“Shoot!” I muttered as I realized I had locked up another vital item needed during the next two days of bush camping in the Okavango Delta. Since hopping out of my sleeping bag as soon as I heard my iPhone’s alarm function “brraaappp, braaaappp, brraaapp” in my ear, I had been running around from my tent to my seat on the Nomad Adventure Tours overland truck, to my locker at the back of said truck– number 19. I felt like I was going nuts- not knowing where this or that may be, and realizing that I had locked up my sunscreen or mosquito repellant with 80% DEET for about the tenth time.
The back of the truck was starting to look like a game of human Jenga as other campers were standing on the seats at the back of the truck, leaning over into their lockers on the top row. Others crouched down below to reach into the far depths of their lockers lower down. It was crowded and uncomfortable and we all seemed to be running around like chickens with our heads cut off.
When I finally organized myself, I barely had enough time to scarf down my piece of bread and butter and choke back the boiling hot coffee before I had to hop on the 4X4 truck that had arrived to bring us to the start of our Okavango Delta. It would be where we would meet the polers who would be controlling, driving and steering the mokoros (traditional African canoes carved out of trees) that would take us deep into the world’s largest inland delta – home to many iconic African animals.
T he 4X4 was expertly packed – as if it was a giant real life Tetris game. Everyone hopped aboard, except Sandile and Jasmijn, who were going to be staying behind. The one great thing about Nomad Adventure Tours is that you don’t HAVE to do all the activities –sometimes you can opt out by not paying the additional activities fee, which generally goes directly to the local companies. As the truck pulled away from camp, Jasmijn and Sandile, we all realized just exactly how cold it was. With us being on the open back portion of the truck, all we could feel was the icy wind biting into any bit of exposed skin and breezing through any bits of loose clothing. IT SUCKED. To make matters worse – the ride took over an hour to get to the site where we were to meet our mokoro polers and take off into the wilderness of the Okavango Delta.
Chilled to the bone we clambered off the truck, organized our belongings and got into pairs. We met our polers – I had one of the lead polers, a tall, lanky young man named Brako. Shaun and I hauled all of our gear into the mokoro we would share, got into position sitting on our sleeping mats that were now acting as chairs, and promised each other not to move a muscle until we got to the campsite, for fear of falling overboard into the hippopotamus infested waters. Brako and about nine other men and women polers transported the fourteen of us with Nomad Adventure Tours and our food, tents and other supplies needed for camping in the wilderness.
For the next hour and a half the ten mokoros gently breezed along the top of the waters, through tall grass and ponds of beautiful water lilies. It was relaxing and peaceful – with only brief moments of panic when one of us passengers shifted our weight or made some sort of sudden movement, making our already low-to-the-water mokoro teeter from left to right as if it were about to tip over.
Once we arrived to our campsite (a spot seemingly chosen at random) we unloaded everything from the mokoros and set up our newest edition of our tent city – with random smaller tents (used by the polers) scattered amongst ours.
With all the tents up the only thing left to learn about was our luxurious facilities that we would have the utmost pleasure of using during the next few days. Please note the sarcasm in that previous sentence. Brako led us down a path that jutted off from our campsite to a small clearing between some large bushes and trees. He had a shovel in hand and started to dig a hole about 2 feet deep.
“Welcome to your toilet facilities for the next 2 days.” He said proudly showing off the hole in the ground. “There are some rules. We will leave the shovel at the beginning of that path we just came down. Take it with you to let everyone know that the toilet is in use. We will also leave a roll of toilet paper hanging on one of the branches for you to use. If you do a number two – please make sure that you use the shovel to put sand on top of your business. If this toilet fills up – we will dig another one. ENJOY!”
Now THAT, my fine readers, is a true sign of five star luxury. Sharing a hole-in-the-ground bush toilet with 25 people for two days. Needless to say – my biggest fear was NOT the dangerous hippos that lived in the waters a mere 50m from camp, or other wild animals that may lurk in the bushes. My fear was having to do a number two whilst squatting over a hole in the ground. That being said, I was well aware that this was going to be the case prior to booking. And in all reality I really don’t mind the whole bush camping thing, sometimes it is fun to just get back to nature.
The rest of the morning and afternoon was spent relaxing and doing whatever we wanted. Be it reading, hanging out, climbing trees, taking a dip in the hippo-free watering hole, or taking a nap… relaxation was the name of the game. Everyone was free to do whatever they saw fit. At around 4pm we were taken on a guided bushwalk where we heard some interesting folk tales about the different animals, learned about animal tracking by spotting the differences in their footprints and even stumbled upon a large herd of zebra that we managed to get within 50m of! The sun started to set as we made our way back to camp – just in time for another signature Shingie beef stew with sadza (cooked maize meal). With our meals piled high in our metal plates and our camp chairs set up in a circle around the campfire –it was easy to see that everyone was starting to feel completely relaxed.
