August 12, 2013

Day 18 (into the Okavango)

We've come to what feels like it must be the most remote place in the world, the Okavango Delta, Botswana.  From our last campsite it took us a two hour drive and an hour being pulled past tufts of reeds in traditional dug-out mokoro boats.     

Not just for tourist-based novelty, all of our food, water, tents and other camping gear also had to be packed into the mokoros to carry it to the camp. 

Poling tents and chairs to camp

While arguably simple, the mokoro ride into the Okavango Delta ranks in my top two trip highlights (tied with cheetah cubs attacking our truck in the Serengeti), and is unequivocally one of the best things I've ever done.  To be gliding through those amazing rivlets and islands, in the heart of Botswana, pushed past the reeds, water lillies, and tall grasses by a traditional poler, was incredible.  Lying back on a bed of hay, hardly a ripple in the water, it's the most peaceful feeling I've had in a long time.  

Gliding past lily pads


Feet up

Crossing a hippo family

"Poling" is different from canoeing or kayaking, in that there's a long stick (a pole, if you will) instead of paddles, which is pushed against the shallow marsh floor to power and steer.  I later tried to do some of the poling myself and was complete rubbish (no strength, no balance, no steering acumen).  

I improved on day 2

Our campsite is completely in the bush, a clearing on the delta drylands, with no electricity or running water.  Bathing can be done in a local watering hole where animals come to drink.  Since arriving, about a dozen wild elephants trotted past our site.  

As such, there's a 3-step procedure for if you need to use the bathroom or otherwise leave your tent in the middle of the night:
  1. Listen for sounds (if any sounds, stay inside and hold it!)
  2. If no sounds, open your tent and shine a flashlight out, looking for reflective eyes (if any eyes, stay inside and hold it!)
  3. If no eyes, step outside the tent and shine your light 360-degrees, looking for reflective eyes (if any eyes, get back inside and hold it!).  If no eyes, you're free to proceed.  
Sitting in a folding chair, looking across the water

Just within the first 30 hours, Botswana has been near perfect.  The country produces 22% of the world's diamonds, and yet has been internationally rated as Africa's least corrupt country since its independence.  The president has made a point to re-invest Botswana's diamond wealth into education, health, and infrastructure, the last of which is clearly evident in the well-paved roads.  

And the first gas station we pulled into had overhead speakers playing Queen.  

We had the world's friendliest immigration agent at our boarder crossing who asked us to be quiet by saying, "Please reduce your voices... I want to be the only one making noise!"  With a massive grin and belly chuckle.  From the first moments, driving through Botswana felt more like the Africa that I'm used to than South Africa or Namibia.  Donkeys by the side of the road and kids running in colorful clothes.  The landscape, while more dense in foliage than Kenya, is reminiscent of a game drive up towards Naivasha.

And the Baobab trees have begun.  

So, at peace in the delta, we ended our first day with a game-walk.  

Elephant tracks

Termite mound

Game walkers in the sun

Goodnight world.

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