Okavango Expedition 2013: Still Stuck and in Search of Water

I love this delta deeply, but have we been had today?

Tired out and burnt by a place that will make your way impossible if no animals are welcome. This wilderness knows how to recuperate after thousands of animals and insects have feasted, dispersed, pollinated and fertilized. We have now demonstrated that most of the wetland bird species do not stay around after the flood has passed…. They follow the receding floodwaters. We had witnessed the feeding frenzy in this remote wilderness in June and August on previous expeditions, but now there is nothing, just long hard miles of pulling or pushing our mokoros (dug-out canoes) across dry floodplains, always in search of water in this wetland.

Pulling mokoros through the dry flood plain.
Pulling mokoros through the dry flood plain.

The research team is tired to say the least. They have pushed hundreds of kilograms of gear and mokoros for 17 hours in two days in the hot sun. There are more and more elephant and signs of hippo. Tomorrow we need to push all the way into the Mombo area and hope the water lets us. Right now, we are basically lost with an idea on how to get back on track and, most importantly back onto the water. We all feel stuck.

The results from the research are important, even though we feel like we are getting nowhere and seeing nothing. We always knew that the flood was 1/3 in volume and flow rate as last year. We knew that the transit to Chief’s Island via Madinari Island would be near impossible. We are completing an important data set.

I hope I impressed these hardships on the research team in Cape Town before leaving? This is harder than I ever imagined and we have not yet caught up with the flood or the water yet…

Steve looking a little worn out from the day

From Paul Steyn’s expedition diary

The team is currently quite jaded. We’ve spent the last four days knee-deep in mud and reeds, fighting our way to the deeper channels that will eventually take us to Chiefs Island. At one point we only made 900 meters in 3 hours.

The quiet flowing sections of a few days ago now seem more like a dream, and the present reality of our situation is harsher and littered with the unknown. How long will it take us to find water? Once we do, will it be deep enough to pole? How long will it take to get to Chiefs (‘Wonderland’ as we keep referring to it)?

I wasn’t quite sure what to write about in this post as very little has changed in the last few days other than our basic position. Then, about 10 minutes ago, lions began roaring in the distance which signals a semblance of hope. Lions follow general game, and the game follows water. Maybe tomorrow won’t be such a long day?

We’ll wait and see.

Follow our footsteps at www.intotheokvango.org

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Meet the Author
Steve Boyes has dedicated his life to conserving Africa's wilderness areas and the species that depend upon them. After having worked as a camp manager and wilderness guide in the Okavango Delta and doing his PhD field work on the little-known Meyer's Parrot, Steve took up a position as a Centre of Excellence Postdoctoral Fellow at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. He has since been appointed the Scientific Director of the Wild Bird Trust and is a 2014 TED Fellow. His work takes him all over Africa, but his day-to-day activities are committed to South Africa's endemic and Critically Endangered Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus). Based in Hogsback Village in the Eastern Cape (South Africa), Steve runs the Cape Parrot Project, which aims to stimulate positive change for the species through high-quality research and community-based conservation action. When not in Hogsback, Steve can be found in the Okavango Delta where he explores remote areas of this wetland wilderness on "mokoros" or dug-out canoes to study endangered bird species in areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Steve is a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work in the Okavango Delta and on the Cape Parrot Project.