It was Saturday. The phone rang. It was someone I had met only a couple of days earlier while visiting our neighbor. “Would you like to go flying over the Delta?” he asked.
I’m sure there was a moment of silence as I processed the question.
I think I managed to filter my initial response of “Are you flipping insane? That’s not a question! Who doesn’t want to go flying over the Delta?” because he didn’t hang up.
This crazy, wonderful offer came from Brian, a friend and business partner of the homeowner. When I got my wits about me, we arranged for Mike to meet him at 4:00 that day, and I would go up in the morning.
“Oh, it’s a two seater,” I said, guessing why we wouldn’t all go together.
“Yes. It’s a gyrocopter.”
I sketched a mental picture of what this might be based on “copter,” and then I Googled it. Turns out it’s this.
As I flew in it I thought of two things: Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub and Wynken, Blynken, and Nod sailed off in a wooden shoe. Both of those had to have been bigger because there wasn’t room for the candlestick maker or Nod in this one.
Oh, I also thought of this: There are maybe a handful of days when one could fly such a thing in Alaska. Brrrrr! Too bad because the fresh air is wonderful for those of us prone to motion sickness.
The gyrocopter doesn’t take off vertically like a helicopter; it takes off with a running start, like a small fixed-wing plane.
Leaving the airport, we had a bird’s-eye view of Maun.
The town is bigger than it seems. It has about 60,000 residents (I think), but they’re spread out over a fairly wide area. There are no skyscrapers, maybe nothing higher than a two-story building.
Most homes are fenced, in town and out. That’s something I noticed when first flying into Maun from Johannesburg. The fences aren’t always substantial enough to keep the likes of an elephant out, but they apparently do their job, as does our garden fence at home, which couldn’t stop a determined moose.
The next three pictures are wide-angle shots of the Okavango Delta. They look best when viewed at a larger size, so I’ve uploaded large images here. If you click on them, you’ll get the big image, but you’ll have to click your back button to return here. All the photos are Mike’s—except the one of Mike, which Brian took. I didn’t even take a camera with me; looking at or through a camera while flying will do me in.
Okay, go. The next three pics are clickable for larger views.
The Okavango Delta is an inland river delta. The water that reaches the Delta evaporates or transpires; it does not flow into any ocean.
Though this is the rainy season, the Delta is dry; that is, it’s not flooded. During July and August, the Delta floods, and the flooding draws animals.
So . . . rainy season now, but no flooding until July or August, long after the rainy season is over. See a disconnect?
Well, there isn’t one. It’s not local rainfall that causes the Delta to flood: It’s the Okavango River coming down from Angola, collecting water from lots of rivers and a wide area of rainfall. It takes several months for the water to collect and flow down to the Delta. See? It makes perfect sense.
We don’t see a ton of palm trees in town, but there are a good many in the Delta. I’ve never seen it flooded, but as I looked around, I figured the grassy, open places are under water, and the trees are on little islands. In places, the water, apparently, is only a few feet deep, no problem for the animals to walk through.
Ribbons of water wind through the Delta even when it’s “dry.”
I thought I heard Brian say the gyrocopter was flying at about 600 feet. From that altitude we could still see animals. While I didn’t stand much chance of distinguishing an impala from a springbok from a lechwe, I was able to distinguish buffalo, perhaps because of their color. Brian, of course, knew what was what.
Because of the wind, this kind of flying isn’t conducive to conversation. We left the microphones off, unless one of us had something to ask or say. I was pretty quiet, which might have made Brian think I was ill when, really, I felt great—I loved being out in the open air and didn’t feel even a twinge of disorientation or nausea—and I was in awe.
To better convey that experience to you, I’m going to shut up now and let you enjoy the ride. If you want, you can hum the music from Out of Africa. I did.
This is the way to fly!
To Brian, who has flown here during many flood seasons, there were “no animals” out there. To these two Alaskans, there were a ton.