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Our overnight Okavango Delta safari in Botswana was definitely one of the highlights of my Africa Overland Tour. Our Okavango Delta camping tour consisted of game walks, spotting animals, swimming, tasty indigenous food, mokoro boat rides, and one of the best sunsets of my whole life!
The Okavango Delta in Botswana, an UNESCO site, is an 18,000 sq km area of stunning marshland teeming with different kinds of African Wildlife. It forms as the river flows from north of Botswana and spreads out into thousands of little capillaries before flowing underground. On our third day in the country, my group was up at the crack of dawn and ready to be carted off to this Okavango Delta Safari wonderland in open vehicles. (Written in journal style – this post is an excerpt from my daily writings of my trip.)
If you;re heading to the Okavango Delta, make sure to know how to pack for a safari in Africa before you go!
Our Okavango Delta Safari – Getting to the Campground
After a bumpy 2 hour ride, it was time for a few of our passengers to take their helicopter flight over the delta (a bit over budget for me, but it looked awesome). Everything’s always on ‘African time’ here, meaning any transfers or timings are always padded on each side by a fair amount of waiting! 😛 but anyway, the helicopter arrived, and when they came back they all said it was a spectacular view and that they saw hippos and elephants and other Okavango Delta wildlife everywhere. Pretty sweet.
Afterwards, we headed down to a launch site outside a little village of mud huts with thatched roofs. We paired up to get in our long, thin mokoro boats (which used to be carved from wood but are now made of fiberglass). There was a ‘poler’ person for each boat who was to maneuver us through thin little channels in the Delta with a long wooden pole – the water was never much deeper than 5-6 feet. We put our stuff on the boats and sat on these chair tops that had been disembodied from their legs, making sure to stay still to keep the boat balanced.
I’m not sure what we were all expecting, but this boat ride was absolutely magical. The scene was set by the perfect reflection of sporadic white fluffy clouds in the water, the soft sound made by the boats brushing by the reeds, millions of smooth lily pads and water lilies going by, and the light splash of the poles entering and exiting the water. All was silent except for the clicks of our cameras and occasional whispered ‘wow’s.’ I was thinking these channels would be maybe a few meters wide, but they were navigating us through tall reeds and channels maybe only a foot wide. They truly knew the delta!
About 1.5 hours (and extreme heat!) we were already off to a great start on our Okavango Delta safari. We reached our little camp which was already set up for us. This was a mini ‘glamping’ part of our trip (at least I would consider it so!) because we had little cots inside our tents (real mattresses and pillows! The pillow was life-changing after sleeping on an airplane pillow for weeks), an ‘ensuite’ toilet in each one (okay this was not glamping. This was a crusty drop toilet I could hardly bring myself to use), and all our meals prepared and washed for us and by the staff.
Our lunch of ‘bobouti’ was prepared for us after settling into our Okavango Delta safari. We were all confused when a warm silver tin can was put in front of us with a little puff of bread on the top. We soon learned it was a local dish and we were to put our knife around the edges and dump it out onto our plate; it was a mixture of mince, veg, some dried fruit, and seemingly curry-like spice topped with a lovely doughy piece of bread. It was delicious!! We were all a bit confused not to have to do our dishes and clean up afterwards like we have been doing. It was a nice change!
After some great group conversations discussing differences in our home cultures, a few of us were lead over to a swimming hole close by. This was a highlight of my trip for sure – the water was cool and with a reddish/orangish tint, and presented a perfect scene with reflections of clouds and trees and water lilies everywhere. We paddled around with smiles on our faces, learned how to make necklaces from the water lilies (and invented some new jewelry too😝), took tons of photos, and simply savoured the amazing moment. At the end everyone put their extra crowns and makeshift accessories on me, so I crowned myself Queen of the Okavango Delta to watch over my subjects of elephants and lions!!
We returned to camp, feeling ‘refreshed’ from our ‘shower’ of the day! We poured a cup of coffee (which to my delight was set out for us at all times – my kind of camp!) and put on long pants in preparation for our Okavango Delta Safari game walk of the evening.
