Delta Dreaming

I have always looked on guiding mission trips as a job straight from heaven. You often get to travel to exotic locations, meet amazing and interesting people, camp in the deepest bush, and if you’re lucky, at times even enjoy a bit of luxury … and … get paid for it! So when I was recently asked to help out on a student trip to Botswana, I jumped at the chance. Finding out that we’d be exploring the Okavango Delta (a place that I’ve always really wanted to see) only increased my excitement for the trip.

Our group met at Johannesburg airport, where two ACTS guides, our chef, driver and 28 excited American students all gathered. We boarded Big Anna (our hefty 2 ton overland truck) and set off for the border. Sitting high up in Big Anna, with the windows wide open, a nice breeze blowing and a bird’s eye view of the surroundings, immediately gave the trip an immediate ‘safari in Africa’ sort of feel.

The first two days were spent almost entirely on the road. Despite having so many people in such a confined space for 2 days, everyone seemed to get on pretty well and it was a very merry safari truck. The salt pans were an amazing sight, although we didn’t have much time to enjoy the surreal surroundings. By the end of the 2nd day we were more than ready to reach our destination, the incredible Okavango Delta, with some individuals passing the time by counting donkeys (of which there seem to be way too many in Botswana!). Finally we arrived in Maun, a town on the shores of the Delta. Early the next morning we loaded up light travel bags, piled into a truck and were soon ready to board the mokoros. We were a little delayed as one of the girls was very concerned about mice in the Delta, and refused to get into her mokoro until we had convinced her that this was one of the animals she definitely didn’t need to worry about.

We quickly realised that our oarsmen were incredibly skilful. The whole delta is pretty shallow, so they stand on the back of the mokoro and steer it along by pushing a long wooden stick off the bottom of the Delta floor. For the 1st half an hour everyone was blown away by the beauty of it all: marshy swampland as far as the eye could see, beautiful plant life and millions of little animals flying, crawling and swimming all around us. However, it wasn’t long before the peaceful motion of being gently pushed along (and the warm sun on our faces) had most of us in a blissful snooze. I was in a mokoro with our chef Tichawena, who had become a little too acquainted with hippos on a previous trip, and was keeping a sharp eye out for what he referred to as ‘those dangerous beasts.’ – thankfully we managed to avoid hippos and crocodiles for the whole trip. After about 2 hours of gliding through this water wonderland we landed at our little island and soon had camp set up. Tich prepared lunch while we explored our paradise, which would be home for the next 3 days.

With so few possessions, we probably should have got bored during our time on the island, but somehow we never did: We spent hours trying to learn to steer a mokoro in a straight line, and ended up spending a lot of time falling off – even by the end of the trip none of us had mastered this very tricky art! We also spent a lot of time playing the water version of American football – a game involving a tennis ball, a few mokoros and an underwater camera which kept us endlessly entertained.

For some of the girls the camping lifestyle took a while to get used to. Top of the complaints list were the mosquitoes at night and the idea of having to dig a hole for a toilet. The lack of internet and music also got a mention, but luckily everyone soon adjusted to life in the bush. On one of the afternoons we went for a sunset mokoro cruise, sticking to the shallower water to avoid hippos as most of us were swimming behind the mokoros. In the mornings our local guides took us for long game walks, and even though we didn’t see an abundance of wildlife, we did leave very impressed with their knowledge of the whole Delta area. The hot days were spent lazing in the shade and swimming in the Delta, and the evenings around the fire and sleeping under the stars all blended together, and pretty soon, all too quickly, our last day had arrived.

On the final evening the mokoro oarsmen and guides entertained us with a song and dance performance, which we tried to match with a few of our own songs (Country Roads and Shosholosa), but we definitely came off second best. The next morning we planned to be on the water at 8am to get back to meet our truck, but on our early morning game walk the guide found lion spoor tracks … needless to say we got a bit ‘sidetracked’ and got back to camp late morning. Having met up with Big Anna again, we said our sad goodbyes and continued on to our next merry adventure.

Getting a bit wet on a morning game walk.

Peaceful sunset’s on the Delta.

Learning to steer a mokoro as night falls over the Delta.

One of the guides with a skull found out on a game walk.

Water, sun and a whole lot of fun.

by Sam Bradley (ACTS Guide)

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