The Okavango Delta is a vast inland delta in the Kalahari Desert that drains each year into a swamp covering up to 1500 sq km. In January – February the rains that fall in Angola drain 1200km into the Delta, which means that for the next few months there is abundant ground water and vegetation that attracts wild life and thousands of birds. The Delta is a unique landscape in all of Africa and varies from vast grass savannahs, dry sandy desert, wooded areas, low-lying islands (that twice yearly become isolated refuges for many animals during the flooding), vast marshes, channels and lagoons.
Our camp, Sandibe, is perched on the edge of one of these vast lagoons that is filled with papyrus and reeds. The sleeping quarters at the camp consists of eight thatched cottages with canvas sides where large insect screened windows catch any breeze. Attached to the tent is an “en suite” bathroom which is an open air (complete with monkeys and geckos – actually the monkeys really have a taste for soap). The room is well furnished with a really comfortable queen sized bed which I find hard to leave on those chilly mornings when the sun has not crested the horizon.
Just a few minutes walk from your tent along a sandy path is the main “building”. This large, open sided space houses the bar (well used when you come home after a game drive hot and parched), the dining area and several squishy lounges and comfy chairs where you can sit and let the wildlife pass you by. No animal is deterred from venturing close by. Elephants freely stroll through the camp, knocking over the fence around the swimming pool, but are careful to manoeuvre gently and gracefully around the outdoor furniture without ever knocking over a chair.
Our arrival is heralded by a chorus of African women singing a welcome song and providing cold towels, used to refresh faces and hands which are now covered in fine Kalahari dust.
Our host, Kate, gives us the camp overview and instructions that will be consistently reinforced no matter where we are in Africa: don’t go outside your tent at night, wait to be escorted to the main building before dawn and after dusk, stand still if you are on the path and an elephant is close by, don’t run if you see a lion or leopard in camp (running means prey and you could be the next meal), use the mosquito net and insect repellent liberally every day, don’t leave anything outside your tent because the hyenas will eat it or the baboons and monkeys will be wearing it.
We easily adapt to the pattern of camp life: wakeup call at our tent is 5:30am, collection for breakfast at 6am, into the jeep for the morning game drive at 6:30am and ready to see the sunrise at 7am. Usually there is a stop at a picturesque bush location around mid-morning for a coffee/tea and a “wee” stop at a location that is free from man-eaters and other potential dangers. I am reassured that the guide will scout out the bush toilet to ensure that there are no nasty surprises lurking in the foliage or behind the anthill.
Late morning we return to camp for lunch and a very welcome cold beer to wash away some of the Kalahari sand that is in our throats. Following lunch it is time to return to the tent for a siesta, take a dip in the pool or sit on your veranda and enjoy the quiet (apart from the grunting, snorting and bellowing of the hippos) and watch the passing parade of wildlife and the birds that dart about in the trees.
At 3pm we gather for a cup of tea before heading out for the afternoon/evening game drive. Our guide, Gee is full of information and quickly becomes our new friend. We exchange jokes and share stories of our different homelands, customs and cultures.
Gee is in his mid-40’s with a wife and three daughters. They live in Maun, a 4 – 5 hour drive over incredibly rough, sandy roads. Usually he works for two months and then gets two weeks off where he returns to the family. His aspiration is to retire from guiding when he is 50 and grow vegetables on a plot of land that he has bought outside Maun. To supplement this, he will take private guiding jobs. His knowledge of trees and plants and the animals and birds of the Delta seems limitless and he recounts many amazing stories and opens our eyes to the secrets of what is the African bush.
As we drive through this vast open land Gee is able to recollect every bush, tree, anthill, swamp and stream as though these landmarks are indelibly printed on his mind like a road map. As we drive along, bouncing over rutted, pot holed roads or sandy dredges where the wheels sink up to the axles, he is forever examining the horizon, peering behind every tree, bush and blade of grass to point out some animal or bird that is so well camouflaged that it takes us a few minutes to focus on where his finger is pointing.
Next blog we discover the big cats…