The Okavango Delta

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Our next adventure was a 2 night, 3 day trek in the Okavango Delta. It was a half day drive to the campsite at the mouth of the delta. When we arrived, we were given a brief overview of the next few days. Then we set up our camp, had lunch, and off to the bar to have a few drinks. We chatted and danced, well into the evening, with the tour leaders and the guys who worked at the campsite. Our five AM wake up call was less than pleasant. Nonetheless, we packed up again and piled into a truck that drove us the hour or so to the entrance point. The Okavango Delta is between 50 and 80 000 square kilometers depending on the season. It is a labyrinth of waterways, shifting islands, and reed covered marshes. It is home to thousands of animals, and a huge array of plants and animals.
When we arrived at the entrance point, we were greeted by a bunch of local villagers that would be our polers and our guides for the three days.
We paired off into twos, and were given our own poler for the weekend. Our poler was a young guy named “Life”. Life quickly became Kelsi and my new favourite person; he was laid back, loved to dance and sing, and had as much fun laughing at Kelsi and I as we did at each other. Plus, our new favourite game was coming up with generic phrases about life that could literally be used in each situation. When Life would push our boat past all the other boats, we would say “That’s just Life in the fast lane”. When we’d cruise through different waterways from the rest of the group, we would nod our heads and agree that “sometimes Life takes you on an unexpected path”. Then we’d curl over in laughter at how funny we thought we were. This continued relentlessly for three days. We’re such losers.
The first thing we did was pile into the macorro boats. Macorros are small, hollowed out, wooden boats. Each boat held two people, and a poler. Kelsi and I climbed in the front as Life gave us a push forward and climbed in. The boats moved through the delta by being pushed along with long poles (thus the name “polers” for the guides).
It was about an hour and a half to our camp by boat. Life pushed us along easily through the tall reeds and lily pad filled ponds. The passages were tiny. They were hardly wide enough for our little boat to make it through.
The entire trip, the reeds kept smacking Kelsi and I in the face. It was difficult to see what was going on around us. But that was okay, we just kept noting how “sometimes Life throws many obstacles your way”. The puns made the ride all worth it.
Finally we had arrived at camp. It wasn’t much, just a small island with enough space to set up our tents and a communal area for eating and bonfires. The whole camp was set up under a giant sausage tree. This was the first time we’d seen a sausage tree close up. It was finally possible to see how massive the sausage fruit really were. I went into my tent one afternoon, and when I came out, one had landed right outside the door. It was huge, and easily weighed a couple pounds. I was lucky that it had missed hitting me in the head. That thing would have knocked me out for sure!
Our fear afternoon was lazy. We couldn’t leave the camp without a guide, so we lounged around and napped for the first hour or so. By midday it was too hot to be in the tents anymore, so we grabbed Life and Manda and a few of us headed to the swimming pool.
The swimming pool was just an area of the swampy water that was slightly deeper and had less reeds around it. The water came up to our waists, and we had a few meters to swim around in. Kelsi, Gina and I had way too much fun koalaing each other (leaping and clinging on to another person with all fours) and attempting to take underwater photos in brown water. We completely disregarded the “no splashing” rule that was in effect to avoid crocodiles. Oh well, we survived!
By late afternoon it was time for our first walk. We split off into smaller groups of five. Our group was Kelsi, Falafel, Gina, Anisha and I. We set out with two guides : Life and Brian (And yes, I made the Monty Python connection, even if they were completely oblivious to it).
I have two words to say about our walking safaris: Sticky grass. Sticky grass looks very similar to the long grass with fuzzy spurs on the end that we were constantly walking through. Only occasionally, the long grass would be a patch of sticky grass that would death cling to your clothes, never to come off! Okay, perhaps a bit dramatic, but it wasn’t pleasant. Note to everyone trekking in the Okavango Delta, don’t wear yoga pants! By the time I was half way through our walk, my favourite black Lululemon pants were completely green with sticky grass. You had to pull each needle off individually (which took me about a week of working at it on the bus). I heard a bunch of remedies: wash it, burn it, stick tape to it. In the end, it was a painfully slow process of doing it by hand.
