Each evening around the campfire, after eating our dinner, John would talk
to us about the following day’s travel and activities. Invariably he would begin with, “OK, let’s talk about tomorrow.” Last night during this chat, John had sobered us with tales of close encounters to wildlife, we could experience at our bush camp, in the Okavango Delta.
At heart this was why we had all come, but when it gets down to being advised on how to sweep each bush and tree continually with your torch to keep wild animals at bay when you visit the bush toilet at night, you begin to think seriously about the risks. Apparently animal eyes will always glow red or green in the light. John also attempted to reassure us that, unlikely as it sounded, no animal would attack us, so long as we kept a light shining at it.
Before breakfast we dismantled our tents and packed our day packs with what we expected we’d need for the Okavango. Three 4WD vehicles from the Lodge, arrived to transport us an hour’s travel north, to where our mokoros (dug out canoes) waited, to float us through the reed-lined waterways to our campsite in the Okavango Delta. I found it difficult to believe the huge pile of stores containing our food and water requirements, as well as our tents and sleeping bags, could all fit into a convoy of floating dugout logs.
The confusion of packing was over very quickly, with drivers and ourselves simply loading aboard everything, anywhere it would fit. Even the chairs were all packed aboard. Quickly we scrambled into the back seat of the nearest vehicle, our feet sinking into the soft mass of tents and other equipment stowed on the floor. We shouted goodbye to Kim, our co-driver (who was staying to guard the truck) and with an undeniable sense of adventure, began our journey north.
The track was heavily rutted, full of deep sandy patches and we were thrown around in our seats, but I was so excited, I barely noticed. We kept a sharp eye out for game, as we’d heard that even leopard can be spotted around here. However only hornbills and vultures were to be seen this morning.
We stopped at a gate, where a woman appeared with the inevitable paperwork. From the vehicle in front, Malin hurried into a patch of bush nearby. The Larium was making her sick again today. Children from the nearby village of round thatched mud huts surrounded our car calling, “Hello, hello,” chattering and smiling at us. One little girl, aged about six or seven, really caught my eye. She was so graceful as she kept dancing around our car.
Then after we had passed through the gate to the game reserve, there came an excited cry, “Elephant!” We had just rounded a clump of bushes and there, standing rather aggressively in front of us, was a young bull. Our driver stood on the brakes and there was the maddest scramble for cameras. With trunk raised and his big ears fanning, he charged across the road, turning his head to wave his trunk threateningly. What an introduction to elephant! He waited in the bushes to our right, until we had moved on. Just around another corner we came across a large herd of elephant, feeding by the river. I was surprised by their colour. They were a much darker grey (almost black) than I had expected.
Another forty-five minutes travel brought us to an undistinguished area of tall reeds and a crowd of African men and women, who were to be our polers. We had arrived. From where we sat in the car, there was no sign of any water. Under the tall frail reeds, the ground was soft and peaty. You needed to watch where you stepped, if you didn’t want to sink into muddy water. We grabbed our personal gear and waited in an uncertain group. The polers, amid much chattering and gesturing, eventually loaded all of our camping gear and food stores onto a convoy of frail looking mokoros.
A young black woman tapped me on the arm and lead me to her mokoro. I called to Mark to follow. The mokoros were lined with bundles of dry grass to sit on, keeping us out of the inevitable water that splashed over the low sides of the canoe. First the woman indicated she wanted my sleeping bag, which she placed width-wise across the mokoro. This was my back rest. Then she indicated (she didn’t seem to speak English) that I was to come aboard. This was the part I was not good at! Very shakily, I stepped into the frail canoe and wobbled my way to the centre, turned gingerly about and sat down. Each movement rocked the boat and seemed to me, to herald it’s imminent capsize. Mark handed me my back pack and I settled it comfortably between my legs. Now it was Mark’s turn to clamber aboard and sit in the bow. It seemed very unstable, but we were poled out into the main channel to take our place in the convoy.