Lost mekoros, bucket showers and the art of polling

As we set out for our walk that morning, something strange happened – a helicopter flew over us. This little reminder of the outside modern world seemed so outrageously out-of-place, which made me realise what a dream-fantasy I had been living in for the last two days. We were tourists on a two-day mobile safari in the Okavango Delta, but really we were Livingstone’s lost offspring on an intrepid expedition through uncharted Botswana wilderness. You can’t blame me for getting the two mixed up. If you were there, I bet you’d have done so too…

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Being told I could join Sun Destination’s filmmaker Kevin on a two-day mobile safari was probably one of THE most exciting things I have ever been told (I am not exaggerating – Botswana is my favourite country in the WHOLE world and this was something completely new for me).

Of the many mobile safari operators out there, Afrika Ecco Safari’s is unique because it’s exclusively Motswana-run. Our guide, Teko Mbwe Ketlogetswe, was born on the tip of Chiefs island (One of the Okavango’s largest islands, near the famous Mombo camp). When he was still a young boy, his family relocated due to an outbreak of Tsetse flies (attracted by the large herds of buffalo in the area) to a place of permanent water. As he grew, Teko began learning to understand plants, interpret animal tracks and make mokoros. “I learnt to become a man”, he told me.

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Okavango river cruising…it doesn’t get better than this!

Our boat was launched from Maun heavy-laden with bright plastic tubs filled with rusks, eggs, biscuits, bananas, cereal, yoghurt and basically anything you could want under the African sun! A cooler box might have been a better place for the yoghurt (said the dairy farmer’s daughter in me), but that would soon be the least of our worries!

There were about seven of us in total. Amongst others, our group included Chris (the owner of African Ecco Safaris) Rose the cook, Ntwe (trainee ranger and poller) and Teko. It was a rather extravagant ensemble for Kevin and I as the only guests!

As our boat hummed along, loud voices echoed across the water as the men greeted their friends on the riverbank – aunties, brothers, friends and cousins appeared around every new corner! Everybody knows everybody in a small town like Maun. In fact, the more time I spend in Botswana, the more I am convinced that this is true for the whole country! We passed cattle, sad looking donkeys, half-drowned fences and grey herons sitting like old grey-haired men on dry branches. Teko was calling out the names of birds as we passed them: “African Jacana!”… “Pied Kingfisher!” …  Hammerkop!”

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Day lilies float on the water, elephants can be seen on the banks and, if you look very very carefully, you might see a beautiful Painted Reed frog. © Bush-bound Girl

With Maun behind us, the river changed. Channels began to split, weaving and wandering through thick reeds and papyrus. These sedges formed a great green tablecloth which made the islands of wild date palms and termite mounds look like lavish party platters. We cruised through channels made by hippos and elephants (two of the Delta’s most important architects). It felt like we were the only people in the world. When we passed some large contented-looking ellies, I decided that if only they could understand me, I might have dared them to spray water at us.

A few hours later and we suddenly became aware that something was wrong. The boat slowed and the men began talking loudly and irritably amongst themselves. Teko climbed onto the roof with a pair of binoculars and everybody seemed to be looking around for something. For what? I had no idea!

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Teko searches the swamps…

Eventually we got an answer (in English). The men were looking for some mokoros (singular for ‘mekoros’) that were going to take us to the island where we would stay the night. We had arrived at the meeting place, but the mekoros were not there.

I couldn’t help wondering what the “meeting place” referred to – how on earth does one begin to define a meeting place in this maze of channels?…  “I’ll meet you at those water lillies by the bed of reeds on the left of the hippo channel –  you know, the one near the papyrus island where the elephants like to hang out…”  

Scenarios of spending the night on the boat began playing out in my head. It wouldn’t have been so bad actually,  certainly an interesting adventure! We definitely wouldn’t have starved either!

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© Bush-bound Girl

Meanwhile, the guys decided that the best thing to do would be to go to the village (an hour away) and enquire about the mekoro pollers. When we arrived at the village, we found them! I never figured out why they weren’t there to meet us at the discussed spot, but the important thing is that we had found them.

The next part of our journey began in true-Bayei style. In some places the water was so low that our mokoros had to be pulled!

