Tag Archives: Okavanga Delta

Chased by a hippo in Botswana

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Chased by a hippo in Botswana

“Run Stacey, run”, Maria screams in my ear as we jump out of the mokorro. We grab our bags and with our spouses in tow follow the polers in front of us to higher ground jumping over trees that block in the hippo pool.

My husband and I were on a gAdventures trip in southern Africa. After traveling from Capetown up the Skeleton coast through Namibia, we arrive in Maun, Botswana and are spending two nights in the Okavanga Delta. Our trucks stop at the water’s edge and we hop out. At the Delta Station, much different than the likes of Penn or Paddington, we meet our transport that will take us on our journey into the delta. Local transporters are known as polers. These men and women stand at the back of the mokorro (boats that come from hollowed out trees-although there are now some of fiberglass) and use a very long pole to literally push the boat through the delta. Read the rest of this entry

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South African Rusks and Botswanan Bugs

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Day 59: Okavanga Delta-Gweta, Botswana (5 November 2009)

We’re leaving the delta today! We woke up under the African night sky at around 5am to start to pack all of our smelly ‘deltafied’ clothing away and to be able to have some breakfast before we had to break down camp. Now, if I haven’t told you about these before, get ready for some yummy goodness. We had South African rusks. For anyone who has visited this great country before you have probably had the privilege, but if you haven’t think of Italian biscotti but better! We ate the kind from the OUMA company and they were buttermilk flavor. You dip them in your tea or coffee, wait for the liquid to swirl through them to make them soggy and chomp…they are delicious! South Africans eat them in many flavors but so far I have to say I am partial to the buttermilk.

We broke down our tents and said goodbye to our tent spot. In front of us one of the polers, who I nicknamed ‘machete-man’ had laid his machete down (he brought it I’m sure for chopping fire wood but I liked to think it was for protecting us against the wild) and he let me pick it up and take a photo (also not a thing to tell your mother when you do it) which was awesome! We said goodbye to our bush toilet (hoping not to have that experience again soon) and hopped in our mokorros for the ride back to the station leaving only our memories and hippo experience behind. All of our belongings including all of the garbage that was created in our three day journey rode back with us on our mokorros. We got to the station, tipped and thanked our polers, got into the 4x4s again and eventually arrived back at our old hotel in Maun where we met Karel and the coach at the ablution box in the back of the hotel and were finally given the privilege of a shower! Well, it appeared that the boys were using all of the water as the girls only got a trickle out of the shower heads, but a welcome trickle it was and the top layer of dirt was able to come off and after getting dressed in clean clothes with the smell of the delta behind us, we set out on our way to lunch at Nandos!

Nandos, for those of you who have never had the pleasure, is home of the Portugese chicken (and good veggie burgers) and specializes in peri-peri sauce. We ate our food, including chips with peri-peri salt on them and enjoyed every minute of the experience! After lunch we set out on our way to Gweta, Botswana, where we were to stay at the Gweta Lodge for the evening. We arrived at our thatched roof huts complete with mossie nets and an outdoor toilet, sink and shower (that would be the only bathroom facilities-don’t think there were also ones inside our hut) and very little light. The grounds of the resort were beautiful and the staff incredibly helpful and cheerful. We relaxed poolside, used the internet to update some fun face book status, and chatted with a guy at the bar. Ready for this one, he was a British PHD researcher who had been in Botswana for the last five years researching the habits of the brown hyena which is apparently very different than the spotted hyena that you may think of from The Lion King. The brown hyena, he said, is the third largest carnivore in Africa and it is endangered. He and others worked to track them by sedating them and tagging them and then releasing them back into the wild so they could follow their patterns and perhaps figure out a way to make life a little safer for them on their own land. He had tons of photos on his laptop that he showed us and he was staying at the lodge as he had many times before because his truck broke down and it would take a few days to replace the necessary parts.

