Day 7: Okavango Delta

Okavango Delta Travel Blog

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Setting out on the mokoros
We would be spending the day and night in the Okavango delta. The Okavango delta is the largest inland river delta in the world, spreading over 16,000 sq km. The delta expands and shrinks following the seasonal floods, which makes it impossible to create any permanent infrastructure in the area. The traditional way to travel around these shallow canals and flood plains is in a dugout canoe called 'mokoro'. These mokoros are traditionally made from the sausage tree, but these days more and more are made out of fibre glass. Reason for this is that it takes 80 years for a sausage tree to grow up to the length needed for a mokoro, while the mokoro only lasts 5 years, so not a very sustainable resource.

The trip out to the place where would camp was fantastic.
extremely relaxing mokoro ride
Normally it takes 1.5 hours to get there, but because this year's floods were the heaviest in 40 years, the waters were now so wide that it takes a full three hours to get there. I didn't complain though, the trip out was absolutely fabulous!

A mokoro is a bit like a Venetian gondola, a guy stands at the back with a long pole pushing the pole (hence his name, a 'poler'), while two passengers have to lie down in the mokoro to keep it stable. As I lay down on a mattress in the mokoro, while gently gliding through the reeds, I had a hard time staying awake and I kept dozing off. Not surprisingly considering I had only slept for 2.5 hours. But it was great, it was just so relaxing that I was    disappointed when we got there. For all I cared we could have continued for a few more hours.
mokoro ride
I think the polers were happy to have arrived though. Three hours of punting a canoe through the reeds must be tough.

In a shaded area on one of the many islands in the delta we set up our bush camp. The camp was completely surrounded by trees and as soon as we had set up camp we were told it was forbidden to venture outside of the camp area without one of the local guides. It didn't take long to see why - there was an elephant eating no less than 20 metres from our camp. Elephants have poor eyesight, but they hate the smell of humans and have been known to charge unprovoked. The trees in between which we camped were too dense for the elephants to enter. I doubt those trees would keep out the baboons or lions that were roaming the area though.

The afternoon was one very long siesta.
the whole group going for a swim
As we had left very early in the morning to escape the heat, and would not set out on our walking safari until late afternoon for the same reason, we had four and a half hours to entertain ourselves.
We spent the time sleeping, playing cards and swimming a bit. The swimming was really odd, in the middle of one of the waterways, surrounded by reeds and water lilies, knowing there might be hippos or crocodiles near.
The water in the delta is incredibly clear. There is hardly any fish and the reeds and sandy bottom act like a filter, making the water pure enough to drink. Another feat difficult to fathom when considering these are basically flood plains.

Late afternoon we went for a walk onto the island. The many floodplains and waterways provide an abundance of food, as well as a relative protection, which means the area is teeming with wildlife.
walking safari in the Okavango Delta
The fact that we were walking and didn't stray more than an hour away from camp, on an island more than a couple of square kilometres meant that chances of seeing any wildlife were pretty slim. An Acacia group who had been in the delta the day before had spotted several lions, but we weren't as lucky. Then again, considering the size of the delta, we were lucky to even see anything at all! We saw several elephants, steenbok, warthog, a lone zebra and a couple of giraffes. The zebra was quite interesting, as it was roaming the steppe alone, whereas these social animals are usually travelling in a herd. The guide explained it had probably lost its herd and was returning to familiar ground to wait for the herd to come back. Meanwhile it teamed up with the giraffes for protection from predators.
Giraffe and zebra
Zebras have better eyesight than giraffes, while giraffes are stronger animals, better able to fight off any predators, so in that way they were helping each other.

When we returned to the camp Juliana had made a hearty vegetable curry with nshima, the staple locals eat as a replacement for potatoes or rice. It was amazing how she had managed to cook such a great dinner with such limited resources: basically just a couple of pots and pans over an open fire.
And there was even desert in the form of a vanilla-fruit pudding.

The evening was spent sitting around the camp-fire chatting and playing some silly games. The guides and polers sang us some songs and did some  dancing. It was a very impromptu performance and it was impressive just how well their voices sounded together.
sunset in Okavango
  Naturally they wanted something in return, which resulted in the British contingent of our group singing part of Oasis' Wonderwall, they only song they could come up with so quickly of which they knew at least some of the lyrics. Somehow singing seems so much more difficult when sober.

The stars were bright in the sky, the camp-fire provided a nice ambience and the occasional howls from hyenas or baboons in the distance even moreso.
Even though we were with a very large group (10 from our group, Riaan and Juliana, two local guides and 6 polers) it really did feel like camping out in the wild.  
Today was the highlight of the trip so far.

debcon says:
I did this tour too and I have to say I agree with Biedjee you have to be lucky with your group. Luckily for us we had been on another bus previously so met up with a few guys over the tour. Brilliant time though :)
Posted on: May 17, 2011
Biedjee says:
I can highly recommend going with Acacia. Though you need to be lucky with your group (which I wasn't), this is the same for every overlanding company. Acacia trucks are definitely better equipped and more seem more comfortable than many other companies.
Posted on: Jul 17, 2010
vinniegill says:
am really enjoying this. am thinking of doing africa with acacia
Posted on: Jul 14, 2010
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Setting out on the mokoros
Setting out on the mokoros
extremely relaxing mokoro ride
extremely relaxing mokoro ride
mokoro ride
mokoro ride
the whole group going for a swim
the whole group going for a swim
walking safari in the Okavango Del…
walking safari in the Okavango De…
Giraffe and zebra
Giraffe and zebra
sunset in Okavango
sunset in Okavango
local kid in the Okavango delta
local kid in the Okavango delta
one of the mokoro polers
one of the mokoro polers
local kid in the Okavango delta
local kid in the Okavango delta
setting out on the mokoro
setting out on the mokoro
Relaxing mokoro ride
Relaxing mokoro ride
setting out in the mokoro
setting out in the mokoro
mokoro ride
mokoro ride
gliding through the reeds
gliding through the reeds
Okavango delta up close
Okavango delta up close
mokoro parking
mokoro parking
our tents in the bush camp
our tents in the bush camp
the polers having a break
the polers having a break
Robbel and me during our afteroon …
Robbel and me during our afteroon…
Paola and me (didnt realise I dov…
Paola and me (didn't realise I do…
water lily
water lily
our first zebra!
our first zebra!
Giraffes and zebra
Giraffes and zebra
Giraffe
Giraffe
night at the bush camp
night at the bush camp
Okavango Delta
photo by: Biedjee