“For the first half an hour everyone was blown away by the beauty of it all: marshy swampland as far as the eye can see, beautiful plant life and millions of little animals flying, crawling and swimming all around us.”
I have always looked on tour-guiding as a job straight from heaven. You get to travel to exotic locations, meet interesting people, live in five-star luxury – and get paid for it! So when I was recently asked to help out on a student trip to Botswana, I jumped at the chance. Finding out that we’d be exploring the Okavango Delta (a place that I really wanted to see), and that the ratio was a rather favourable 26 girls to two guys only increased my excitement for the trip. But as I was to find out, taking a bunch of girls camping for a week is easier said than done…
Our group met at Johannesburg airport, where the other guide, the chef, the driver and 28 excited American students all gathered. We boarded Big Annie (our hefty two-ton overland truck) and set off for the border. Big Annie was even slower than she looked, but sitting high up, with the canvas windows rolled up, a nice breeze blowing and a bird’s eye view of the surroundings gave the trip an immediate ‘safari in Africa’ sort of feel to it.
The oarsmen are insanely skilful. The whole delta is pretty shallow, so they stand on the back of the mokoro and steer it along by pushing a long wooden stick off the bottom. For the 1st half an hour everyone was blown away by the beauty of it all: marshy swampland as far as the eye can see, beautiful plant life and millions of little animals flying, crawling and swimming all around us. However it wasn’t long before the peaceful motion of being gently pushed along (and the warm sun on our faces) had most of us in a blissful snooze. I was in a mokoro with our chef Tichawena, who had become a little too acquainted with hippos on a previous trip, and was keeping a sharp eye out for what he referred to as ‘ those dangerous beasts.’ Thankfully we managed to avoid hippos and crocs for the whole trip. After about 2 hours of gliding through this water wonderland we landed at our little island and soon had camp set up. Tich prepared lunch while we explored our paradise, which would be home for the next three days.
With so few possessions we probably should have got bored during our time on the island, but somehow we never did: We spent hours trying to learn to steer a mokoro in a straight line, and ended up spending a lot of time falling off – even by the end of the trip none of us had mastered this very tricky art! We also spent a lot of time playing the water version of American football – a game involving a tennis ball, a few mokoros and an underwater camera which kept us endlessly entertained.
On the final evening the mokoro oarsmen and guides entertained us with a song and dance performance, which we tried to match with a few of our own songs (Country Roads and Shosolosa) but definitely came off second best. The next morning we planned to be on the water at eight to get back to meet our truck, but on our early morning game walk the guide found lion spoor tracks… needless to say we got a bit ‘sidetracked’ and got back to camp late morning. All was fine though as we met up with Big Annie again, said our sad goodbyes and continued on our merry adventure.