After our chat with the hyena guy we went to have dinner which was beautifully set up outside. We would have eaten there as well but there were millions of little bugs the size of orzo pasta that were flying and landing everywhere. They attached themselves to drinks, were on the salad and even on the butter on the table. So, thankfully, the staff allowed us to move inside and we ate a beautiful buffet dinner inside sans bugs. But wait…there’s more! When we went back to our room there were bugs galore! No wonder the mossie nets were provided! You see, the top of the thatched roof hut didn’t reach the tops of the walls so there was a gap in the middle which let in all of the bugs. This also meant that there was no air conditioning; only a small fan in the center of the room. We couldn’t use our bathroom facilities easily as there was an outside light on and all of those same little bugs from dinner were all over the sink, toilet and shower by our room. It was so much that I went back to the bar to ask Paul if there were any inside rooms available as the room was flooded with bugs and creepy crawly things including a big, giant, green grasshopper. There were no other rooms available unfortunately so one of the staff members came and sprayed a strong bug spray in the room but couldn’t give us a coil to keep them away all night as it would give off a bad scent and bother my asthma. So, we hoped the grasshoppers and their friends would find their way outside and the flying bugs would go to sleep. I got under my mossie net and Mathew tucked me in and as I looked up there was a ginormous spider in the center so that was it for that one. We tucked ourselves in under one mossie net and hoped for the best as I slept part of the night with my torch on checking for other bugs and surprisingly after a two night adventure in the bush, this was the worst night’s sleep I had on the whole journey so far.

Tomorrow: Chobe National Park!

Attack of the Hippo

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Day 58: Okavanga Delta, Botswana (4 November 2009)

Well, we finally got to sleep amidst the warm humidity of the delta and the cool winds did eventually come in through the sides of our two person tent but then of course 4am came and I had to pee! So, I woke my sweet husband up and he came with me to the ‘bush toilet’ and turned around so as not to watch but this way I wasn’t all alone in the woods with the snakes and the elephants. After our toilet adventure we fell back to sleep and then Mathew went out for a three hour walk through the bush and I relaxed and dozed on and off until about 9am when they were all coming back from their walk. We all hung out a bit; some people read, played cards and chess (Panos, the Cyprian doctor brought a magnetic chess set and kept asking ‘anyone for chess’ and many obliged him for fun) and then we had brunch-bacon, eggs, veggie sausages, bread and salad all once again cooked over an open fire and it was delicious! Let me tell you, my favorite cook from sleep away camp (Maryann) would be proud of Paul’s braais and cooking…he might even be able to make her famous crumb cake if he tried!

At one point in the afternoon the women who were with us brought out some of the crafts they had made from the leaves of trees; and some bracelets and bowls which we all jumped at to purchase-shopping is even better when it comes to you, right? And then we convinced one of the guys to take us out in a mokoro to pick up some water lillies and when we came back he taught us how to make water lily necklaces for fun. Of course, that brought on an asthma attack as I had the flowers around my neck and in my fingers but the inhaler magically worked to save the day once again. And to add to the excitement, Maria and Bernardo found a scorpion in their tent as they lay sleeping. Good thing they opened their eyes to see it before it could do any real damage! After that we all learned to close our zips to our tents towards the top so that creepy crawly things couldn’t scramble in between the two zips near the bottom. Needless to say everyone was a little freaked out a bit after that scare!

We rested a bit more, as you do in the delta and then the boys decided that they wanted to have a go as mokoro polers and we decided it would be good fun in the sun and we would try to end up at the swimming hole for a dip in the water-the only water that we would have for the duration of our delta stay. So, we waited for my inhaler to kick in and there we were, Mathew, Ian and Bernardo as polers and Maria, Louise and I as riders in a lets just say very interesting mokoro experience-but, we must tell you that we did get to the swimming hole and no one fell in or had a capsized mokoro-so all in all it was a big success! They even were able to get us back all in one piece!

