Ever since she began in the safari industry, Caren Banks has heard about how the Okavango Delta filled up every year with water that travelled all the way down from central Angola. During COVID her dream came true to virtually watch this incredible annual event. Read on…

When I started in the safari industry around 1973/74 working for Gametrackers (owned by Jon Panos), one of the very first operators with luxury mobile safaris to Botswana (there were like 4 lodges then), I learned about the Okavango Swamps (as they were then called) and how it filled up. The water comes from the Highlands of Angola all the way down. I was told that people could actually “walk” with the flood as it travelled. And they did. And I have always, always wanted to witness this.

And then lodges started opening and the safari season became sort of year round (instead of May-September) and the floods came. Some years they were great and some years they weren’t. And walking with the flood became an out-of-reach dream, although I still hoped to do it one day.

watching ‘the lip’ move

Then came 2020 and COVID-19, and my dream came true!!!!! The very best thing that I have experienced while staying home and not working (I am in the safari business) was walking with the water – live, online – as it filled the Okavango Delta. Thanks to Hennie and Jake Rawlinson (and others) who started filming “the lip” as it travelled into Maun and then on to the Okavango, where it is still filling up. And it looks like this year is a magnificent flood year.

The water’s arrival in Maun around the beginning of May occurred while very strict “stay at home” instructions were underway. No one was allowed to leave their homes without an approved permit, and walking in public spaces was a big no-no. However, just a couple of days after Hennie started filming live on Facebook (with a permit), restrictions were relaxed and folks could walk around their particular “zones”, which seemed to coincide with the lip coming through.

Of course, water is the most valuable thing in Botswana (pula = water, pula = currency), and to the Batswana washing yourself with the water from the lip of the flood washes away the bad, making way for a brand new year. This particular year was poignant in that regard, as they were washing away COVID (may He be listening).

how fantastic an event this is

A “watch page” was established on Facebook, and other people started adding their videos and photos (before-and-after ones, as well!), as the water flowed past them.

I cannot tell you how exciting this has all been. People “not in the know” did not understand how incredibly bloody fantastic this whole thing has been, and most of my US friends have been making fun of me (those that watched and thought this was fabulous for the first few days in the beginning of May lost interest quickly. Still today I get questions (they think they’re being funny) saying “So what’s new, still watching the flood, Caren?”  Yes I absolutely am!!!!! Today is 23 June, more than a month later.

For those Southern Africa safari enthusiasts (every one I know), I would have my hand on the door knob as soon as Botswana opens up, to go and see this incredible flood with very few others!  I so wish I was there …… I would be there in two ticks.

okavango map botswana
From Google Earth.

Note:  To add to the excitement, the local Maunites had a charity raffle for the exact time the water arrived at the Old Bridge in Maun. The winner (James Stenner) won a helicopter flight for three over the Okavango to see this spectacle from the air. James donated his prize to others who study the waters and who had not seen it from the air yet. The proceeds from the raffle went to two beloved Maun organisations, Women Against Rape and The Polokong Center for the Elderly.

okavango map botswana
Photo: Facebook.