Serengeti, Falls and Cape Part Seven – Okavango Delta

Botswana

The day began with a drive towards the Okavango Delta. Our journey took us through a farming area in the village of Nata, central Botswana and parallel to the Nata River, (the length of which is roughly the same as Switzerland from east to west, but only makes up around 5% of the length of Botswana, indicating the sheer size of the latter country).

Botswana has also never been involved in a conventional war and its peaceful nature was evident as we travelled through. Interestingly, Batswana girls learn to cook by the age of seven and by 15, children can do basically everything that adults can.

On our drives, the many early starts took their toll on a lot of us and we drifted into slumber, sent to sleep by the bumpy roads. We did enjoy pranking our poor sleeping campmates though…

Sorry darling tent buddy… Our CEO Wellington pretending to pour Red Bull on her head as she slept!

Later in the day, when we were all more awake, one of our campmates happened to look up and out of the window only to see something that made our driver stop immediately… we all disembarked the lando to witness a beautiful circular rainbow all the way around the sun, with some of it even doubled so that there were two rainbows. We found out later that this is an optical phenomenon known as a halo and it was absolutely stunning to behold.

As we arrived into our camp for the night, we were greeted with Baobab trees; there were many situated in our aptly named campsite, Planet Baobab. After a few of us had washed our clothes by hand in the tiny sinks and completed our campsite chores for the day, we drank Amarula and hot chocolate and played cards under the moonlight, laced with the shadows of the enormous wooden wonders.

The following day, we drove a little further towards the Delta and saw some ostriches en route. We were informed that ostrich feathers used to be more precious than diamonds in Southern Africa. When the Titanic sank in 1912, a shipment of feathers was the most valuable cargo on board and this was all due to the hat craze. Everybody wanted hats with sprawling feathers on them, making the feather trade extremely profitable, with Southern Africa being the world’s capital of ostrich farming.

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Upon arrival, a few of us opted to take a flight over the Okavango Delta, which is known for its enormous grassy plains and seasonal floods. These floods bring an abundance of wildlife and we were there just at the end of the flood season, making it the perfect time to observe the animals.

To take our flight, we had to go through security, just as one does at a normal airport and then we were driven to our very small plane. We had some fantastic views of the vast expanse of land and water encompassing the Delta. We could see some animals below, including giraffes, hippos and elephants. I distinctly remember them looking like little toys beneath us, and these are some of the largest creatures in the world; it was beautiful and kind of crazy to be looming above them. The only problem was, it was a tiny plane and a day of turbulent weather meant that we all came off feeling really rather nauseous. It was certainly an amazing experience, but I’m not sure I’d do it again!

The elephants looking like toys far below

That night’s campsite was lovely, but the shower water was almost non-existent, which was frustrating as we were camping in the Delta the following evening in a completely back to basics scenario with no running water. Nevertheless, we made the best of it: “embrace the bizarre” as G Adventures tell us… a few games of cards and drinks at the bar made us forget our worries/smells and I drifted into slumber, excited to be entering the Okavango Delta on land rather than by sky the following day.

We said goodbye to our CEO Wellington for the day and took just our day packs and multiple litres of water, leaving our big backpacks on the lando. Our tents followed behind us in a trailer as we drove in a safari-type vehicle for around an hour from the town of Maun into the actual Delta.

We unloaded the trailer and between us, fitted all of our supplies into two person Mokoros; these are traditional dugout canoes used to navigate the wet parts of the Delta and transport people to the dry lands in order to camp. Each Mokoro was steered by a poler, with a very long wooden pole. We rode through tall reeds in the shallow waters, with insects all over us and it was almost like a safari on the water, as we saw elephants, hippos, African openbill storks, crocodiles, reed cormorants and beautiful large dragonflies.

After around an hour on the water, we arrived into the area which was to be our campsite for the night. The polers, who acted as guides for our time in the Delta, were very friendly and Sox, the poler who steered my Mokoro, was really kind and even helped us put up our tent (it was lovely to receive assistance in this, as he was super speedy and lightened the load for me and my tent buddy). We certainly were in the middle of nowhere here and it brought us all together as we bonded around the campfire with our still-relatively-new campmates.

We were given a few ground rules, including where to go to the toilet and shown the literal dig and bury method we would have to use. A few of us then attempted to pole the Mokoros ourselves, which was heavy work but a lot of fun.

