It is six o’clock when the alarm goes off. From underneath a pile of blankets I can see a hand, quick as lightning, reach for the phone before they both dissapear underneath the blankets again. The last rings are muffled sounds before it stops all together. My foot pokes out from underneath my own blankets and I’m struggling to get it back under. It is about 5 degrees Celsius, still dark and we are about to embark on a Delta trip offered to us by Delta Rain (www.deltarain.com). Very quickly I gather my warmest clothes. I’m in such a hurry that my shirt is in side out the first time, then backwards before I’m finally dressed. Slowly, I’m starting to feel warm again. We have a quick breakfast at the restaurant, which was warm when it left the kitchen, but has already cooled down by the time it reaches our table. Nothing they can do about that during the African winters.
A Landrover with a safari unit built on the back takes us down a sandy track to the main road. The cold air blows straight through the car and the driver wears, just like us, a lot of clothes in layers.
It is now 7.30 and the sun is working really hard to warm things up around us. We reach the hotel where we pick up the rest of the group. We meet the friendly mixed group of travellers, who greet us very warmly, and although this doesn’t do much for the temperature, it sure makes us feel welcome. The car is now fully loaded and we continue on through the city centre of busy Maun. Eventually we leave the tar again and the last part we get to hobble through potholes and sand again. We reach an open area where we can see the river and spot the Mokoros for the first time. A Mokoro is a small, narrow boat that looks like a canoe and is pushed by a “poler” who stands on the stern with a very long pole. The Mokoros used to be carved out of trees, but nowadays they are made out of the more tree friendly glass fiber.
I see Helga looking doubtful at the small boat. Will that carry the two of us, our backpacks and the Poler? She inches carefully onto the back of the boat and I sit down in front of her. Sara, our poler for this trip, is a slim and fit girl and with her pole she pushes the boat forward as we are gliding through the shallow waters. It takes Helga a little while, but eventually she also gets enough confidence in the balance of the boat to enjoy the beautiful scenery and absolute quiet.
The Okavango Delta has a dense vegetation and will be under water for a large part of the year. The terrain is often uneven en the parts that are a bit higher will become islands in the wet season. We are visiting in between the wet and the dry season: there is enough water to be transported by a Mokoro, but the grass peaks stubbornly through the shallow waters. The Mokoros form a long line and glide effortlessly it almost seems.
We reach an island in the middle of the delta where we can already see some sturdy canvas tents. A large tent in the middle with tables and chairs underneath gives us some protection from the sun, Africa is the land of opposites. This morning I was trying to layer my clothes as best as I could, but now I’m peeling them off while looking for cover from the intense sun.
In the afternoon we get the chance to be a Poler ourselves and handle the Mokoros. After some attempts to balance ourselves and akwardly trying to position the pole, we all manage to glide around the Delta without anyone falling in.
When we are leaving for a walk on another island a little while later there are hippos around. Everyone gladly leaves the poling to the professionals who expertly guide the narrow boats past a dozen hippos.
During the walk a guide tells us everything about the flora and fauna of this area, but we are not so lucky with spotting any animals. Just before dark we return to the camp and get to see a spectacular sunset from our Mokoro viewpoint. The cook is already waiting for us with a splendid three-course meal made on the camp fire. That evening we share travel stories, enjoy the fire and we get a performance from the local team with singing and dancing.
We go to bed early, try to close our tent as well as possible and do a final mosquito check before we snuggle under our many blankets.
In the morning we see the sun come up during the sunrise walk around the island, before the Mokoros take us back to the main land. In our short Delta experience we came to love this mode of transportation. In all its quietness you truly get to enjoy the beauty of the Okavango Delta.