Villages to Mokoros
The evening of Day 12, we arrived in Rundu, Namibia. This town had the raunchiest smell you could ever imagine. There was basically a land fill running through the middle of the city. Thankfully, our campsite was just outside the city, along the banks of the Kavango River. That night, we experienced our first taste of African meat: Kudu. It was pretty good, basically what venison tastes like. After our dinner, we went to watch “traditional African dancing” in the bar of the campsite. It wasn’t quite what we expected; it was more of a modern version of African dance. The young girls wore skirts made from bamboo shoots and then beer bottle caps at the bottoms of them, which made a jingle. This was a bit more modern than we were expecting, but it was still entertaining. There were three men who played African drums, which were pretty cool. The singing was the best part of the performance because it was all in the village dialect.
The next morning we set out for some additional cultural enlightenment. We arrived at the Mayana Primary School at around 9am. The school composed of three simplistic concrete buildings, all with broken windows. We first went into the teachers’ offices and met with the Principal. She basically gave us background information on the school, the children, and foreign donators. She informed us that there are about 600 students and 15 teachers. Thus, the classrooms are overcrowded. Most of the students come from the surrounding poor villages, which all use different dialects. Some students illegally come from across the river, in Angola. The school therefore, has decided to use one dialect, that of the village that the school is actually in. Grades 1-3 learn only in that dialect. From Grade 4 on, English is introduced and used to teach. There are not really age restrictions to grades like in the states. Children are passed when the teachers feel they are ready. Often times, young girls (ages 12 or so) become pregnant and leave school. They are allowed to return after they have their babies (some come back as old as 18). There are also many kids in the school who have AIDS. However, the school is not allowed to test them. At 10:30 the kids got out for recess and we were able to go outside and play with them. Mayana school feeds the kids three days a week (monday, wednesday, and friday) since most of the children come from extreme poverty and some are even orphans. This feeding frenzy was quite the sight to see. These kids were so excited about this porridge and ate it out of their bowls by scooping with their fingers. Some even fought over the remaining “scraps” that the teachers were dishing out. We later got to taste this pourage and it wasn’t very good. It is made from maize meal (like corn starch), sugar, oil, and water. Yummy! When we started taking pictures with our digital cameras, the children bombarded us and kept wanting their pictures taken so that they could see themselves. They thought it was like magic and the coolest thing in the world. After about 45 pictures of groups of kids, we had to tell them that we ran out of film and put the camera away. Meghan acquired a new best friend, an 8 year old little girl named Ima. She followed her everywhere and asked if Mike was her dad. It was so funny. It was a great experience meeting all of these little kids and playing with them. We even met an albino black kid, which was very awkard and a very strange sight to see. After recess, the kids slowly made their way back to their classrooms. We then visited a Grade 1 classroom. We walked in and the young children serenaded us with African songs and their national anthem. In return, we performed Frère Jacques (Brother John). We knew that we would have to sing to the children so we practiced it the night before, and we even added a little choreography. We sang it in all of the languages of the people on our tour (English, Italian, German, Dutch, Korean, and Japanese). The kids loved it! After our performance, we visited a Grade 4 classroom. We went around the room and saw what the kids were learning. They were learning how to say fruits and vegetables in English. They were entertained by our pronunciations and laughed when we were helping them with words like caterpillar and potatoes. When it was time for them to sing to us, they ironically started singing a song with the same melody as ours. We all started laughing and then began with our rendition. When it was time to leave the school, we walked over to a local village. We walked through several village homes, all of which were made of wooden thatched huts. These homes were a lot like the Himba homes, except they had a few more modern elements: beds, pots and pans, and clothes. But at the same time, they were a little more depressing. The Himba people seemed to prefer to live that way, whereas these people seemed to be forced to live that way. After touring some homes we made our way to the local church. When we arrived, we were greeted by six chorus members who were singing gospel songs. We followed them into the church where we sat down and witnessed a short mass. The priest spoke in the village tongue so it all had to be translated for us. One thing odd about the church, which we found quite amusing, was that next to the center crosses of Jesus was a duster. The vibrant colored dust magnet was hanging on the wall at the same level as the crosses (as if it were as holy as the crosses). The service ended with more song and dance from the young choir and we performed our amazing routine once again.
After getting back in touch with God, we walked back to our campsite. Incidentally, on the walk back, Meghan’s best friend (the little girl from the school) popped out of nowhere and started following us. She just couldn’t seem to get enough of Meghan and wanted to walk us all the way back to our site. It was really funny. We hung out for a while by the pool which overlooked the Kavango River and then headed out for a sunset cruise. The only real wildlife we saw on the cruise was African’s bathing on the shores of the river. For our cheap cruise, all we really got was an illegal entry into Angola. Basically, one side of the river is Namibia and the other side is Angola. We were illegally in Angola for about 10 minutes…woohoo. We finished our sunset cruise, ironically at sunset, and retired early in preparation for our departure into the Okavango Delta the next morning.
We woke up early the following morning and headed towards Delta Dawn, our base camp for the Okavango Delta. We had to leave Frankie behind at Etsha 13 (a refuge camp for Angolans during war…there were originally 13 camps, but today there are only two remaining, Etsha 6 and Etsha 13) and jumped into 4×4’s. We off-roaded in the back of the two 4×4’s for almost an hour through thick jungle bush. We arrived at Delta Dawn around mid-afternoon and set up camp for the first night. The basecamp was awesome; it was nestled in between the swamp and the jungle. We were warned to be on the lookout for scorpions, crocodiles, hippos, snakes, and spiders. While we were setting up our tents, we spotted several monkeys playing in the trees above us. They were cute little guys, but devilish things that like to steal anything you leave outside the tent. We retired early that night in preparation for our journey into the Delta the next morning.
