Botswana: Dreaming on the Delta – Part Four

Continued from
Botswana: Dreaming on the Delta – Part Three

Lotus flower in Botswana's Okavango River

As the Earth’s largest inland delta, Botswana’s Okavango is graced with tremendous amounts of water. The Okavango River system fans out like a huge hand, as if welcoming you to come aboard for a sail. (Or, smacking you for being foolish enough to float on a liquid highway for hippos and crocs. Think of it as a Rorschach test.)

One of our greatest joys in Botswana was our time spent on this river, gliding through inlets and lagoons lined with papyrus reeds and scattered with lotus flowers.

*Sigh.*

In Setswana, a canoe is called a mokoro, traditionally dug from a straight ebony or kigelia tree. The mokoros used by &Beyond Africa are made of fiberglass, but as you glide along the Okavango in them, you can still manage to feel at one with nature. At the Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp, as part of a routine itinerary, you can take mokoro safaris and a pontoon boat ride to a glassy lagoon. By all means, do both.

We shared our mokoro adventure with Barb and Jeff, a honeymooning American couple in their late 30s; Jeff had been on safari a few times, but like us, this was Barb’s first. We’d enjoy a few other safari outings and meals with them throughout our three-night stay at Nxabega, which, along with the company of our warm and funny guides, KB and Moffat, made an incredible, foreign experience feel more familiar.

After an hour’s safari on land, KB parked our little group at a scruffy, shaded riverbank where a few upturned mokoros awaited us on shore. Climbing in proved undramatic (if not exactly elegant), and with Moffat standing at the helm, guiding us gondola-style with a long pole, off we glided through the tall, whispery reeds into the silver-morning horizon.

Two mokoros await; KB takes Barb and Jeff for a glide on the Okavango

After only a few minutes of sluicing slowly forward, we spotted a small white frog with burgundy speckles clinging to a single reed. During the day, these little guys are completely quiet, lest they draw the attention of hungry herons, hawks and eagles, but at night they erupt in metallic chirping, a relentless love song in the dark.

Soon afterward, a red-and-blue mottled frog would plop straight from the reeds into Barb and Jeff’s canoe. Barb squeaked as gracefully as she could, extremely far from thrilled; meanwhile, Adam and I seethed with jealousy.

White herons and other Okavango birds of prey keep the reed frogs quiet during the day

From a little ways ahead, we heard KB say that in daylight, these quiet waterways still sometimes serve as transportation routes for Okavango villagers in their own mokoros; at night, though, they belong to the hippos. All along our path, we saw wide sections of  trampled reeds in the shallow river, makeshift roads created by hippo hooves.

At a few points we saw what appeared to be small, jungly outcroppings of land, and were told that these had once merely been termite mounds. In the Okavango, many animals use the tallest mounds as safety lookouts, and during especially long bouts of surveillance, well…poop happens. In a region where every creature’s poop contains at least some seeds, you’ll often see trees, vines, and even pretty wildflowers growing out of a termite mound — if you can still see the mound at all. Especially on or near riverbanks, you get enough greenery going and you’ve got a mini-ecosystem unto itself.

Clockwise from top L: KB, Barb and Jeff; yours truly, happy as a clam; heading back to shore; and, see that tree? It's part of a termite mound "island"

Later that same day, all the guests at Nxabega were taken out for a pontoon boat ride. Our two truckloads of people required two boats, and after yet another ungainly boarding, we all zoomed off into the cool breeze. In this part of the Okavango, papyrus reeds grew strong and soft along narrow river lanes, their root system keeping the water crystal-clean.

Papyrus reeds line parts of the Okavango River; at Nxabega, you can take a pontoon boat ride to see for yourselves

KB and Moffat showed Adam and Jeff how to fish the river. Our guides caught actual fish while we caught blurry photos of huge fish eagles; in America, these birds would be considered our national emblem. As the sun began to blush, we kept an eye out for hippos and crocodiles (though we saw none). We puzzled over leafy starbursts on the water’s surface, aquatic plants that looked like book-pressed artichokes.

From left, Moffat and KB on our pontoon boat ride

Ripples, reeds and leafy starbursts on the Okavango

In our whole lives, we’d never seen a sunset like the one we saw that night. The sun seemed to glow hot and strong as the sky grew darker, and tinged the reed-tops with tangerine and pink. As the frogs began their shimmery, pinging tune, the clouds vanished into a suddenly scarlet atmosphere, and we all gazed in awe. Almost under my breath, I said to Adam:

“Thank you, Botswana.”

Continued in
Botswana: Dreaming on the Delta – Part Five

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See also
Off to (a Birthday Safari in) Africa
Africa: Turns Out, It’s Really There
Logistics of an African Safari

South Africa: From Plains to Mountains
Southern Africa: A “Spafari” Adventure – Part 1
Southern Africa: A “Spafari” Adventure – Part 2

and
TWT Travel Binder: South Africa
TWT Travel Binder: Botswana
TWT Travel Binder: Tanzania

Comments

  1. Beautiful pics. Heard so many good things about the Okavango Delta and we’re hoping we’d be able to check it out ourselves when we get to Africa. It’s supposed to be pricey though, yes?

  2. The Okavango is inherently expensive because the land for a concession has to be purchased by a private party and strictly maintained, and almost everything it takes to run a camp/lodge there has to be brought in from elsewhere (usually the nearby city of Maun or even the capital, Gaborone). In terms of AndBeyond, click the links in these posts to see what kinds of specific prices we’re talking about. The company’s lodgings, with all inclusive meals, safari drives (which, of course, require gasoline) and various excursions, generally hover between $500-1000/night. Fortunately, there are almost always specials running, but you still have to get yourself to an African hub airport (Johannesburg, Nairobi, etc.), which is rarely cheap. (SAA Airways runs decent specials to Johannesburg, and Virgin Atlantic has, in my opinion, the most comfortable coach seats for long flights.) You also have to factor in small charter flights between hubs and concessions, usually arranged by your safari company; please see my Botswana Travel Binder for a few references.

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