A fairytale ride in the Delta

We arrived to Sepupa, a village that meets the Okavango delta, where we boarded our aluminum “speed” boat with all our gear we would need for the next 2 days (food, stove, propane, sleeping gear, tents) and got cozy in our chairs. We were starved as it was 3pm so we made ourselves salami and cheese sandwiches while the boat was flying on the water. The scenery was beautiful, simple and tranquil. The moon was out. Long green reeds lined the river with ocassional papyrus sprouting amongst the reeds. Cold. It was nippy with the wind and speed of the boat glazing across the river. I put on my thermals(more like tights) but was still cold. Sun setting as we arrived at the dock two hours later. There was a truck waiting us, with benches the length of the truck placed in the middle. I was impressed with their timing, certainly not on African time, and their quickness to unload the boat and load everything in to the truck to take us to our camp 10 minutes away. To our surprise, they set up camp for us using their own tents and provided nice fold able chairs for us with arm rests (like the ones so popular in the USA for camping, kids sports games etc). I could get used to camp being set up upon arrival. Stephan cooked us Spaghetti Bolonaise and we all enjoyed the warmth of the fire.

Two hungry dogs got cozy around the fire and were thankful to our leftovers. Stephan feed them pasta and the following morning let them have our meat sauce. Poor dogs. As Martin would later say, Third world dogs all look the same: hungry and inbreed. Dogs in Africa are often for protection and not considered a part of the family as we see them in the States. I’ve seen them beaten and once was growled out and almost bitten when I petted a scrawney dog during my village stays during my hike in the Transkei in South Africa. The dog wasn’t used to any positive attention. Just being beaten with a broom or branch and being chassed by children. Shame.

We awoke early to the tap on our tents by good ole,’ reliable Stephan to give us the wake up call. Enjoyed a quick breakfast of muesli (granola) and yogurt, washed dishes and then loaded all our gear on to the truck which arrived promptly at 8am. Ten minutes drive and we were loading the mekoros (dug out canoes) with all our gear. We’d have three mekoros- one for gear, and two to accommodate us- two per mokoro. A scenic ride through the Delta full of lily pads and the occasional lily flower. Sometimes I could see the bottom and the tangle of the lily pad vines. Each poler balanced perfectly on the back of the thin fiber glass canoe gliding us through the vivid blue water. I imagined we’d have to carefully navigate around the luscious reeds but the polers just pushed right through them. In some areas, the bugs were beyond abundant- buzzing and landing everywhere. Often, there was the spider or tiny frog enjoying free passage. Good thing bugs don’t faze me. Upon arrival 3 hrs later, we set up camp and enjoyed lunch.

I enjoyed a relaxing day in the bush without any facilities and no way to get back to “civilazation” without a ride in the mokoro. Martin, Ingvild and I went for a short swim in the Delta, 5 minutes away by mokoro from our camp. A bit exhilarating knowing hippos and crocodiles live in these waters. I can say, I’ve swum in the Okanvango Delta.

An hour later, we took a ride in the mokoro to see the hippos. I had a mokoro to myself since Stephan stayed back at camp to prepare us dinner- a traditional South African stew, potjie. YUM. I was apprehensive to see hippos knowing they kill more humans than any other wild animal in Africa. A scary prospect. The polers, of course, know what they’re doing. They’re cautious of the hippos and respect them. We  watched the hippos from the rim of the swamy area they were swimming and lounging in. Occassionally, we’d see nostrils come poke out of the water and plenty of grunting. We stayed for a good 40 minutes and then returned as the sun was setting. Beautifully stunning. I laid back in the mokoro capturing the moment. Trying to fully embrace the moment, where I was, stopping time as best as I could without silly thoughts flooding the brain. Birds sung, hippos grunted, reeds crinkled, water rippled, sky illuminated, a breeze blew past.

Back at camp, Potjie was almost ready. A rewarding and relaxing day.

As we ate our meal, the polers maintained the fire to cook their meat and pap (maize meal, looks like mashed potatos but stiff, common in most of Africa just different names). In fact, we had a fire going from morning till night not because it was cold but simply so the polers could cook their meals. Collect firewood and have some matches… and you’ve got a fire to cook.

They spoke in Setswana, the national language of Botswana. I felt seperated for just a moment hearing them chat and laught amongst themsleves in their own language while the four of us shared stories and a laugh. Two worlds connected and yet disconnected. Strange. I enjoyed hearing them speak.. imagining what they may be saying to each other, watching the dyanamics between the lead poler- an older gentleman, a middleaged man and an older woman. The woman was always the last to have her meal dished up. Eventhough I know most cultures in Africa are distinctly partiarchial, I’m still surprised at the inequality and the demand on woman and girls to do the often rigouous tasks required of them. (Demanding tasks: collecting firewood, collecting water and carrying on their head to their village, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children etc.).

The following morning we awoke early (7am) for breakfast and a 2 hr stroll in the bush in hopes of seeing some wildlife. We managed to see a few zebras, a warthog and  the typial springbok but I’d be surprised to see much else with all the noise we made walking quietly through the dry grass. I was happy to have the exercise yet I would have gladly taken extra sleep. Bush walks usually sound cooler than they are.

Got back to camp and packed everything up, loaded it all onto the mekoros and glided peacefully back to the area where we originally set off from. This time our polers took a shortcut and boy were their plenty of bugs amongst the reeds. The elder woman was having back issues. The lead poler, Calvin, asked for pain killers for her (she didn’t speak much English) and Stephen gave her some. I asked Calvin if her mokoro was the heaviest since she wasn’t carrying passsengers just most of our gear. He said, “yes.” You’d think the one suffering with back pain could have the chance to push the lightest mokoro but my question in their eyes was deserving of only a matter of fact answer. Alright. Ok.  DId Calvin even see the purpose in my asking if hers was heaviest? Doubtful. Simply an example of the role of woman and their place in African society.

Calvin was then to take us on a “village walk” but it was simply an uninformative walk. Because of the initial problems with the car, Bundu decided to put us up in a houseboat for one night on the river. I was ready to be on the houseboat… Enough of this fake let’s roam through the village stuff.

The houseboat felt like luxury.  I plopped myself in a chair, closed my eyes and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. I could get used to this life style or add an extra day or two. Our two hosts, Sam and SIlence cooked a delicious dinner of chicken, mushroom sauce, vegetables and rice. I had a double bed to myself with my own bathroom with a view. WOW.

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