Changing plans is an inevitability of travel. Most people have experienced it at some point. Cancellations, bad weather, people you meet; there are many reasons plans change. Not everything goes the way you plan and adapting to change is one of the most important skills to have. When I travelled to Africa I’d hoped to visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana, but then the usual problems arose. Fortunately, the trip wasn’t a complete loss.
The Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta is a huge grassy plain dissected by the Okavango River with swamps, rich green vegetation and an abundance of wildlife.
Your two best options for visiting the Delta are either a one-day trek or a two-day overnight trip. Both excursions involve a trip in a Mokoro (a type of traditional canoe) and the two-day trip has the advantage of spending a night camping in the Delta. The one-day excursion is cheaper, while the itinerary for the two-day trip looks to involve more sitting around. However, the experience of camping out surrounded by the Okavango wilderness could be worth the extra expense.
The road to Maun
The plan was to visit the Okavango Delta and spend a day (or ideally a night) exploring the vast wilderness. However, the weather soon put paid to those plans. The journey to Maun didn’t start smoothly. I was travelling with two friends I’d met in Namibia, Céline and Louise, and after the incredible Elephant Sands our next stop was Maun (the closest city to the Okavango Delta) some 350km west. We were making good time, at least until we came across the worst road in Botswana! Despite being designated as an ‘A’ road, there was a 200km section absolutely littered with potholes. It was impossible to go faster than a few kilometres per hour and took several hours longer than we imagined.
At one point there was a pothole covering one half of the road and another hole on the other side. I had nowhere to go! Céline, who had rented the car, was starting to get stressed. Our little two-wheel drive Polo was not designed for this kind of terrain. I ended up slaloming down the road like a drunk while the driver coming the other way did likewise, resulting in us both passing each other driving on the wrong side.
We eventually made it to Maun just as the heavens opened. My first taste of African rain after five weeks of sunshine. The weather, combined with a stressful journey and a rough night’s sleep at Elephant Sands, had put a big dampener on our plans. And as much as we all wanted to see the Okavango Delta, trudging through the wilderness soaked through wouldn’t have been as enjoyable an experience as we’d have liked.
We still hoped it would stop the following day, but as we awoke early the next morning we could hear the patter of raindrops falling on the tin roof of our room. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be!
We cancelled the trip and took advantage of an unexpected free day to plan the rest of our route through Botswana. However, we still desperately wanted to see the Delta. That was why we were there after all. Fortunately, there was an alternative option.
Taking to the skies above the Okavango Delta
As we sat around wondering what to do we began chatting with a group of French girls who’d had similar fun dealing with the enormous potholes the day before. Left in the same situation thanks to the weather, they’d booked a scenic flight over the Okavango Delta. It would certainly be a different way to see the area and meant that we wouldn’t miss out entirely. Almost immediately we decided to join them.
Late afternoon we drove to the tiny Maun International Airport for our scenic flight over the Okavango Delta. There were eight of us sat in the little Cessna. Each with our own window to enjoy the scenery. The pilot explained the route we would be taking and what we could hope to see. After the bumpy take-off we were quickly away from the town and flying barely 100m above the Delta. It was incredible!
While we still would have preferred to trek through it, this at least gave us another perspective of the wonderful scenery. It’s hard to believe that such a stunning, untouched area could exist less than 10km from a large town. From our position in the tiny plane, we could see not only the vast green areas, intersected by the rivers of the delta, but also many of the animals that were by now so familiar. Huge herds of wildebeest, elephants, rhino, a charging hippo. It was all there, and we were so happy to have been able to see it.
It might not have been exactly what we were hoping for in the Okavango Delta, but we made the best of a bad situation.
Where to stay in Maun
The best place to stay in Maun is The Old Bridge Backpackers. Located on the edge of town, the hostel has a range of accommodation plus games area, bar, restaurant and a tour booking desk. Finding it can be a little tricky and the road leading to the site isn’t paved. However, we managed to get there in our little Polo (despite the rain) so you shouldn’t have too many problems.