffers.
Jamie points to a flitting cloud of white butterflies. “Tons of these butterfly posses everywhere.” Mark can’t help himself, “Just need some unicorns and sparkles, eh buddy?” Lolz! Jamie’s never gonna live down that ridiculous sparkles spirit animal comment from our conversation at Old Bridge with Kim the other night.
The road devolves into a matted down grass route snaking through the brush. Narrow on each side here. No room to pull over if another vehicle comes. Nowhere to maneuver if a cranky beast comes our way. After the initial elephant sighting it’s deer-ish animals for the most part though. Some helmeted guinea fowl. Tsessebe and Impalas kicking it together. Some horned new ones that we don’t recognize.
“Damnit we should have got the guide for this park.” I’m tracing the map as we go. There are a handful of watering holes. These proved to be the magic moments back in Etosha. “Xini lagoon?” “On it.” Peter spins us around and we pull up to the spot expecting the watering hole to have attracted a Lion’s King amount of animals like the crazy experience we had in Etosha. Nope nothing. “Lagoon? More like le gone.” “Alright, moving on then.”
Things get real sandy and we need to stop and put the truck in 4 low to get through it. Slow moving. There is a giant Southern Grand-hornbill in the road up ahead. A little too far to snap a pic of. Especially on shit roads from the back seat. Huge bird. Very cool raven meets turkey vibe standing about four feet tall with a sinister looking beak. We get a bit closer and it scurries into the trees.
We stop by three other sandy watering holes and there are no animals at any of them. Bummer. “Where’d everyone go?” “Lots of burnt trees here. Maybe a recent fire pushed the animals out.” “Look out. Been in Africa a month and now we’re fucking experts.” “The green algae along the waterline indicates it may be poisonous.” “Animals driven away by an influx of unicorns and rainbows!” “Eaten by butterflies!”
We come to the first bridge. Hmmmm ok. It’s just logs. Looks… medium stable.
“Well I’m having serious Mongolia flashbacks!” (Peter’s referring to the time we had to take a dilapidated bridge with a serious gap in it across an impassable river on the Mongol Rally. And there was nothing we could do but attempt to jump it. Which we did. He was in the driver’s seat for those shenanigans too. But that’s a story for another time…). “I’d say jump it, but it literally says not to speed over the bridge.” “Those guys at the gate came this way. We’ll be fine.”
Alright, not too bad. Soon we come upon a field filled with about 40 baboons. Kicking it on rocks and climbing up the termite mounds.
We slow down to take it in. Two baboons randomly come running at the car while we’re not paying attention. “That one looks injured.” “Oh yeah, he’s been attacked by something.” In unison we notice the baboon holding it’s own bloody insides in it’s mitts. “Daaaah shit!” “Oh fuck, intestines are hanging out!” “Nasty. Poor fella.”
We come through the fields to some deep sand and need to go 4 low again. Soon after we’re on another log bridge leading to the edge of the Delta. Sprawling watery grasslands and inlets. The road skirts beside. Lots of interesting birds on washed up driftwood.
We come around a corner and spot a couple of hippos. “They don’t look happy.” One lurches out of the water towards us but then quickly decides that we’re not worth the effort and sinks back to ear level.
The next spread of wetlands has an African Spoonbill going nuts feeding on something in the water. “And that’s a… yellow-billed stork?”
There’s a beautiful Red Lechwe grazing near the road. Amazing horns.
We come round to the Third Bridge Camp. Just a smattering of thatched roof looking buildings. One with a giant 90s-era satellite dish on the roof. Been driving for four and a half hours now, time for a break. “Check out the Tuck Shop?” “For sure. Looks promising.”
Actually, the tuck shop is nicely stocked. “Is there nobody in here?” “Doesn’t look like it.” “We could totally rip them off.” “Ya we could. Maybe a bottle of Jagger?”
We pick up the Moremi animal guide and find some pre-mixed Klippies and Coke. “Stoney Ginger Beers?” “Ya, we can make mules later. Third Bridge is surprisingly plush.” “This is bomb. We could just stay here. I don’t see anyone.” “Maybe off on safari or something.” “Can see why this spot is booked up.”
