Letting the sights and sounds of the Okavango Delta wash over you as you quietly traverse the waterways in a dugout canoe is an extraordinary real life experience that Pat Venning won’t forget anytime soon…
“No, it’s geographically impossible – a river that never reaches the sea! Now I’m gazing down at exactly that as I glide down to land in the middle of the Moremi National Park in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. This is the earth’s largest inland delta, a labyrinth of channels, lagoons, swamps and wooded islands that sustain an exotic melange of wildlife as it empties into the dry yellow sands of the Kalahari Desert.
“Hallo, my name is Mr Makunga” says my cheery Bugakhwe guide as we set off from our safari lodge in his mokoro, a frail shallow boat fashioned from a single tree trunk and propelled by a long pole. “Please listen carefully,” he says. My city ears, dulled by the din of cars, people and planes, hear nothing. “You will soon” he says smiling serenely.
Then suddenly there it is – the magical sounds of the African bush. The rustle of Lechwe antelope delicately picking their way through the reeds, the haunting cry of a fish eagle, the breep of reed frogs.
I find myself holding my breath in anticipation as we silently glide along the shallow waters where every corner holds a surprise. “See those trees with the large fruit on them, many knocked over? They’re Marula trees. Elephants knock them down to reach the fruit that makes them drunk, but those ones there are not drunk.”
What elephants, where?
“Ah, the magic camouflage of elephants… see there, seven, right in front of us. The largest is the Matriarch, with her daughters and their babies, now slowly moving off.” I could not believe my eyes as these huge beasts materialised from the shadows a mere few yards away from our boat.
“What’s that roar?” I ask awhile later, a tad nervously.
“Lions,” answers Mr Makumba calmly “But not to worry, they are many miles away.”
Next, a “Quick, look,” is directed and there suddenly, much too close for comfort, a huge gaping mouth sporting two of the largest teeth imaginable. “Hippos”, he says, as we abruptly stop. “We mustn’t go too close as they are very dangerous, bad tempered animals who kill more of our people than lions or crocodiles.” We quietly back off to leave them feeding undisturbed, and head down another narrow channel fringed by more swaying river reeds and papyrus.
I’m now in pure paradise; all my harried city life tension leaves me as I trail a hand in the unusually pure, clear waters, admiring brilliant blue water lilies, lithe phoenix palms and in the distance, bands of miombo and mopane forests. I admire a pair of Saddle-billed storks, still as statues as they wait to spear their prey. Elegant Sacred ibis, marabous and the Crested crane eye us from their nests in the flat-topped acacia trees.
I silently thank my children, who have given me this holiday in a beautiful and tranquil place to celebrate my 50 years on this earth to lessen the reality that I’m getting darned old!”
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* photo by Laurel Turbett – Intrepid Photography Competition