10 November 2009

into the delta

“This is Africa”, I said to myself as we hurtled down the road past dust and donkeys and goats, the warm air blasting through every open window of the beaten up Toyota taxi. The first of our road trips - a chance to take it all in.

And after our first night at the relatively luxurious Audi Camp, literally boiling in our own sweat in our two man tent, we were ready to dive deeper and deeper into the African wonderland. I was more than ready to get lost in big beautiful Botswana.

Sunrise at Audi Camp, Maun, Botswana Awakened by the calling cockerels and braying mules, fuelled by strong coffee and a bowl of cereal, we were all packed up and in our open sided safari truck by 8am and bombing along the road out of Maun town.

View from the truck, Maun, BotswanaBefore long Tarmac became dirt track, our pace slowed, and the truck powered its way through thick sandy troughs and pools of flood water. Gradually the undergrowth got thicker and the trees greener and when we passed through the buffalo fence it felt like we were entering Jurassic Park as we eagerly anticipated our first proper wildlife sighting.

Passing through the buffalo fence, Okavango Delta, BotswanaIt didn’t take long: before we reached the poling station we had stopped for egrets, a secretary bird, a fish eagle and a giraffe! WOW. We click-click-clicked with our cameras unaware that these sightings were only the first of many many more. But the first are definitely the sweetest and the most magical.

Giraffe, Okavango Delta, BotswanaAt the poling station, the mokoros (canoes carved out of tree trunks) were parked up at the water’s edge, ready to carry us on the next leg of our journey into the Okavango Delta, the largest inland river delta in the world.

Mokoros parked up, Okavango Delta, BotswanaOur poler, Miram, beckoned us to take a seat in her mokoro where she had fashioned back rests from our bags, covered by our sleeping mattresses. Miriam looked at least fifty, and we were mightily impressed, if not somewhat embarrassed to be chauffeured along on this African gondola by a woman who we felt should have been resting while we young ones did all the hard work.

Miriam poling our mokoro, Okavango Delta, BotswanaPoling was clearly something she was used to, as she deftly navigated the calm, clear channels of water, perfectly balanced barefoot at the back of the vessel. Meanwhile, Dom and I were marvelling at the stunning surroundings – the expanse of perfect blue sky above the walls of reeds, opening to pools covered in lily pads - but we were not completely relaxed. It would take us a couple of canoe trips before we were no longer worried about falling in, dropping our cameras or being attacked by hippos – we had yet to lose the inhibitions of civilisation.

View from mokoro, Okavango Delta, BotswanaWe were an hour on the water before we arrived at our camp on one of the islands in the Delta in a clearing in the shade of a huge sausage tree. The team of polers had kindly set up the tents for us, so we chose our homes for the next two nights and helped Peter, our guide, prepare lunch.

Camping under the sausage tree, Okavango Delta, BotswanaTime for a swim, and a wash - in the river. I can’t think of any better way to cool off in the sweltering midday sun.

It turned out that we weren’t the only ones with this idea. I heard a few sharp intakes of breath and turned around to see that a giant bull elephant had silently made its way down to the water not 50 feet from us, to drink and splash. It was a heart stopping moment. The laughter and chatter ceased and we all gawped in awe at this magnificent creature. There is something about being half naked in your swimming gear in such close proximity to a wild animal that makes you realise with startling clarity the vulnerability of humans in what is most definitely an animal’s domain. And seeing our tiny bodies against this giant really brought home the scale of these beasts. It felt unreal, like we were on a film set for King Kong or Godzilla, but it was very real and so thrilling.

We watched him for about 20 minutes before we had to make our way past him and back to camp. Luckily we had been chaperoned to the river by Oti, a local guide, and in silent single file we walked slowly behind the creature, in an effort to avoid startling it and risking it charging us. We did it. PHEW!

That would have been easily enough excitement for our first day in the Delta, but the day was only half done and the adventure was only just beginning!

06 November 2009

tales from africa

Over the next few weeks I'll be blogging about our safari trip in Botswana and Zambia. It was a pretty mind-blowing trip, so it might take me some time to process. Watch this space!

The gang at Livingstone Airport