After we had cooled off and put back on our long sleeves to be out of the sun and heaps and heaps of bug spray, it was five o’clock and we were off in our mokoros for a sunset cruise and a chance to see the hippos at the hippo pool…and let me tell you, we sure did see them! We saw some birds and a beautiful sunset and passed a few hippos on their way to wherever it is they go. Then, on our way back we sat at the hippo pool for a bit. We saw one that allowed us to get close enough to see and then it kept going; but the next wasn’t as kind. As we got close, it got angry and more mad by the minute. We think it was afraid of the flash of someone’s camera and had a baby with it that it was trying to protect. Well, some of the people in the mokoros made it through, but we were not as lucky. We were still on the side of the pool as the thrashing hippo when it decided to head straight for us! You knew it was time to panic when the polers looked panicked and when they told us to get out of the water and said ‘follow me and run, run faster’ we did as they said! Maria was right behind us and in her wonderful Portugese accent kept repeating ‘run Stacey, run’ and that we did! We ran until they said to get back in as the hippo could no longer come on land (by the way if she had come on land we would have had to climb a tree as hippos can run really fast and are quite deadly as you can imagine) and we got back in the mokoros and they poled as fast as their arms could carry us. As it grew darker they still managed to find their way and get us back to land….safe and sound!

Talk about a bush experience right? And what a face book status for that day, right…chased by a hippo and lived! Again something you only tell your mother when it’s over and she can see that you’re alright! Well, after the heart pumping adrenaline rush we tried to calm down and have some dinner of yummy pasta and salads and then it was s’mores time! We brought out the sticks and the marshmallows, chocolate and cookies that were as close to graham crackers that we could find and the festivities began. They were a huge hit and the polers absolutely loved them and kept coming back for more as they waited patiently for me to put the marshmallows on their sticks for them. Most of the time they stayed by the fire for a quick second and came to say they were done and wanted me to make their s’more for them! It was like watching little kids in a candy store (lolly shop) for the first time…let’s just say s’mores have now made it to Botswana and they were a big hit! Unfortunately somewhere through the night Mathew got bitten by a big giant beetle so we were concerned about a reaction to the stinger but he seemed to be alright but in a bit of pain. We still managed to have tons of fun and of course super desserts and then the polers high from their sugar rush put on a dance/song show for us and eventually we went to bed hoping that the sugar high would fade, that my husband’s finger wouldn’t fall off and that if it rained at least it would be while we were in our tents! Before we went to bed, Dennis had one of the polers tell us the story of a lifetime and it made so much more sense now about how nervous the polers were with the hippo incident. Justice, one of our polers had been on a trip awhile ago and the same thing had happened, but unfortunately, the polers did have to climb a tree and Justice’s brother was not so lucky and wound up being decapitated by the hippo as they all watched. How horrible, right? I couldn’t even believe it as it was being told to us. It’s the last night in the delta and we have certainly had some interesting experiences that I can honestly say I have no idea where else we would have had them.

We chatted in the tent about what we had done that day…there were elephants about 50 feet from our camp just roaming in the bush. My husband got to be a mokoro driver for the afternoon. I made necklaces out of water lillies after I handpicked them out of the water. We saw elephant dung and bones and skin out on our hike and boy did they smell ripe! Oh, and then there was the most surreal…when you have to use the facilities in the bush and shovel some dirt on top as the ‘flush’ just didn’t exist…that was one for the books! Minus the finger sting, we both really enjoyed our time in the delta but I can tell you that we are very much looking forward to a real shower tomorrow; not one made out of baby wipes and purell!

Tomorrow: A Shower!

The Okavanga Delta-Bush Camping Begins!

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Day 57: Maun, Botswana-Okavanga Delta, Botswana (3 Novembner 2009)

We woke up this morning in our cold room, with great aircon, raring to go. Really excited for this experience but a bit apprehensive about the whole mokoro journey and this whole idea of bush toilets and no running water for almost 3 days. We had some breakfast and brought our bags to the bus that now had to be separated. Most would go in the trunk, the bag with the computer would go on the bus with the bag of shower stuff and fresh clothes for after we arrived back from the delta so we wouldn’t have to first unpack our bags and all of our delta stuff goes in a trailer to get hitched to the 4×4 to head to our bush camp for the next two plus days.

