The next week would take us across Botswana to reach our final destination of this section, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. There was a lot of driving involved but the two main highlights were the Okavango Delta and the Chobe River. For most of our driving days, the view out of the lando was miles and miles of dense green vegetation.
The Okavango Delta is a massive inland river delta in Northern Bostwana which comprises of vast plains which flood seasonally creating a diverse habitat for many animals.
After a long and dusty drive from our campsite we made our way into the delta on mokoros. Mokoros are dug out canoes that the local people use. Our seats were plastic chair tops with our camping mattresses bent over them and we were told to take off our shoes (I thought we weren’t getting wet)! We waded into the grassy muddy water into our mokoro and pushed off through the long twisted grass.
It’s amazing the local people know which way to go as often it doesn’t look like there is a pathway to follow but they know these waters like the back of their hand and they push effortlessly through – we did get quite a few wet grass lashing across our faces though!
It was all fun and games until suddenly we heard a loud snorting noise. We turned around to our mokoro driver with concerned faces and he laughed… “water horses” he said. Water horses you ask? Another name for hippos! I was beside myself whilst Stephen acted super cool like it was normal to be in a tiny wooden canoe riding along next to hippos.
Next we rounded a corner into an open pool area when they told us to look up ahead… would you believe they took us to a hippo pool! Apparently it was safe and they weren’t going to bother us. We stayed there for about five minutes watching them come up for air, snorting water and playing with each other. They did look peaceful and magnificent but I couldn’t believe how close we were to these mammoth creatures.
We left them to their business and moved into a laneway which actually did have a dead end onto some land. We again waded through more grassy muddy waters onto the land and proceeded to walk across bush land (bare foot and painful!) until our guides pointed to something in the distance. A herd of three elephants including a baby. It was amazing to see them in their natural habitat whilst we were on foot with no barrier or vehicle between us. We stayed there watching them for a while before heading back to the mokoros and to our new campsite.
Our campsite was slightly different to others we had been at. This wasn’t really a campsite, it was a piece of land that we had occupied with tents. We set up our tent and found elephant dung right next to our tent. We asked our guide if it was ok to stay here and he laughed – of course it was, the elephants don’t come here every night… ok?! We quickly learnt to just trust our guides who have lived here their whole lives despite what might seem crazy to us.
It was steaming hot and muggy in the Delta so for the remainder of the day we just tried to relax in the campsite chatting, reading and chilling out. Once the sun started to come down we headed out for an afternoon game walk in the delta. Interestingly the waterways often change so our guides spent the first part of our walk trying to identify which way we could go so that we didn’t end up being cut off by water. We stumbled upon a family of elephants eating their way across the plains and also spotted lots of different paw prints in the sand. Unfortunately, that’s all we saw on our walk animal wise but we were treated to a spectacular sunset.
We had a delicious traditional dinner (Botswana / Zimbabwean traditional as our Zimbabwean guide made it with the help of the local women) comprised of sadza (also known as ugali or paps – basically maize with water madde into a mash), dovi (cabbage or spinach in a peanut stew), beef stew, beans and rice. After a few campfire songs from both the locals and us we went to bed.
I can’t say I slept particularly well as all night I could hear the grunting and snorting of the hippos coming onto the land for the night and elephants roaring in the background. A once in a lifetime experience I will never forget but probably one I won’t rush to repeat!
The next morning, we made our back to the main land on our mokoros and this time the hippos were definitely following us because our guides seemed a lot more rushed and even they were slightly concerned. After our trip I also read the following online which I’m really glad I didn’t see before we left: “The boats are very vulnerable to attack by hippopotamus, which can overturn them with ease. Hippopotamus are reputed to have developed this behaviour after the use of mokoro and other boats for hunting.”
I really loved our delta excursion but I was happy to be on dry land in a vehicle! We then went to the local airfield for a scenic flight over the delta with Karango Air. We were in a tiny six seater plane but it was an awesome experience. It was pretty bumpy but we got to see the vastness of the delta and also herds and herds of animals which we weren’t able to see from the ground. It is a truly spectacular place that doesn’t compare to anywhere else I have seen.
After a couple of days driving and having fun helping prepare dinners, we made it to our campsite just outside of Chobe National Park. We went for a sunset cruise along the Chobe River with Thebe River Safaris where we saw lots and lots of hippos in and out of the water – this time from the safety of our large river boat! We also saw crocodiles, beautiful birds, buffalo and antelopes. We were really just quite happy sailing down the river, beer in hand enjoying watching the hippos trundle along.
Finally, we made it to Victoria Falls where we said good bye to the majority of our group. It was quite sad to leave this section of our tour as our guides had been absolutely fantastic and the people we had travelled with were amazing. We went on a sunset booze cruise down the Zambezi River to celebrate our last days together but as with all good things, they must come to an end and we had a few days in Vic Falls before joining our next group and the next section of our African adventure!