Last week we had spring break, or what the locals would call “mid-time.” It was possibly one of the most amazing experiences that I have had! However, it wasn’t easy to maneuver around Botswana during the trip — especially the Delta!
We started off by stuffing ourselves into a 15-seater bus to the local bus station. There were about 30 of us. Needless to say, it wasn’t the most comfortable experience, but it did bring everyone closer together to sit 3 in one seat!
After packing into the next bus, we realized that it seated 60, but there were only 30 of us. So, we initially thought to ourselves, “Excellent! We can finally relax, lay back, and enjoy this 15 hour bus ride up to the Okavango.” We couldn’t have been more wrong: The bus stopped every 15-20 km to a new stop that always had at least 2-5 people entering the bus. Some of the windows did not open correctly, and others made strange noises; it was very uncomfortable. The majority of the time, about 1/4 of the people were left without anywhere to sit, and had to stand the entire time. Yes, 15 hours of standing! Thankfully, we had very generous passengers and students offer their seats to others and interchange over time. I offered my seat to an elderly gentleman with a cane. He was more than grateful. Although the bus ride seems like somewhat of a drag, everyone still enjoyed themselves and I understood that this was more of a learning experience than anything else!
Finally, after arriving, we were quickly welcomed by other locals, goats roaming the streets, cows eating grass, and stray dogs looking for food. An interesting experience. We even had a few locals attempt to speak to us in their own version of English. It was very hard to understand them, but their smiles said enough about them and the wonderful country of Botswana. Soon afterwards, three large safari trucks pulled up, let us jump in the tour seats, and took us away to our campsite.
As we arrived, we noticed that the crew we had hired had completely done everything for us — from setting up the tents and our sleeping bags, to even making us a welcoming dinner with dessert! Due to our long 15-hour journey, we were exhausted and decided to stay in for the night at the campsite.
I woke up the next morning at 4am, with no shower, no combs, no mirrors, and only the ability to brush my teeth with a limited supply of water from a water bottle and my own toothpaste and toothbrush. I, and the others, did not realize how real and serious this trip really was. It was a reality check for us; we were in the Okavango Delta. The nature of Africa. Anything could go wrong at any time, and help is a 10-13 hour safari truck ride away. No KFC, Nando’s, or school food, nor showers or bathrooms.
Our guides drove us to a secluded, marshy area of the Delta. We thought to ourselves, “What in the world is this place, and why are we here?” We passed over 15-20 local Botswana who all had long sticks measuring at least 20 feet. Again, the same question of confusion came to our mind.
Our Guide, Mr. Costa:
As we pulled up and parked in the Bush, we noticed that the locals with long sticks were coming towards us. At first, we were fearful of what was going on, but then we realized that they are part of our tour; they were our water guides!
We quickly jumped into our Mokoros with our partners and our personal guides took us into the high water grasses. At first, it was amazing to be in the Okavango waters – where anything can happen in any second. However, we slowly realized that the Mokoro trip was 3 hours long, and none of us brought sunscreen, nor any way to cover up from the sun. We were as red as the sun after the first 30 minutes.
Although the trip was long, it was still amazingly beautiful and interesting. Our Mokoro guide was very knowledgeable and even showed us a few tricks of nature: how to make a flower necklace and leaf hat!
Everywhere we travelled in the Mokoro, we encountered beautiful white flowers growing out of the muddy and brown water. After an hour of gently streaming through, our guide leaned down into the water, took a drink (he advised us not to), and then pulled out the flower by the stem. Most of these flowers’ stems are around 3 feet long. He bit the bottom off, then started to peel one end of the skin from the bottom to the top of the flower and same for the other side, but also breaking the strong core of it each time. Then he tied the ends together and said to put it around our neck. We were trying to keep our body temperatures cool by stacking as many wet flower necklaces around ourselves as we could!