Run for Your Lives

As I alluded to briefly before, the first three days of our African journey were going to be spent on a mokoro (traditional canoe) trip through the Okavango Delta. We spent my first night in Maun, Botswana at The Old Bridge Backpackers (ate and drank to our heart’s content), then kicked the morning off with a magical outdoor shower (the first of many) and met up with our bush guide.


The best and most hilarious part about Africa is that whatever you expect you can almost guarantee it will be the exact opposite. For example…

Expectation: A driver is going to pick us up and bring us to the mokoro site. We’ll canoe a far distance and over the next 3 days camp and canoe our way back.

Reality: We met a driver, then another car of people showed up, then another car of people, then the groceries didn’t fit so another car showed up. That car takes us and remembers we need beer so we stop at several bars along the way, find beer, ice and fat cakes (close to a doughnut), meet at a speed boat with more people we weren’t expecting. They load the boat up with all of our stuff and all of the people. We boat for about 45 minutes on a mini-boat safari and end up at a mokoro village. Eat lunch under a giant tree and learn that we have a chef traveling with us. Not what we expected when we asked for meals to be included, but a nice surprise. Mokoros show up – we think we’re getting one boat for us and our stuff. Nope, four boats. I repeat, four boats take us to the campsite with most of the humans and all of the things including tents, tables, coolers, hand washing stations, pots, pans, etc. We spend 2 nights at the same campsite and canoe and hike everywhere.


Our guides and travel agents (a.k.a. locals who arranged our trip) were absolutely fantastic and fun to be around. Even the unenthusiastic one learned to deal with us and decipher our sarcasm. It is customary in Tswana culture for Motswana/Batswana (person/people from Botswana) to have a Setswana (language of Botswana) and English name. Therefore, “Jillian” wasn’t cutting it. Our guides lovingly named me “Naledi” (nah-lay-dee) which means “star.” I joked it’s because I am as white as a star, their laughter told me I was spot on.


The three days we’re in the Delta are three days of Onks (our guide), Kgosi (Corey) and Naledi (that’s me!) on bush walks (hiking by foot) and canoeing. Onks is rip-roaring ready to go but Kgosi (meaning, “chief”) and I have a few questions mostly – are there rules? Things we should/shouldn’t do? No-nonsense Onks shares the following rules:

  1. Walk in a single file line.
  2. Be quite.
  3. Don’t run. And if I say run, run for your lives.
  4. Later, in the canoe, Onks will tell us “I thought of another rule. If a hippo flips our boat, stay underwater as long as possible and swim as far as you can. Once you come up, no good (to which we learned upon expanding, means you will die like the villager the week before).”  

So! Armed with those helpful rules… we went on several bush walks (2-4 hours each) and saw herds of elephant mere yards away, impala, kudu, hippo, zebra, wildebeest, dozens of birds and more. We also had a near-death experience (the first of many) which involved a stand-off with a group of cape buffalo (one of the most dangerous animals in the bush alongside elephants, hippos, crocodiles and lions). Eventually, because we were downwind and unarmed (which I did not realize until this point…), the cape buffalo scurried off into the distance, but not before making it vocally known we were not welcome.


At night, we slept in a tent and fell asleep to the sounds of the fire dying down, hippos snorting and elephants crunching through the grass – a welcome change from the sirens and horns heard in Chicago.

After our mokoro trip, we had the same hilariously large group of people bring us back to Maun where we began our trek to Ghanzi and the san village of D’Kar.

Frequently Asked Questions:

    1. Where did you go to the bathroom? A hole in the ground, surrounded by a tent-like structure for privacy.
    2. Where did you shower? I didn’t… (there was an option but Corey learned the hard way it was not efficient). I did, however, scrub myself down in a swimming hole in the Delta on the last day.
    3. How was the food? DELICIOUS. Our chef, Beauty, was the best. Our secondary guide, Dreamer, caught fresh tilapia which Beauty fried and it was the absolute best.
    4. How was the heat? Not terrible! I do not bode well in the heat but with a water (x infinity), a good amount of sunscreen, an SPF shirt, hat and roomy shorts and without humidity, I fared pretty well.
    5. Did you ever get sick? Not a once, thankfully.

Some highlights, in photo form:


Burchelle’s zebras at sunset.


A selfie with Onks. Turns out, he’s not a fan of selfies. 


Fish eagle setting off to hunt. 


The view from the mokoro.


Tick “photo with wild elephants” off the bucket list. 


Fresh caught, fire-fried Delta tilapia. Mm, mm. 

Elephant skeleton (has been there five years).


Sunset at the hippo pool (ripples to the right are all hippo heads).


Sharing the waterways with a herd of more than a dozen elephants. 

Source: my own.


Dumela, Africa!

My trip of a lifetime may have kicked off in London, but Botswana was the ultimate destination. After an almost 11 hour restless flight of cramping, exhaustion, anxiety and excitement, I finally landed in Africa. Granted, it was South Africa, so I still had a ways to go. Due to some bagging confusion (blaming British Airways for this one), I had to go through immigration and customs in Johannesburg, exit the airport, then go to the international terminal and do it all again – and try to catch my next flight without my luggage.

Luckily, it all panned out, I got an extra passport stamp and I was overjoyed to be in Africa. AFRICA! My third continent in two days. I started snapping pictures of everything in the airport, including the art, animal pelts and this here giraffe – my first “wildlife” sighting!


I chatted with a bunch of people throughout the airport which was largely white and I was the youngest by at least three decades. But, I met a lot of wonderful people, many of whom were scared for my safety but I assured them I was a-okay (while also convincing myself this was the case) and I was meeting a friend in Botswana.


Eventually, about 50 of us boarded a smaller propeller plane by walking on the tarmac and hopping on board. The plane landed in Maun, Botswana 2.5 hours later and three planes unload to the one immigration officer – we’re officially on Africa time. After too much time in the sweltering heat and my layers of clothing, I see the door swing open and catch a glimpse of my backpack and let out perhaps too loud of a sigh of relief. A bit later, I’m finally past immigration, scoop my pack up from “baggage claim,” which is a pile of bags on the floor and see Corey! We head across the street and grab a celebratory beer not knowing what kind of adventures we were going to experience the next two weeks…


Source: my own 

Choose Chicago Instagram Takeover!

It’s been a busy few weeks over here with no signs of slowing down, but it’s all for good reasons. This week, I’m taking over Choose Chicago’s Instagram account, the official tourism bureau for the city I currently call home. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because I originally took over the account for week way back in 2014 and am back at it again. So head on over to @choosechicago and @jillianbraun on Instagram and watch as we tour across the city, one picture at a time.

Source: Jillian Braun on choosechicago on Instagram

1 2 3 4 44  Scroll to top