Chilling in the Delta

Trip Start Aug 17, 2003
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Trip End Jun 04, 2004


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Flag of Botswana  ,
Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Into Botswana, for a complete change of scenery... After weeks of nothing but sand and very parched landscapes, the Okavango Delta is quite a shock to the system - suddenly the landscape is lush green, with lots of plants and trees!

We spent 3 days in the Delta, being paddled in in mekoro, the traditional dugout canoes of the region (although these were made from traditional fibreglass...) These are a bit like punts - powered along by pushing a very long pole against the river bed, and then using it as a rudder to also steer. They seem to be much much less balanced than the punts I've been in though - although the polers were totally at home and able to keep perfect balance while pushing along 2 people and all their luggage!

We paddled through narrow channels of reeds, which looked impassable, but the plants parted out of our way... It was incredible to be at the level of the water, with reeds and papyrus towering over us. And it was so chilled out. We also saw quite a few hippos, but kept well away from them as they are pretty dangerous (hippos kill more people every year than lions do).

We reached our campsite, a clearing on an island, and set up camp. This was bush camping - no toilets, no showers for 3 days, and in an area where animals were obviously very used to being (there was a LOT of elephant and hippo dung around!!) I somehow ended up having my tent on the end of the row, quite a long way from the fire which was built to keep the animals away. That got quite disconcerting at night when it was pitch black walking to the tents (no lights!) and we could hear hippos splashing and grunting just off the shore. It was pretty scary being there on my own!! I decided that whatever happened there was no way I was going to leave my tent before dawn - if I needed the toilet, I'd have to find an alternative solution!!

The next day we went on a 3 hour walk with our guides. They started by warning us that these animals are dangerous, and shouldn't be underestimated... If we see an elephant, we should keep our distance, and should never ever get between a mother and her calf. If we see a lion, we should stay close together in a group and whatever happens, NOT run. IF someone runs, they will get chased and killed. If we see a buffalo, we should run like hell for the nearest tree and climb it. Feeling fully confident after this little pep talk (!!?!?!), we headed out to walk in the area.

It was really interesting being guided - as well as seeing many animals, they taught us lots about animal tracks, the plants and trees, and what the fruits can be used for. We saw elephants, zebra, various antelope, warthogs, baboons and buffalo from a distance. They also pointed out a marula tree, the fruit of which is eaten by elephants, and then ferments in their stomachs, making them pissed! There's a Baileys-like liqueur here which is made from these fruits, called Amarula. We also saw sausage trees, which have fruits which look like big German salamis. Apparently the fruit is edible, but the ones we saw looked like very dry fibres - didn't look very appetising.

In the afternoon, they took us for a swim. We assumed we'd be paddling off to some enclose, crocodile and hippo enclosed pool, but no, they took us about 20m out, and let us splash around in the stream just by the camp. The same stream that we'd heard hippos in the night before.... Quite worrying! But once we saw them all jump in, we figured it had to be ok. Apparently hippos only come into the shallows during the evening, so they would have been a long way away - but that still didn't explain crocodiles... All passed without any problems though.

That evening we heard a lion roaring again - it was a long way away, but mixed with the hippos (which were very close during the night), it was pretty disconcerting! But we all survived fine - and the next day we paddled back to our campsite. It was such a joy to have a shower and be able to feel clean for the first time in 3 days!!
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