Walking with wildlife in the bush

An island somewhere in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

This morning, we packed for our two-night trip into the Okavango Delta with Delta Rain. We each brought a small daypack, sleeping bag and a 5-liter bottle of water. Also making the trip with me was a bottle of Harvey’s, an amazingly cheap South African whiskey.

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A little after 7 a.m., a large Mercedes truck came to our campsite. We loaded it with our personal belongings, the tents, sleeping mats, cooking utensils and all the food we would need for our trip. We jumped on board, and in the brisk morning cold, made the 1.5 hour drive to the launch point for our trip into the Delta.

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The Delta is one of the world’s largest inland water systems. Its headwaters start in Angola’s western highlands; these tributaries form the Kavango River in Namibia, which flow into Botswana’s Okavango. Each October, rains in Angola and Zambia flood 18,000 square kilometers of plains in the south, creating an ecosystem brimming with some of Southern Africa’s most diverse wildlife.

We would be making our way into the Delta by mokoro, a traditional dugout canoe made with 70-80 year-old sausage trees. The mokoros are driven by polers, who stand at the rear and propel the boats using long wooden poles. Kind of like Venice in Southern Africa.

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Our poler, Joyce, filled the mokoro with our gear and then made us these comfortable seats to recline in. The journey then began; lying back, eyes closed, lapping water against the boat, calling birds in the distance, reeds brushing by our legs. It was the most relaxed I’ve been the entire trip.

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We arrived at a deserted island and set up camp. Soliwe used an overturned mokoro as a table and prepared lunch. Meanwhile, some of our guides grabbed a shovel and dug the toilet. It would be an interesting 48 hours.

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Much of the afternoon was free to laze around camp. Some of the group went for a swim, others took naps and read. At 4 p.m., we all met back for our first guided wildlife walk.

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Up until now, all of my wildlife viewing has been from the safety of a vehicle. If for some reason an animal were to charge or attack, there was some level of protection. All of that gets thrown out the window when going on a wildlife walk. This afternoon’s took us through thick grasses, some of which were at chest-level. As we passed some grazing antelopes, there was a certain level of excitement and anticipation.

Then, our guide OT spotted some elephants off in the distance. “Let’s go after them,” we urged. He glanced at his watch. “Okay,” he said. “We go quick.” We walked fast but the sun was falling faster. As we turned back, the sky exploded in colors in an absolutely fantastic sunset.

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But soon our attention turned to more pressing matters — like getting back safely to camp. As darkness fell, we heard the grunting of grazing hippos, which are some of the most aggressive animals on the Delta. When one snorted dangerously closed to our trail, we stopped. “You must keep walking!” OT yelled back.

Back at the camp, we breathed a sigh of relief and sat down to a traditional Southern African meal. The bottle of whiskey was broken out and we spent most of the night talking around the campfire.

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