Safari May 2022 ~ Day One

Hang onto your Safari hats, here we go again.

16th May – The long trip to Botswana’s Okavango Delta on a mobile camping Safari.

My travelling companion and best friend, Malcolm and I had been counting down the days to our new adventure. Our wives did not share our passion for camping in the wilderness surrounded by wild animals, and so, they made their own plans to spend a week in sunny Lisbon while we roughed it and toughed it in the heart of the Okavango.

view of the Okavango from plane

Flying into the Okavango

After a 6:00am rise, Malcolm’s wife Fiona, drove us down to Halbeath near Dunfermline. The morning was cold, breezy, and wet. As we headed down the M90 motorway through the drizzle, mist and rain, Malcolm and I were dreaming of the heat of Africa and its blue skies.

From Halbeath, we got the appropriately named ‘Jet 747’ bus to Edinburgh Airport. We were going an hour earlier than we had originally planned because our flight e-tickets did not contain a code that was required for checking in. As things turned out, there was not a problem, and we were soon sat in the departure lounge.

Our 11:25 flight to London Heathrow was called for boarding. Because we had not been able to check in 24 hours in advance, the seats we were allocated were to the rear of the aircraft. We made our way up to the back and there I could see a lady sat in the aisle seat of our row. Malcolm had the window seat, and I the middle seat. However, there was a minor problem. The lady sat in the aisle seat was well into her eighties and was a wheelchair user. She was obviously having great difficulty in standing up to allow us to get to our seats. This situation was further exacerbated by virtue of the fact that she weighed more than Malcolm and I put together. Then there was the additional complication of her armrest. It was in the down position and appeared to be jammed.

This was my cue to step forward and rescue the lady from her predicament.

“Allow me.” I valiantly said, as I took hold of the armrest trying desperately not to become too intimate with the rolls of fat spilling out over it.

My confidence was short lived and all my efforts to lift the armrest proved to be in vain. Crest fallen, I stood back to allow Malcolm to demonstrate how it should be done. Meanwhile, there was an impatient queue building up behind us waiting to reach the last few rows at the rear of the plane.

Malcolm gave it his best shot, but that armrest was not for budging. A member of the cabin crew became aware of what was going on and he stepped in to assist.

“The armrest is jammed.” I said.

“Not if you flick this little lever underneath it first.” He said with a smug grin.

I swore at him silently under my breath.

The arm rest lifted with ease, but our problems were not over. The lady did not have the power in her legs to stand up.

“It’s Arthur’s fault.” she said.

At first, I thought the smug armrest wizard was called Arthur, but his badge told me that he was in fact called Anthony.

Anthony and I looked at one another, and ignoring Arthur, whoever he was, we got hold of the lady’s arms and gently hoisted her to her feet. We then manoeuvred her into the aisle, and that let Malcolm squeeze past into his window seat. I found my way past her into the middle seat and then working together with Anthony, we lowered her back into her place, attempting not to pop several discs in the process.

She lent past me and spoke directly to Malcolm. In a southern American accent, with a tiny sprinkling of Scottishness lurking in the background, she said, “I hope you’ve been to the bathroom Sir, ‘cause you ain’t getting out of that seat till we’re back on the ground in London.

I formed the opinion that she was making a valid point.

She then turned her attention to me and thanked me for helping her up and down out of her seat.

“It’s all Arthur’s fault… Arthur Itis. First, he got me by the hands, then my feet, and now he’s got me by my legs, back and neck. Let me tell you, ol’ Arthur has got one helluva grip on him”.

“That’s an interesting accent you have. Where do you come from?” I asked.

“Edinburgh Castle… I was born in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. I’m as Scattish as you. But I was raised just outside Albuquerque.”

For the next hour and a half I got her entire life story along with her political views and lots more besides. She lived now in Edinburgh, but she was terrified of flying. She was battling her fear so that she could visit her two sons and their families in the USA.

I kept her talking throughout the flight and that successfully distracted her from her worries about crashing and not being able to get out of her seat. “Don’t you worry,” I said, “Malcolm and I will rescue you.” I looked over at Malcolm to nod in agreement. He was sound asleep.

We landed safely and by the time we had helped the lady, (I never asked her for her name) we were the last to disembark. Fortunately, we had loads of time to kill before our next stage of the journey, an overnight, 10.5hour, flight to Johannesburg.

Heathrow Terminal 5 is a God forsaken hell hole of boredom and we had six hours of it to endure. But the time it did pass, and we boarded our British Airways flight where, for the duration, the wearing of face masks was compulsory. Once again, Malcolm was in the window seat, and I was in the middle. In direct contrast to the previous flight, the person sat next to me in the aisle seat was a young, slim, overly made-up woman, with eye lashes that resembled small toilet brushes and eye brows Groucho Marx would have been proud of. Each of her fingernails, in an emergency, could have passed as a Sgain Dubh or small dagger.

