Okavango Delta River Ride

At the lodge in the camp, we were offered scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee for breakfast before boarding a truck at 8:30 am. We were on our way to meet the mekoros polers who would pole us in mekoros boats down the waters to a large island where we will do a safari walk. An Okavanogo Polers Trust was set up in 1998 by the local community to be a self-sufficient means of support for the community. No outsiders have any financial interest in this group, making them totally independent. They are able to support 75 polers, 1 business manager, assistant manager, office manager, 2 coordinators, 2 caretakers, 2 night watchmen, 4 groundsmen, 2 truck drivers, 2 boat drivers, 3 cleaners, 2 cooks, 3 sculleries, 2 waiters, 2 bar workers, and 2 laundry ladies. The mekoros was originally and until the recent past, carved out of a specific tree. The Botswana government was concerned about this tree going extinct since the boats only lasted for three years. They provided the polers with fiberglass boats as a replacement. The boats and polers are reminiscent of gondolas in Venice with the man guiding the boat at the back, though the mekoros are more simple in design. Each poler owns his own boat; they learned their skills as children using the boats to fish for their families and travel between villages by water. Some speak English, while others are working on it, but know key phrases. We were two to a boat with a poler behind us. There are no seats in the boats, but they did fold mats for us to sit on, though we depended on the feet of our companion behind us if we wanted to lean back. We floated through reeds and a water forest of water lilies with these enormous pads attached. Our poler would stop each time he saw us lift our cameras and to show us a small green snake waiting for his prey, a toad, both on a reed. We floated along in near silence as his pole expertly pierced the water’s surface creating a soft whoosh sound to propel us further. Our boat was the first behind the Head Poler, the one who determines the route and sets the pace. The rest of the boats were in single file behind him, like logs floating down the river in orderly fashion. Papyrus plants brushed our faces as our boat crushed a path through the reeds and water foliage creating a path for our great adventure. I could not help but think of the story of Moses as he sent down the river in a woven basket amongst the reeds. The lead poler led all of us thru some mysterious water highway system following this route and then that which was incomprehensible to any of us. Our journey lasted for one and a half hours before we came ashore on what we later found out was an island. This is where Bruce lectured us for our safari walk. We were divided into two groups. We were to follow our guide single file and not divert from the path that he set out. As a single file group, we would scare any snakes into thinking a fourteen-footed animal was approaching and would be scared off. He warned that if we found lions or cheetahs, do not run at all costs. This triggers a natural reaction for a cat to attack fleeing prey. He told us to look down when in the view of an animal and to take our sunglasses off. Sunglasses are eyes to an animal and staring at it means aggression on our part. If we were to run into elephants, we were to stand side by side, bend over and clap our hands while making strange noises. Excitement and trepidation were mixed emotions as he headed off into the bush. Our guide showed us the tree that was used for the mekoros. The bark was completely removed by a hungry elephant. He pointed out the large tracks of an anteater, but we never caught up with it. He pointed out other types of trees, but we were too anxious looking for lions, elephants, or other animals we would have to use our new skills for, to notice much of what he was saying. The sun was getting blistering hot, but when we spotted baboons, we seemed to have forgotten the heat. The guide was carrying a walkie-talkie and had just previously used it and said what sounded like ‘bing, bing, bing’. It was shortly after that, we saw the baboons with a herd of impalas. In my mind, I thought the bing, bing, bing was a signal “We are getting close now, release the baboons and impalas for these tourists.” The guide told us that baboons have excellent hearing so the impalas rely on them as a danger warning. When the baboons start squawking, the impalas run for safety. Further on the walk, the guide again used his communication devise and said “Tick, tick, tick” and shortly after we saw a couple of warthogs in the field. Again, my thoughts wandered to a Disney Land adventure. We only lasted another hour after this; the heat was melting us into puddles and were ready to return to the promised lunch waiting by the boats. We still had thirty minutes to go, but never did get to use our new skills for scaring animals away. No adrenaline rush was to be had this trip. We lunched on pasta, salads, and minced meat that Bruce brought from the camp. The temperature was rising and we had to back track back via the boats back to our starting point. The way back felt twice as long and twice as hot as coming. It was unbelievable that some of the polers were wearing flannel shirts and one was wearing a coat. It had to have been close to 100 degrees and the heat reflecting off the water made it worse still. The water in the Delta is supposedly perfectly safe to drink, but we did not know this when we saw the polers dunk a cup into it. Regardless, we played it safe by drinking from the bottles we brought with us, thank you very much for the offer. When we arrived at the trucks, we barely had the strength to climb on, but we had a couple of hours downtime before dinner. Ron took a nap, but our cabin was invaded by wasps. Even under the mosquito net, it sounded like we were under invasion from an insect air force brigade. Since my feet were flat against the bottom of the net, I had fears they would sting me there, so I could not sleep. It was too hot to cover them with the blanket for protection. Jean and Omo found rodent droppings on one of their beds. This did not add to their not to their already low opinion of our sleeping arrangements, not that anyone could blame them at all. Dinner was served and it was announced that ladies were welcomed to come first. They provided a lamb stew, eggplant dish, mixed vegetables, and custard for dessert. After dinner, Ron instigated a card game and it spread over two tables. Everyone was concerned about going to bed too early for fear of waking in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep. By 10:00, we gave in to sagging eyelids, avoided thoughts of what could venture into the cottage in the cracks in the ceiling, and went to bed.