Day15 began at around 6am when we took down our tents and jumped into the 4×4’s. We were taken to edge of the camp, where the beautiful Okavango Delta began. We threw all of our bags and ourselves into speed boats and cruised the vast, open delta. It was absolutely stunning: a boudless panoramic full of papyus, blue skys, and crystal clear water. It was a warm and sunny day and we were enjoying an amazing ride on speed boats through the narrow channels of the delta. It was amazing how the drivers knew where we were going because it seemed like we were in a endless winding and splitting maze. After about an hour, we arrived at Mokoro Island, one of the thousands of islands in the delta. We were greeted by our polers and all of our mokoros. Basically, a mokoro is a narrow, dug out canoe made from the sausage tree. Polers are guys that stand at the back of the boat and use their long poles to push off the bottom of the shallow delta. When we first got into our mokoro, we were sure we were going to tip and fall into the water. But our poler proved to be worthy and kept his balance, and us in the boat, the entire time. We put our feet up and relaxed under the beautiful Botswanan sun. This ride was definitely unforgettable. We went through narrow channels full of reeds that brushed our legs and extensive open waters scattered with lilly pads. It was phenomenal. At one point, we heard this funny grunting/laughing noise coming from nearby. Our polers took us around a tall hedge of papyrus and from afar, we saw about six hippos. Most of you probably don’t know, but hippos are the most dangerous mammals in Africa. They are deceivingly fast both in water and on land, and they will charge humans who block their path. Hence, we were advised to never get in between a hippo and water or a hippo and its’ baby. Hippos spend most of their day in the water, for their skin is super sensitive to sunlight. They only go out of the water for a few minutes in the day or at night. Most of the time when you see hippos, only there ears and eyes are out of the water. We sat and watched them for a while and were lucky when they decided to put on a show for us (actually, they were telling us to leave, but we stayed for a few minutes). A few of them raised their heads out of the water and made louder grunting noises (the strangest and funniest noise) and yawned for our cameras. It was awesome! Our polers, shortly after all of the hippos submerged themselves underwater, decided that it was time to go. We shortly thereafter, arrived at our island.
We unloaded our bags from our mokoros and set up camp at the edge of the island. We explored a tiny bit of the island and discovered elephant dung very close to where we had set up our tent. We thought this was so cool. After a quick lunch, we jumped back into our mokoros and poled our way into a little open area where we were free to swim. The polers parked our mokoros on some shallow slush and we jumped out. The water was pretty cold at first, but we quickly adapted to it. Suprisingly, there was quite a strong current passing through our pool. After a fabulous swim, we changed clothes and headed off to yet another island for a game walk. We parked the mokoros and started to explore. Our poler/guide briefed us on what to do if an animal charged or attacked us. After this little talk, we were excited and nervous all at the same time. Before we even noticed any animals, we were breathtaken by the tropical African island that we were roaming. There were wide brown plains scattered with lush areas of trees. It was beautiful to see the contrast between the browns and the greens. Our first animal spotting for the day was none other than a small heard of elephants. We got as close to them as we could (about 100 feet) before they began to get irritated that we were there and our guide walked us in a different direction. We also saw several antelopes and monkeys. We were walking along when our guide abruptly stopped in his tracks. He pointed afar in the bush where we saw a lion. We watched for a few minutes because our guide told us that she was probably hunting and that maybe we would be lucky and see a kill. Unfortunately, we didn’t. The female disappeared and we tried to follow her, but we lost her and then we turned in a different direction. We roamed around more and learned all about certain trees, animal tracks and animal droppings. Our guide gathered us around a pile of elephant dung and picked up a huge piece. When he picked it up, he revealed thousands of termites feasting on the dung. He then explained to us that the termites feed on the dead plants in the dung and build mounds on top of it. When it rains on the termite piles, trees begin to form from the seeds that were in the elephant dung. So essentially, where the elephants leave their droppings is where trees grow. While all of us were intently looking at elephant crap, Mike was not paying attention and looking around. Thankfully he wasn’t, because he spotted 5 lions. We didn’t get to see them for very long, but we did see them closer than the ones we had seen before. After about a two hour walk around the island, it was time to head back. This hike was an amazing experience because it was so real and gave us an incredible sense of adventure.
On a quick side note…we were in the absolute wilderness and therefore, we had no showers or toilets. We took our shower when we went swimming and our toilet was a hole that you used and then shoveled in dirt when you were done. Meghan was a bit turned off by this hole of feces and decided that she would rather find a random tree to use. We arrived back at our island at sunset and waited for dinner to be prepared. After a great dinner of steak and boerewors (an African sausage) our polers entertained us with some whimsical song and dance. They rapped for us, had us join in on some chants, and danced around in handmade costumes. They asked us to sing them something, but we were all pretty lame and didn’t really put on a good show. However, Mike did get everybody to join in with him in “Kum ba yah.” Shortly after our entertainment we went to bed.
The next morning, we woke up early and went on a game walk around our island. We didn’t see as many animals as the day before, but we did see warthogs, birds, and heard some hippos. We attributed this lack of animal sightings to our horrendous singing and outrageous laughter the night before. We sadly took down our tents, got back in our mokoros and departed towards Mokoro Island. After another peaceful and relaxing ride, we arrived to Mokoro Island and jumped onto the speed boats that were awaiting us. On the ride back, we saw several tiny crocodiles along the edges of the channels and a few eagles. We arrived at Delta Dawn in the late afternoon and spent our last night in the delta. We wished that we had more time on our secluded, beautiful island but we knew that we still had many things to look forward to.