Published: October 13th 2011August 29th 2011
M – Most people who visit the Okavango Delta go to Maun at the Southern tip of the delta. But we took the road a little less travelled and ventured into the Okavango Panhandle at the North West corner of the delta. Look at the pictures, it’s not very good, and is mobbed with people so don’t go there …
Botswana apparently has a tourism policy of higher prices, lower numbers and with the idea of some degree of ‘exclusivity’ and a smaller impact on its environment. We did our research, whilst Maun has the highly priced tours and accommodation we weren’t totally sold on the exclusivity piece. By now we have gotten used to being on our own. Any other tourist represents a bit of a crowd and we start getting twitchy so Kate came up with an alternative …
According to the guide book a local cooperative called the Okavango Poler’s Trust runs independent Mokoro trips into the Delta from the Okavango Panhandle. The benefit being fewer people, cheaper tours and with the money going direct to the locals. We were keen on this idea. The only difficulty was finding them, but hey we were ready for
a little adventure and I was certainly keen to try camping on an island in the delta!
After much consultation of our maps and cross referencing with the guide book we set off. The border crossing from Namibia into Botswana proved as uneventful as the crossing into Namibia. Our desired destiny was Solonga, about 150km south of Namibia partly into the Delta. The main difficulty was crossing the Okavango River to get to the road to Solonga. The book says you can get a ferry but we couldn’t find it on our maps. After a 120km detour south via another camp that was willing to get us over the river (but for a crazy price) we eventually found ourselves back at Shakawe and the car-ferry station.
We were both excited as we were the only non-locals in line for the ferry and we could see the other bank and that the crossing was a short one. Kate was also excited as the local ladies were selling their equivalent of little donuts which she immediately snapped up. I declined as I am looking after my figure and am off deep fried food. Did anyone believe that? I was actually
excited by the presence of the local police vehicle – an armored scout vehicle. It too was waiting for the ferry and I was dying to get a photo. Despite me letting Kate indulge her donut fetish she wouldn’t let me photo the vehicle in case they arrested me. She was probably right. This will have to join the ‘Rifle Toting Soldier On His BMX’
that I spotted in Honduras in my photo library of ‘Unusual Official Vehicles’ under the sub category of ‘The Ones That Got Away!’.
Anyway, after about an hour wait we finally squeezed onto the free, outboard motor powered ferry with a truck, one other vehicle and about twenty locals. 20 minutes later we reached the other bank safely, but not before I saw my first hippo! Another 2 hours of driving down a reasonably bumpy gravel and sand road and we had arrived at yet another deserted and idyllic camp site.
We couldn’t believe our pitch, right on the banks of the Delta with a 180 degree view (see pictures). Our only company for the night on the site being the security guard who arrived by Mokoro (and then wandered off to patrol)
and the three camp dogs who huddled around our camp fire until it eventually died away. Oh and the sound of Hippos in the distance!
On arrival at the camp we booked a two day, one night trip into the Delta for the next morning. The Polars’ Trust supplied the Mokoro and Guide, we had to supply our tent, sleeping bags and food.
A traditional Mokoro is a hollowed out Sausage Tree that can hold a couple of passengers, their luggage and the Poler himself. They are propelled through the water by the Poler with a long pole a little like a Gondola. However the sides of the Mokoro are only few inches above the water line and the potentially lurking crocodiles. Apparently Mokoros don’t capsize too easily and our guide hadn’t lost anyone yet. This latter point should be noted as they aren’t that stable when filled with 3 people and camping gear and they certainly rock a lot!
We spent the morning travelling in the Mokoro across the Delta to an island to set up camp. The camp site was very tranquil in a little clearing with plenty of space to light a large fire.
This was our first ‘bush camp’ with truly nothing between us and the animals. There are no wild cats in this part of the Delta so I took a little stroll outside of the camp to get a feel for the island. No sooner had I walked out of the clearing than I was surrounded by what looked to be fresh Elephant droppings. Given our encounters in Etosha I was more than a little nervous. On my return I passed on the news to Kate although I tried to play it down a little. This little smokescreen was blown away when Kate went outside the camp to use our ‘Bush Toilet’. Our guide told us that Elephants don’t like smoke. Suffice to say we had a rather large fire that night which we kept going throughout the night.
After the heat of the day had died down our guide then took us back out on the Delta to explore. We stayed out until sunset which was amazing (see photos). During the evening and night we heard plenty of animal noises. The loudest being the Elephants and Hippos. They sounded very close but I found out later that apparently a
Hippos roar can apparently be heard up to 5 miles away.
The next day we took a 2 hour walking tour around the island. This was another first for me and I was a little apprehensive at first and after our first Baboon sightings I quickly found a large stick to carry ... Scroll down for more photos.
There are more photos below