Your Own Private Island Camp.
We bounced along the Botswana Pan Handle paralleling the Okavango River to our launch site into the heart of the expansive Delta.
All valuables such as passports, money, keys, and wallets were placed in the on board safe in the truck and it was then parked in a gated security compound. We piled our gear onto the single speed boat, there were only nine of us and the pilot. Plastic garbage bags protected sleeping bass and pillows from the spray. Jo strong armed the beer cooler onto the boat, the most essential item.
The speed boat ride through the Delta was exciting.
To get to the remote Drifters Delta Camp island is a three stage endurance slog: first is an exciting two hour speed boat ride on the wide canals lined by papyrus grass and bare banks where crocodiles lazed in the sun. The second stage saw us at an island dock where Drifters guides met us with an open air safari truck and they helped us shuttle all our gear before we squeezed in for a 45 minute road trip past a small village. A sign along the only route stated: “AIDS kills slow, speed kills fast, slow down.”
Then we meet our Drifters in-camp guides for a leisurely Mekoro dugout canoe ride poled through the Delta’s razer sharp grass to our private base camp. No company can own any of the Delta islands, but the government of Botswana gave Drifters a long term lease on the camp.
A relaxed Mekoro canoe ride gets close to nature.
Polers do all the work.
The Mekoro canoes are traditional in all aspects except they are now made out of light weight plastics, thus no trees are chopped down. We all picked a canoe, which held two plus the poler, which were assigned to us. We were truly in nature’s paradise and our poler was named Nature, who was the head guide; he wore a warm smile and a tattered cowboy hat; coming from Wyoming I felt I fit right in. Nature scooped his hand into the clear water and a Tilapia minnow flopped on his palm. Tilapia are a grass carp that have been exported to Florida to eat the water hyacinth weeds in the canals, but now they are raised commercially. The fish are a staple in the local diet in Botswana.
The two hour Mekoro ride is the only way to push deeper into the Delta and it was one of the most serene experiences. The water is not deep, maybe chest high. Hippo grunts could be heard, and not far off. I looked into the water to spot fish in the day lilies and night lilies, or maybe a hippo eyeballing us from the bottom of the sandy lagoon.
A White Headed Eagle peers at us.
All the Drifters guides received specialized training and Nature was a fount of nature lore as we rapidly swept through the sharp hippo grass and papyrus palms. Nature pointed out a Squawking Heron, because of its distinctive squawk, and then a wide winged Fish Eagle swooped out of a tree. There are numerous types of rare Kingfishers in the Delta. A Cormorant and a long necked African Darter flew low. I explained that in Mexico cormorants have a ring placed around their neck to keep them from swallowing fish and they are used as fishermen by the natives. I think Nature contemplated that idea because there was no fishing gear stowed on any of the Mekoros or at camp.
Drifters Delta Camp was hidden in the shadows of the tertiary trees and palms of our private castaway island. At shore side a short path led into the different shades of shades. I grabbed my gear but stopped abruptly at the edge of the camp penumbra.
Our tents are waiting for us on arrival.
We all help with the camp duties.
A big bull elephant was feeding on the golf ball sized marula fruit dropping like rain from an enormous tree with branches spread over our camp kitchen tent. We backed off and with claps of the hands the elephant put his legs in reverse like a Mac truck. But it was only a ploy and he was soon back as soon as we had the camp chairs set up and our gear stored in the pre-set tents which came with a sleeping pad. The Norwegian girls hid in their tent. With a huff and a yell the elephant backed out of the central camp but circled the fringe of the island. This was the only Drifters camp on this tour that didn’t have modern plumbing, but a pit toilet and a bucket shower, and when using the loo it was first wise to scout out the elephant with old fashion surveillance — eyeballs.
We did have solar power for the three sided kitchen tent. Jo’s future ambition was to attend a highly rated culinary school; in the bush he could make a simple meal a flambé extraordinaire. I cracked open a Black Label and eyed him do his magic with a traditional Poitjie, or kudu stew, which was ladled over the finely ground pap or maize. Jo will do well on the yachts in the Mediterranean as long as they allow him to cook barefooted; or at his own Bitchin’ Beach Bungalows.
Nature displays an elephant skull.
The guides have their own camp on the island but show up regularly for nature talks and walks.
The highest tower in the mostly flat Botswana is a termite mound I discovered on Nature’s mid-afternoon nature hike.
