I woke up quite excited today…we're going into the Delta! I've heard a lot about the Delta, how beautiful it is, how you can camp close to wild animals such as elephants and leopard!
We're going to spend 2 nights in the Delta in total. The accommodated group, who have now parked up their truck near ours, took an early morning flight to their 5 star accommodation which consists of large tree house/marquee style rooms. It all sounds very grand and exciting although the group themselves appear less fun than our own! For our part, we will be sleeping in our tents, as usual.
Vincent will be coming with us to cook and Thekla is also coming because it's her first tour and she's never been in the Delta before, but Siziba has been many times, and as Nomad only pay for 2 members of staff to enter, he will be staying behind with Sonny.
I think everyone spent an extra-long time in the showers this morning, there are no facilities where we are going and our only chance to get clean will be with baby wipes unless we want to go for a swim! Then once we were all packed a large 4x4 truck like vehicle turned up to ferry us all to the mokoro's!
In all we had a lot of stuff to take, obviously there was our tents and mattresses, then there was all the cooking stuff for Vincent including food itself, cutlery and plates, etc. We each packed a small rucksack and took hiking shoes but left our flip flops behind thinking we wouldn't need them. The only issue we had was with chairs! Vincent was adamant we should take them but Siziba said no, he explained that they pay per mokoro and the more stuff we take the more expensive it will be. So we had no chairs. I don't think any of us realised quite what that would mean!
We were all very excited when we climbed into the army style truck. Siziba was sad to see us go (or so he pretended to be anyway!) and we were all sad to leave him behind. That said there was definitely an air of excitement with all the giggling and laughing going on. I don't think any of us knew what to expect.
It took 2 hours to arrive at the mokoro's. The first hour we drove through Maun (which is bigger and more spread out than you'd think) and then down a dirt track past still more houses/huts. We passed lots of cattle grazing on the side of the road with bells around their necks. Eventually the track got narrower and narrower and we had to keep our feet tucked in so they didn't get caught in the passing trees and bushes.
We passed through a gate with a basic wire fence and this signalled that we had entered the national park, not quite what we were expecting I don't think, and carried on along the small track for quite a way further. It became clear why we weren't dropped off in Sonny, the truck, although excellent, wouldn't have made it down this track.
Eventually we arrived and at first I wasn't quite sure we were there. All I could see was a group of local's all standing around and that was it, just flat grassland with tall reeds and bushes behind us. Behind the group was about 20 mokoro's sitting no the bank of what looked like the beginning of a small pond.
These canoes are what the locals use to get around and traditionally were hollowed out tree trunks. These days most of them are made from fibreglass which is a shame but it does mean they last much longer and they are therefore a better investment than wood!
The polers, as they are known, then use a long pole to dig into the bottom of the water and push the mokoro along. They can steer in this way as well. It is quite an art, aside from the fact you need to be physically strong. Only a few of the group were women but I was glad some of them were. They were all good at poling and could easily keep up with the men.
Someone, probably Vincent whose been here before, had the idea of folding our mattresses in half and using them as a kind of seat in the mokoro, doubly good as they are waterproof. Once everything was on board and equally spread we set off.
The small pond turned out to be just another waterway. In fact most of the whole area we covered is just water, but the tall reeds fill the area and only small paths are cut through by constant traffic from the locals and it can be difficult to see very far in any direction, particularly if you are sitting down!
It was incredibly peaceful and all the water was full of beautiful flowering lilies. As it was still quite early morning the sunlight was glittering off the water and we were all pretty quiet taking it all in and admiring the view.
I asked our poler if we were likely to see any crocs but he said not, apparently they only stay in the very largest of waterways and we wouldn't be going near any of them. All the roots from the tall reeds really do fill up the water and there is no room for such a large reptile to move around. However, he did tells us that we would be passing through what the locals call the Hippo Pool which is just a large area of water about the size of a small lake where hippo's sometimes hang out. No such luck there though and we passed through only seeing the odd kingfisher or butterfly.
