My parents made the big trip out to visit us, and we didn’t let them have a moment of rest. As they had already been to South Africa twice before, we decided to take them along on a road trip to Botswana. For two days, we drove north through the middle of the country, across the Kalahari Desert. It was the end of winter, the dry season, and the great Kalahari was desperately parched. The landscape was nothing but flat, dusty plains as far as the eye could see. We would go hours without passing a single town, the only signs of life being forlorn donkeys and cattle, and even they looked achingly thirsty.
At the end of this barren landscape, however, we arrived at one of the most unique and incredible landscapes in all of Africa – the Okavango Delta. Smack in the middle of Southern Africa, surrounded by desert, the Okavango is an unlikely and gorgeous biosphere overflowing with water and life.
As an inland delta, the Okavango is a unique natural wonder. Every year, the rains that fall in the rainforests of Central Africa flow down to fill the basin of the Delta, bringing crucial waters to this otherwise parched part of the world. The wildlife of the surrounding areas flock to the life-giving waters of this seasonal oasis. But every year, all of the water is eventually evaporated, never flowing into any river or ocean. Because of its uniqueness and magnificence, the Okavango Delta was named the world’s 1000th UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.
The best way to experience the Delta is from on the water, nestled in a makoro, a traditional dugout canoe. An experienced guide uses a 10-foot pool to push the makoro along, expertly guiding it through the tall reeds and lilies. It is incredibly relaxing to lie back and glide along the waters, as crocodiles laze on the banks and hippo eyes peek out at you from the deeper water.
What makes the experience especially unique is that the sights, smells and feel of the Delta gives the impression that the ocean is just over the next bend, when in fact we couldn’t be further from the ocean just about anywhere in southern Africa.
After a few hours of easy gliding through the reeds, the guide pulls off on an island and leads a bush walk to spot some wildlife. Elephants graze in the distance, and zebras and wildebeest run through the grasses. The walk is followed by a lunch on the banks, and then it’s back into canoes for the journey back to civilization.
We spent out two nights at the Delta at the pleasant Mochaba Crossing Lodge, just outside the town of Maun. Maun is a bustling little place that acts as the gateway to the real magic vast Delta beyond. I could have happily spent another week there, and would have loved to go even deeper in the Delta. But there was much more to explore in Botswana, so after two nights we were back in the trusty Jeep, heading once more into the desert.