The village of Xaxaba appears in a clearing among the palm trees after a long journey through the Okavango Delta. Our Land Cruiser trundles up to the collection of mud and thatch huts, winding through the small village along the paths made visible between neighbouring houses. There are only small children around, waving excitedly at us as we pass; the older children are at school in Maun. As for the adults, they’ve chosen a life of peace and quiet in this incredible, wild environment. Fishing from the teeming rivers and farming small patches of mielie crops, life is simple and seemingly poor, but here on the edge of Chief’s Island, a community of people have been thriving for years.
Afrika Ecco Safaris was founded by cousins, Chris and Tiko, who were both brought up in a village just like Xaxaba, on the border of the renowned Chief’s Island. As a result, they know this area just like anyone would know their childhood neighbourhood, but here, they have shared the land with Africa’s wildlife, and the water with some of the most ferocious animal residents. This familiarity between the people and wildlife of Chief’s Island is the reason we walked without rifles. We got mesmerisingly close to zebras, while lechwe, impala, and wildebeest stood their ground long enough for photographs before moving on.
Our safari with Afrika Ecco was an exceptional experience of true wilderness without the buffer of walls and ceilings. We were camping in the utmost comfort in the utmost solitude, and all that separated us from this incredible environment was canvas. In the morning we were woken up with coffee, rusks, and cereal around the renewed embers of last night’s fire. A quick face splash and brush of the teeth made us as ready as we were going to be for a 3 hour walk on the famous Chief’s Island. Two men from Xaxaba emerged through the morning mist on mokoros – they were to be our guides; a father and son-in-law who were fishermen and farmers from the village that was tucked away behind the trees in the distance.
We hopped off our mokoros and took the first step onto Chief’s Island, which is reserved only for walking. Previously it was a piece of land given to Chief Moremi, and all the animals that were hunted there were given to the Chief and his people. Nowadays, no hunting is allowed (anywhere in Botswana), and it is purely a preserved paradise, part of the Moremi Game Reserve. We set off in single file behind White, who was more fluent in English than his father-in-law, Base. White had a natural sense of direction and we headed through wide open clearings as warthogs scattered and birds took to the skies.
Evidence of this wild world is everywhere, and we were told stories about wildife action through the whitened bones and skulls that lay untouched on the ground. Much of the land we were walking on lies underwater in the high season when the Okavango Delta is flooded by feeding rivers. We followed a myriad of hippo paths, and saw the tortoise egg shells left behind by predating water monitors. We were told how to build a mokoro out of a sausage tree trunk – a laborious and meticulous task indeed.
We learned that the beautifully made mud huts in the village were made out of old termite mounds. When it is old and the termites have moved out of their underground palace, the people of Xaxaba dig away and collect their mortar. Mixing it with water and packing it around old cans (makeshift bricks) builds the sturdy walls needed for their homes. This special soil regulates the temperature inside the huts, keeping things mercifully cool during the hot summer days.
An absolutely unforgettable and irreplaceble adventure on foot through one of the most sought after regions of Botswana. This was the real experience; tales of the wild and living peacefully alongside African’s animals, told in the voices of the people who still live and thrive there.