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Base, one of the gentlemen who polled our mekoros. © Bush-bound Girl

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Gliding through the water unobtrusively (without a noisy engine to scare away the wildlife) allows you entry into a secret world…

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© Kevin MacLaughlin

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The Okavango Delta is home to about 450 bird species. During summer months (November to March) it’s estimated that the swamps swell with more than one million migrants! The African Pygmy Goose and African Jacana were two of the most common birds we saw.

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This young croc was surprisingly relaxed when we stopped on the riverbank to photograph him.

Reaching our cosy island camp was very exciting. Everything, including tents, showers, chairs and tables had already been set up for us under some beautiful Jackalberry trees. I was completely in my element. This is definately the wildest, most remote place I have ever camped at.

One of my favourite questions to ask people goes like this: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be? My own answer to the question is usually something along the lines of: Camping in the middle of the Okavango, far from other people, wild and free… It’s a pretty cool feeling when you realise that the place you so often wish for is where you are right now.

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Thanks for the great food Rose – especially the delicious freshly baked bread!

Bucket showering in the bush is the ultimate, except when you run out of water before you’ve washed the soap off yourself! This was a rookie error which was made trickier by being the only girl guest around. My soapy naked self complete with paper-thorned bare feet had to call for help and then wait in the tent, trying not to cover everything in wet soap. Meanwhile the men refilled the bucket from the river and boiled the water on the fire. Next time my strategy will be like this:

1) Turn on the tap and get whole body wet

2) Turn off tap

3) Cover whole body in soap

4) Turn tap back on and rinse off soap.

camp

Everything we needed right here on this little island in the Okavango…

We had a real fire that night, blazing and crackling and lapping up the night shadows with enormous orange flames. We sat with Chris and Teko, while Rose and the others prepared dinner at another fire a little further away.

“Please tell us a story”, I asked.

Leaning back in his canvas chair, I could see Chris was brewing something. He grinned at Teko. The two of them are cousins and, as it is in families, seemed to have some secret language going on. The story he told was about their uncle going fishing on a mokoro, and how he had upset a hippo. The hippo had chased him right out of his boat and up the riverbank. The uncle (who was wearing a large coat that day), ducked behind a tree. The angry hippo was so close behind him that, as it charged past the tree, it took the cousin’s coat right off him!

Chris and Teko’s bellies were shaking with laughter imagining their cousins facial expressions. With dinner (including Rose’s freshly baked bread) and more firelight, the stories continued into the evening.

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Chris and Teko relaxing beside our fire, can you see all the stars in the sky? © Kevin MacLaughlin

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© Kevin MacLaughlin

Another highlight of mine was learning to poll a mokoro. The urge rose suddenly and I hopped onto one of the boats and paddled out – well, it wasn’t that easy! Luckily Ntwe saw what I was doing, jumped into another mokoro and began to teach me. The trick is to put the pole in the water as close to your boat as possible, this makes it easier to steer and to push off from the bottom. It really isn’t as easy as it looks though, especially the steering and takes a lot of practice to get right!

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Ntwe is training to be a guide. I have no doubt he will be an exceptional one.

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Sundowners © Kevin MacLaughlin

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On our way back to camp the sunset was just so beautiful! © Bush-bound Girl

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© Bush-bound Girl

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Kevin and Teko explore the island on foot

The next morning we went for a walk around the island. It’s called “Sepmane” Island, which means mopane tree. There used to be a lot of mopane trees here but they’ve been wiped out by ellies. The island was much bigger than I had first thought! After the plane disappeared (the one I mentioned in the first paragraph), we were left in peace. It was just the three of us: Kevin, Teko and me, exploring our surroundings; we admired the tracks of a spring hare, glimpsed a greater honeyguide in flight, touched an elephant skull, climbed a termite mound, and smelt sweet wild sage. Tourists on a bush walk? Nope – we were Bayei tribesman going for a morning stroll around our own little Okavango island…

For more information:

E: reservations@sundestinations.co.za
T: +27 21 421 8433
T: +27 21 418 0536

Or 

E: mail@afrikaeccosafaris.com
T: +267 686 0770

Categories: Adrenalin Adventures, Botswana, Cultural Adventures, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brave baby honey badger at Camp Linyanti