Our Okavango Delta Safari – Evening Game Walk + Sunset
After a short mokoro ride, we gathered on another close-by island to walk through the bushlands in hopes of seeing some wildlife. It was lovely and sunny – hot even – so we were all blind sided when some rain clouds appeared about 20 minutes into our walk. By that time we had seen some antelopes from afar, learned about some plant species, and learned about the massive termite mounds that can grow over 10 feet tall out here. We weren’t sure what to do as the stream of rain inched closer – I didn’t have anything to protect my camera, so I was all for high-tailing it back in the other direction! Everyone else got onboard with that idea when the first few drops started falling.
I had put my camera in its case, within its bag, under my water bottle, under my shirt, and was holding it like a little baby as the drops got heavier. It wasn’t a crazy downpour, but enough to get us reasonably wet and end our game walk early, unfortunately. But this was okay because we were just in time to watch the sunset over the Okavango Delta – something I had specifically requested (we all know sunsets are my favorite😝).
At first hurried to catch the sunset, we all fell speechless as our mokoro boats softly glided their way to a clearing in the reeds. You could almost feel the weight of this moment hitting us, leaving us in complete awe as our eyes sipped in the delicious sight of the sunset perfectly reflected in the still water of the Delta. All we could do between the clicks of our cameras and wide-eyed gaping at the beauty around us, was smile at each other. I looked back at my poler, Yolanda, and told her she lives in the most stunning place in the world. She just smiled and said, ‘I know.’
We were never really done with the moment, but knew it was time to head back. Sunset time around here is like a sign to prepare for war – war against the insects – especially in this Malarial region! We put our long pants and shoes on, sprayed every inch of our body with strong bug spray, sprayed our rooms down, and remained on a bit of edge ready to swat whatever may come/buzz/fly/jump/crawl in our direction!
We couldn’t believe our ears when we heard we were about to be served a three course dinner – so spoiled!! Remember, prior to this Okavango Delta safari we had been living in tents and cooking all our meals for the last two weeks. So this was a really luxurious change! We happily reviewed our amazing day while devouring pumpkin soup, veggies, a local rice-mixture, and spiced chicken, followed by a lovely cake.
Our Okavango Delta Safari: ‘Bush TV,’ Stars, and Campfire
After dinner we were all invited to take seats around the fire for what they call the ‘Bush TV!!’ This meant that all the guides and polers gathered together to perform some songs of their tribe. They performed about five or six amazing songs, composed of different tones of tribal calls that fell together perfectly into catchy melodies.
At the end they pulled us in to dance with them, showed us a jungle game to play, and encouraged us to get up and sing as well. Luckily one of the members of our group is a lovely singer, and they had just purchased a guitar, so we spent the rest of the night singing campfire songs while looking at the incredible bright stars.
We discovered some fireflies and glow worms near the water just before bed; it was the first time I had ever seen either one!! The fireflies had a faster and brighter glow, whilst the worms were slower and a bit dimmer. We tried to spot them on the ground with our flashlights, and marveled at yet another crazy natural phenomenon.
Our Okavango Delta Safari: Ending With a Sunrise Walk
The next morning we were reluctant to wake up far before the sun, cozy in our comfortable beds and very slow to rise for our sunrise walk. But, it was so worth it! After some coffee we walked around the island and were just in time to catch a sunrise only rivaled by the previous night’s sunset. Wispy clouds turned pink and then yellow as they wound around behind a silhouetted palm tree, illuminating the grasses in a soft glow. I was even able to catch a few shots of a little spider spinning his dewy web in the morning light… I’m pretty sure this is the only time you will see me artistically photograph a spider! 😛
We returned for yet another amazing cooked meal of beans, sausage, crispy hash browns, and homemade flatbread, of which I ate far too much before our Mokoro ride back through the Okavango Delta. Gliding through the water was so blissful and calming I nearly found myself falling asleep while trying to enjoy the last few moments of our Okavango Delta Safari.
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