Everyone on the trip had expected another early morning rise (about 5AM), but Julius informed us last night that waking up at 6:50 would be fine. Breakfast would be at 7 and the makoros would be departing for our walk at 7:30. I thought this was a bit strange considering typically the best viewing of animals is early morning when they are out and about scrounging for food, but who am I to argue with the guys who spend their days in the delta.
By 7AM almost everyone had emerged from their tents and were hovering around the camp fire, trying to wait patiently for a taste of Jay’s famous french toast. The group that had traveled with Jay and Sarah from Nairobi constantly talked about how the one thing Jay cooked really well was french toast, so when he offered to make us some for breakfast last night everyone thought it was a splendid idea.
After waiting all night for the highly anticipated french toast, it did not disappoint. It was the prefect amount of cinnamon and egg, but there was a little too much sugar in the batter for me. I like to use the syrup to sweeten my french toast, but with the sugar in the batter I only had one piece with syrup, the rest I ate plain. Alex on the other hand enjoyed several delicious syrup soaked pieces. When the group was finished eating Jay asked the pollers if they would like to have some. It was clear that they had just been waiting for him to ask before they quickly devoured the last few pieces of french toast. I wondered if it was common for groups to give food to the pollers or it if was something they had come to expect from the trips. They did bring some food with them, but it certainly wasn’t enough for all of them. I would have preferred we just cook enough helpings for us and the pollers and have them eat with us, than have them hovering, watching us eat unsure if they are going to have to eat the minimal food they brought with them if we finish everything.
With our stomaches full the group headed for the makoros, where we once again split into groups of four to ride in the fiberglass boats. The pollers take use on a 45 min ride back to the large island where we were last night, but pull the canoes ashore in a new spot that is full of holes and is still very wet and muddy. Dodging the wettest areas I make it to the hard dirt with only a little mud on my shoes, unfortunately Alex was not as lucky. He stepped in a concealed hole full of water and had to continue on the walk with a soaking wet shoe.
Divided into our two groups from the previous walk, we trek our way around the island while our guides point out different flowers and shrubs that the local delta people use as food and medicine. All over the island there were large sage bushes, which our guides explained the delta people burn to keep the mosquitos away. The highlight of our walk was seeing a large elephant skeleton that was mostly intact despite the fact that the animal had been dead 4 or 5 years.
Everyone was hoping that we would see more animals, but the only living animals we saw on our morning walk were Red Lechwe, which is a type of antelope. It made me appreciate all the animals we saw on the walk the night before because according to most people who go into the delta, antelope and spiders is about all one sees.
Back at camp we sit around the fire eating brunch and contemplating a nice afternoon siesta. Some of the pollers offer to take anyone who wants to swim or learn how to pole at the swimming hole about an hour after lunch. Both Alex and I want to learn to pole, but I am not too keen on going swimming with hippos, snakes, and crocodiles. Laying down in our tent we plan to grab a quick nap before we attempting to navigate a mokoro full of people.
I awake to the sound of voices and assume it is the group gathering to go to the swimming hole, so I quickly wake Alex up and pop out of tent to see if it is time. To my surprise the voices are coming from a group playing cards in the shade who inform me that the swimming hole group left at lest an hour and half ago. Bummer, I thought we missed out on learning to pole. By this time Alex had emerged from the tent and heard the disappointing news.
Dixon, our poller, had not gone to the swimming hole and was hanging around camp washing clothes. Alex decided to approach him and ask if there was still time to learn to pole before the sunset boat ride. Dixon told him he would be happy to teach us as soon as he was finished.
As the swimming hole group made their way to the shore, Alex was pushing us out into the delta. Dixon informed us that we would go around the island to the other camp and back. Alex would pole there and I would pole back. Alex had a rocky beginning trying to find his balance and steering us into a tree in the first five minutes, but soon he was propelling the boat smoothly over the water with little to no instructions from Dixon. Upon arrival at the other camp, we discovered that we were their errand runners. Dixon and the other poller with us had wanted to go to the other camp to get cigarettes and teach us to pole at the same time meant less work for them. I wasn’t as quick to get the smooth movements of the steering down. The height of the pole was at least two of me put together, which made it difficult to lift from side to side quickly and keep my balance. I really was trying but I think Dixon was getting a little frustrated with me.
Before departing for our sunset boat cruise I experienced one of the most memorable moments of the trip. Behind our camp I watched elephants, no more then 20 feet away, put their long trunk flat against the palm tree and shake it until coconuts fell off. It was an absolutely amazing sight.
Our evening boat cruise took us out to deeper waters where hippos often hang out, but we only saw one a long way off. To entertain us, while we bobbed amongst the reeds waiting for the sun to go down, Jay made lily pad hats and waterlily necklaces. After about 20 or 30 minutes of passing around the hats and necklaces for pictures, the pollers decided it was time to find a new spot to sit for the sunset. As the sun slowly crept closer to the horizon the pollers maneuvered the mokoros through the reeds towards our camp. Just before the sun set completely the pollers parked the boats on the edge of an island so we could admire the bright orange colors of the sky and watch the sun disappear below the horizon.
All the food so far on the trip as been delicious and tonights BBQ steak was no exception.
As we chatted and ate our dinner several of us thought we heard the rustling of branches. Our guides told us to be quite, sure enough this time everyone heard the crunching of branches coming from the direction of Alex and my tent – an elephant was close by, it was shaking the trunks of the trees for fruits in nuts, just like I had seen this afternoon. For the rest of the night every time the rustling got louder and closer I expected an elephant to emerge from the darkness and walk right over our tent.
The night is warm and most people sit away from the fire because it is too hot. Poor Alex was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, so we retired early to the safety of the tent.
The pollers performed songs for the group and Jay taught them a new game to play with beer bottles before everyone called it a night.
Tomorrow we leave the delta.