Thursday, 5 November 2009

24 Hours in the Delta - Personal Account

5am. Wake up to the tent being shaken, out early morning wakeup call. For a moment it takes a while for my eyes to adjust. The light of dawn floods the tent as the noise of pans knocking together and voices echo in the stillness of the morning. Opening up the zips I poke my head out of my tent.

The mokoro polers and our tour guide sit round a fire in the grey light of dawn. On the fire a large silver pot whistles – hot water for those waking early for our walk into the wilderness. Behind them the water is still, flat, the green reeds moving fractionally in a small breeze. A lily or two, floating amongst the reeds, contrasts white with green and blue, their white petals glowing like stars in a dark blue night. The air is fresh, clean. Stepping out I take it all in – I’m in Botswana, camping on a small island in the heart of the Okavango Delta.

I’ve wrapped up reasonably well – it is still winter in the Southern Hemisphere and despite midday temperate rising into their 30’s, the mornings still have an edge of a chill. As I sit to drink my tea around the amber glow of the dying out campfire the sky lightens into a red glow- the teasing light of the sun hiding just below the horizon, silhouetting the tall palm trees lining the island across from us. In the distance the birds sing their songs just like the odd reed frog announcing its presence somewhere in the sea of green reeds.

The guides talk between themselves, their language like music to one unaccustomed to it. They flash me a smile when they see me watching. Rustlings from the other tents fill the air, my fellow travellers, their yawns and coughs. One by one they emerge ready for our early morning walk. We are all eager to get going and witness the many animals that freely roam the delta.

Into the bush we walk single file, one behind the next. The sky gets brighter as we walk but the sun has not yet revealed itself. We walk through the dry yellow grass, our walking boots making a crunching noise.

Our guide leads us to a plain and we stop. In the middle of the vast plain are a large group of Zebras. As they move they kick up a trail of dust which glows brownish red in the light. They stay together sniffing the air. They have heard us. We stay still as Francis, our guide, tells us quietly about them, the Beautiful Zebra’s, the National Animal of Botswana.

Fascinated we hear about how they use their stripes, black ones used to store heat , the white used to help cool them down. These animals are wonderful, each with its own unique pattern. We stand for a while watching them wonder around in their natural environment.

Moving on we come across a large termite hill, close by the remains of a buffalo. Our attention is soon grabbed by a cry. Someone has spotted in the distance a large group of Giraffe’s.

As the sun suddenly bursts out from behind the horizon we are already heading back to our camp for breakfast. With a parting glance at the Zebra’s in the plains I stop briefly and look around.

We return to our camp 11am – the sun is now high in the sky, blazing down on all below. After breakfast we all settle down. The guides do not work at this time – it is too hot. The afternoon is time for relaxing, taking in our surroundings or for those more adventurous – a go at poling the mokoros.

The middle of the day moves slowly. There is ample time to relax, a contrast to the exciting on the go journey so far. Some sit and read books, others take a nap. I sit there writing in my travel diary, not wanting to forget anything from this unique location but after a while I become sleepy too.

Waking at 4pm the sun is starting to sink already. I join the others round the campfire for food. Afterwards the polers take us out for an early evening mokoro ride. We glide low through the reeds, lying back enjoying the ride. On the bank of an island stand two elephants, hidden partly amongst the trees. They stand there a while before wondering off through the trees. We stop at a large pool where in the distance a hippo ducks in and out of the surface sending ripples in all directions across the smooth surface.

As we make our way back we stop once more to watch the sun set, a spectacular splash of colours across the sky. The water reflects this glow of reds and orange and we all sit in silence as the sun slips below the horizon.

Darkness falls and the roaring campfire lights up the camp. Many wild noises fill the air, the sound of the wild ringing out. The polers stand up and together sing us some traditional songs. There are only six of them singing but their voices are strong, clear and they enchant us with their songs, a small glimpse into their culture. Hot drinks in hand we lie back listening, happily exhausted from an amazing day.

A week ago I was back home, doing the ordinary things that I do nearly every day. But now, this is where I am, this is the Okavango Delta. This is Africa.

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