Other than sticky grass, the Delta walks were actually quite fun and informative. We didn’t see a tonne of animals. I had expected this, from what we were told by other groups, but that was no problem; the scenery was beautiful and the guides were super knowledgeable. We came across lots of zebras and birds; we saw frogs and grasshoppers and all sorts of crazy looking insects. We did come across a number of fuzzy caterpillars, especially in our campsite. They were cute to look at, but they attached themselves to people and gave them really itchy rashes that lasted for days. Mostly, our walks consisted of looking at the ground avoiding anteater holes and staying safe from prickly acacia trees.
At one point, I caught my foot on an acacia branch, tripped forward and scraped the top of my foot on one of the spikes. Kelsi began laughing at my weak attempt to free myself from the branch. Then she fell in an anteater hole. Karma’s a bitch.
The walk finished around sunset, and then it was time for dinner. We all hung around the campfire for the evening, but had an early night. Our next walk was scheduled for 6:30 the next morning.
Our morning walk was 4 hours long and was before breakfast. We were all unimpressed at having to go on a four hour hike without a full stomach, but after a small rusk bar and a cup of tea, we were refreshed enough to start the trek. Our second walk was similar to the first. Brian explained about all the flora and fauna and we became experts in identifying animal droppings. We also got to try some red star berries that looked like grapes but tasted like apples. It was really neat to have Brian as our guide. He is one of the few guides that was originally a bushman. His perspectives on the trees and the animals was so interesting.
The baobab tree, the one with the massive trunk that is so often seen here in Africa, was particularly special to Brian. He believes that the ancestors from his tribe live within the tree. You can hear their voices in the night, that is why you should not camp directly beneath one. The spirits in the tree will steal the voices of enemies that decide to camp under the safety of a baobab.
Good to know!
Brian also taught us some of his bushman language; finally we had found an African language with clicks! This was very exciting to me. We learned Natambooka (Good Morning) and Hongu Mana (Thank You). Back at camp, we played a traditional bushman game called xhonu. Don’t ask me how to pronounce it. The “x” is some crazy click sound that I couldn’t make if my life depended on it. The game was similar to the Malawian Bao game, but had more complex rules. The guys said that if two people are really good, the game can go on all day.
Our second afternoon was lazy as well. We arrived home from our walk late morning and had another nap. Afterwards, about 6 of us ganged up on Sox at a game of xhonu and got our asses kicked. When games and lunch were over, we had Hector teach us how to pole.
We were disasters. It is much more difficult to steer the boat than it looks. Kelsi and I spent more time stuck in the reeds laughing than we did moving. But we didn’t flip the boat and end up in the water, so I count that as a win!
In the evening, everyone got back in the macorros to watch the sunset. Life pushed us along to a lake about 45 minutes from camp where we hung around waiting for the sun to go down and watching for hippos. We never found any hippos, but we did make lily pad necklaces and I got to try my hand at poling again. I hadn’t improved much in two hours, but the open water made it easier to move around. The three of us almost missed watching the sunset because we were laughing so hard at my inability to push the boat straight. Finally Life had had enough and he took over.
I decided to ride in the boat backwards on the way home. My thought process was that the reeds wouldn’t hit me in the face that way. Instead, I sat there in constant anticipation of being smacked in the back of the head. My anxiety was so hilarious to Kelsi that she was left in wheezing laughter for the entire 45 minutes home. That combined with our still constant Life puns and we were exhausted by the time we arrived back at camp.
“Kelsi?” I asked at one point “what would you do if you turned around and Life just handed you a bunch of lemons?” We really are special.
Back at camp we had dinner and then dancing around the fire. All the locals got together to sing and dance traditional African songs by the campfire. It was really fun to watch, and they even got all us up off our seats to join in.
The next morning we were up early to head home. Life poled us back to the truck and we said goodbye to him from there. Quite an incredible three day trip!

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