The Okavango Delta is a plain of wetlands enclosing a maze of shallow waterways that wind through tall reeds and thick pads of lilies. This flooded basin formed because the Okavango River flowing into the Kalahari desert of southern Africa has no outlet. The main mode of transport through the delta’s water thoroughfares is in a mokoro, a sort of canoe traditionally made of a hollowed-out tree but today also made with fiberglass. They are propelled by a local guide, a master in balancing who stands in the back of the mokoro and pushes it forward with a tall pole.
It was a bit of a trek to our first camp on an island in the Okavango Delta. The first day of the journey was spent driving from Botswana across the border to Bagani on the Namibia Caprivi Strip. There we camped overlooking the Okavango River at a grassy campsite (it is alway a major plus cleanliness-wise when there is grass instead of dirt or sand) with a hammock and an outdoor bar.
The next day we continued our drive back into Botswana, where we arrived at Seronga, a small village at the tip of the Okavango Delta. A bunch of guides were waiting for us on the shore of the delta with their mokoros and long wooden poles.
In a matter of minutes, our luggage, tents, food, and cooking stuff were all packed into the mokoros. Adam and I hopped into a mokoro, trusting the skills of our captain Thomas to keep our mokoro balanced so us and our luggage wouldn’t end up in the delta. (Thomas turned out to be a very adept guide, both with his balancing ability and his knowledge of the birdlife in the delta.)
I thought the mokoro ride was just going to be a means of transportation that we had to endure to get to our campsite. Instead, it was one of the most calming and peaceful experiences I’ve ever had. I can’t remember ever feeling that relaxed, not even at the spa.
Quiet except for the light lapping sound of the water, the blazing sun beating on me, egrets, fish eagles, and herons soaring around us – it was so relaxing that it was impossible to stay awake. I dozed as we slowly drifted along through the tall reeds and lily pads, rousing only when we encountered a hippo in the shallow water. (Thomas turned us around before it could decide to charge at us.)
Before we knew it, Thomas was gliding our mokoro smoothly onto the shore of the island. The two hour ride was over much too soon.
We set up camp in a clearing on the island amidst the trees and bushes. This was our first time truly roughing it at a “bush camp” – which meant there were no toilets, showers, or running water of any sort. It was just us and the wilderness. I was not at all excited about this, but I reminded myself that it is all part of experiencing new things. Plus, it was just for one night. Plus, despite not having any kitchen facilities or running water, our brilliant chef Charles somehow made us an amazing dinner of fried chicken.
The next morning, we spent a few hours zigzagging around the island on a “bush walk,” checking out the native plants, including sage and a stick-like plant the locals chew on to brush their teeth (which must have some magical ingredient in it because all the locals have the whitest teeth), and running into a dazzle of zebras eating breakfast, a trotting warthog, and some impalas.
I’m not sure how after our confusing meander around the island, but we made it back to our camp and piled our stuff back into the mokoros. Another relaxing, too-quick mokoro ride through the grassy swamp and we were at our next camp on Gao Island. It was a great change from the roughing it of the night before – there was a well-stocked bar with couches and hammocks and a cool roofless bathroom complete with flushing toilets and hot showers. And the best thing – there were huge tents already set up for us with actual beds in them!
It was a day for just chillin’ at the campsite. I made a nice dent in the Steve Jobs biography, a fun book to read in Africa because of the contrast between the undeveloped remoteness of the world in which I’m currently living and the perpetually advancing technology world out there that Steve helped create.
Late afternoon arrived, and our guides and their mokoros returned to the campsite to take us to watch the sunset from the marshy reeds of the delta. The backdrop of the sun setting looked like a piece of artwork rather than real life with the almost still silhouette of the mokoros and tall reeds against the orange-red of the lower sky.
After a cheeseburger dinner – my favorite, thank you Charles! – and a mosquito-filled and dark but still uniquely cool outdoor shower under the stars and moon, I crashed to the deep throaty snorting sound of hippos grunting in the delta right outside our tent.
One last mokoro ride in the morning took us back to our waiting truck, which we reloaded to drive us back over the border to Namibia to a quiet campsite overlooking the Okavango River. Tomorrow we will drive westerly through Namibia along the river to a campsite near Rundu.