A Sinking Feeling in the Okavango

A strange thing happened as we approached Maun, safari capital of Botswana and gateway to the Okavango Delta.

I realised that I couldn’t wait to get back into the wilderness! Despite what I thought were overwhelming memories of tiredness, coldness and minimal sanitation, my brain seemed to have registered bush camping as exciting and adventurous. Either my definition of fun was being altered by Africa, or I was undergoing some kind of reaction to the malaria tablets!
The Okavango Delta is a strange place. It is a vast, flat wetland area (15 000 square kilometers) consisting of water channels, lagoons, swamps and islands, one of which was the location of our bush camping escapade. We were to traverse the Delta via the traditional mode of transport: mokoros, dugout canoes made from ebony or sausage tree logs. Apparently the problem with these (not the only problem, as I would shortly find out) is that it takes 80 years for the trees to grow, so fibreglass mokoros are beginning to overtake the traditional version (quite literally).

We were greeted at the water’s edge by our local ‘polers’, who packed all our luggage – overnight bags, food, water, tents and (worryingly) a spade - into their mokoros. With all the elegance of an African elephant, I tumbled into a sausage-tree mokoro which wobbled perilously from side to side, and vowed not to move an inch for the next three hours. Once fellow overlander Dan was seated behind me, our poler Rogers jumped on board and we set off.

It was baking hot. Thankfully we had been warned of sun-burn potential on the water and I had virtually bathed in sun cream before setting off. Aside from some very irksome spiders and other insects that kept joining me in the mokoro, it was incredibly peaceful and relaxing as we meandered their way through reeds and lily pads on the shallow water.

Until, that is, the peace was broken as I became aware of sitting in a shallow pool of water. I wailed “There’s water coming in!!” only for Rogers to reply flatly “No, there isn’t”, whilst blatantly bailing water out from the back. Before you could say ‘Titanic’, another bigger (fibreglass) mokoro from our group pulled alongside and I jumped ship – leaving Dan and Rogers to pole to a nearby island for emergency repairs. Finally we arrived intact at our destination, moored the mokoros and waded the last stretch to arrive on a secluded beach.

Before setting up camp, the males in the group were told to have a pee around the perimeter to mark our territory in true primitive style! In the absence of a fence, this was supposed to help deter wild animals. In the Serengeti, our campsites did actually have some (however unpleasant) facilities but here, there was nothing. The reason for bringing the spade became apparent – a hole was dug behind a large tree for the toilet, and the spade was leant against the tree to indicate occupancy!

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