A mekoro (also: mokoro or makoro) is a traditional canoe made by hollowing out (by hand) a large tree trunk. A mekoro in Botswana is a common sight, especially in the Okavango Delta. Polers will stand at one end, and push the mekoro along the shallow channels of the Delta with a long pole. For a visitor to the Delta it is an amazing way to traverse the complex maze of channels, and view the wildlife. For locals it is a practical form of transportation, and a fishing vessel.
What makes it so special?
A mekoro safari is a fantastic chance for a guest to glide silently along the Delta channels, skirting curtains of reeds and soaking in the sights and sounds of Botswana. It is a tranquil alternative to an open 4 x 4 safari. A mekoro safari is definitely a way for a visitor to see the intimate side of Botswana. The little frogs and bugs, flowers and grasses, all add to the experience, and could have been missed on a vehicle safari.
When the waters rise in the Okavango Delta due to flooding, many of the smaller elevated areas become islands. They can not be reached by Landrover, and will often be too small to receive a small aircraft. This is when a mekoro is the perfect vehicle to access these jewels of the wild.
The guides are not just skilled polers, they are also highly knowledgeable rangers. Their knowledge about the terrain, fauna and flora is staggering.
As the activity of mekoro safaris increased, the demand for these dugout canoes increased as well. Typical trees used to carve a mekoro are the Jackalberry, Ebony, Sausage or Mangosteen Trees. Expert mekoro carvers prefer older straighter trees. The carvers prefer the branches of the Terminalia Trees to produce the poles, called a Ngashi, used to propel the mekoro.This posed a potential problem, because as mentioned earlier in this article, carvers of the mekoro prefer the older trees. The tourism industry recognised this, and is now promoting use of fibreglass to make mekoros, in an effort to preserve older, larger trees.
Best time to go
July and August are great months for a mekoro safari, because this is when the flood waters of the Delta are highest. The mekoros have a greater area to traverse in the wet season.
A safari of any nature is a lifelong dream for many people. It is a life changing experience to witness nature at its best. A mekoro safari is maybe not the most comfortable viewing platform, but it certainly brings you closer to nature than any open 4 x 4 vehicle will ever accomplish.
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Author: Principle writer – Celeste Wilson
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