African shoestrings – Botswana Day Seventy-Seven Okavango

Whether it’s because of the high fees they charge tourists or their natural resources of diamonds, copper and nickel, all of which are mined extensively, Botswana is a relatively wealthy country. It has one of the fast growing economies in the world and its GDP per capita is the highest on the African continent outside of South Africa. None of this was apparent in Shakawe where we stopped to buy ice and other supplies. Dusty run down buildings and shacks were everywhere as were dusty rundown vehicles. Even the townsfolk looked a bit dusty and rundown and seemed to just wander or sit around fairly aimlessly.

At Supopa we were meant to have two motor boats waiting for us but this is Africa and things don’t often run to plan, so we had to wait an hour or so before being guided onto one of them and our baggage loaded onto the other. About an hour into the three and a half hour journey our boat began to cough and splutter a few times and the second boat, now some distance away, returned to take some of the human baggage and hence lighten its load. We eventually made it to our destination, an island in the delta near the village of Jao, which we could just see from the distance.

This campsite was in the process of being constructed by a few locals and another bloke from Audi, Brendan and was supposedly near completion but you could have fooled me. But it was just about habitable.

By now there was ten in our group; Louise (a Pom), who had traveled with us from Windhoek, John and Ann (more Poms), Elizabeth (a yank), Klaus and Ingrid (Germans) and our guides Andre and his more experienced sister Anna. So the night was spent getting to know each other around the campfire. Of course with a South African there as well (Brendan) the topic of conversation never strayed far from Rugby Union and Cricket although we did have a friendly argument about the Southern Cross.

To Australians and New Zealanders the Southern Cross is an important part of our psyche, it’s on our both our flags, is used extensively in official and commercial advertising and most of us know roughly where it is. But it’s by no means unique to Australia and New Zealand. It can be seen almost anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere all the year round and it’s pretty distinctive. Now I can understand people from the Northern hemisphere not knowing anything about it they can only see at certain times of the year low in the sky plus of course places like England are lucky to see any of the night sky. But Brendan, a budding tour guide, was under the woeful misapprehension that it couldn’t be seen outside of Australia. After much discussion I eventually fired up and marched him, followed by some of the others, away from the fire and pointed into the sky at the five stars that make up Southern Cross to put to bed that woeful misapprehension.

The next morning our polars turned up one Mokoro short! We needed six not the five that were brought; two people to each boat and one for the luggage and supplies. After much hand waving and gesturing eventually one of the polars went back to Jao and found an extra Mokoro and Polar.
Mokoros (otherwise known as dugout canoes) are carved from Ebony or the Sausage Tree and take around three months to make by hand. The forked pole the polars use are made from the Silver Terminilia tree and it’s this pole that in the hands of these guys enables the Mokoro to move quietly and effortlessly. Like the gondolieriers of Venice, these guys make it look so easy. Unlike the gondoliers of Venice the Mokoro is economic in design and whole lot less comfortable. A hard wooden plank was to be home for our rear ends for the next few days but we managed to get used to it.

Only one of them had back rests and that was literally jumped into by Klaus and Hilda. They were to be fair, a lot older than even us, let alone the rest who once again were all young enough to make us feel parental again (grand parental in Klaus and Hilda’s case).

You know you can pick people a mile off. I had Klaus picked as a bit of a know it all from the time we first met as he stood in his khaki safari suit puffing on his pipe on the bow of the motor boat, trying his best to look like Mr. ice-cool as the boat jumped up and down and spluttered from time to time. I can never quite understand why some tourists believe that buying and wearing the latest safari suits will enrich their time in Africa. I know all the blurb suggests you wear green or light brown clothing so that you don’t stand out when on a safari but 90% of that time is spent in a minibus or 4WD which stand out a lot more than we will, regardless of what we wear. In Uganda four years before, we came across two American ladies impeccably dressed in all ‘the gear’ plus polo hats. You can imagine what colour their clothes were after the jungle trek to find mountain gorillas. In fact I’ll swear blind that I heard some of the Gorillas laughing at them.

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Young Poler on a makoro (canoe) in the Okavango delta, Botswana

Young Poler on a makoro (canoe) in the Okavango delta, Botswana

 

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