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Crossing the Okavango Delta: 2017

This is the first post from the 2017 delta crossing expedition of the Okavango Wilderness Project. Relive previous trips, see photos and videos, and explore the adventures through maps.

By Luke Manson

I’m sitting in a tree on an island outside the Okavango Delta. It’s sizable enough that I can be a responsible adult climbing out onto one of its sweeping branches as it leans out over the water. I feel like a little kid though, with my legs dangling down, laughing at nothing. On either side is a wall of 6-to-10-foot-high papyrus that reflect the sunlight like an army of gold and green Fraggle Rock heads. I can see a hippo just over the top popping up for air and snorting every few minutes in the river. I can’t tell how many birds I am listening to. I could be in a tree on a perfect summer day anywhere, but it’s winter and I’m in Botswana.

I guess my day technically started a little after midnight when we finished packing produce into the last of our eleven large black tubs. At six am we started the fire and made coffee. Nine boats were laid at the entry to the water. In front of them a barrage of food, tools, electrical equipment, and scientific gear of all kinds of shapes. We secured the solar panels to the top of the boats, took a group photo in front of the National Geographic Society flag and pushed off.
The first 45 minutes of poling and paddling takes place in a small canal frequently traveled by elephants and hippos. We are walled in by the papyrus. We can’t see anything but the water and boats around us. The canal is never more than 10 feet across. And then, unexpectedly, it dumps us into a large lagoon and we are paddling hard upstream with waves crashing over the sides the front of the boat onto my legs. I don’t mind it because I needed the wake up. This isn’t a trip you can make without experts. You’d never even be able to guess how to get out of the lagoon. The lead boat heads straight to a similar canal that i couldn’t make out from my distance behind and we are walled in again. After an hour we hit a lagoon and park at the only camping island within four hours travel.
Watching camp pop up is quite a thing. People are piling into water plopping boxes on the shore immediately. There are tents set up with a charging station, we are connected to a satellite for internet, and a kettle is boiling near our kitchen in under an hour.
I found a shady spot near an opening to the water gaurded from the main camp by a few leafy ferns. I’m trying to recount how I made my way into this tree watching the dark blue slowly overtake the pink and yellow as the sun sets behind me.
And it’s only the first day.
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