Bush Camping in the Okavango Delta

I woke up in the middle of the night in a pool of sweat and a slight panic. As a result, I learned two things:

1. You do not need a sleeping bag in Africa in the middle of summer.
2. You should probably always roll up your tent windows before bed to provide ventilation.

From here on out I slept on top of my sleeping bag but fell asleep each night wondering if I’d wake up covered in bugs the size of your face, snakes and scorpions. On the up side, I no longer woke up drenched in sweat and there was a steady flow of air passing through my tent.

My leg was bothering me as were the sounds of gigantic bugs crashing into the outside of my tent. They were so big, in fact, that they made quite a distinct *thud* noise each time they flew into the tent wall. I needed to pee, but I didn’t dare exit my tent until the sun came up.

FLYING OVER THE OKAVANGO DELTA

Today I made a last minute decision to participate in one of the optional activities G Adventures offers as part of their Southern Africa Encompassed tour. Despite my immense hate of small planes (or “crash-die” planes as I like to refer to them), I mustered the courage to board an eight-person plane and fly over the Okavango Delta! I was terrified but oddly enough, excited.

The Okavango Delta is the spectacular result of the Okavango River flowing into the Kalahari Desert. It is the worlds largest inland delta and situated in an extremely arid region, attracting great concentrations of diverse wildlife.

After establishing that our eight-person plane could in fact fly, I managed to set my tiny plane fear aside and relax a little. The views down below were quite stunning and we were able to spot herds of elephant, giraffe and hippos. These were my first African wildlife encounters, and they’d definitely not be my last!

Flying over the Okavango Delta

When we landed safely, I thanked God that our tiny crash-die plane hadn’t decided to conk out mid-air and nosedive down amongst the waters of the Delta. I’m sure my fat ass would have been a nice feast for a pride of lion.

Seeing the Delta from above only just wet my appetite though. Tomorrow would call for an entirely different type of adventure with this beast.

That night one of our tour guides found a tube of Voltaren amongst their first aid supplies. You can’t get Voltaren in the USA, but I used to use it back home in Australia. It is an anti-inflammatory cream-based drug used for the relief of joint pain and it is a bloody miracle in a tube. I rubbed it into my injured knee and within an hour, I could already apply pressure to it without limping. I continued to apply it every few hours. Oh, sweet relief!

BUSH CAMPING IN THE OKAVANGO DELTA

We leave a majority of our luggage back in Maun. All that’s coming with me is my tent, sleeping bag, camera, baby wipes, a change of clothes, some food and a five litre bottle of water. Today, we begin our two day/one night excursion deep into the Delta via mokoro (a traditional dug-out canoe). We arrive at a dock situated at the back of a small village. Here we meet our poler.

Poler – One that uses a pole to push a dug-out canoe through the reeds of the Okavango Delta.

My poler shows me and one other to our canoe and is quick to learn my name. Actually, he becomes quite fond of my name, and even when amongst a group of people, he would still call everyone “Lynda”, it is quite amusing.

He is very talkative, he tells us all about his crazy ex wife who drinks too much, his son, his plans for Christmas in his village and his attempts to find a new love interest, which he quickly follows up with “Lynda, you married?” He is saddened to learn I am dating an American boy back home. Hahaha.

We stop talking for a bit. The hot sun is beaming down on me as I lean into the back end of the mokoro and just chill. The serenity is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. There is so much around me yet I’m surrounded by pure silence with the exception of the Polers pole gently splashing the calm waters of the Delta as it steers us through the high reeds. For the next two hours, I’m completely relaxed without a worry in the world. I try to take it all in.

Camping in the Okavango Delta

Our Polers find an unclaimed piece of land to the side of the waters for our group to camp at tonight. Our mokoros dock on the banks of the Delta and we start unloading all our supplies and gear to set up camp. Tonight we are basic bush camping. Our toilet is a dug-out hole in the ground. Every time we use it, we need to take a shovel with us and cover our doings with a pile of dirt. If that isn’t classy enough, my shower for tonight and the morning consists of baby wipes. I’m so low maintenance, any man would be lucky to have me.

We are completely out in the open. There are no fences between us and the wild. While this is slightly terrifying, it sends an odd tingle of excitement down my spine. When will I ever get to experience something like this again, let alone on Christmas Eve?!

Basic Bush Camp Okavango Delta

We still have two hours before sunset. Our Poler tells us we are going to trek by foot into the bush… the same bush with lions and elephants running free… because, you know that’s what any smart person would do. Applying the Voltaren cream at regular intervals has worked wonders on my knee so I am able to participate in this activity. Whether this is a good thing or not, I’m not sure.

We break off into small groups and within minutes, each group vanishes deep into the bush. The poler tells us to follow him by walking in a straight line, one behind the other, and to not let an individual drift too far behind. The animals out in the wild see the drifter as the weakest link; the easiest target to prey upon without the rest of the group noticing up ahead. This makes me feel a little uneasy so I make sure to stay directly behind my Poler. He loves saying my name so often that I’m quietly confident he’d choose me to save over the rest of our group in the event of a lion raid.

Fresh lion footprint in the Delta

One of the first things we come across are fresh lion footprints in the sand. Yes, right where I am standing, maybe only minutes before, a lion had been pacing back and forth, probably in search of food. Again, an uneasy lump forms in the back of my throat when I realize I am a good source of food. Good thing we’ll be back at camp before sunset… right…?

We keep walking. Our Poler picks up a trail. He is absolutely incredible with what he can sense and see. His eye sight is phenomenal and he can pinpoint even the smallest of animals far off into the distance. He follows a trail and soon enough, smack bang right in front of us is a dazzle of zebra. I find them to be such majestic creatures. We also bump into a big, slow turtle which the Poler picks up to allow us to get some better photos of. He points out some battle wounds on the turtles shell and tells us it is likely a lion had tried attacking it.

Bushwalk through the Okavango Delta

It’s getting late. We had walked a lot deeper into the bush than our Poler had anticipated. He tells us it is time to turn back. I think he can see the look of concern on my face as he assures me, “Don’t worry Lynda, we will be back before sunset.” Only he lied to me… we were still trekking our way back to camp well after sunset. In fact, it got so dark out that we fell into an elephant trench and I came close to shitting my pants out of fear that the lion would return and slaughter us all. I have such a vivid imagination.

Proof that the sun did in fact set as we were still finding our way back to camp…

Sunset in the Okavango Delta

When we eventually make it back to camp, the rest of the crew is well into enjoying a candlelit dinner. I remember feeling immense relief as we were walking in pitch darkness and I could see the flickering of lanterns coming from our camp site up ahead; we made it! We are the last group to arrive back. The others express their concern into thinking we had been killed out in the wilderness. Thanks for sending a search party, guys!

That night there is singing and dancing around the campfire before we all head to our tents and get some much needed sleep. Our Polers take turn standing guard to protect our camp site.

The next morning over breakfast, our Polers share stories with us of how hippos and hyenas came to our camp site that night while we were sleeping. At first I am not too concerned, until someone tells me hyenas are known to enter open tents in the shadows of the night, drag the occupants out of them, and rip their faces off. OH MY GOD! What a way to spend my Christmas morning. And to top it off, I rescue two frogs that were stuck down our dug-out toilet hole using the shovel. Merry Christmas, frogs.

We take down our campsite, load up the mokoros again and start our two our journey back down the Delta.

Mokoro ride down the Okavango Delta

This really was an experience like no other.  But, as always, more adventures were right around the corner…

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