Guest post by Stacey Ebert. Stacey is a traveler at heart who has visited over 50 of the world’s countries and met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. An event planner by day, she is creative with a love of writing, travel, the beach, yoga and all things chocolate. Always ready for an adventure, she believes that any day by the ocean with her toes in the sand is a great day! Check out her blog at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com.
My husband and I were on an adventurous trip in southern Africa. After traveling from Capetown up the Skeleton coast through Namibia, we arrive in Maun, Botswana to spend two nights in the Okavanga Delta. At the Delta Station, much different than the likes of Penn or Paddington, we meet our transport that will take us on our journey. Local transporters are known as polers. These men and women stand at the back of the mokorro (boats from hollowed out trees-now there are some of fiberglass) using a very long pole to literally push the boat through the delta.
With the hard work of Samuel, our poler, we reach our destination in just over an hour. The ride takes us through reeds, riverbeds and many water lilies saturated with the ever-present African flies! We have on our long pants, long sleeves, hats, sunscreen and bug spray and clasp our constant supply of water as this journey is in the direct sunshine.
We aren’t just passengers in this mokorro. When the water level is too low, it takes all of us to keep the boat from dredging. Strategic maneuvers are often implemented since every reed that Matthew can block snaps back as he passes by and then hits me. After awhile I learn to scoot down really low so some of the reeds pass over my face.
We have three days living among nature in the environs of the Okavanga Delta. We set up camp, dig our toilet, cook over an open fire and are gifted with incredible sunsets, astounding wildlife and Ouma Buttermilk Rusks that when dunked just right into a cup of tea make the morning that much more perfect.
On our last evening in the Delta, we take a sunset cruise and a get a chance to see hippos in their natural habitat. We find hundreds of birds, a sky filled with multiple hues and a family of hippos on their way to wherever it is they go. We’re reminded never to use our flash when photographing. Sitting in the hippo pool, one swimmer allows us to get close enough for great photos. He is the most dangerous animal in all of Africa and we are sitting just feet away from his wide, strong jaw. Amidst many camera clicks, my heart beats loudly.
His mate, the next hippo to pass by isn’t as agreeable. As we get close, some ‘tourist’ snaps a picture with a flash and the hippo loses it. She gets angrier and more frustrated by the minute. Most of the mokorros in our group make it safely through the weeds that separate the hippo pool from open water; but two are stuck with a thrashing hippo charging.
This is not my mother being worried about me traveling to far off places; when the polers freak, you know it’s real. With panic-stricken faces they paddle to the edge as fast as they can and frantically gesture to us to get out of the water. “Follow me and run-run, fast!” Samuel yells, and we do as we’re told. Maria’s Portuguese accent behind me bellows, “Run Stacey, run!” as we leap over fallen trees while dodging droppings of elephant dung. As they keep running, the polers look back and shout, “If she comes on land, we have to climb a high tree!” Now I’m really rattled!
We run until Samuel tells us to jump back in the mokorro. We’ve reached a point where they think we are safe and past where our deadly stalker can break onto land and charge. We fling ourselves over the edge and Samuel and his mate pole as fast as their arms can carry us. Through the darkness they stealthily maneuver to find their way threw deep brush getting us back to land unharmed.
Shaking with adrenaline we make our way back to camp to retell our harrowing tale. After sharing dinner and introducing s’mores to our poler saviors, we finally stop shaking and realize this is one of those stories to wait to share with our parents until they can count all of our fingers and toes right in front of them. According to the polers, it makes sense that the momma hippo rushed. They believe there was a baby with her and as so many know; there’s nothing more ferocious than a mother protecting her young.
The Okavanga Delta is just one of the many brilliant gifts we were given on this African journey. We’ve seen wildlife, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, landscapes that make you sit up and take notice and a had a chance to commune with nature as a humble guest. We used a ‘bush toilet,’ practiced being a ‘poler,’ hiked past elephant bones and really listened to what the Delta had to teach. A few days of bush camping in the Delta are definitely worth the stink that all of us have been covering with baby wipes and powder.
If you are lucky enough to visit, please remember the following three rules: take out whatever you bring in, never use your flash in a hippo pool, and if that hippo comes on land run as fast as you can and head up the highest tree you can find.