Flying in to Xigera Camp in a small plane is a chance to get an aerial view of the wonder that is Botswana’s Okavango Delta, its mosaic of islands, water channels, floodplains, swamps and game tracks. You might even see herds of elephant or buffalo spread out like miniatures far below. But once you land, the mokoro is king.
At night we enjoyed the Okavango lullaby above the rustling of the trees – the lilting call of spotted hyena, the chinking of fruit bats punctuated by the prrt of the African scops-owl, and long reed frogs calling from the water. When we woke we watched the first light tiptoe into the sky and eavesdropped on African fish-eagles and hysterical redbilled spurfowl.
Guide Spongy Makgetho told us the mokoro was traditionally made from the wood of a sausage tree, jackalberry or sycamore fig. ‘But the tree might take many years to reach the right size and then the mokoro only lasts about five years,’ he said. ‘Now with the growth of tourism there’s a worry about deforestation, so the government has decided they must be made from fibreglass.’
Black crakes cheeped in the reeds when we stopped to watch elephants ripping up papyrus stalks. ‘They love the white part at the bottom but discard the green part, which is very fibrous. People use that part to make mats,’ said Spongy. He gave us a piece to taste – as refreshing as cucumber but spongier in texture.
The guides said it takes about a week of falling into the water to master the art of standing up and poling without taking a swim, so it’s not an easy skill to learn. I thought Go did very well despite passengers who wriggled around like worms on hot ashes to look at every passing coppery-tailed coucal or squacco heron.
In what seemed the blink of an eye, our two days were over and we were on our way back to the airstrip, squeezing in sightings of saddle-billed storks and a small herd of Burchell’s zebra along the way. We waited in the shade for a few minutes, watching for the plane and checking that no animals wandered on to the airstrip.
Spongy went running after the impala, shouting and waving to chase it off the airstrip so our plane could land. And that’s not something that happens at Heathrow or JFK, is it?
No, this is the Okavango, one of the most exciting and sought-after wilderness destinations in the world.
Note: I was a guest of Wilderness Safaris for two nights, but had free rein to write what I chose. I paid for travel costs to Botswana.
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