Getting into the Okavango Delta can be awfully expensive.
A cheaper way is to fly in to Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge, get on a mokoro and disappear off into the wild with a guide who knows where he’s going and what he’s doing. In 1993 Aitch and I did just that, spending a night at Oddballs, where you are given a little dome tent to pitch on the hard-baked earth.
You get visitors:
The name is ironic, see (“contrary to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this” – I made a quick check, don’t want to get ‘ironic’ wrong). While in camp you stock up on the meagre supplies available in their shop, like potatoes and onions; a tent, a braai grid; add it to the 10kg you’re allowed to bring in on the high-wing Cessna 206’s and you’re away! 10kg doesn’t go far when you’re a books, binocs and telescope junkie!
We enjoyed six nights out on the mokoro in the care of a wonderful man named Thaba Kamanakao. We chose to sleep three nights under a jackalberry and three under a mangosteen, minimising packing up and moving. We had little food, but Thaba provided us with the fish he caught in his gill net each night. I ate the barbel and he and Aitch the bream. Lucky me, it was delicious! He also loved barbel, but his lifestyle advisor – a sangoma? – had told him he wasn’t allowed it! The first night we were joined by Pommy doctors Louise and Richard and their guide “BT”.
When we moved camp from Jackalberry Camp to Mangosteen or Squirrel Camp we decided we needed a bath, so Thaba took us to a stunning clear lagoon, carefully checked for big things that could bite and then stood guard on the mokoro while we swam and rinsed – no soap, please! (Anyone going: You MUST take a diving mask! Next time I’ll pack some small swimming goggles and an underwater camera. The clarity of that water is awesome).
Beautiful underwater pic by David Doubilet to show what it looks like.
Squirrel CampNights were spent cooking and sitting around the fire; talking and listening to Thaba playing his mbira and singing; I’ll never forget his introduction as we switched on our tape recorder: My name is Thaba; Thaba Kamanakao; Kamanakao is surname;
Days were spent birding, hiking, where we were ‘moved off’ by an impatient ele and where we had to climb a termite mound as a herd of buffalo – spooked by Thaba scouting ahead – thundered all around us; short mokoro trips & loafing in camp, where the squirrels and birds kept us entertained for hours. Six lazy, wonderful, awesome days.
After supper Thaba would play the thumb harp and tell / sing stories of life in the Delta and surrounds, including how his adviser had told him to stop eating catfish – lucky for me! I can still hear his musically-intoned intro: “My name, I’m Thaba. Thaba Kamanakao. Kamanakao is surname.”
One night a herd of eles moved in and we lay listening to their tummy rumbles. We kept dead quiet and just peered at them in the moonlight through the tent flap, as they had a little baby with them and we didn’t want to upset mama.
Still life with Sausage Tree flowers & leavesThen we headed back reluctantly for a last night at Oddballs. Warm showers under the open sky, big hearty hot meals prepared for us, ice cold beer & gin’n’tonics on the deck watching spotted-necked otters in the lagoon. Comfy chairs.
And suddenly it dawned on us that, even though we did have to pitch our own tent again, Oddballs really IS a Luxury Lodge!
Oddballs is fancier nowadays.
mokoro – dugout canoe; plural mekoro
sangoma – shaman? traditional healer? medicine man? communes with the ancestors
mbira – thumb piano musical instrument
postscript 2018: This post was found by Thaba’s son, who informed me in the comments below that Thaba the legend had passed away. Damn!
R.I.P Thaba Kamanakao; You made our trip unforgettable.