Gliding in a Mokoro Through the Okavango Delta, Botswana
The source of
the Okavango Delta starts in the highlands of Angola, flows through Namibia and
enters northwestern Botswana as the Okavango River which empties into the sands
of the Kalahari Desert creating a 15,000 sq km maze of lakes, channels, marsh
and islands that make up the largest inland delta in the world.
A hand dug Mokoro - the main method of transport in the Okavango Delta
The water in the delta is so clear that you can see to the
bottom of the channels and clean enough that you can drink straight from the
delta without filtration.
The delta is home to lions, elephants, hyenas, wild dog,
buffalo, crocodiles, red lechwe and numerous other animals, but because the
main mode of transportation within the delta is via small hand carved wood
canoes (mekoro) pushed by a pole, the hippos are the most feared and respected
animals of the delta. During the
day the hippos stay in the deeper channels of the delta, making the shallow papyrus
reed marsh area safer to navigate by mokoro.
A view of the Okavango Delta from above
The water level in the delta area fluctuates significantly
throughout the year. Only a few of
the camps within the delta can be reached by vehicles in the dry season leaving
planes and mekoro as the only reliable method of getting deep inside the
delta. Because it would take a
number of days to get into the middle of the delta by mekoro the vast majority
of visitors in the central delta area arrive my small plane.
A hut wall built with Coke cans in a delta village
We flew into an area of the delta near Chief's Island and
spent majority of our days gliding through the delta marsh by mekoro. Each time we would cross a channel the
poler would stop and check for hippos, which would be within sight most of the
time. Sometimes the hippos would
be far away enough that we could safely cross the channel. One morning we saw hippos at a fair
distance and crossed the channel only to run into thick reeds on the other side
of the channel. Unable to push
forward through the thick reeds with most of the boat still sticking out in the
main channel a hippo charged the mokoro making a sizable wake as he rose to the
surface and moved toward us. I
wish I would have captured the moment with my camera but as soon as it was
clear we were stuck in the channel and couldn't move forward I looked back at
the poler and he was visibly scared so I quickly put down my camera and slipped
on my shoes. As the hippo
continued to advance the poler smacked his poling stick into the water and stopped
the hippo about 15 meters from the boat.
A Zebra in the delta marsh
In addition to riding the mekoro through the delta we spent an
afternoon walking through one of the few remaining delta villages and the rest
of our time walking on the islands watching giraffes, zebras, elephants and red
lechwe running through the marsh.
Taking off to some unidentified place in the heart of Africa – somewhere with no electricity, no running water and at least one week’s journey from anything resembling a city has been a long time dream of mine.
My name is John Bradley and in May 2009, I left my job in Chicago, sold my car, moved everything else I owned into my grandma’s basement and flew to Africa. I plan to take roughly one year to overland on a budget from Cape Town to Cairo. I do not have an itinerary; I have no idea where I will be five days from now. My path is guided by the attempt to balance the urge to see and experience as much as I can with the desire to travel slowly and close to the ground.
This is where I will post my stories, photos, and videos as I move along on my journey. Feel free to post comments or send me an email with any thoughts or suggestions.