On the walk Nature rolled over an elephant skull and a hippo skull and pointed out the differences in the bleached white bones. He found a nest of the pesky lion ants that pinched his flesh. An aardvark had done a demolition on a termite mound.
We learned about the jackalberry bush, sausage tree, and the sycamore fig. Nature pointed out a hippo pile marking its territory. The next morning I found such a pile in the middle of the camp and the hippo had walked past our row of tents in the night without anyone waking, not even Jo, because he snores. It was a pleasurable afternoon in the savannah of dry hippo grass that is covered by water in the flood season.
Card games, tree climbing, and native crafts were the order of the long afternoon. Nature and Jo were assisted by Hans and the other guides with a traditional friction spindle fire making machine, and within ten minutes a spark smoked the tender box and we had a fire.
Sun down on the lagoon . . .
. . . brings out the hippos.
The highlight of the second afternoon was the sunset Mekoro cruise in the lagoon where hippos popped up and down, playing hide and seek. The wide lagoon was home to quite a bloat of them. Hippos don’t swim, but walk along the bottom of shallow water. They can drown in deeper water if they don’t surface often. The day lilies were closing down shop and the night lilies were opening for the late shift. Some of the pads were a meter wide, the brilliant flowers attracted insects, and crocodiles are known to lurk in the stringy kelp like strands that trap the sand that glues the Delta river bed together.
The Okavango River runs for over 1,200 kilometers from the Angola highlands and at the Delta it spreads out on the tectonic trough basin of the Kalahari. The Delta is a dead end and most of the water eventually evaporates as it spreads over the 6,000-15,000 km² area. Some flood-waters drain into Lake Ngami. The Moremi Game Reserve, a National Park, is on the eastern side of the Delta.
The Delta was once an ancient lake in the Kalahari.
The area was once part of Lake Makgadikgadi, an ancient lake that mostly dried up by the early Holocene. Although the Okavango Delta is widely believed to be the world’s largest inland delta, it is not. In Africa alone there are two larger similar geological features: the Sudd on the Nile in South Sudan, and the Inner Niger Delta in Mali.
The Okavango flood peaks between June and August, during Botswana’s dry winter months, when the delta swells to three times its permanent size. The delta is very flat, with less than two meters variation in height across its 15,000 kms. The Delta is Botswana’s oasis surrounded by the dry Kalahari, and the country’s top tourist attraction, who come for the wildlife.
Day lilies attract bugs, which attracts birds.
Species include: African Bush Elephant (one estimate is 200,000), African Buffalo, Hippos, Lechwe (antelope), Tsessebe, Sitatunga, Blue Wildebeest, Giraffe, Nile crocodile, Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Brown Hyena, Spotted Hyena, springbok, Greater Kudu, Sable Antelope, Black Rhinos, White Rhinos, Plains Zebra, Warthog, and Chacma Baboon. The Delta is home to packs of the endangered African Wild Dog. The Delta also includes over 400 species of birds, including African Fish Eagle, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Crested Crane, Lilac-breasted Roller, Hammerkop, Ostrich, and Sacred Ibis.
The clear clean low saline waters hosts 71 fish species, including Tigerfish, Tilapia, and Catfish. They range from 1.4 meter Sharptooth-Catfish with a 3.2 cm Sickle-fin Barb. The same species are to be found in the Zambezi River, indicating a historic link between the two river systems.
A Drifters guide checks the horizon for wild game.
The Okavango Delta peoples consist of five ethnic groups, many with genealogical links to the Bushman or San. The Okavango Delta has been under the political control of the Batawana (a Tswana sub-tribe) since the late 18th century.
Back at camp the baboons had a field day, tipping over our trash can, looking for Jo’s delicacies. The coolers and food pantry are kept locked, so the apes were angry and fled into the marula tree to pelt us with fruit. Oh, to have a sling shot, the fruit was the perfect size.
It was agreed by all that the Drifters Delta Camp was our favorite camp on the trip, even though we were persistently pestered by the marula loving elephant. It is a rural legend, unproven, that the marula fruit ferments in an elephant stomach and makes them woozy when the sugar turns to alcohol. The fruit is used for making beer, jams, and even soap, which I would have used in the bucket shower, except for the marula pitching baboons.
“This Place Is Alriight.”
— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine. We next visit the beautiful Victoria Falls, click the sign below to read on.