With all the changes that came with the pandemic, I wasn’t too enthusiastic or in the mood to celebrate my 40th Birthday in October 2020. So when my husband suggested a trip to the Okavango Delta – one of the world’s most exotic destinations, I was over the moon. The Okavango Delta is a huge player in Botswana’s tourism industry, home to some of Africa’s premier camps and a favourite destination of British Royals, Princes William and Harry! With travel restrictions greatly affecting the industry, places that were previously “off-bounds” (in monetary terms) for many of us were made a lot more affordable for citizens and residents.
The Okavango Delta as described in this website is “a unique pulsing wetland [that] covers between 6 and 15 000 square kilometres of Kalahari Desert in northern Botswana and owes its existence to the Okavango (Kavango) River which flows from the Angolan highlands, across Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and into the harsh Kalahari Desert. Each year the Okavango River discharges approximately 11 cubic kilometres (1.1 × 10¹³ litres) of water into the Okavango Delta. Most of this water is lost to transpiration by plants (60%) and by evaporation (36%) with only 2% percolating into the aquifer system with the remainder finally flowing into Lake Ngami.”
In 2014, the Okavango Delta became the 1000th site to be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site List. It is home to large populations of mammals and beautiful birdlife, including some of the world’s most endangered animals. Sadly, it is also an area highly prized by notorious poachers and thus heavily protected by Botswana’s military anti-poaching unit. This is by no means a travel blog but I couldn’t resist sharing a few photos to give you a feel for the place!
Our days were defined by game drives, boat cruises, mokoro (canoe) rides, glorious sunsets, fireside chatting and fine dining which included daily “high-tea” with delectable sweet treats.
We spotted several animals including a pride of five male lions, elephants, giraffes, jackals, hyena, zebra, a herd of about 500 buffalo, cheetah, crocodile, hippo and of course various antelope such as kudu, impala, red lechwe and water buck. The birdlife was incredible and the ones that come to mind now are the lilac breasted roller, tawny eagle, fish eagle, Bateleur eagle, bee eaters, secretary bird and even an owl on the final night drive. We also had a fantastic sighting of vultures and maribou storks eating a buffalo slaughtered by the lions.
Coming from a family who loves the wild outdoors, my earliest game drive was probably when I was around five, squashed between my dad and mum in our 1984 white Toyota Hilux, with my two year old sister bouncing on my mum’s lap. How life has changed – I now have a 6 and 8 year old still in car seats! Oops, I digress… In all this time, I’d never done a game walk in an area with predators. I figured if ever there was a time to walk on the wild side, my 40th Birthday would be it! We drove out early morning to the designated walking area. On our drive, the guide spotted some cheetah footprints and the tracker hopped out to see what direction they were headed in. Shortly after this, we parked the vehicle under a big sausage tree where the guide gave a briefing on how we were to conduct ourselves in the bush. He would walk up front, armed with a rifle (only to be used if our lives were in danger) and the tracker would walk behind us. We were also to walk in complete silence and he explained all the different hand signals he would use.
The walk was only about 3.5km long but took us almost 2 hours. Although I completely trusted our guides, I still felt nervous at the start. We stopped several times as the guides pointed out different plants and explained their purpose and use for both animals and humans. For example, wild sage in this area was traditionally used as an insect repellent, toothbrush, making fish traps and arrows as well as for treating some sexually transmitted diseases.
From an ecological point of view, it was amazing to see and learn how everything plays a significant role in our ecosystem. Every process is somehow link to another one. We saw footprints of several animals including the hyena, wild dogs, elephants and several antelope.
We also saw animal droppings and the guide carefully explained the differences between each. There were several towering termite hills, warthogs crossed our path with their pointy tails, zebras grazed comfortably in the distance and spectacular birds perched in trees and occasionally called to each other. The guides wowed us with their knowledge of every bird call.
When we drove back to the camp, we found this cheetah had just killed a small impala. The impala’s hind limbs had been torn off and the cheetah lay comfortably with its bulging stomach.
This walk was such a unique experience – not so much because of the wild animals (although these were of course amazing!) but there was something so special about being close to the ground and noticing the small yet really significant miracles of nature that are often overlooked. In life how often do we focus on the big things and forget those seemingly small things – a kind gesture from a stranger, a laugh across the wall with a neighbour, an enlightening conversation with a friend or even a green light when you’re in a rush! This walk in the bush filled me with such a deep sense of gratitude and was exactly what I needed to start my new decade.
This bush walk also concludes another one of the challenges on my #40By40 List, that of hiking in four new places in Botswana. If you haven’t seen my other three hiking experiences – here they are, Mogonye-Mmamotshwane Gorge, Otse Hill and Goo-Moremi Gorge.
A very special thank you to my husband for his amazing wildlife photography!
Have you been on any hikes recently? What emotions do you experience when walking in nature? Have you been on safari and if not, is it on your bucket list?
I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners from around the world.