She had all the matching electrical gadgets of the day and a very aloof attitude. It was rapidly apparent that I would not be having the same level of conversation I enjoyed from the Albuquerque Scottish lady.

What she did not have was a facemask. Despite multiple announcements pointing out that it was a legal requirement that everyone should be wearing one, she just put on her Bose headphones and tuned into a cartoon movie on the plane’s entertainment system.

Ten and a half weary hours later, we landed numb bummed, stiff necked and bleary eyed in Johannesburg. As we prepared to disembark, the modern girl around town next to me, put on a designer face mask!

Now, Malcolm and I had been here before and had problems locating the Air Botswana desk to check in for our onward flight up to Muan, the ‘Gateway to the Delta’. Putting our memories to the test we started to navigate our way through the airport. Johannesburg is awash with random men offering help, guidance, and assistance to get you to where you need to go. But they all want paid for their services. Playing the role of stereotypical Scotsmen, we kept our money in our pockets and soldiered on determined to find the Air Botswana desk ourselves.

Half an hour later we were still searching. Malcolm asked a lady organizing a check-in queue for directions, but unfortunately couldn’t understand her heavy South African accent. Then I spotted a couple of Airport Police officers on patrol. If in doubt, ask a policeman.

We were in business. With new instructions on where to go we set off, confident of finding the desk we were looking for. There were more and more places that we recognised and then suddenly we saw the area we were looking for.

Blocking our way was security officer who asked where we were going.

“Air Botswana? No. No. No. You are in the wrong place. You need to go back the way you came, and then….” He gave us a long list of instructions and off we set again.

Some time later, and what seemed like some miles later, we were no closer to finding Air Botswana. Then I spotted an ‘Information’ desk. The lady working at the desk was chatting away on the phone to somebody. I approached and waited for her to finish her call. She raised her head in a gesture that said, ‘What do you want?’

“We’re looking for the Air Botswana desk”.

She gestured to my right and said, “Down there. Far end. Turn right” and returned to her phone call.

What concerned Malcolm and I was that, down there, far end and turn right was going to take us back to the security guy who had sent us down this end in the first place.

The security guy was still there, and we told him we had been sent by the lady at the Information desk. “Oh, she might be right. I don’t really know. If you want to go through and have a look, feel free.” With that he stepped aside.

It was the right place and standing in a group waiting for the check-in desk to open, were the other ten members of our safari group. How they all got there before Malcolm and I remains a mystery.

Air Botswana

As we started to introduce ourselves, I saw him. This was something I had definitely not anticipated.

It was Craig, the young chap I had shared a tent with on my very first trip to the Delta. This was the guy I had written about and poked fun at in my blog. This was also the guy who was built like a brick out house who practiced martial arts, and I had no idea if he had read what I had written about him.

My appearance had no doubt changed since he last saw me. I’ve aged and, in preparation for this trip, I had all of my hair cut off. But I was sure he would remember me non-the-less.

“Craig. Good to see you again my friend.” I said, with heavy emphasis on the word ’friend’. I stepped forward and shook his hand. It took him a few moments to work out who this bald Scotsman was but the penny eventually dropped.

It was a relief that no signs of hostility materialised when he finally grasped who I was.

A few hours later, we were all aboard a small twin prop aircraft flying north to Maun. The landscape below was incredibly flat. The area of Okavango is approximately 1000m above sea level – higher than a Scottish Munro. But it varies in height by no more than a few metres across a huge area.  The delta covers 15,000 km2 during drier periods and up to a staggering 22,000 km2 at the peak of the flood.

Arriving in Maun

At Maun, we met up with our two guides, Partner and Banda and we gathered with our luggage outside the terminal ready to load onto our safari vehicles.

The blue skies and heat that Malcolm and I had been dreaming about back in a cold, damp Scotland had not let us down. The temperature was around 27C with only the occasional small fair-weather cloud to be seen. “Ahhh, now this is Africa.” one member of our group observed.


Before loading our bags onto the roof of the Toyota Landcruisers, we packed away our jackets, jumpers, and fleeces. The bags were all lashed down with rope and then, with everyone onboard, we were on our way into the wilderness.

Maun does not give the impression of being an affluent place. But there is undoubtedly wealth in the area near the airport judging by the flashy BMW’s, Mercs and big shiny 4×4 Landcruiser type vehicles. The visible signs of wealth very quickly start to fade as you drive towards the outskirts. The housing gradually changes from comfortable bungalows to the most basic of breeze block structures, and then to simple mud round houses with thatch. From town centre to the outer limits was a perfect sliding scale of pockets with plenty, to ones that were empty.

