A Mokoro Safari
On our road trip through southern Africa, our main goal was to experience as many safaris as possible. We saw the most wildlife in the country of Botswana. The Okavango Delta has a unique ecosystem that doesn’t follow normal rules, and in the middle of the summer (when we teachers have a good break) is the perfect time to see all kinds of birds and mammals.
The Okavango Delta was just recently (2014) inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of its unique flooding pattern and how the flora and fauna has adapted to it. In the middle of what would normally be the dry season, the Okavango River floods, fanning out to form a marshland that is home to many endangered species.
There are not many ways to access the delta, but most people fly into the small city of Maun. We were driving, and we did spend the night in this dusty town, then another night along the way, and finally we arrived in the village of Seronga where we were able to find our accommodations for a couple of nights. The Mbiroba Camp* was everything we’d hoped it would be. Organized by the Okavango Polers Trust, the camp solely exists to provide locals a way to make money doing mokoro safaris for tourists.
We rented one of the chalets and were quite comfortable, and the meals were very well done too. One night we ate kubu, which I may not ever repeat, but it was interesting. We booked our mokoro safari for the next day, and we were off to bed early with anticipation.
Down by the water’s edge there were about 20 mokoros scheduled to go out. Mokoros traditionally are hollowed out from hardwood, but in the present day and in order to preserve the trees, they are now fiberglass. Each poler owns his own boat, and each person belongs to the Trust. The polers grew up in the delta, learning to maneuver their craft by navigating the waters to get somewhere or for fishing. For the majority of the day, we were out in the delta completely on our own except when a mokoro full of locals poled by us.
For anyone who has kayaked, getting into the mokoro was just what would be expected. It seemed at first to be a little wobbly, but once everyone was settled it was quite stable and even a bit comfortable. We wasted no time leaving the banks of the river and soon were splitting the papyrus reeds as we poled off. This part was probably the most unsettling. The poler stands and can see where he is taking us, but as the passengers, the view is from very low and you can mostly see plants.
A relaxing “swish” and “splash” was all that was heard as we quietly made our way through the wetlands. At one point, we did come across a bloat of hippos and spent some time talking to them, photographing them, and keeping our distance as these are the most territorial and potentially vicious animals.
Around lunchtime, we stopped on hard ground, an island, and our guide pulled out our cold lunch of spaghetti and salad, which had been kept cool and was perfect for the middle of an African day. We found shelter under a tree. We stuck very close to the poler as we were in the middle of the wilderness, but the only threatening thing we saw was a massive termite mound. We wandered close enough to take a look, but chose to have a lunch away from the millions of insects.
It was an amazing day boating through the delta, with reeds folding down in front of you to expose the bright blue sky, with birds fishing, and just knowing that this place is special; special for its people, its animals, and its ecosystem.
*Mbiroba Camp – Camping in Botswana can be a hit or miss deal. When we were there, we were very happy with our accommodations, our meals, and our guides, but I’ve read that many of the places have gotten run down. No matter what, going on the cheap and camping out in the African bus will be an adventure!
Have you been to the Okavango Delta?