Mokoro in Maun, Botswana

We were up bright and early to leave for our Mokoro Trip that was to start at Old Bridge Backpackers at 7am. Cornelia was kind enough to drop us off in the morning before she headed off to work, so we were up and about around 6am.
Old Bridge Backpackers is the most famous backpackers hostel in all of Maun, and it is siuated right next to the famous Old Maun Bridge. The bridge was the first one built to connect both sides of maun across the delta, still today it is only wide enough for people to walk across. Old Bridge Backpackers had a very Bohemian feel, as does every backpackers joint around the world and they actually had very good wifi. After settling all our details and payment we were off for the delta around 8am.

Old Bridge Backpackers loaded us into a jetboat and we were on our way up the delta to meet up with our Mokoro Guide at the Mokoro Trust Organization just up the river. Maun regulates all of the Mokoro Polers, to ensure that they have all the neccessary training (to dodge the crocs and hippos) as well as receive fair compensation. On our way to the trust we spotted numerous birds, as well as saw a crocodile lounging the the river side and here many hippos grunting in the deeper parts of the water.

We met our Mokoro Guide named Andrew at the trust, loaded his little boat with all our stuff (luckily Cornelia borrowed us two sleeping bags and Old Bridge Backpackers rented us a tent). We packed all our stuff into my backpacking pack, which ended up being a blessing because I think if we would have had any more weight in our little boat we would have sunk to the bottom of the delta.

We started off on our journey through thick reeds that covered the all the pathways through the delta. The experience was magical. The sun was gleaming above, beautiful birds were bathing in the water or fishing for fish for dinner, and the reeds were brushing by my arms as we traveled through the delta. Every 10 minutes or so we would hear the grunt of a hippo somewhere in the reeds. During our journey we would ask Andrew questions about the food, culture, animal life, and tribes of Botswana. The adventure was worth the money just for the opportunity to ask a local Botswana so many questions. 

About an hour into our Mokoro journey, Andrew turned to the left and took us to a huge pool of water that he informed us was called the hippo pools. Sure enough, a dozen or so huge hippos periodically emerged their heads from the water shooting midst into the air as they let out loud grunts. Coming to Africa I thought that the lion would be my greatest wildlife fear, I was wrong. The hippos are by far the scariest animal on the African continent. Hippos account for the most human killings by animals in Africa. The entire time we were sitting in the hippo pool I thought the hippos were going to charge us as they are very territorial animals.

After that experience every hippo grunt we heard was terrifying. I was greatful when we reached the delta island that we were going to camp for the evening. As we set up camp under two beautiful African trees we heard two very large hippos in the pool next to us. I am just praying that our fire keeps them away all through the night when they come to graze on land. Andrew told us that hippos are afraid of fire. He actually told us to folk stories that we was told as a child about why hippos are afraid of fire and why crocodiles stay in the water.
We set up our African Safari tent that was by far the most heavy duty tent we have ever seen. I guess something

 has to keep the lions and hippos out. After we set up camp, Andrew started a fire and we had several hours to relax and cook ourselves lunch before we set off on our walking safari through the delta game reserves. In most parts of Africa you are only allowed to go on walking safaris with armed guards, because the animals in the reserves can be very dangerous. In Botswana, due to strict anti poaching laws the animals are protected far more than the humans, so Andrew had no gun for protection.
We were so excited for our walking safari that we chose not to eat lunch and to set out earlier so that we could spend longer time observing the wildlife. We set off around 2pm from our camp with our hiking boots, water, and cameras. We spent the next 3 to 4 hours walking through the bush like Indiana Jones. We learned aout the flora and the fauna, examined animal droppings, and saw a lot of wildlife. Before we even left camp we saw a Puffer Adder, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. Throughout the day we also saw lots of birds, wilderbeast, zebras, impala, reedbuck, cranes, and elephants.

