Near Etsha, N. Okavango,
After a tranquil start, we arrived on Mungabe's Mother's island - Guda.
The terrain now incorporated cattle and goats, so appeared rather tame in comparison to our previous venues. Again, a swarm of children descended upon us, and a fat, jolly woman who spent the entire time smiling.
As in Opai, the village was situated in the centre of the island, a woodless, shadeless area, which I'm told is designed to view any predators or unwelcome visitors. Some shade was afforded by a reed canopy where we sat on a perfectly situated log. Mungabe invited us to have some milk with our mealie - the prospect of which sounded too good to be true. It was. A large cup of curdled milk, resembling yoghurt, was produced. It tasted vile, and every mouthful came complete with 600 hangers on in the form of flies. Chris explained that Africans cannot digest milk as we can, and so part of the process must be carried out first, to aid digestion. We suffered in silence.
From Guda on up, the water was less plentiful as we were on the very edge of the swamps so we could only take one mokoro. Our worldly possessions became rather more condensed, as did we. The water became so shallow in some areas that we disembarked and walked, while Mungabe or Nelson poled the mokoro around islands to meet us. They had grown up in this terrain and knew so well how to negotiate these water- ways in any situation. Occassionally, we would be confronted by a wall of papyrus, which to my inexperienced eye was simply a wall of papyrus, yet the African eagle eye would decipher an entry point which would lead on to a labyrinth of hippo paths and mokoro lanes, again to be deciphered, so the correct way could be taken. As the day went on, the papyrus seemed to become more dense and the water more shallow, thus making poling almost impossible. The men worked extremely hard, often pushing or puling the craft from both ends. Progress was slow, and the mighty papyrus towered above us for hours on end. Sometimes it seemed as tho' the end was in sight, a flowing channel interrupted the 'forest'. Moments later we were knee deep in water again. Only an illusion. the channel was there only to be crossed. Another endless battle with the accused papyrus ensued. Seeing the polers working so hard, I felt extremely useless sitting so helplessly still. I began clutching reeds, helping pull the mokoro along, for which Mungabe muttered that I was 'Number One'. I poled in places where Nelson pulled, Mungabe poled from the rear and Chris sat amidst 6 inches of water which was now seeping in. Trying desperately to keep our sense of humour, Chris continuosly enquired 'How far is Etsha'? whereupon the reply would either be 'still ahead', 'far but not too far' or 'I don't want to lie to you, so I tell you I do not know'. Good reasoning.
Darkness began to fall, causing every push on the pole to be that more urgent. Luckily there was a full moon which offered perfect light when we finally emerged from the papyrus. The temperature began to drop and I was now very cold. My bum was soaked and I longed to be by a fiercely hot fire. Chris could still not get a positive answer from Mungabe regarding how much farther it was which decided us. We would stop on the next island, Nelson and Mungabe could pole on to Etsha if they liked and return in the morning to pick us up.
What a relief to stand by the fire we made so swiftly, ensconed in a blanket and plucking a spur winged goose that Chris had shot. I slept so soundly, awakening in the morning to Mungabe saying 'Aryai' (let's go!). He was a man of his word. It was eight o'clock and Etsha was only an hour away!
It was a long walk from where we left the mokoro to the actual town of Etsha, a walk where the spoor was that of donkeys and goats, the sounds were of bells and cattle bellowing. Civilization. A regiment of huts stood on the horizon. A horizon devoid of all trees, shimmering in a heat haze and alive with activity.
Mungabe seemed proud to be with us and went to great pains to introduce us to his friends and show us around this small 'laid back' town. Etsha evolved due to the influx of immigrants from Angola in 1967 who settled there and brought with them basket craft which is so well practiced throughout Botswana today. It was refreshing to be amidst people again and everyone seemed friendly. The main store (which we made a b line for) was run by a welshman who started it in 1967 and took great delight in showing us all his warehouses, ex warehouses and stock. I was, quite frankly, a lot more interested in the actual store where we bought milk powder, mealie meal, tobacco, jam and..... chewing gum! Next stop the 'clinic'.