Africa Vignette Series


At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from

2 Botswana

The Okavango Delta is known scientifically as an alluvial fan, caused by sediment carried by the river and the smaller streams it forms. Alluvial fans occur in Death Valley in the U.S., the Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang, China and even on Saturn’s moon, Titan. The ones on aTitan may be caused by channels of methane.

The Okavango fan, caused by good old fashioned water, deposits two million tons of sand and silt every year and drains summer rain from a catchment area of about 58,000 square miles (150,000 square kilometers), something like the size of Nepal or Tunisia. At the top of the fan is Mohembo, near the Namibian border, with Maun at the bottom, about a hundred fifty miles away.

A labyrinth of channels, islands and plains brings forth papyrus swamps, forests and savannah, habitats for elephant, lion, crocodile, hyena, leopard, zebra, cheetah, porcupine, monkey, serval, baboon, wild dog, hippo, giraffes, buffalo, wildebeest, kudu, warthog, impala, tsessebe and countless more, some 80 species of fish and 400 species of birds, making it one of the world’s great bird sanctuaries.

In a normal year the flood waters course through Mohembo in December or January, pass through the middle of the delta around April, and reach Maun by the end of June. We visit in March, and the waters haven’t yet arrived. Last year they didn’t arrive at all. At the time of our visit the Okavango delta is cracking under a fierce, tenacious drought.

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

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