There’s a little blue box and a pad of paper at the front. We write down what we picked up, leave Pula in the box and take our supplies to the truck. A couple of warthogs give us the stare down just outside of camp. Around the corner is another crossing but the bridge is out.
“Well so much for Third Bridge.” “The broke down folks we helped at the gate mentioned this right?” “Ya. Probably should have paid more attention to what they told us. Might be able to just cross it though. Navigator?” “K, I’ll walk it and see.”
Jamie gets out, rolls his pantlegs up, and and walks it. Doesn’t seem too bad, it never comes above his knees really. Oop his left leg is gong down. He’s motioning to stay right. “We don’t want to be making turns, let’s just plow it.” “Yep, should be fine.”
We set Belinda to plow and crash into the water. Whoa ok. Right is definitely the high side. Water spraying off left into the brush. Truck’s on a bit of a tilt and loses some inertia as the left wheels cut into a deeper mud rut. We muscle through without any issue and pick up Jamie on the other side.
The 4th bridge comes up and it’s double long. “The logs run lengthwise on this one.” “Yeaaaaah, I don’t like that. Looks kind of rotted too.” “Perfect. Well it’s better than that.” I point over to the older, even shittier bridge on the right that’s totally busted in and collapsed into the water. “True. Alright, fuck it.”
Good stuff. The road turns into some s-curve slalom nonsense through the grass. Glad there’s no one coming. Couldn’t be much more windy. We’re back on the holy shit handles for a bit.
Things open up and it looks like a straight shot to Xakanaxa now. Not bad.
Roll up to Xakanaxa Camp at around 4pm. A solid six hours drive from Maun through the bush with minimal stops. We park and check in with Camp Dude about our reservation. He’s got a million dollar smile for us as we walk up. “Yes. All good. Site 9 is free for you.” “Beautiful. And we heard something about a sunset boat ride?” “Yes we can do that, for sure. Costs extra, of course.” “Yep, no worries. We’re totally in.” “Ok, come back in about an hour and we will go from over there.” He points to a little boat house and dock at the end of an inlet from the delta. “Awesome! See you then.”
We roll over to campsite 9, passed another well set up camp with a couple of similar trucks as ours. Some nice facilities here. Showers and toilets. Looks like a sheltered common area to eat at. Maybe they even cook here for you.
The campsite itself is the usual barebones minimalism we’ve gotten used to. “Covered garbage can, a braai, and a tree.” “Yep, what more do you really need?”
We hop out and take in the surroundings. Yep, we’re right on the edge of the Okavango Delta waters here. Marc has the binoculars out and is scanning across the wet grasslands and further on into the Xakanaxa Lagoon. “Some cool birds over there. And we’ve got some hippo paths cutting right through here and up to the edge of our camp… right there.” “Oh yeah, like… right.. right there. Lovely. Hopefully we’ll survive the night.” “A sighting would be great. A run in would not.”
“There’s some large dung piles right there.” “Probably hippo.” “…and tracks from what looks like a group of elephants and another of antelope over here.” “Could be an interesting evening.”
We kill the hour before the boat ride getting camp set up. Jamie is digging stuff out of the back and pressing his palms in the bed. “Mattress is a little wet.” “Classic Delta Spring jugs for ya.” “Guess I could leave it out against a tree or something while we’re out on the lagoon.” “Sure. Might get some sun.” “Or get drenched in elephant piss!” Hahaha “Worth the risk.”
We reward ourselves with a beer and chill for a minute, snacking on some biltong before it’s go time. “Damn. This stuff from the Kalahari Butcher place is bombshell.” “Ya it is. Still red in the middle.” It’s smoked Kudu.
It’s a beauty day with mostly clear skies. Could make for another epic African sunset tonight.
We grab some beers and the klippies from Third Bridge and walk across the grounds back to the boat house. “I have a feeling this is going to be epic.” “Me too. Seeing it from above was cool but getting out on it will be even better, I think.”
Boat Dude is waving to us from the dock. “All set?” “Yep, let’s do it!”