It must have taken a couple of hours to arrive at our campsite and I was pretty stiff by the time we arrived. It was a good job we'd used the mattresses for extra comfort!
The campsite itself has been the first of our disappointments. Just off the banks of the Delta, behind some trees is the area where we are due to set up camp. My first impression was that there simply isn't enough room for all our tents and the seconds is that none of the ground is flat. All the polers immediately found the right tents for each person and started putting them up. We weren't required to help. In some ways I'm glad they did because I wasn't sure that any of the areas were big enough. It turns out they weren't and many of the tents were simply put up on top of all the brambles and bushes. We had one of the best locations as we arrived first which was lucky but some people were going to be pretty uncomfortable. All the area that had been cleared is just mud. Mud and bushes and nowhere to sit. Nevermind, it's only for 2 nights and we will just have to make the most of it!
You may be wondering where we will be going to the toilet…if not I'll tell you anyway! Number 1's just require the usual bush toilet, with all the bushes and trees around it's not hard to find somewhere out of sight. Number 2's however, require a short walk to a small hole that's been dug in the ground. A spade is left near the campsite and if it's missing you know someone is already there and to stay away. You use some of the loose soil when you have finished! Nice!!!
In the afternoon we all put on our walking shoes and waterproof jackets and the locals took us for a guided walk. We were split into 3 groups again so that any animals weren't frightened by our large numbers. It would also make it easier for our group leaders to communicate quietly with a smaller group.
We headed off behind the tents, through the bushes and onto a large area of grassland. There we headed in 3 different directions and made our way across what is essentially an island. After walking for about half an hour we finally spotted something, a herd of zebra. We got as close as we could but they caught wind of us and took flight. However, they soon settled so we trudged on again for a closer look. It was pretty cool seeing such a large herd whilst of foot. The three groups had all frightened the zebra and had caused a couple of smaller herds to join together meaning there was quite a large group of them in front of us. Not good if they decided to charge in our direction so we knew we'd have to be careful!
Moving on we kept walking and analysing different droppings, there had definitely been both rhino and elephant in the area within about a 48 hour period, but we didn't see anything else. Eventually we reached more water that we couldn't cross and we had to turn back.
By this time it had started raining, the kind of slow, persistent drizzle that seeps through everything until you feel soaked to the bone.
Our guide took us back in a circular route and I noticed the other groups were heading the same way. It soon became clear why as we came across the skeleton of an elephant! We were told this animal died of old age about a year ago and had been left for the tourists to see. Most animals are removed by rangers as soon as they are reported. Initially we all stood our distance and admired the humungous bones but then the guides tried to get us to left the heavy jaws and other bones to get an idea how heavy they are! After this everyone just started picking them all up and posing for pictures! It was pretty surreal!
We headed back to camp which by this time had turned into a bit of a quagmire. Each of us attempted to get dry and put on warm clothes but it was pretty pointless. Vincent had brought an extra tent raincover which he had strung between some trees over his stove and we all huddled underneath it trying to keep warm by the fire he had lit for boiling water for tea!
All the polers were also there, huddling together with us. There was nowhere to sit down apart from some soaked and uncomfortable logs that wouldn't fit all of us anyway. The polers had also brought tents but theirs were the kind of single sleeper tents you might buy a child and many didn't have covers on them meaning the mosquito nets/vents were just letting in rain. They didn't seem bothered and were adamant that we should do nothing to try and make them more comfortable though.
After dinner the locals all finished our leftovers as all they had to eat was one fish they had caught this afternoon. On that point I should mention that fishing is illegal but no one stops the locals as they only fish enough to eat and nothing leaves the Delta. One small fish amongst about 15 people really doesn't go very far!
We had a very poor night's sleep, our clothes were strung on a line inside the tent trying to dry but there was just no chance. Christina, Stef and Simone visited us for a while to play cards in our tent as ours seemed to be the driest and later we just tried to get some sleep.