No visit to Botswana is complete without experiencing a mokoro trip in the Okavango Delta. Whilst the national parks enthrall you with their abundant wildlife and scenery, gliding through the narrow channels of the delta is equally spellbinding and quite literally a way to massage the soul and spend some time being completely ‘in the now’, with all the worries of the everyday world set aside for a couple of hours.
Every year, millions of cubic meters of water rush down from Angola and flood the Okavango River, filling the thirsty channels and grasslands of northern Botswana, to make it the world’s largest inland delta. The Nxamaseri floodplain, as it is also known, absorbs only a minute proportion of all this water into its ground reserves, the rest being lost to evaporation. It’s an annual road show that feeds not only the ground and the animals, but swells the coffers of the tourism sector and boosts the economy of Botswana. Lodges abound on many of the islands and guests from around the world get to experience some of the country’s finest nature moments.
From ancient times the locals have carved wooden dugouts (mokoros) from Sausage trees (Kigelia pinnata) and these amazing boats are ideally suited to float through the reeds and long grass covered by the floodwaters. The mokoro sits very low in the water making it seem perilously close to being inundated. If you’re lucky, it sports two legless plastic chairs for you to sit back on, if not, you sit on straw on the bottom of the boat, which can be a bit uncomfortable until you get used to it!
Sometimes as you go along, the reeds and long grass softly brush your face, or you break the gossamer thread of a spider web; other times the way ahead is clear and you glide through the narrow channels unimpeded. Sometimes you see the maroon under-leaves of the water lilies and other times you see the muddy bottom of the channel through crystal clear waters. Mostly there is a deep silence, broken only by the gentle splashing of the wooden pole (the ngushi) as your friendly guide propels you through the calm water. A peace descends as you sit back and let the hypnotic rhythm of the boat bring you to a state of total relaxation.
Nature puts on a magnificent display for your delta experience, as you float quietly past a pod of hippos, a crocodile or any number of beautiful birds that make their home amongst the reeds. You could see elephants and Red Letchwes wading in the water, or catch a glimpse of an African Jacana walking on the lily pads fishing for food, a Black Crake making its way busily along the bank or a colourful Malachite Kingfisher perched on the papyrus. If you’re very lucky a Fish Eagle might swoop down and catch a fish in front of you. We came across a puff adder swimming in the channel, which our guide passed rapidly, not wanting to take a deadly and uninvited passenger on board.
Lunch time brings an opportunity to stop on an island and have a walk around to stretch those cramped legs and see the abundant birdlife.
You can also learn so much if you share your lunch with your guide and quiz him on his spiritual beliefs, traditions and superstitions, which differ so much from your Western culture. He will take great delight in telling you his much-loved stories and will feel honoured that you have shown an interest in him and his life.
When you are safely deposited back on land after your delta experience, you will be the one who feels truly honoured and grateful to have had such a magnificent day out and fond memories will linger long after you have left this awesome country.