Okavango Expedition 2013: Leaving “Mother Okavango”…

The “Mother Okavango”, the beating heart of the delta, did not want to let us go. She held us to her abundant bosom for almost two weeks. We entered her wilderness using a secret mokoro trail known only by two baYei living in Jedibe, a backdoor left open for people like us. People interested in learning more about this magnificent wilderness and protecting her with their lives. She reluctantly released us from her grip after holding us with dry, impossible floodplains and channels, overgrown reed and papyrus beds, hundreds of hippo, a maze of the remaining watery pathways made by meandering hippo and elephant, and yesterday, for the first time, she unleashed a powerful, cold wind from the south having seen our clear intention to leave. We had to fight our Mother’s headwind for six hours yesterday without missing a bird sighting. We poled as hard as we could. We pushed on against this impossible wind. We cursed. We almost gave up. Over those six, hard hours I learn an important lesson. As my father always says: “There is no point in letting it stress you out.” He had recently helped me through a stressful period and I could hear his words in the gale coming straight for us. It was wrong to curse at Mother Okavango and I eventually made peace with the wind. Instantly I began feeling invigorated by the awesome power of this unrelenting, blind wind that we had been fighting all afternoon. I now understood that in life you need to accept and then act.

Steve and John passing an elephant during the 2013 Okavango Wetland Bird Survey... (Paul Steyn)
Steve and John passing an elephant during the 2013 Okavango Wetland Bird Survey… (Paul Steyn)

I am looking forward to seeing my parents in Maun in about two days when we finish the research expedition. I miss my wife terribly. She came last year and is the rock that I stand on in life. I can’t wait to meet my son, who will be born in December. I think everyday about my three amazing dogs, Plasie, Cassie and Skomie.

The research is going well. This is the lowest we have ever seen the Boro on our annual survey of this channel and the adjacent islands. The edges are hard sand and up to a meter above the water level. Birdlife is prolific with hundreds of spur-winged geese, glossy ibis, slaty egret, African skimmer, wattled crane, and much else. The tablet ran out of battery again with sightings being inputted for 6 hours non-stop. The Percy FitzPatrick Institute is breaking new ground here in the Okavango Delta…

Please follow our footsteps at intotheokavango.org

Tom playing for us last night after dinner. Just close your eyes and listen to the music of the baYei… (Paul Steyn)

From Paul Steyn’s Expedition Diary

Here I sit in the most picturesque campsite weve found this expedition, looking over the glorious Boro River and happy to finally be on the ‘highway’ to Maun.

Weve been talking about the Boro for the last 48 hours, working our mokoros through the swamps to get here, and it feels amazing now that we are on the deep channel.

The campfire is glowing and the guys are casting a few lines off the bank in the hope that we can include some fish with our rice and beans for a change. Ha! They just pulled in a thin-faced large mouth and a bream. Looks like we will indeed have fish this eve for dinner. And dumplings!

Tom is preparing to play his Hororo (traditional reed instrument). He promised to play a few days back but we’ve been so tired and bed has taken preference. Tonight, though, there is a great energy in the team and we are looking forward to celebrating how far weve come.

Earlier I took a walk around the island to get a feel for the place, as has become habit when we set up camp.

I found Steve writing in his note book and he pointed me in the direction of some elephants that were hanging around earlier. I found the tracks shortly after and decided to follow. The sun was low and the light was dying… not the best time to be walking in the bush, but I went anyway. Feeling a pull of some kind.

I followed the tracks for a while and lost grip of time. Things seemed slower and the bush was humming a rythym that I hadnt felt until now.

I found the eles grazing in an open area and sat a little way from the herd. It was a special moment of reflection on the last two weeks. I thought about what it took to get to this point, and although tough, how unique the experience has been. Lost, found, tired, dirty and inspired – I’m looking forward to taking stock of everything and putting this amazing story into book form.

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Changing Planet


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.