The wooden makoro, a Zambezi specialty

A few months ago, I visited Zambia for the first time. Between scenic flights and thrilling game sightings, I noticed that the safari experience here revolves around rivers more than it does in the other African countries I’ve been to. Mighty rivers like the Luangwa and the Zambezi, which are packed with hippos and swell to imposing volumes in the wet season.

It was while my brother, who’s a filmmaker, and I were on the Zambezi that we discovered the makoro, the traditional dugout canoe that has been making river life easier for the area’s inhabitants since it was introduced several centuries ago.

makoro-zambezi

These narrow-draft vessels are better known in Botswana, where they are the signature mode of transport, for tourists as much as locals it seems, in the Okavango Delta. But in Botswana, you don’t find them made of wood anymore. In Zambia, you do.

makoro

I know this because while I was staying at a beautiful lodge about an hour north of Livingstone, we saw staff using them to ferry goods and personnel across a channel and onto the shore. We also took a tippy sunset ride in one. And best of all, we met a man named Boniface who makes these simple but effective boats for a living.

makoro-man

He talked to us about he does it. The first step is picking a tree, preferably a magongo tree, that’s the right age, shape, and size. Then he chops the tree down, and using simple tools hacks and hollows it out over the course of a few weeks. If made well, he told us, a wooden makoro should last up to five or seven years.

Images Copyright: © Oliver Hartman

Keen to visit Zambia? Check out Kaingo Camp, one of Africa Geographic's Special Places.

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About Darrell Hartman

Darrell Hartman is a travel writer based in New York. His stories have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Travel + Leisure, and other international publications. He is co-founder of the website Jungles in Paris.

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