After dishes were cleaned and everyone started settling in around the campfire with either cups of hot coffee or bottles of beer, Brako and his poling friends started to teach us some games to play around the campfire – the usual ice breaker type games that one might play at summer camp, but with an African twist. Keeping rhythm between clapping and chanting the simple song, memory and such were all skills needed to win. Skills I don’t apparently possess because I was out quite quickly. The games went on for a good hour or two followed by some chitchatting around the fire – but since we were going to be up at the crack of dawn the following morning, it was off to bed for me.
I woke up to the sound of people unzipping their tent doors, and rezipping them shut. The dawn was just breaking and we were going to be going on a 3-hour long bushwalk before we got to sit down and enjoy our proper breakfast. Brako and a few other polers had us buddy up three-per-mokoro and we got to enjoy our sunrise mokoro ride through the tall grasses and water lilies as we listened to lions roaring in the distance. It was pretty incredible. The polers beached our mokoros and once we were all out, carried them out of the water and placed them down about ten feet away. With Michael – the other lead poler – leading the way, we followed behind in a single file trying to avoid tripping in the holes that had been dug in the ground by various animals.
The objective of that morning’s bush walk was to try to see as many animals as possible.
Minus the small herd of zebra, we didn’t see a bloody thing except a lot of dried up animal poo.
After 3 hours of wandering around on empty stomachs not having seen ANY animals – the majority of us were fed up, hungry and just wanted to get back to camp. It was evident that the polers felt really bad that we didn’t get to see any animals – but such is life. And while it’s great to witness the animals in their natural habitats, spotting them is not always guaranteed.
We returned to camp and scarfed down a delicious late breakfast and then it was back to rest and relaxation. I took it upon myself to drag out my sleeping mat from my tent and started to do some yoga around the campfire pit to keep myself occupied for a little bit. After I’d had enough yoga I made myself comfortable on my sleeping mat and took a lovely midmorning nap under a canopy of branches and leaves. It was really nice. After lunch a few of us decided that we wanted to indulge in a group dip in the hippo-free watering hole. Ivan, Ken, Sue, Shaun, Anja, Christina and myself all walked down the overgrown paths that led to the watering hole. We stripped down to our skivvies or bathing suits (I had left mine back on the truck in Maun, so my full-bum underwear and sports bra had to suffice for bathing attire) and jumped on into the delightfully cool waters. We splashed around and enjoyed feeling the African sun beating on us from overhead. It was just such a nice relaxing afternoon.
As we had been promised the day before, we were to be going out on a sunset mokoro ride and over to the hippo pools – a spot close by that was notorious for being home to a large number of hippos. So as the afternoon air started to cool off, we piled back into our mokoros and the polers took us over to said hippo pools. Sure enough there were no less than 8 hippos hanging out with their beady little eyes poking out of the water. Occasionally one would launch itself upright out of the water with it’s mouth open – these were the moments that having your finger on your camera trigger were vital. After spending nearly an hour oohing and ahhing over the hippos- it was time to set ourselves up for some spectacular views of the sunset.
Brako positioned our mokoro alongside the others and we watched as the sun slowly set below the horizon and the sky changed many magnificent different colours. Even though there were nearly twenty of us – it was completely silent. Nobody said a word. In my head I like to think that everyone was having their “this is Africa, completely-at-peace” moment. I know I was.
We headed back to camp, put on a few more layers before the temperature dropped for the evening and sat down to enjoy another lovely meal. This yummy dinner was followed up by the polers fabulous singing and dancing. I was absolutely astonished at the level of talent that they men and women possessed. They sang, they clapped, they danced around. It was so much fun and very entertaining.
It was the perfect end to our last night in the Okavango Delta. I remember going to sleep being completely relaxed and enjoyed listening to the animals who had come out for the evening, in the distance. Hippos woke me up a few times through the night and I was absolutely positive that they had to be right outside my tent – I was later told that they were roaming down by the water a mere 100m away. They make some pretty horrifying sounds. (Goes right up there with the horrifying sounds koalas make- as I learned on my Nullarbor Traveller Tour in Australia!).
All in all, the 2-night bush camping Okavango Delta excursion was a much-needed battery recharge for everyone on tour. It almost felt like a vacation in the middle of our vacation. It was so amazing to just get back to nature and do next-to-nothing for a few days. The following few days had a couple big drives in store, another visit to a national park – this time Chobe, a border crossing into Zimbabwe and finishing up our time with Nomad Adventure Tours in beautiful Victoria Falls. But for the time being, it was just nice to be where we were, away from the hustle and bustle, away from the truck and covering large distances every day, completely disconnected and in our own world- at one with the real, untouched Africa.
**DISCLAIMER: While Nomad Adventure Tours did provide me with a discounted tour, all expressed thoughts, opinions and experiences remain my own.**
*A special thanks also goes out to my fellow Nomads, Christina and Shaun, for being kind enough to share their photographs from those two days*
**If you would like more information about Nomad Adventure Tours and their products – contact me!**