African shoestrings – Botswana Day Seventy-Eight to Eighty Okavango

The Delta itself reminded me of a vast flooded field with pockets of dirt that support large trees and palms. It actually consists of a maze of meandering channels, with dense masses of papyrus and other aquatic plants; many shallow, water-filled basins; and numerous islands, or elevated wooded areas that remain dry during flooding. The delta normally covers about 16,000 square kilometres, but this year the rains had been good and it was at its highest level for many years, which translated into covering a larger area than average.

PT our Polar seemed to be the number one man when the number one man, who was a lot older than the other polars, didn’t go out, which was often. Our first experience of riding in the Mokoro was on the way to the next camp on a nameless island near Qokoqere, deep in the heart of the delta.

In no time at all we reached the new camp. This time there are no facilities whatsoever, just a hole in the ground for a toilet and the water of the delta for washing. Once we had set up camp again we went back out in the Mokoro and stopped on an adjoining island. PT took us all for a walk and told us of how his people use the trees and plants, what animals and birds are around and the danger of crocs and hippos. Because the water was so high most of the animals had moved away to higher ground so all we saw apart from the odd croc were some Letchwe, a small water antelope that kept their distance.

After lunch we went for a swim, well some of us brave enough did. It’s a bit scary knowing that we were in the same territory as a croc or hippo but we were assured that this particular spot was croc and hippo free. I did notice however that a couple of the polars were continually scouring the water for any gatecrashers.

For the next three days we had a set pattern, up early and out on the Mokoro, back for lunch, back out again after a siesta and the heat of the day to return at sunset. Travelling by Mokoro is a restful and mostly relaxing way to travel (apart from the odd pampas grass brushing our face and the zillions of insects). It just glides through the calm, crystal clear water without any noise, just a gentle splash of the pole as it too moves through the water pushing us on past the papyrus and water lilies that are dotted almost everywhere. Apart from the pole the only other noise is that of the polars chatting and laughing amongst themselves and the odd motor boat disturbing the serenity. We seemed to drift here and there in this water labyrinth, sometimes getting out for a walk or a swim or (as if we needed it) a rest.

Occasionally these guys would get a bee in their bonnet about finding a particular bird or animal that we had been discussing the night before. We spent three hours one morning looking for Pel’s fishing owl and finally found one hiding in a densely leafed tree on a remote island. Then we spent the same afternoon searching for a Sititunga another antelope that was so rare and extremely shy that we never actually found one!

Evenings were spent chatting and talking whilst waving away the persistent mosquitoes. These mosquitoes were not, we were assured, the malaria carrying variety, not that it mattered because the insect repellant that we used was capable of killing small animals at twenty paces.

Andre and Annie did their very best to make us all comfortable and served us up basic but excellent fare.

As I said before we were, apart from Klaus and Hilda, the oldest of the group by some years. The other four were all Uni. students taking time out and we became all reasonably friendly except for the ‘oldies’ who seemed to keep themselves aloof. Mind you they were only with us on the delta so I guess it probably wasn’t essential that they get to know us. It might have been though the fact that none of us had khaki safari suits and they felt the odd ones out.

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Polers on the makoros (canoe) in the Okavango delta, Botswana

Polers on the makoros (canoe) in the Okavango delta, Botswana

 

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