The second major natural landmark of our Botswana and Zambia trip was the Okavango Delta. In the northern part of Botswana, surrounded by desert and semi-desert, the Kavango river forms an inland delta. It splits into numerous little rivers and wetlands, that vary greatly in size depending on the time of year, but which support thousands of animals, birds, reptiles and plants. And some tourists, too.
At the end of the “road”, we were introduced to our guide, from a nearby village, and transhipped into dugout canoes called “mokoros”. Each mokoro holds two passengers, some luggage and another person from the nearby village, who poles the mokoro along, not unlike a gondolier. We were sharing the trip with a German couple, and had decided to do a catered trip, so a fourth and fifth mokoro carried the cook and a veritable mound of tents, luggage and food. With our luggage train, it felt not unlike how David Livingstone might have explored the area, back before it was colonised.
Camp was pitched under a big tree by the river’s side, and a hole was dug for the toilet. We spent two nights under our tree, and soon settled into the routine. We woke at first light, had a small, quick meal and then headed out with two guides on a game walk. More on these later. After a few hours we came back for a large brunch, and then spent the hot midday hours talking or napping. Martin and I also tried our hands at managing the mokoros, and managed not to tip them over! In the evening we would go for another game walk, and return to yet another excellent meal around the fire.
While the area that we were in wasn’t actually a game reserve, it was not far from Moremi national park, which is not fenced. So we had most of the big animals in the area. The most impressive were the elephant, which seemed to be all over. We saw them quite a few times, and heard them about 50 metres from the camp at night. During one of the walks we stumbled upon one behind a thin layer of bushes, and spent quite some time stalking it for the best possible view, as you can see in some of the photos. Elephants, however, are dangerous creatures. If they see you, they are quite likely to charge, for no apparent reason. Our guide said he’d been charged a number of times. Just to build confidence, no-one on the trip was armed. So the course of action should an elephant charge? RUN! Split up, stay in the bushes, and run downwind. Fast. Luckily, we didn’t get a chance to put this reassuring advice into action.
Africa’s most dangerous animal, by number of people killed per year, is the hippopotamus. We didn’t see any, but we heard them, and saw tracks about 20 metres from our tents in the mornings. One had to listen very carefully before going to the toilet hole at night! Also visible only by their tracks were lions, though we did also come across the carcas of a giraffe that had been killed the week before, by lions.
Perhaps the most intersting part of the walks, though, were all the things that the guide showed us. We saw the tracks of numerous different animals, and learnt how to tell apart holes dug by aardvarks, or honey badgers, or lived in by warthogs. We heard about the food and medical uses of a number of plants and trees, and ate some of the fruit of a type of palm that’s enjoyed by people, elephants and baboons alike (like dry ginger-bread, for the record). We learnt how to collect termites efficiently (apparently great when fried), and that termite mounds always face slightly west. We also saw thorn ant nests built around individual thorn tree branches, to aid in eating the bark off the tree.
The vegetation and feel of the Delta is fairly different to that which I’m more used to, and the experience of camping in the middle of nowhere was quite an experience. All round, very memorable!
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