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We then split into smaller groups and were led by our polers on an afternoon/sunset wildlife walk.

We saw and learned about different plants and animals that inhabit the Delta:

  • Sage – a natural insect repellent which we rubbed on ourselves in the hope that we’d avoid bites for the night.
  • An aardvark’s hole.
  • Kudu footprints.
  • Red lechwe antelopes.
  • A lot of elephant dung – the locals put coals on top and light it, in order to use it as another mosquito repellent.
  • A honey badger’s hole and tracks.
  • Zebras – we were told they are pregnant for 12 months with one baby and live for around 50 years. They are able to reproduce from the age of 20 until their death. Zebras are also Botswana’s national animal (as well as the nickname of their football team) and the reason for this is because the first president of the country married a white lady and it represents the union of Black and White. This is also the reason why their flag has a small white stripe, for the minority and a larger black stripe, for the majority (the blue of the flag represents water, a precious resource in Botswana).
  • Hippo tracks.
  • Black storks and openbill storks.
  • Termite mounds.

  • Sycamore fig trees – they used to make Mokoros out of the wood of these trees, but they didn’t last that long. The Mokoros are now made out of fibre glass which is better for the environment and lasts 30-40 years. The fruit of the sycamore fig tree is eaten by black baboons and ants.

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Sox also told us that elephants are his least favourite animal because, in his opinion, they kill humans out of jealousy, breaking them into pieces and throwing them in all directions.

At sunset, we took some beautiful pictures and 360° group shots, and you can see my 360° virtual tour of the Okavango Delta by clicking here.

We had dinner with our polers around the fire and toasted marshmallows. Then we were entertained by traditional music and dancing and we joined in, even being asked to sing to them ourselves. We sang “In The Jungle” and “Jambo Bwana“, a catchy Swahili song we had learnt on the first half of our tour. It was a lovely evening spent enjoying the entertainment in our very untainted environment; we were the only few humans in the proximity and were surrounded by just the natural Delta.

The following day, we took the Mokoros back over the water and said goodbye to our polers and guides, leaving them with much-deserved tips; they had been so friendly and helpful and their knowledge of the Delta knew no bounds.

Accompanied by our CEO Judah, we travelled back to our other CEO Wellington and our big purple lando, and drove seven hours to our next location. En route we saw a truck full of prisoners in orange jumpsuits off to do brickwork. We also had another shoe stop, where we were required to exit the vehicle with two pairs of shoes ready to clean (supposedly to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease).

Tonight we were camping in the Kalahari Desert (which makes up 70% of Botswana) in the village of D’kar, in Ghanzi, western Botswana. Ghanzi is the capital of the Kalahari and means “big antelope” in Setswana, the national language of the country. Supposedly it is not a true desert because one can see an abundance of trees.

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Some of us opted to go on a walk to find out more about the Bushmen that used to inhabit the area.

We introduced ourselves to the bushmen and women, who wore traditional dress and showed us how they would greet each other.

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Though they used to be wandering huntsman, the bushmen have now settled and are no longer hunters, since Botswana’s hunting ban. Nowadays they live a western lifestyle in huts or houses, but they don’t forget their ancestors.

Traditionally, they used roots as medicine, including Devil’s claw for arthritis and they showed us these, as well as their “click” language, Khoisan. The way they speak it is fascinating and they tried to teach us some basic clicks.

Meeting the descendants of the Kalahari Bushmen, who taught us all about their ancestors

We ate a traditional West African stew for dinner, which comprised of beef, onion and tomatoes, and it was delicious. Then, bellies full and content in the coolness of the evening, we watched the stunning sunset and were entertained with authentic dances of the San people (another name for the Bushmen).

A beautiful sunset over the Kalahari Desert

They performed their trance songs and demonstrated how they would make instruments out of brown moth cocoons that they’d collect from the trees; they would eat the pupa and use the shells for rattles that they’d tie around their ankles, with stones inside.

They sang songs about antelopes; ostriches; lions; the celebration of truffle season, which was when these vegetables grew in the desert once a year; kori bustard birds; African Hoopoe birds; and a lullaby which they would sing to their babies.

We were invited to dance along with them, and it was an amazing experience attempting to join in with the trance songs and dances, despite definitely not having the same impressive moves!

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Tomorrow, we would be departing the Kalahari desert and leaving Botswana for Namibia, another very arid, yet fascinating country. Watch this space for the next instalment!


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