The Wild Calling. A Journey from Chobe to the Okavango

River cruise on the Chobe River in Botswana.
Chobe Safari Lodge warns visitors that large crocodiles, elephants and hippos roam freely through the camp. Please don't leave your room late at night since the elephant is an unpredictable animal… The last rays of the sun on the Chobe River are carried to me like sparkling fairy lights on an undulating silk blanket to where I'm sitting on the veranda of my chalet. The soothing sound of the softly lapping water eradicate a deep weariness after having spent a day travelling from Johannesburg via Livingston in Zambia and finally arriving at Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane, just inside the Botswana border, coming in from the north. My reverie though is momentarily interrupted when I read the "welcome" note - Chobe Safari Lodge warns visitors that large crocodiles, elephants and hippos roam freely through the camp. Please don't leave your room late at night since the elephant is an unpredictable animal....'Even though the sun is far from under I take this as a sign. After a hurried half-run-yet-still-managing-to-look-dignified passage to the gorgeously wooded and thatched main building. It is situated on the river under towering, ancient and omniscient trees housing a cornucopia of birdlife. I find a chair on the deck by the bar to continue my relaxation quest with a drink and the safety of people in close proximity.

The sun sets over the river in a ball of blazing pink fire to the primordial yet gentle sounds of an African Marimba band. The only distraction - and not a very pleasant one - is the traffic on the Chobe. The river is populated to the brim with all manner of water vehicle including noisy outboard motor boats. Well, it is high season so I suppose it's a supply and demand thing.Acting GM, the charming and soulful Ronnie joins me after a while. "The hotel," he says, "has been in existence since 1959 and underwent major renovations last year" The chalets are stunning, I have to say - roomy, beautifully decorated in muted African artefacts and colours with a massive bath occupying almost half the place!He tells me in beautifully melodic verbiage about the intricacies of the Chobe River. "The Chobe flows both ways. When the Okavango Delta is full, it pushed water into the marshes of the Linynti and joins the Zambezi. We have three seasons in Botswana - spring, winter and summer."
He also tells me the fascinating story of the fight for ownership between Botswana and Namibia for Sidisu Island in the middle of the Chobe. "Namibians used the island for poaching and farming and Botswana for tourism and conservation. The dispute went all the way to the High Court in the Netherlands and possesion of the island was given to Botswana."Dinner at Chobe Safari Lodge is a buffet affair - something the likes of which I have seldomly seen. Roast Impala, Kudu stew, all manner of game and beef stir-fry as well as traditional fish and chicken dishes with every conceivable vegetable and starch accompaniment. It is an epicurean paradise, especially for carnivores.

After dinner, sitting quietly overlooking the black river under a sky bursting with the haul of a million stars, I cherish the night sounds of Africa - no cell phones, no computers, no PDAs - just nature.I don't sleep very well that night; I find the deafening silence disconcerting but thankfully this feeling abates as I am to discover.The flight from Kasane Airport (a tiny little airport bristling with beautiful, blond and bold pilot boys) to Maun on Mac Air took about an hour over endless plains filled with pristine, untouched nothingness. We touch down in Maun in the searing midday heat - even winter temperatures in Botswana can reach as much as 30 degrees C.
Maun is the Gateway to the Okavango Delta and has for a long time enjoyed the reputation of being Botswana's own frontier town. Today it is one of the fastest growing towns in Africa. Maun was originally established in 1915 by the Batawana, a splinter group of the Bangwato. The name Maun means place of reeds. Maun, although officially still a village, is the fifth largest town in Botswana with a population of only about 95 000.The hot air around the little outdoor restaurant where I wait for my flight is filled with expectations - of adventure, of wild encounters, and of space and spirits regained. Alexander McCall Smith, world renowned author of The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency was quoted as saying the following regarding Botswana as inspiration for his books: "You find a particular note that enables you to open up your voice. That might have happened for me here..."

Next I'm walking across the sweltering tarmac to the tiny Cessna and we're in the air again on route to Oddballs Camp and Delta Camp. The landscape underneath me gradually changes from bush to increasingly black, arbitrarily strewn patches of water until an intricate varicose network starts to emerge as interlinking the waters.The landing strip in front of us vibrates in a searing mirage as we land. Oddball's is situated on the edge of Chief's Island, deep in the heart of the Okavango Delta. The camp is accessible by light aircraft only. Accommodation comprises of dome tents, fully equipped, and set on elevated wooden decks shaded by reed shelters. There are shared ablution facilities (including outdoor showers).

The bar and lounge area has comfortable seating, and a raised viewing deck overlooks the sweep of the delta - the perfect place to watch the sun set over the palms, and view the visiting wildlife. There is a comfortable lounge area and a raised viewing platform right on the banks of the river. From Oddball's I am transported to Delta Camp via mokoro (dug-out canoe). The trip lasts about a half an hour and as we gently slip through the marshes my guide TK explains the all-encompassing eco-system around us. Palms trees rise like silent sphinxes for what seems like miles straight up into the air.We stop at an "intersection" every once in a while and MK checks for "traffic", not wanting to cross paths with a hippo. Delta Camp is an awe-inspiring place. It caters to every luxury but the entire camp is self-sustaining and runs on solar power. The "chalets" are all made from reeds and built in and around the trees so as not to disturb anything in the natural environment. There are no cars allowed and the place is only accessible by boat and air. The décor and furniture is luxurious - it's not quite like sleeping under the stars in a beautiful double bed but most of the walls are still missing...Dinner is a splendid affair with the rest of the guests on the river by candlelight. The staff are all locals but their culinary skills are beyond reproach. Later another guide, the hilarious Matswaidi, walks me back to my room and we encounter a massive elephant bull almost directly in our pathway. He instructs me to very slowly follow him behind a bush where we wait for him to pass. The rest of the night passes uneventfully...

The Okavango Delta is open for repairs on broken and tired people. It is guaranteed to fix you. Africa is the custodian of the undamaged cycles of life and in this place it is palpable.In the words of Grant Reed, author of the amazing book Okavango - Spirit of Life, "As with all things in nature, everything is linked and nothing exists in isolation. And so the story of the Delta becomes the story of the dynamics of the elements. This is an infinite story of a mysterious past and an unpredictable future..."

By Michael English

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