Sunday, February 26, 2006

Okavango Delta to Chobe National Park, Botswana . . . "Dumela"

Our first adventure in Botswana was a mokoro trip into the Okavango Delta. A mokoro is a dug out canoe and we were told that it was the best way to explore the Delta so we booked a few days in a mokoro without hesitation. The hesitation (on my part at least) came later during the pre-trip briefing from camp management when we were informed that one of the activities on the trip would be to spend several hours walking in search of game.

Walking?? After days of viewing game in Etosha from the safety of the Toyota Tazz and carefully following the advice of signs in that park - "DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CAR" - I was a bit concerned to hear about this proposed "walk". Feigning interest to mask cowardice I tried to get some more details.

Me: So will there be crocodiles?

Manager: Yes. Definitely. That will be exciting for you. (Upon seeing my face, he continued . . .) They won't harm you. Just don't trail your hand in the water when you are in the mokoro. There is also a safe place for you to swim which the guide will show you.

Me: Excellent. Great. What about lions? Will we see lions?

Manager: Unfortunately because it is the wet season you probably won't see any lions on your walk but you might hear them at night. Just make sure that your tent is closed when you go to sleep and don't take any raw meat into your tent.

Me: (Thinking that surely I am raw meat to a lion, said instead . . .) Fantastic.

Manager: Oh and you might see some elephants. Again, when you are sleeping make sure the tent is closed and they will step over your tent as if it were a rock.

Me: (Thinking that I was more likely to be stepped on like a slug, tried to maintain my composure . . .) Can't wait. Thanks so much. (Demented smile).

[Note to self: Chance of me leaving the tent at night to go to the bathroom = zero]

The next morning we were off in the mokoro with our guide Sam who looked a bit thin for me - unlikely to be of much assistance in the event of a lion attack. However, he was very nice and informative and I found that by lunch time my nerves had calmed. While cooking his lunch over the fire Sam asked why tourists didn't cook with fire and used portable gas canisters instead. I flippantly answered that it was "probably because none of us could make a fire". The look of surprise from Sam was matched immediately by the look of horror from Phil who promptly informed us that he could certainly make a fire and reminded me under his breath that he "used to be a Boy Scout". Suitably chastened and appropriately impressed we started on our first walk.

Realising that I was accompanied by a guide (albeit a skinny one) and a Boy Scout, I was almost relaxed about the prospect of seeing animals. As it turned out we saw a couple of hippos and a few crocodiles from a reasonable distance and spent most of the walk looking at birds and plants.
After the walk we went for a swim or, more accurately, Phil went for a swim while I quizzed Sam about why this particular swimming area was free of crocodiles when others weren’t. His response, “Many people come here to swim”, was not the reassurance I was looking for. It was similar to his response when I had asked him earlier why the lions did not attack people walking: “Perhaps they are scared of the hunter”. It struck me that we were in the wilderness protected only by the animals-are-more-scared-of-you-than-you-are-of-them theory.

I was torn. On the one hand, of course he was right. He was the guide. He had mentioned that he survived three hippo attacks on his mokoro without a scratch and, as he lived in the area, his mere existence was proof at least that animals hadn't killed him. On the other hand, did he know how scared I was? There was no point stressing myself further with these useless thoughts so I put fear to one side and attempted to follow Phil’s lead and enjoy the trip.

Which I did.

In the end I had a great time in the Delta and saw more hippos, some baboons (one of which I thought was a lion but Sam said it was definitely a baboon), impala, a few more crocodiles and a giraffe. Despite my paranoia we found that the most dangerous creatures in the Delta were the mosquitoes. [Note to self: Get a grip.]

After we had finished with the Delta we took a bus north to Chobe National Park for some prime elephant spotting on game and boat drives. As it was out of season we were very lucky to see several elephants, hippos, quite a few crocodiles and other animals (all from the safety of the inside of a motor-powered vehicle).

And that was Botswana.

The next entry of a “Coward’s Journey from Cape Town to Cairo” is on Zambia and should be posted in about a week.


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