You can imagine that we limited our breakfast intake as we didn’t know what our bathroom situation would be for the next few days and that made everyone a little nervous, but excited at the same time. We got picked up in big 4×4 trucks with open sides and a flap in the front to keep the dirt from flying directly into your eyes as they drove. The trailers were hitched to the back and we went on a one and a half hour drive through roads that didn’t exist passing houses that looked like shacks on land that looked as if no one had been there for years. We got dropped off at what is called the delta station. Now, don’t think Penn station or Platform 9 and ¾ or anything; this was a very different kind of station. It was the edge of the river with tons of mokoros (boats that come from hollowed out trees-although there are now some out of fiberglass) and polers waiting to take us into the delta for our journey. We watched and helped as they loaded all of our things into these rickety little boats. Coolers, tables, lanterns, tents, utensils, crockery, sleeping mats, chairs and then us. We sat in the mokoros on the flat chairs with the sleeping mats atop them and had our sleeping bags behind us and our bags in front of us and the five liter jugs of water that we had with us in the front of the boat. We sat one in front of the other, Mathew got the front and I got the back and our poler, Samuel stood in back with his bamboo pole working diligently to get us to our destination. The ride was a bit over an hour through reeds, riverbeds and many waterlillies and of course flies! Good thing we did as Paul said as the ride was in complete sunshine. Long pants, long sleeves, hat, sunsceen and bug spray and constant supply of water, some people even brought umbrellas to keep the sun away from their faces. It was a strategic maneuver as well since every reed that Mathew could block would snap back as he passed and hit me. After awhile I learned to scoot down really low so some of the reeds would pass over me and I kept my arms in front of me to push the rest away all the while keeping my sunglasses on and my hat pulled down to lessen the amount of reeds smacking me in the face…it worked so that was good! After one five minute rest stop we finally reached our destination, unloaded all of our gear, pitched our tents and Paul set up his ‘kitchen’.

When the kitchen was set this is what it looked like. One long table with two others perpendicular from the ends; crockery on the top, a clear station for set up and buffet style eating, eskies under the tables loaded with ice-some with the food needs while other held drinks. There was a tarp over the entire area hooked to the big tree next to the kitchen and a few battery operated lights draped over the trees to give the kitchen some light when the sun goes down and the fire goes out. A few of us helped to prepare some lunch as the others relaxed and chatted away. Tuna, salads and some bread and juice for lunch and everyone was just about in the camping mode. We relaxed for awhile after lunch just chatting and hanging out and later on we went for a short one hour walk through the delta. We split into three groups, slow, fast and medium for the journey and each group had at least two polers with them for information and protection as we were presently on the animal’s turf and they roamed free here. Also every which way you turned looked exactly the same as the place you had just been so someone had to know their way around. We saw tons of plants, various types of animal dung and a couple of wild zebra on our walk.

OH, but I left out something so very important…our bathroom facilities! This would be what you’d call a bush toilet! Seriously a bush toilet! The polers dug a hole back behind a few trees behind our campsite and placed atop the hole was a toilet seat with four legs so it would stand directly over the hole so if you needed a place to, well, sit…there was one. There was a short walkway from the campsite to the long drop and placed in front of a tree before that walkway was a shovel and above the shovel on a tree branch was a roll of toilet paper. The shovel was ‘the key’ to the toilet and if the shovel was missing then the area was , well…occupied, if you will. Now this makes the journey even more interesting, right?

Our walk back to camp provided us with another spectacular African sunset and we got back in time for an awesome braai cooked over an open fire. Paul made chicken, veggie sausages, and salads and we had some fruit for dessert. It was really amazing and so relaxing. We cleaned up from diner and headed to bed as I had already decided not to go on the morning walk, but my husband’s adventurous spirit was forcing him to go on an early 3 hour hike through the delta. Now of course, you know we made sure to go to the bathroom just before the sky went dark so we wouldn’t have to go in the middle of the night; but I’ve already convinced my husband that if I have to go in the middle of the night he’s soooo coming with me! Louise had convinced Ian of the same thing and Eveline and Wyn made a pact to go with each other as who really wants to be out there in the dark on their own when there are apparently lots and lots of animals among us! So after our toilet stop…we headed to bed under the African night sky ready for another day in the wilderness.

Tomorrow: more delta!