Back to basics in the Okavango Delta

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Aerial view of Okavango Delta

Post written by Laura

The Okavango Delta is a vast inland river delta in Botswana and home to one of the largest concentrations of animals in Africa.

My daughter Zoe and I spent 3 days in this African wetland wilderness as part of our Intrepid ‘Okavango Experience‘, traversing the delta by mokoro, a small wooden canoe.

Some of our group had been anxious about the possibility of encountering hippo’s (one of Africa’s most dangerous animals and more than capable of overturning a mokoro) but thankfully we were assured that we would be perfectly safe as the hippos don’t venture into the shallow waters used by the mokoro people. Oh, but don’t put your hands in the water just in case there are crocodiles… and also please watch out as sometimes spiders drop into your boat…

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Excited and in high spirits we, along with our 20 new Intrepid friends were driven from our campsite in Maun to the edge of the Delta. This was where Jay (our Intrepid leader) and Raynard (our chef) co-ordinated the unloading of our luggage, tents, mattresses, fold up chairs, table, food and cooking equipment ready for loading into the awaiting mokoros.

They worked in conjunction with the ‘polers’ that is the small group of local people who would, in the manner of Venetian gondoliers, transport us to the remote island in the heart of the Okavango Delta.

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Empty mokoro’s ready for loading up

We had to leave our main luggage behind in Maun in the overlanding truck and just take the basics needed for the next 3 days. The polers expertly packed the mokoro’s and, using the tent mattresses, made two comfy chairs in each.

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Nick and Miranda en-route to the remote island

We all boarded the mokoros and settled down for the next hour as we gently and quietly glided through the reeds of the waterways.

This was a most relaxing way to travel and at one point we all stopped when an elephant was spotted a short distance away. We took it in turns to carefully stand up and peer over the reeds.

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Setting up the camp

We arrived at the empty patch of island which was to be our campsite for the next 3 days and, having no facilities at all, reminded me of Bear Grylls Island. However compared with this as a baseline, our little adventure would be luxury with our tents, 3 meals a day and the expert local polers looking after us!

We were warned, however, to keep our tents zipped and our boots inside at all times to prevent snakes, spiders or scorpions from entering!

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The polers assisted us all with the setting up of our tents and the rest of the camp. Under the direction of Raynard, they would spend the next 3 days helping to prepare our food, do the washing up and and take us on mini expeditions into the surrounding delta.

Hygiene was taken very seriously and all plates, cutlery and cooking utensils are cleaned and rinsed in a mild disinfectant solution. We all had to wash our hands in a bowl of disinfectant before meals and were encouraged to use hand sani as often as possible.

We had previously been informed that towards the end of the mini trip the drinking water (in a couple of large containers) tends to run out. With this in mind Zoe and I had taken additional drinking water of our own. The alternative was to drink delta water. The locals drink this straight from the delta although they would boil it for us more sensitive tourists to drink!

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Toilet facilities

We were aware that this part of the trip would entail an open air dug out toilet but we didn’t know we would have the luxury of a seat! This was situated a little out of the way behind the main campsite although it was still somewhat exposed!

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Having a dip

Following our first lunch we walked for about 5 minutes to a delta swimming area! We were assured there would be no hippos or crocs and that it would be perfectly safe to swim in the crystal clear water in this part of the delta.

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At 4 pm we were split into small groups and the polers lead us on a walking tour of the island. Although technically an island, this is a large stretch of land located in the middle of the delta and has an abundance of animals including lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, giraffes, ostriches and hippos.

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Ardvark hole

And ardvarks… On this occasion we didn’t see many animals although our guide pointed out elephant tracks, various plants and several ardvark holes.

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Every day is a sunny day in the delta during August. Throughout the entire 10 day trip, we saw 10 fabulous sunsets and this day was no exception.

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It was getting dark as we returned to the campsite. Darkness quickly falls at around 6 pm each night. Raynard and the non-trekking polers had prepared a delicious meal which we enjoyed shortly afterwards as we sat around the fire.

We were warned not to wander away from the campsite especially at night. If we shone our torch into the darkness and saw red eyes looking back at us, we had to be wary. But green eyes were apparently OK… Thankfully we didn’t encounter any eyes or any animals prowling around our campsite. They are usually wary of humans and do tend to stay out of the way.

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Following a relatively comfortable nights’ sleep, with just the sounds of the delta all around us (although broken at times by the odd campsite snorer) we got up early the following morning for a 7 am wildlife walk. After a hot drink and a crunchy buttery rusk all 22 of us were guided along in the cool morning air for about 15 minutes until we reached a stretch of water.

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The polers used a couple of mokoro’s to ferry us in small groups backwards and forwards until we were all at the other side of the water. We then split into our small groups and were led back into the bush.

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Wow! It didn’t take long before we came across a group of about 20 zebras! We stood quietly and watched for a while as they milled around.

We walked for a couple of hours, constantly on the lookout for wildlife. We saw some deer-like springbok’s and a couple of ostriches and more zebras. We had a short break before making our way back to the campsite.

Raynard and team had produced a delicious breakfast which included scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, vegetarian sausages, bread rolls and a delicious bean mixture.

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We had the rest of the day to relax and enjoy the delta. We spent this time chatting to our fellow guests, reading, swimming in the delta and practising our poling skills. And chillin’ with a beer or glass (well… mug…) of wine that many of us had brought with us as part of our essential supplies!

At one point the polers started to panic as one of our group ventured to a deeper part of the delta… they called out to him and thankfully he quickly returned, safely back from any potential hungry hippos…

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One of the highlights of this Intrepid sub-trip was later in the afternoon when we were all seated back in the mokoros and had a cruise around the delta in the late sunshine. It was lovely and relaxing to be ferried along through the reeds.

After about 25 minutes we all stopped and disembarked from the mokoros. The polers led us on a walk through the bush and we spotted a small group of elephants!

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We all stood silently in awe of these huge creatures and watched as they ambled through the trees and stood a short distance in front of us.

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Looking rather chuffed at seeing elephants!

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We walked in the golden light of the sunset back to the mokoro’s and were then transported back to the campsite.

Upon arrival back the campsite had been decorated with small lights and the fire was well under way.

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Star-gazing

Thanks to the cloudless night sky and almost zero light pollution we were able to see millions of stars each night.

So, my Samsung phone didn’t quite pick out the millions of stars but you can hear the frogs chirping away in the darkness…

After dinner we were treated to some African entertainment by the polers who thanked us for being their guests.

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The following morning and it was time to pack up the campsite, re-load the mokoros and set off back to civilisation.

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On the way back we were taken to the polers village and shown how their mud hut homes were built.

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This is where the polers make their local beer. And to finish off, Raynard handed out delicious African cakes for everyone… they were deep fried and tasted like doughnuts!

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Intrepid group with our polers! (Photo thanks to Tori)

 

Summary

What a fantastic experience and definitely a big highlight of our trip! It was wonderful to ‘go back to basics’ and live a simple off-grid life with no mod cons for a few days. No stresses, great company and a lot of fun!

The luxury version of an Okavango Delta trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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