We were staying in Botswana’s Linyanti concession, at Sun Destination’s Camp Linyanti  when we had this amazing sighting. Game drives in the area, one of my favourite corners of Africa, are through beautiful mopane woodland. As we came around a corner there were two honey badgers – a mother and baby – right on the edge of the road. Surprisingly, the mother ran off leaving her youngster behind. He was crouching in a small hollow, staring up at us with big adorable eyes and seemed rather shy…

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South Africa in miniature – inspiration from Terra-Lens Photography

I LOVE meeting girls who are as enthusiastic as me about all things wild and free! These fellow bush-lovers are so inspiring. I met Haley about a year ago on a seal snorkelling trip with a mutual friend. Whilst I bobbed around rather awkwardly, the two of them took to the water like mermaids!

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Quad bike craziness in the Kalahari

I’m not quite sure what got into me. Perhaps it was a case of too many hours cooped up in a car, the excitement of arriving at a new place, or simply the untamed Kalahari bush waking up the wild side in me. And there’s a wild side in all of us isn’t there?

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A Food Safari

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You know there’s magic going on in the kitchen when you’re on a game drive, following a gorgeous leopard padding through an open plain, and then find yourself wondering what’s for dinner… “Huh!? What’s wrong with you Rach … we’ve just had high tea, and before that a big lunch, scrumptious game drive snacks and breakfast almost fit for a lion!”. But I wasn’t the only one having these thoughts. “I’m looking forward to dinner” said Em from the seat next to me. The truth is, we were on a food safari! An Okavango Wilderness Camp food safari!

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Romance in mind at Tongabezi Lodge

So here I am in Livingstone, Zambia. As I write this, I’m looking over the mighty Zambezi river, which, for all it’s might, is very calming to look at. The sun is sinking slowly, and so am I… into a cosy-cushioned couch on the deck of Tongabezi Lodge’s ‘lookout’. Any last little stresses of the day are floating gently away now…

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Waste, worms and baby baobabs

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Most people in the world are beautiful. They are good-hearted human beings doing the best they can to provide for their families and secure a happy future for their children. I’m not sure about you, but sometimes I find it easy to forget this. Being daily bombarded by the awful realities of poverty, poaching and human greed in Africa can leave me feeling rather miserable. And, while I think it’s important to know about these things, I am now (more than ever) determined not to let them paralyse me into apathy. I want to keep praying, keep hoping, and, in my own individual way (which, to be honest, I’m still figuring out), fighting for what’s right. Perhaps one of these ways is to find the good and celebrate it! Beautiful people with beautiful hearts doing beautiful things. And guess what? If you look around, it’s not so hard to find them…

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Categories: Conservation, Cultural Adventures, Inspiring People, Trees, Uncategorized, Zambia | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Girls in the Wilderness: An Introduction

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The opportunity to spend 10 days with Wilderness Safaris in Zambia and Botswana came about quite unexpectedly. A newish friend of mine (without my knowledge) recommended my blog to a Wilderness Safaris guide. Suddenly I was put in touch with their marketing department, pitching ideas and working out an itinerary! It was a case of pinch-me-I’m-dreaming, and, as the trip went on, don’t pinch me because I don’t want this dream to be over!

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Smashing owls in Dullstroom – a Birding Ecotours adventure

Sometimes it’s not only what you DO that matters, but WHO you do it with that makes an experience extra-special. Much like the difference between seeing a bird and ‘smashing’ it (which, in case you’re wondering, is not an action of violent intent but rather a common expression used by these adrenalized young birders once they’ve successfully located a desired species!) “Yeah! We smashed that Cape Eagle Owl!” they would say. And boy did we smash it (but more on that later).

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Postcards from the Klaserie bush

The Klaserie is one of the lesser-known areas of Greater Kruger. It should perhaps be called  the wilder side of Kruger. It’s remote and just as beautiful. The reserve is made up of 60 000 hectares of privately owned land and shares unfenced borders with the Kruger.

I spent an amazing week at the reserve and stayed in three beautiful places which I would highly recommend (and I’m not being paid to say this!) Each camp I stayed at had something uniquely special about it.

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