What is a mokoro?
Botswana travel consultant for Tribes Travel.
I didn’t know either! So, when on my recent trip to Botswana my guide suggested it, I thought I better give it a go!
When most people are going on safari in Botswana, they think of the traditional 4x4 jeep game drives and boat cruises as a way of seeing the country and wildlife, but if you want to get an authentic and alternative experience on safari, then I would highly recommend a mokoro boat trip on the Okavango Delta.
“My entire experience in Botswana was incredible but I will always remember my time on the mokoro.”
A mokoro is a dug out wooden canoe that was used by the people of Botswana for transport and hunting in and around the Okavango Delta. Nowadays the only people it is transporting is you and me!
The experience is best taken in the morning, when the sun is still rising and before it gets too hot. This excursion is offered in certain lodges in the Okavango Delta where the water levels are constant and that have the guides with the correct expertise.
We left our lodge at 7:30am and were driven a short distance to where our boats were waiting for us. There we met our guides who would be navigating the waterways for us. Many years ago, the canoes where made of ebony or sausage tree wood, however nowadays they have had a face lift and are constructed of fibre glass. Not only is this much lighter and more manoeuvrable, but also prevents the unnecessary destruction of endangered trees in this part of the country.
My guide (or poler as they are known) was Charles and had worked in the Delta his whole life. He suggested that to learn to pole properly, it can take years and that being taught to swim before you pole was always a lesson he remembers! Charles uses a large 3-meter eucalyptus pole to steer through the waterways. He explained that choosing where to take the boat is key. Poling in an area too shallow can be very difficult and cause you to get stuck, whereas choosing somewhere too deep not only causes lost poles, but more importantly does not allow the polers to spot any hippos lurking in the water! I like hippos, but only at a safe distance, so I was keen to listen to his advice.
“My guide (or poler as they are known) was Charles and had worked in the Delta his whole life. He suggested that to learn to pole properly, it can take years and that being taught to swim before you pole was always a lesson he remembers!”
We set off at from the banks at 8am and headed upstream. One of the first things I noticed is how peaceful it was. When there is no engine noise the wildlife seems far less bothered that you are there, and you almost blend in to the natural environment. It was amazing to just gently float past the changing scenery in complete silence. At certain times of year, elephants can be seen crossing the water and a wide variety of game came down to the water’s edge for a much-needed drink! We simply floated past like driftwood.
After about an hour, we moored under a sausage tree overlooking some giraffes drinking from the waterhole. Charles presented a cool box and flask containing tea and biscuits. If I felt laid back before this, then I was now almost horizontal! I don’t think I will ever forget that cuppa, and I’m positive I have never eaten a hobnob in a more exotic location. Once Charles and I had discussed everything from the environment to Brexit (yes Brexit!) we decided to head back down river the way we had come.
It was at this point that I thought I would offer to help and that I wouldn’t mind having a go. Charles insisted that I stay where I was and enjoy the ride. I didn’t put up much of an argument and continued to take in the sights, and there were plenty! Elephants, hippos, giraffes, jackals and too many bird species to count.
It was at this point that I realised how knowledgeable the guides in Botswana really are. Not only could Charles identify every bird or insect that I was pointing out, but also could give me a short synopsis of their origin, diet and mating habits. It was truly remarkable.
My entire experience in Botswana was incredible but I will always remember my time on the mokoro.