At one point during our walk we ran into a herd of elephants, including several mother elephants with their babies walking through the bush. During the afternoon we also saw a herd of wilderbeast and zebras running across the Savannah. The adventure was amazing and we came back just around sundown. Once again Andrew spruced up the fire (that was still going thanks to the catfish he had laid out to smoke) and we proceeded to cook our local meal of rice, chicken, and vegetables. Our guide Andrew probably thought we were the most unusual tourists he had ever seen, cooking local food and eating out of a recycled ice cream carton that Cornelia had given us.

We are now sitting in our tent, the time is about 9pm, and we are already so tired and ready to sleep. I forgot how uncomfortable sleeping bags are without pads or mats between you and the hard ground. Well, we are in Africa and Africa is a place to rough it. Note to self, always pack little blow up mats with your sleeping bag. Good Night!

        (Below: Andrew’s post)

Today marked our first adventure in Botswana (if you don’t count our crazy travel experiences!). Cornelia gave us a lift to Old Bridge Backpackers where we began our Mokoro boat safari. 

Traditionally Mokoros are boats made from the sausage tree which has strong and light wood. However ours was made from fiberglass, as industrial life begins to affect village traditions in more heavily tourists areas.

The ride down the delta was pretty cool. Kylie and I sat in our little Mokoro boat as our guide used a long pole to navigate us through the dense reed forest. The only sounds we would hear (besides our voices as we asked andrew our guide a million questions) was the sound of bending, cracking reeds, birds chattering away, and the occasional grunt from a large water mammal.

When we asked andrew what animal was making the sounds he responded, ‘hippo.’ About 5 years ago andrew had been on a Mokoro safari in another part of Botswana (farther up the delta), but his little Mokoro had encountered a hippo that was hiding in the shallows. When his boat passed overhead it hit the hippo, sending it into a rage. The hippo smashed his Mokoro and the girl and andrew swam for the shore. No one was harmed but he had lost his boat.

As Andrew finished his story Kylie and I were tense. Hippos are responsible for the most human deaths (because of animals) in Africa, and they are extremely territorial. 

As we moved through the reed channels, we would hear the occasional groan or spurt of water from the hippos, which normally confine themselves to deeper pools of water. 

As we rounded another bend we came into a clearing where we could actually see several hippos at the far end of the pool. They spurted water noisily as they resurfaced for air, potentially curious at our being there. Kylie was tense, and wanted to leave, but andrew monologued briefly about hippo life spans and size before paddling us back into the reeds (to the shallows) as we took another path.

We navigated island to island in the delta, until finally we arrived at our camping area. 

The site was a small oasis on the delta. We were surrounded by tall palm trees and large African brush on all sides, except the path to the delta river, which opened to a large view of the reed-filled water. 

As we set up camp, andrew had a puffer adder pass by his tent. That sparked him to warn us to always close our tent (to avoid snakes or scorpions from getting inside). We were in for an adventure it seems.

After a long period of rest, andrew took us on a walking safari. Walking safaris consist of just that, walking through the African bush to spot animals. 

We walked for a long time. We passed several potential brush filled sites, but had no luck. Walking safaris I realized were much harder to find animals than regular safaris. First you have hours and hours of walking, then you have the hot African sun overhead, and did I mention all the walking? Nonetheless it was quite fun.

As we walked andrew explained the different animal tracks, how to tell if the droppings were fresh, and where the animals normally gathered. It was quite informative. 

After the first couple hours we had our first sighting, a heard of wildebeest and zebras grazing in an open field. As we approached they kicked up large clouds of dust in alarm. It was a pretty incredible sight to see all the animals together. As we continued walking, we saw a group of elephants moving through the brush to feed. The sight of the elephants from the bush ground was stunning. They moved lazily through the brush, feeding as they went. Andrew warned us not to get too close since they could charge if threatened. 

As we finished our day andrew told us African stories around the campfire (about fire and the hippo, the hare and the hyena, etc) as I cooked Kylie and my dinner. Dinner was simple, rice with our usual relish mix. Since we didn’t have utensils I ate with my hands, true African bushman style!

It’s been a good adventure thus far.

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