Going bush in the Okavango Delta of Botswana
Loading ourselves into a dugout canoe, known as a ‘mokoro’ (or makoro) we set out for a 1-2 hour canoe trip to our bush camp. Bush camp meant a hole in the ground for the toilet, no shower, a campfire and crowding around a tarp when we had a massive thunder and lightning storm.
As we were paddled out by a local ‘poler’, reeds smashed into our faces constantly. At first you think ‘oh wow this is a cool perspective and experience,’ but within an hour you start to realise some reeds have bugs on them, some have sharp ends and you start to sit with your hands by your head to stop them whacking you in the face all the time. We passed a lagoon where hippos were wandering, which was a little unsettling when you’re only in a little canoe with one other person and the poler. Hippos are known for turning over and/or attacking boats. They can go under water for 5-8 minutes at any time then it is a surprise where their heads pop up above water.
Reaching our destination, a clearing in the middle of nowhere, we put up our tents and taught the locals how to play cards while we awaited our afternoon nature walk. Cards was interrupted by a sighting of elephants nearby, so we quickly followed a local to go check out the 3 elephant bachelor pack. Standing just a few hundred meters away, they were munching away on tree leaves as we watched in wonder. I wasn’t expecting to see elephants while walking at all. Past walking safari’s I’ve been on only let you saw safe animals like zebra or impala from a large distance. However, elephants were our main subject in the walking safaris in the Okavango Delta.
That evening we saw more bachelor elephants – 4 males and some even closer – like 100 meters! As the sun began to set it was an incredible sight.
Early the next morning we were split into our groups of 5-6 again and headed out for a longer walk of about 3 hours. More elephants featured, but the new edition was the zebras. There was an incredibly large family of zebra’s very close again – within 100 meters or so. It was a mix of males and females. You can tell the females from males as the females have wider hips and more space between their buttock stripes. They seems so at peace, staring at us on occasion and then running off in a orderly line when they smelt us in the wind.
That afternoon we tested out the shallow waters of the Okavango Delta for a swim and learnt to paddle a mokoro. Top tip: If you are wearing a bikini encase you fall into the water, make sure its tied up really well.
Paddling a mokoro is harder than it looks. You need to lift the long pole up after every stroke and push it into the water to the bottom on an angle. Pushing off you’ve got to make sure you’re heading in the right direction and not for the spiky bushes sticking up out of the water. When you get too close you’ve got to push backwards and to the side to steer it away (good thing my knowledge of steering a rowing boat came in handy). Soon enough the paddle was taking away from me and as storm clouds gathered quickly the local guide took us quickly back to camp.
A tarp or sorts was being tied up over the fire very quickly and you could see lightning starting with the thunder. Torrential rain poured down for a few hours as we tried to stay dry near the fire under the tarp. Many people had retreated to their tents in time, which was smart, whereas I had only gone to my tent to get my jacket before the rain started. Less be said, even under the tarp we got very wet.
As the sky cleared up, we attempted a mokoro ride to see the sunset, but it was too cloudy, still it was a relaxing ride in the canoes to end the day.
There wasn’t much to do in the evenings in the bush, because I’d only taken the bare necessities of a t-shirt, shorts, jacket and my camera bag and a few toiletries. The locals did a few word games and singing and dancing in the evenings, but I just started to fall asleep so it was pretty early nights for me.
After two nights in the bush I became a pro at the bush toilet and managed to dodge bugs and only spot one tiny scorpion. The mokoro ride out of the bush and reeds meant passing the hippos again. They were even closer to us this time which was pretty exciting and nerve wracking for some people.
If you’re interested in a view from the mokoro boat, here’s a short clip from my GoPro:
Onwards to Namibia tomorrow, where the bugs will grow in size, shape, speed, colour and scariness. I am now used to showering with the odd spider – as long as it isn’t moving. The big beetles still freak me out as they are super fast!