It was the most amazing, unforgettable, best travel experience I've had so far.
Our trip to the Okavango delta was part of a ten day small group tour in Botswana and Zambia operated by Acacia-Africa. Our travel party consisted of six travel companions and our Afrikaans driver/guide/cook, who was always available when we needed him. We spent two nights in the delta far from any human settlements, far from civilization, far from electric lights.
We left Maun, the gateway to the delta early in the morning and were driven by a 4x4 in about an hour to a mokoro bording point, where our local guides and polers had already been waiting for us. Mokoros ar dugout canoes used in the Okavango delta. We loaded our quite limited personal belongings (I had a backpack and a camera bag only) and our supplies, camping equipment, food and water purchased in a Spar supermarket in Maun aboard the mokoros. It took two hours for our polers to propel our mokoros to our campsite. The scenery was amazing. The mokoros were pushed by the polers through narrow lagoons among the papyrus. The lagoons ocasionally opened up onto large open areas, where the surface of the water was covered by water lilys. Only the sound of the poles, water dripping from them, the tiny waves along the sides of the mokoros, the rustle of the papyrus, birds' calls could be heard. These were the real sounds of silence. Being November the weather was very hot, at midday the temperature reached 40 degrees Celsius. Our suncream served really good throughout this two hour mokoro ride.
By the time we reached our campsite, some of our local guides had already got there, put up the tents and prepared the campsite. They had already got a fire going, a teapot sitting on it with boiling water, and with a large heap of elly poo close to the fire. This remained there for the rest of our stay, for some people it provided a convenient tool to prop their feet up. Our tents were not large but quite sufficient for two persons. We did not intend to spend to much time in them in that heat anyway. Our water supplies heated up quickly. In 40 degrees one has to drink a lot, so we drank hot water. The clever ones made tea saying if it is hot they have to drink let it be tea. In the heat of the day we walked to a lagoon of the Okavango, where the water was clean and we dipped in it. It was magnificent.
Late afternoon, when the heat had ebbed and animals were supposed to be more active we went on a game walk on the island. We hardly left our camp, it was perhaps less than 30 meters we had walked, when our local guide, Dolphin said he heard an elephant in the bush. An then suddenly the elly appeared. About 30 meters from where we stood a lone bull elephant walked out from behind the trees. It was an experience words are hard to find to describe. We could hear the deep rumbling sound he gave while chewing on the twigs and leaves of the trees, and he was coming closer and closer. Eventually there was only one single bush between him and us. Though we held our breath I did not forget my camera and took photos of him. Only when the elly had been long gone did we move on to our game walk. We saw all sort of wildlife: zebra, impala, steenbuck, lots of beautiful birds, more elephants, more zebra, and on and on. There were plenty of termite mounds on the island, some of them reaching 2-2,5 m high, and many of them dug out and foraged by aardvarks, these nocturnal pig-looking mammals.
As we all learned it from the books, it gets dark really fast in Africa. It was almost dark when we got back to our camp. To our surprise our guide welcomed us with the question: does any of you want a cold beer? We could hardly believe that after a whole day of drinking hot water we could have something cold. It turned out that he secretly stocked a few cans of beer in the icebox where he kept our food. It was probably the best beer we had had on our tour. The night in the delta was incredible. It was hot, so the sides of our tents were rolled up, thus we basically slept in the open, only a mosquito net around us. The sounds of the night were exciting. Millions of insects buzzing, thousand of frogs croaking, zebra calling, fighting hippos roaring. A night I will never forget. The sky was clear, millions of stars illuminating the night, with an occasional firefly flying through.
Next morning we got up early at five o'clock, so that after a quick snack and coffe we left for another game walk. The scenery was as beautiful as the day before, however the island was illuminated by the rising sun from a different angle, so as a photography enthusiast I could take photos of the wildlife and the scenery with different lighting conditions. This walk was longer than on the previous day, we were walking for three hours. We could get quite close to some of the animals, especially zebras, who were wary, but did not run away. Late afternoon we went on a mokoro ride in the Okavango delta. We could see the beauty of the river, enjoy the peace, and watch the striking colors of the sunset. Late evening, after dinner prepared on the fire next to the elly poo, the local people had a little performance for us, they sang local songs and danced. In return we also sang some of our folk songs.
After another African night under the stars with the buzzing of the dark, early in the morning we had another game walk and then we it was time to break camp. We packed our stuff on the mokoros and were poled back to civilization. As I told my travel companions afterwards the Delta did really good to my soul: it had been a long long time that I felt so relaxed.