I was a little nervous about the four of us setting off on an unguided sunrise game walk around camp given the potential for running into elephants and lions, but didn't want to miss the early opportunity to bond with the rest of the group. We walked down a sandy track at 5am. Soon enough, we came across fresh (moist) elephant dung.
The heroic dung beetles were hard at work, sculpting amazingly round balls of crap and rolling them off to their holes in the ground to lay eggs. They were fascinating to watch, and soon captured everyone's attention. It was clear a few were too ambitious because they would roll a ball to their hole, only to find it was too big to fit down it. Others seemed to have all the time in the world as they worked to perfect the shape so it would be easier to get moving.
Back at camp, we enjoyed a cholesterol-heavy breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage and toast. We broke down the tents, packed up the van, and were off to Maun by 8am. Another day and this routine of setting up and taking down camp would become second nature.
Maun lay three and a half hours north of Elephant Sands, and functioned as the primary staging ground for all tours into the Okavango Delta. A modest airport handled international arrivals for the wealthier clientÃ¨le, and was stocked with small prop planes for the popular scenic flights. The big overland trucks for tour companies like Nomads and Africa Travel Company became a regular sight. Dion took us to a grocery store where we each bought ten liters of water, while he picked up the food for our meals the next few days.
We proceeded to Delta Rain, a popular campsite for overland tours, regardless of size. Tents were pitched, Dion put out the deli meats, cheese, and salad for our daily lunch, and we relaxed. The campsite featured a bar and small, shaded pool, which we all used for a quick dip before the reading began. The bartender had a penchant for 80's music, and Van Halen's ” Jump”? was the song I noted was playing while I wrote in my journal. Dion confirmed my suspicion that many of the campsites along the overland routes in Africa fit this mold. He was a veteran of such trips, having guided several 3-month Cairo to Cape Town tours with Contiki.
It had already been determined that I was the only person interested in a scenic flight. Five seater planes are chartered for $375, so if I couldn't find people at the campsite to join me, I would be missing out on a key experience of the trip.
Late in the afternoon, Dion picked up a last minute, fly-in booking. Caremelita was a 67-year old Asian-American retiree from California. She had been on a birding trip to Madagascar and Uganda. In the latter country, she also spent a day tracking mountain gorillas. Something happened and her trip was cut short there, so since she had paid for the whole thing up front, it was arranged that she would divert down to Botswana for a few nights. She was not expecting a budget tour, but she adapted well, especially considering she required stitches in her leg after a hostel dog bit her on the way to the airport in South Africa.
In the evening, we sat and talked around our tents after dinner, excited to be on the verge of entering one of the world's most unique wilderness environments in the morning.