Mokoro Trip on the Okavango Delta

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Africa » Botswana » North-West » Okavango Delta
July 14th 2012
Published: October 1st 2012
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Getting from Livingstone to Maun, Botswana was quite an epic trip. It began with me going to the local shared taxi stand with, Reto a guy from Switzerland I had met. We found a taxi going to Kazangula, the border town with Botswana, but had to wait about an hour for it to fill. To pass the time I played some draughts with some bottletops with a few locals.

At the border, getting stamped out of Zambia was straightforward. But to get over to the Botswana side we had to take a short ferry ride, then walk up 500m to the immigrationo office. After getting stamped into Botswana, my next challenge was to try get a lift to Maun. Public transport in Botswana is scarce at best. This meant hitchhiking was my best/only option. I had bought the Zambian soccer jersey, while I was there and decided it might not be a bad idea to throw it on, hoping that it mihgt improve my chances of getting a lift from a football loving Zambian.

This proved a shrewd move when one of the first vehicles to pass through the border was a truck being driven by Joseph, a Zambian, wearing the same jersey as me. He wasn't going to Maun, but agreed to take me as far as Nata, 300 km south, where there was a turn off for Maun. His truck couldn't get over 80 kmph so it took over 4 hours to get down there, but I couldn't complain. We got a few funny looks from people trying to figure out the African and white guy both wearing Zambian jerseys in the cab of his truck. I was amazed at how barren Botswana was for huge stretches. We cruised through kilometres of literally nothing and nobody, except for maybe the odd farm and petrol station

At Nata, I got another lift towards Maun after waiting less than 15 minutes. In contrast to the truck, this guy sped at over 120 kmph, despite it being pitch black an hour in and there being quite a bit of wildlife on the road. Beside me in the car was a teenage guy who was heading back to Maun from school in Nata - a 300km give or take commute. In Maun, after a little difficulty at first, I got a taxi to the Old Bridge Backpackers.

The next morninng, I was up early to get on a mokoro trip I had arranged the previous night on the Okavango Delta. A mokoro is effectively a dugout canoe, that is used to get around the Delta. The Okavanago Delta, formed where the Okavango River reaches a tectonic trough in the basin of the Kalahari. All the water reaching the Delta is evaporated or transpired and does not flow to a see or ocean. This leaves a unique series of waterways that can be navigated and are full of wildlife.

After getting a speedboat to the starting point, I ended up getting a mokoro to myself with my poler (the guy who uses a pole in the water to navigate the mokoro around). We spent about 2 hours going through the delta, which is full of a unique type of reed and has some incredible scenery, but it did get a bit monotonous after a while. I was happy when we reached an island and got out of the mokoro to explore.

This was really enjoyable as we came across a herd of zebra and wildebeest together after only 10 minutes. We inched closer, but they were very nervous and even though we were about a 100m away they ran off into the distance. It was incredible to get so close on foot though. We saw plenty more impala, warthogs and other antelopes in the distance. We also saw two elephants in the distance. We didn't see any giraffe, despite Jacob, my poler, picking up some of their dung to explain the difference between the male and female dung.

Back in the mokoro, the Delta seemed more beautiful in the evening light and it was far more enjoyable. All of sudden, Jacob turned direction and headed in a right angle through some thick reeds. He had spotted some elephants and after a few minutes we came across 4 of the biggest elephants I have seen. From the little glorified canoe I was in, this was fairly humbling. One of them spotted us and let out a trumpet. At this stage, Jacob began to back up as he was making his way towards us and clearly wanted to cross where we were. For a few seconds while Jacob struggled to get the mokoro into reverse, I was getting pretty nervous.

Back at the Old Bridge I had a quiet enough night despite a party building up around the campfire. Unbeknownst to me until this evening, it was Botswana's national holiday weekend. As tempted as I was to stay, I didn't want to waste any time I had in Namibia, so I went to my tent early, to catch my bus early the next morning.

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