Okavango Delta | Botswana
The highlight of Botswana was certainly the trip into the Okavango Delta. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Okavango is an inland delta produced by seasonal flooding when water flows from the highlands of Angola into the basin of the Kalahari each year. At full volume the delta spans some 15,000 square kilometres. In other words, it's enormous.
Leaving Maun, a caravan of Land Rovers taxied our group to the Delta’s edge on a series of very soft, sandy roads. After about 45 minutes we were met with the water and the crew of locals who would guide us into the Delta on makoros (dug out canoes) for a few days of bush camping.
We were two to a makoro, each with a guide to pole us through the reeds until we arrived on the island where we'd set up camp. I was sharing with Johnny, an Australian teacher working and living in Khartoum, Sudan for the last two years, and our guide was named Rueben, a Namibian living in Botswana who had learned to pole from his father. Johnny and I played ‘rock, paper, scissors’ to determine who would get to sit in front – I guess it’s like the ‘shotgun’ of the makoro – and lucky for me, I won. It was a very zen-like hour and half that followed as we wove through the highway system of the delta, softly running our fingers along the reeds and the resting lily pads en route.
During the afternoon siesta time I decided it was time to learn to pole a makoro. A few others and myself received a quick lesson and then got out on the water. The best way to learn is by doing, right? A few acacia tree crashes later, and many unintended turns into the reeds, we were indeed learning. Most of the group tired of it fairly quickly but I spent the next three hours trying to keep my balance on the makoro, pathetically navigating myself through the canals of water and hoping to grow my poling skills by the time we returned to the mainland in a few days. Thomas, our token Frenchman, who is always following his curiosity, seemed to enjoy it as much as I, and the two of us accompanied the guides into the delta to collect firewood for the evening. Rueben must have felt sorry for me as he quickly offered a more detailed lesson on how to steer from side to side, how to keep the boat straight once you'd found a desirable angle, and finally, how to pick up the pace and move along at a faster clip . Slowly, I was getting better.
Eventually we landed the makoros on a second island, scouring for branches and dead trees until we had filled three boats with enough wood to cook dinner and breakfast the following morning. Rueben, more confident in my poling ability than I, informed me I would be poling us back to the main island. I was up for it, and was doing quite well until the final stretch of water when I began poling with all my strength. I was eager to show off my newly acquired skills and wanted to forcefully launch Rueben and I up onto the shore so I could prove just how good I was getting at this. Well, that went as well as anyone who knows me would suspect it to go. I got the pole caught in the muddy floor of the delta and flung myself right over the left side of the boat. After being out on the water for three hours, I fell with 30 seconds left to go!! Typical Krystal. Fortunately the makoro itself stayed afloat, and although I was soaked, and my ego put in its rightful place, the firewood was salvaged for the evening’s fire.
Our guides also took us for a few long walks on the island where we learned of the native plants used for medicinal purposes – including an abortion tea made from steeping elephant dung in hot water! Very bizarre! We spotted a few zebras and hippos and there were many birds to try and identify. Most of the time, however, was left open to appreciate the serenity of the landscape. And as per usual, the highlight of the day was sundown. We watched together as the sun lit the plains of grass with liquid gold, soon after turning to red, burning the sky behind the silhouette of acacias strung along the horizon.
Again, a sanctuary was given.