Botswana. Just typing it stirs an overwhelming sense of nostalgia in my soul. If I close my eyes, I can smell the myriad of sun burnt grasses of the Savannah, the sweet muskiness of elephant dung and unmistakable waft of not-so-freshly picked bones of a nearby carcass. Traveling through Southern Africa was marked by endless moments of wonderment, marvel and since my return to Canada, I’ve been left aching for the soils of Africa. My journey took me from Capetown to Livingstone, where I spent a spell volunteering with lions. Yes, lions. We’ll save that story for another time. Let me, if only for a brief moment, take you on a wander into the wilds of the Okavango Delta.
Nearly three quarters of Botswana is surrounded by the expansive and semi-arid Kalahari Desert, a desert stretching into neighboring Namibia and South Africa. It’s rich, red sands have been home to the African bushmen for 20,000 plus years and a plethora of species migrate throughout the Kalahari. October in Botswana is often referred to as suicide month. Temperatures can soar well over 40 degrees Celsius, and I can assure you, it certainly does. In fact, it was a searing 45 degrees plus while I there. The air so dry, a dip in the delta was like sitting in a hot bath and there was little relief until the sun went down.
My venture into the delta began at it’s mouth, with a fury of porters, equipment, and supplies. Within an hour and a half of arriving at our launch point, we were all directed to hop into our prospective Mokoros (a long, thin canoe carved out of either Ebony, Kigelia or fiberglass). And we’re off.
- On the Lookout for Hippos
Gliding through the reeds, it astounds me that the delta is nearly void of all sound but for the melodic hum of our Punter, Nicki. Her voice like a familiar lullaby, gentle and no louder than a whisper. Rocking rhythmically, the mokoro slid effortlessly through brush so thick, it would have been nearly impossible to anticipate an unwelcome visit from a three tonne hippopotamus. It is a well known statistic that hippos kill more humans in Africa than any other animal (other than the mosquito). Though we did briefly encounter a diving male bull, he didn’t seem to take notice of our small party and we were left in peace (whew!). Though he spared us from potential wrath, the thought of being chomped in half was not far from my mind. Yikes!
Despite being the driest time of year, the delta was still bursting with rich shades of green I didn’t even know existed. And the Birds. I couldn’t have dreamed up in the most imaginative corner of my mind, the abundance and variety of bird life swooping in and out of the Papyrus. Reds, pinks, blues, yellows, all the shades of white, it was quite possibly one of the most spectacular displays of nature that I had the privilege of holding a front row ticket to. It took a little under three hours to navigate our way to our camp in the heart of the Delta, a few strides from the waters edge. Moments after we had arrived, rumblings echoed throughout camp, a pride of lions had been here the previous night. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, and I felt a surge of adrenaline. We were in one of the wildest places on earth, amongst the earth’s giants, and at the very bottom of the food chain. It was frightening and invigorating all at the same time. I embraced it.
We set up camp, and did the only thing you can do when it’s 40 plus degrees. We spent the afternoon wading into the swampy waters of the Delta, and laughing about adventures past. Like the skies, the water was teeming with life, and we all marvelled at the concentrated diversity of flora and fauna in this part of the world. The days and nights seemed equally short in Africa. Sunset on the delta is incapable of being anything but spectacular. Bursting with drama and fire, African sunsets are anything but drawn out affairs, especially in the Delta. If you’re not quick, you are sure to miss the show.
- The Symphony of Birds
The day after arriving at camp, we are up before dawn on a walking safari. Yes, a walking safari. No guns. No vehicle. No protection. Just an insignificant group of humans with sticks, walking within an earshot midst of elephant herds, lion prides, hippos and as we soon came to find out, more immediate threats. After several hours of learning about honey-seeking birds, African bees, acacia trees and other fauna, our fearless leader hears the snap of a branch. We were curtly ordered to halt and I swear, I could hear every heart beat right out of every chest. Within seconds, thunder roars, but it’s not from the sky, it’s from beneath our trembling legs. STAMPEDE! We stood by helplessly as a large herd of water buffalo, spooked by our voices, raced across the plain, thankfully, in the opposite direction. Just another day in the Delta!
After another balmy evening at camp filled with songs, games and more stories, our time in the Delta draws to a close. The next day is spent packing down, and erasing any evidence of the human footprint. While the others buzz about, I survey the Savannah behind our camp one last time, and bid the zebra and impala herds adieu.Our mokoro meanders lazily back through thick brush, reeds and Papyrus and eventually takes us back to our awaiting truck.
In my wildest dreams, did I ever think I would ever bring my National Geographic magazines to life. My short time in the Okavango Delta is impossible to appreciate in photos, though I hope my sharing this experience with you evokes memories of your own Delta experience, or inspires you to make Botswana a part of your next African adventure!