After describing the creation of the Okavango Delta in my last post, it’s now time to share our experiences from a much closer, more exciting angle. We had booked a trip into and onto the Delta from the Old Bridge Backpackers lodge during the previous evening and we clambered aboard a safari truck there, early in the morning. Along with a few other travellers, we drove took the tar road out of Maun and then turned off onto the floodplain of the Delta.
The winding, sandy road took us over slightly higher areas, that tend to be drier than others at this time of the year, but since the rains were very late, the only water that we saw was flowing underneath some rather rustic bridges that are probably repaired or rebuilt every year, after the floods.
When you see a bridge like this the first time, you worry about the weight of a one-tonne Landcruiser and its passengers… I am a great fan of Landcruisers, and they really don’t even need such a bridge to get through this water. They are pretty heavy, however, and as a passenger, it’s best to avoid crashing through a bridge along with your fellows. Anyway, the bridges were quite sturdy, the logs just rumbled a bit as we passed over them. There were a few distant sightings of some wild animals, but also quite a few donkeys. Eventually we arrived at the starting point for the next stage of our journey, and a more adventurous mode of travel: mokoro’s. A traditional mokoro is a hollowed-out tree trunk, but we were using fibreglass copies. Maybe not so traditional, but better for the trees. At the departure point, we were briefed on a few safety issues… the water in the channels is not very deep, but they are also inhabited by crocodiles and hippos. We also received lunch boxes and water bottles.
People tend to worry that canoes and kayaks (and mokoro’s) will easily capsize, but this is not so, they are all pretty stable and can even manage someone with a pole standing upright in the stern, acting as outboard motor, so to speak.
Once everyone was loaded into a mokoro along with their water, lunch and poler, we took off along the narrow channels in the Delta. Visibility was limited by the high reeds along the banks, but apparently the polers knew that hippos would not usually venture into the narrow, shallow channels. Standing up, they could also see much further, of course. From time to time we saw and smelt smoke and we learnt that the guides burn some grass along our route to ensure that hippos would avoid the area. We proceeded at a leisurely pace over the clear brown water, great to see plants, birds and insects from nearby.
At some point we beached the mokoro’s in order to take a walk over a dry portion of the Delta. Here. once again, we received another short safety briefing, involving the possibility of encountering elephants, hippos or even, possibly, lions. Other animals too, of course, but these were the ones to be most aware of. One of us asked a guide about the direction that we should run in, should we encounter an elephant. The response was not to think too much, but to just get out of there, as fast as possible, in any direction!
Two guides accompanied us, one at the head of our column and one bringing up the rear. At one point, the forward guide stopped when we heard some elephant activity in the trees and bushes ahead. In the distance, we could see a couple of elephants shredding and eating the shrubbery. There was a brief and undemocratic discussion between the guides. One thought that we could continue along our current path, while the wiser, more experienced one dictated that we would change our route to keep more distance from the elephants. We all agreed. Elephants may look slow and ponderous, but if you’ve ever seen one charge, you certainly don’t want to be seeing that while on foot in the bush!
When we returned to the mokoro’s, we settled down on the ground (or actually on our seats from the mokoro’s) and dug into the lunchboxes that had been provided. Sandwiches, little yoghurt tubs, apples and boiled eggs, accompanied by bottled water. Very welcome and even more welcome to enjoy it in the shade! The piece of elephant tusk also magically appeared in the bushes, supporting my view that it was going to be “found” again the next day…
With our lunches firmly settled in the stomach, we boarded the mokoro’s again for the return journey. A few more photographs from the rest of the day:
Back at the point where we had departed from with the mokoro’s, we were starting to feel the effects of all those bottles of water consumed. There were a few sheds where vehicles and mokoro’s can be stored, but since there were no toilets, we took turns to water the grass behind different sheds. No photographs of this activity.
After an exciting and very hot day, we were happy to be driven back to our shady camp.
Time to relax in the shade, make dinner and to start thinking about tomorrow’s adventure…