Friday, June 27, 2008


In a few short hours, I'm off to Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia. If all goes well, once I get to Windhoek, I'll see my father once again (for the fourth time in the year that I'm here!). This time, though, it's business for both of us. My dad is a corporate pilot in the US, and it just so happens that he's bringing some passengers over to Southern Africa, where they'll stay at safari camps in Namibia and Botswana. However, since the aircraft that he flies is too large to go into the dirt airstrips that service the camps, he arranged for his company to contract with Flying Mission to take his passengers from the main airports to the camps. So I will fly up to Namibia, meet him and his passengers, and fly them from Windhoek to their camp where we will drop them for a few nights. I'll then take the passengers from the camp back to Windhoek, where they'll jump on my dad's plane and fly to Maun. I'll then meet them in Maun and fly them from Maun to a camp in the delta for a few nights and afterwards pick them up again. It's pretty exciting to be able to do this flight, not least because dad will be riding along as a second pilot on the flights in Namibia. So it will be the first time that I'll be captain with my dad as my first officer! Nice, huh? The trip will be in the King Air, which is also fun and will be a nice change from the small Cessna that I have been flying for the last few months in Maun. After this trip though (which ends on July 4th) it will be back to business as usual in Maun. I'm hoping that I'll soon have internet at my house there and will be able to update this site more regularly, although it has been a terribly long and somewhat painful process trying to get that set up. We shall see what time brings.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Word on the Delta

While the average rainfall of Botswana is generally higher than most definitions of a “desert” require, most of the country is extremely arid and desert-like. This is partially due to the irregularity of the rainfall and to extremely high evaporation rates (almost 6 feet over the course of a year from standing water!). Nowhere in Botswana does annual rainfall exceed the rate of evaporation, so bodies of water are extremely rare and the only permanent ones (other than man-made reservoirs) are the Chobe river along the northern border and the Okavango Delta in the northwest. This makes the delta an amazing and unique area. It is the world’s largest inland delta, dumping the waters collected by the Okavango River in Angola into the deep, dry sands of the Kalahari region and creating a massive green oasis of winding channels and lagoons in the midst of an extremely harsh, arid environment. This contrast is very striking, and can be seen quite starkly in pictures from space. As a permanent source of water, the delta sustains huge amounts of wildlife and birdlife and is one of the jewels of Africa.

At regular intervals as I fly around this area of the country, I am struck with awe at the beauty and diversity of the life and environment around me. And I’m deeply appreciative that I get to experience this place in such an intimate way. In any one flight over the delta, I invariably see elephants (often in large herds), lechwe (reddish antelope that are well-adapted to life in the water), zebra, and giraffe, with the occasional massive herd of buffalo. The birdlife is equally diverse and beautiful (although also slightly more threatening to the safety of flight). This area of the country is one best places in Africa (and probably in the world) to see such an amazing diversity of wildlife and habitat in the midst of vast areas of (relatively) unspoiled wilderness. I count myself blessed to be here.

The Okavango Delta from space (the fan-shaped area just left of center).
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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Great Outdoors

One of the things that I’ve enjoyed most about being in Maun has been the amount of time I’ve been able to spend outdoors. And not just outdoors anywhere, but in some of the most beautiful, wildlife-rich, well-preserved areas of wilderness left on this world. Granted, most of my experiences of those areas are quick in-and-out ones, with the rest of it being from the air above, but it’s still an amazing privilege. The exception to this is my stays at Jack’s Camp. Since we do a lot of flights for Jack’s Camp, it often makes sense to stay overnight when the schedule is busy rather than having an empty evening leg to Maun and another one back in the morning. So I’ve spent, on average, at least one night a week there over the last two months. Jack’s Camp is in the center of the country on the edge of the Makgadigkadi Salt Pans, which are the massive remains of what was once a huge inland lake (it’s hard to believe that such a dry area once contained so much water). This area is part of a larger area known as the Kalahari, which, while not a desert by all definitions of desert, is a very arid area and has all the appearance of a desert. The nearest village is a two-hour drive on rough 4x4 roads, and after that you’ve got to drive another few hours on tar roads to get to a village with anything other than very basic supplies. I’ve very much enjoyed my stays at Jack’s for the opportunity to get outdoors and spend some time in the bush. Some of the highlights:
  • Massive herds of zebra, congregating around some of the few remaining water holes
  • Seeing a habituated meerkat colony up close
  • Amazing night skies that you can hardly find anywhere in the states anymore
  • Encounters with the diminutive gennet cats that run through the camp at night
  • Reading through some of the guide training materials and satisfying my dork biology self
  • Going for a morning run around the pan at the edge of camp
  • The evening sun that brings out beautiful, vibrant colors in the grasslands around the camp
  • Experiencing two nights in the guest side of camp (normally a $1,000/night experience, scot-free)

Even my experience in the village of Maun is much more out-of-doors than my life in Gaborone was. A two-minute walk from my front door brings me to the banks of the river that flows through Maun (well, right now it’s doing a lot more sitting than flowing, but it’s soon going to be swelled by the flood waters arriving in their annual cycle from the rains that fell earlier in the year in Angola). I’ve been trying to go for a short run most mornings, and it’s wonderful to be able to do that on a path along the river rather than on the city streets of Gabs.

The "pilot tent" where I spend most of my nights at Jack's. It's got it's own little shower and bathroom out the back and newly installed DC lights so I can read after the generator goes out at night.
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A palm tree island on the vast grasslands surrounding Jack's Camp.
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The airplane on the ground at Deception Valley airstrip, on the edge of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Waiting for passengers.
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The river behind my house.
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