Africa - August 21, 2012

Jenn and Beauty
Began the day with a brilliant but freezing ride in an open-air truck to the headwaters of the delta. Then loaded up our makoros for a 3-hour boat ride across the clear but tanin-rich water. Thick, hollow reeds slapped our faces,* and frogs and birds called constantly from the banks. Our poler's name is Beauty, and we later discovered that she weaves gorgeous baskets.**

Yes, this close.
Shortly after we arrived, three elephants wandered up so close to our campsite that our polers had to shoo them away.*** Minutes later, our trip leader Gerrit flailed excitedly for us to join him -- a large herd of elephants was less than 1/4 mile from where we stood. Unbelievable.

Set up camp, lunched on sandwiches, then took a nap during the hottest part of the day. Woke up drenched in sweat, so I joined the group for a trek to the swimming hole. A week ago, if you had told me that I'd be swimming neck-high in reeds where crocs, hippos, and snakes live, I would have laughed. But my dirty feet have become far scarier than the threat of crocs.

Fish eagle near camp.
At 5:00, we broke into three groups for an evening hike. Animals sighted: lots of elephants, fish eagle, open-billed storks, red lechwe.**** Hyenas, hippos, and zebra could be heard in the distance.

So the bathroom situation is, let's just say, rustic. Gerrit dug a large hole in the sand down a nearby path, and the shovel was left at the trailhead as a sort of door. If the shovel is gone, you know the loo is occupied. Everyone must have a Bathroom Buddy, and we've been warned to take our headlamps with us after dark to look for eyes in the trees. Oh dear.

Our first hike in the Okavango Delta.
The most exciting part of the bathroom experience is, without a doubt, the Toilet Hippo. By the sound of him, he lives about 50m behind the hole. Clearly the greatest joy in this creature's life is roaring while I'm squatting on the ground with pants around my ankles. The aggravating thing is that I try to outsmart him and wait for him to grunt before pulling down my pants. So I'll wait...and wait...and wait...nothing but silence. As soon as I give up and pull down my pants....ROAR! Evil bugger.

The stars in the delta are spectacular, and I finally saw the Southern Cross for the first time. Went to sleep to the sound of zebra calling nearby.

Brad's footnotes:
* I kind of think they steer us into the reeds on purpose. Like outsider hazing or something.
** Beauty was a great poler and strong, into her 50s. But unlike most of the polers, she spoke no English. It was a quiet ride, which made the experience even more surreal.
*** Like 40 feet away, for reals.
**** Lechwes are antelopes. Funny thing about the lechwe: When I asked how to spell it, our guide said, "L-E-C-H-double-E." So I wrote "lechee." Figured out what happened there later...

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