Thirty kilometres travelled and we met the end of the tarmac road. From here on in it would be rutted gravel and sand tracks. For our ten new companions, they were enjoying the exciting sights, smells and sounds, and the warm African breeze blowing through the open sided vehicle. For Malcolm and I, we knew what lay ahead. Our guide, Banda, described it as an African massage. In reality it was four hours of bone jarring, bum numbing, dust eating discomfort. We had a huge distance to cover, and it was not an option to take things gently. Wherever the road surface permitted, the drivers drove as hard as they could, slowing only to navigate the huge ruts and areas of damage caused by the heavy rains of the past few months.

Road side grazer

We did stop occasionally to see the odd giraffe, warthog, zebra or elephant lurking near the roadside. Telegraph poles lined the left-hand side of the track and they proved to be popular with the local birdlife. Some of the birds spotted included the Fork-tailed Drongo, Harrier Hawk, Lilac-breasted Roller, White Crested Helmet Shrike, the beautifully named Dark Chanting Goshawk, the Grey Go-Away Bird, Tawny Eagle, Red Billed Hornbill, to name but a few. But mostly we pressed on. Then, over the VHF radio, there were rumours of lions drinking by a pool nearby.

We swung off the main dusty highway and headed along a side track for about 300 metres. A very nervous lioness jumped back from the water, startled by the sudden appearance of two Landcruisers. The sun was minutes away from setting and Banda spun the vehicle around hopeful of getting some photographs in good light. Then we saw the big male.

The shot of him bathed in golden backlight, lapping water from a beautiful lagoon did not materialise. What we got was the lion, in the shade of bushes, lapping water from a tiny muddy puddle. Near to him was the lioness’s backside poking up as she drank from another puddle.

We were not going to make it onto the front page of National Geographic with these photos. But hey, they were lions, and we hadn’t even reached camp.

The female, having slaked her thirst walked over to the male, who was still drinking from his puddle, and very delicately urinated on his foot.

The Foot Peeing Lioness

There was now a significant chill in the air and t-shirts, shorts and flimsy blouses were rapidly becoming the wrong choice of clothing for everyone. The guides drove on and we became colder by the minute. The claim, “Ahhh, now this is Africa.” Was starting to ring hollow.

Darkness descended, we shivered, and the guides pressed on into the wilderness for what seemed like an eternity. Being Scottish, I am well used to the cold, but I was starting to struggle with the wind chill.

At last, we swung left off the big highway track and entered a constantly twisting, narrow trail through mopane woodland. There were those amongst our group who were close to hypothermia. But then, there were lights in the forest ahead… and a campfire.

Now, on my previous two trips to the Delta camps were well laid out by three camp staff. Each time we entered the camp they would whoop, whistle and cheer, greeting us with warm wet towels and drinks. There was no such greeting this time. No warm wet towels. No welcome drinks. In the darkness everyone seemed confused as to what was happening. Waiting for the guides to take charge we huddled around the small campfire trying to reheat our frozen bones.

There was lots of bustle and chatter, and the air rang out with the amazing sound of Bell Frogs. We were obviously near a swamp or river, but it was too dark to tell. We would get our first look at where we were in the morning.

Eventually, Malcolm and I were allocated our tent and a young member of the camp staff led us into the darkness to find it. Carrying all our kit, we stumbled along, tripping up over guy ropes from other tents and stepping in elephant dung in the process. I couldn’t quite work out why they would erect a tent and leave piles of elephant dung right outside the entrance.

As we were carrying heavy bags, it would have been nice if the young lad had even opened the zip of the tent for us, but he just walked away without saying anything. So far, I was not impressed with the organisation or the level of service. In fairness, I was grumpy, frozen, hungry and tired after a long, long journey.

We dumped our bags and found our head torches and headed back along the line of tents to that fire. Partner gave us a safety brief about the Do’s and Don’ts whilst on the trip. Things like don’t wander off and get eaten by a lion. Don’t go swimming with the crocodiles. That sort of thing.

Then it was mealtime. Our first taste of bush cuisine was Sweet Corn Soup, followed by Chicken Drumstick Stew with Squash and Onions on a bed of Rice, washed down with pleasant Merlot.

It was now 10:00pm and Malcolm and I had been on the go for 40 hours. Wakeup call tomorrow was going to be 05:00am and we were both exhausted. Our camp beds were comfortable, although mine did have the ability to rock like a cradle. We both fell asleep to a chorus of hundreds of Bell Frogs. With the bitterly cold temperatures, it almost felt like Christmas Eve as I closed my eyes and plunged into the deepest of sleeps. The loud call of the Bell Frogs sounded for all the world like Jingle Bells.

A strange experience indeed.


Click on the link below to see a short video of the journey described above.

Flying into Maun – Day 1


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