Let's take a walk through a brand new day.
Part 10: African Adventure 2022
The Okavango Delta, Botswana
Today, we took a trip to the Kasane International Airport to board a little 10 passenger puddle jumper so that we could continue our safari in the Okavango Delta. This area is listed in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and I must admit, I am so glad I did.
We were told that we could only pack in a small duffel bag due to limitations of weight on the small planes we would be traveling on. David and I were really glad we packed light. After all, what do you really need on safari but hiking pants, some long sleeve khaki shirts, good shoes, some socks, a warm jacket, gloves and a good hat to keep the sun off your face. OH, and lots and lots of sunscreen.
Our little airplane landed in a grassy field where the terminal was a tiny little building that also served as the luggage carousel in case of rain. After the plane left us in the grassy field, we had about a ten minute walk to get to our boat that would take us to our lodge. We had no idea what we were going to experience.
We boarded the double-decker pontoon with our backpacks and set sail for our lodging. We were welcomed to Mopiri Safari Lodge with traditional African songs of the Delta and warm smiles. (When you hear them sing in the video, you will also hear someone making a high pitch sound like a bird in the woods. That is part of their culture and part of every song and dance. We tried in vain to make this sound, but were never successful).
The staff escorted us to the lodge and there we received our welcome fruit drink and tent numbers. Juliette gave us the introduction to our room and explained that we must make sure we latch the door each time we go in or out. She showed us how the monkeys have “attacked” our door trying to get in! We were also instructed not to leave any snacks on the table or we would have ‘guests’ when we returned. The video shows the inside of our tent and the monkey claw marks where they tried to get inside.
We were instructed to be back in our tents before sunset since wild animals roam freely. If we went back after dark, we had to be escorted by staff. I learned why. Staff encounter wild animals all the time and are trained on how to respond with each type of animal. Visitors are not trained and would most likely respond with flight mode resulting in a bad ending. I had the opportunity to see what a herd of elephants could do as I made my way to the spa. A massage had been booked in the open air pavilion and it was located about a 10 minute walk from my tent. I was escorted there and the escort kept having to remove logs and debris from the path. She said, “Please excuse the mess, but a herd of elephants came through last night and didn’t use their manners”. (And, by the way, the massage was divine! 110 minute massage for 60 dollars with African oils and scrubs. If I could only relive that one more time.)
It is impossible to describe how very special the Mopiri Safari Lodge is. The staff became like family. They wanted nothing more than for all of us to have an incredible authentic experience and we did. They sang to us their Botswana song: Beautiful Botswana each night we were there. They made a fire for us to enjoy, cooked incredible tasting food, visited with us and told us stories in the evening.
When exploring the Delta, we made our way through the narrow passageways filled with papyrus, lily pads, and trees in 6 seater aluminum boats. We learned so much about the flora and fauna as well as the ways that nature is used by the native Botswana people. The Botswana people waste nothing. Seeds, roots, flowers…it is all used or eaten in some way.
On our second night in the Delta we had the opportunity to make our way by boat to a fly camp. What does this mean? It means canvas tents, cots, and an outhouse. This would be how the early explorers enjoyed Safari. It was our choice if we wanted to go to Fly Camp or stay at Mopiri Lodge but David and I weren’t going to miss a thing. So we took just a tiny backpack with toothbrush, night clothes etc. and jumped in the little boat to go. We were pleasantly surprised at how comfortable these meager lodgings were and truly AMAZED at the incredible food we were served by cooks who made a 4 course meal over a campfire! Breakfast the next morning was equally as amazing. I made my way to the back of the camp to talk to the cooks and tell them how in awe I was of their culinary abilities in such meager surroundings.
After a morning hike to learn more about the environs and animals, we made our way back to the creek where we were greeted by local people who would take us up close and personal through the Delta on their traditional form of travel, the mokoro. A mokoro is a hollowed out tree turned into a boat. It glides through the grasses as a “poler” takes it into narrow passages among tall grasses. It is easy to be sitting right next to wildlife in these little boats. All of the polers were male except for one lone woman. We called her the “super poler”. Being so close to the water gave a new appreciation of the Delta. The mokoro and the waterways are the highway in the Delta. It is just a quieter and slower form of transport. A traffic jam in the delta consists of one boat passing another in the narrow channels.
Before we made our way back to fly camp, the locals shared handcrafted items that were for sale and we enjoyed seeing their talents. They had some beautiful items that took hours to make. David bought a little wooden Mokoro as a memory from our trip and a means of enhancing the local economy.
Leaving fly camp, we made our way back to Mopiri lodge for a last afternoon safari and a last sundowner in this beautiful part of Africa. Once again, the sun showed out as we enjoyed snacks and drinks and watched the sun fade. Several tried their hand at fishing but the fish weren’t interested.
In thinking about leaving the next morning, our entire group was very sad. We were trying to find a way to show the staff there how much their care for us had meant to the entire group. Ashley said, “ I wish we could sing them a song like they did for us to show our appreciation.” I said, I can write one if everyone will sing. So I wrote the song in about 5 minutes flat as my heart was full and the words poured out. The group practiced it once and then we sang our song to the staff. We cried, they cried, I know it sounds crazy that 10 people could get so close to the staff of this Safari Lodge. The video shows our group singing the last verse of the song. You can witness the Mopiri staff appreciation and celebration as we ended. They later told us that no other guests had ever done anything that made them feel so special and connected.
I especially felt close to Juliette who was the manager/mother of the group. We just connected somehow and I wanted my picture made with her. I stood behind her chair so that she would be the central focus of the picture. As I moved behind her chair, she stretched her arms up high and grasped my hands. THAT is the kinship we felt.
Before I left, I gave my sandals to the server who had taken such good care of me. I love lemons in my water and he made sure that those lemons were there every meal and that my water glass was always full. He immediately put on the sandals and they fit perfectly. They were of the TEVA style and defintiely unisex. He was proud to have them and I was happy to give them.
As we made our way to the boat and pulled away from the dock, we listened as they sang their Beautiful Botswana song and goodbye chants. We all continued to wave and wave and wave until we were out of sight. The boat was silent for a few minutes as we processed our leaving differently. What an amazing experience we had. None of us could have planned it or expected the outcome.
We were boated back to the grassy field where the small plane would arrive and take us to Maun. While we waited, we stood under a tree and continued to share our thoughts on the experience we had just enjoyed. As we flew over the delta towards Maun and witnessed above what we had experienced below, it was easy to feel quite insignificant in this massive delta.