Saturday, December 6, 2008

Into the delta (Nov. 30/08 - Okavango Delta, Botswana)

The boat ride out into the Okavango Delta this morning was a fast, winding ride that reminded me a lot of the airboat rides in Florida. The waterways twist through the delta, not much wider than the boat in places and as little as a couple feet deep. It took about an hour on the jet boat to reach the spot farther into the delta where we met up with the dugout "mokoro" canoes. We loaded in day packs, sleeping bags, water, tents, matresses, food, etc. and were on our way. Each boat sat two people, some gear, and a local guy who stood at the back and pushed the boat along with a 12 foot pole (he's called a poler). The first hour or so was through a shallow swampty area where the path was only as wide as the boats. Tall grasses and lily pads lined the path, and water lillies were everywhere. Eventually, we broke out into the main channel, which was moving a bit faster, about 10 feet wide, and up to about 6 feet deep. Our poler's name was Kaka and he pointed out tiny little white frogs clinging to the reeds, and told us about all the hippos that he was watching out for as he paddled. That was why he was sticking to the edges of the wider pools, as the hippos like to hang out underwater in the deep parts. They're apparently the most dangerous animal in Africa, and often you don't even know they're there since they walk along the bottom.

Eventually, we pulled up to a beach and walked out onto our campsite that would be home for the next couple days. There wasn't much to it - an open area for a campfire and makeshift kitchen, little flat areas in the bush for tents, and a designated hole in the bush for the washroom. Finally - roughing it!

The clouds have mooved in, but it was still damn hot, so we decided to brave the water for a swim. One of the polers went out in a boat to check for hippos, and once we got the all clear, the first brave people went in. The water was great - cool, refreshing, and clean. Ben thought it would be a great idea to play "hippo chicken" and see who would swim upstream the farthest into uncleared hippo territory before chickening out. Needless to say, he didn't have any takers! We killed the rest of the afternoon by playing cards, reading, napping, and trying our hand at poling the mokoros. Ken was a natural, and one guy fell in. It was like a challenge on Survivor or something!

Several of the ladies who poled the mokoros here sat down with a pile of palm fronds and began to weave beautiful bracelets on the spot - they were so nice, and they only wanted 15 Pula for them, which is less than $2.50, so pretty much everyone picked one out.

We split into groups of five for a few hours, as the guides led us out into the wilderness for a game walk. Most of the surrounding land is flat and covered with waist high grasses with clumps of trees and the occasional termite mound (which we've seen up to 20 feet high, by the way!). We were reminded right away that we really are camping in animal territory, as hippo and lion tracks were found within minutes of leaving our tents. We walked for a long time and covered a lot of ground, studying the landscape for wildlife and watching the ground for the frequent anteater holes and hazardously huge piles of elephant crap. The guide showed us all kinds of plants that can be used as toothpaste and sunscreen, plus which animals eat what and how the elephants dig these big holes with their feet to get mud to smear on themselves. We climbed up onto a termite mound for a vista over the marshy area ahead of us, and right away we noticed big splashes in the pond about half a mile away. Hippos! With binoculars, we confirmed that two big tubby hippos were bobbing around in the water, with just their ears and faces poking out. We were pretty pleased to see hippos, especially from a safe distance!

We pressed on and soon spotted an elephant way off at the edge of the bushes, flapping its ears and munching on grass. We decided to try and get a bit closer, so we took off our shoes and waded through knee-deep swampy water to get a better view. When we got to a safe spot with a great view, there he was out in the open, reaching up with his trunk to collect fruit off a big fig tree. He didn't last long though - a split second later, he turned around and disappeared into the bushes. We waited for a few minutes, but figured that he had moved on. So we headed back in the direction of camp, stopping to check out a bird that looked like a grey cockatoo, to learn about how you can use the sausage-shaped fruit from a sausage tree to kill a crocodile, and to help Ken when he fell through the ground into a hidden aardvark hole. The sun set and turned the sky an electric pink colour as we headed back to camp and awaited dinner around the fire. We were also briefed on the procedures to use in the event that you have to get up at night to use the bathroom - with the possibility of lions and elephants outside your door, you have to be careful!

The frogs and insects launched into their nightly chorus as we fell asleep, the intensity of which was definitely a lot greater here than in any of the civilized camp sites we've stayed at so far.

1 comment:

  1. this part of your trip sounds AMAZING!!! I love the fact that you've left the safety and comfort of the truck behind, to really camp. So cool!!!! The swim must have been super refreshing. I don't blame you one bit for not wanting to play 'hippo chicken', but it's hilarious nonetheless! Man do I ever want to be on that trip with you right now!!!