Safari September 2019 ~ Day Eight

Day 8

Well, they say all good things come to an end, and sadly this would be our final day in the Okavango Delta… on this trip. Hopefully there will be other trips to come.

As soon as we were up and washed, Malcolm and I packed our bags and put them outside our tent. The dining tent had already been packed away and only the table and chairs were left. As we sat down for our last breakfast in this incredible wilderness, the camp staff loaded everybody’s bags into the trailer and started to dismantle the camp. The atmosphere was subdued. Everyone on the trip had bonded really well and laughter and good humour had been ever present throughout our safari. So, there was an inevitable sadness that it was all coming to an end.

Fed and watered, and with the luggage trailer hitched to the rear of the Landcruiser, we bid farewell to the amazing camp staff, and drove off to a chorus of whistles, whoops, and cheers.

Ahead of us, lay the long journey back to Maun along the dusty road. However, we knew that we would see lots of wildlife along the way and that made the prospect a little more bearable.

Our first port of call was to see the leopard and her cub. They were both still there, and it was reassuring to know that they had managed to hang on to the impala carcass for three days now.  They were content, well fed, and in wonderful condition, and that was a nice note on which to bid them goodbye.

Well fed and relaxed             Photo by Malcolm Lind

As we drove along, all the usual suspects were there. Impala, zebra, elephant, red lechwe, giraffe, were all going about their daily routine, oblivious of the impact they had all had on the seven tourists passing by.

It is difficult to put into words how the experience of spending time in the wilderness surrounded by amazing creatures impacts upon you. The wildlife has very basic needs. They need food and water, they need to procreate, and they need to avoid being killed and eaten. The manner in which they go about fulfilling these basic needs is fascinating, emotional, entertaining, shocking, impressive, inspiring, and so much more.

Watching it all unfold in real time, and at close quarters, generates so many differing emotions. The impressive power and dynamism of the hyena clan coupled with the tragedy of the baby elephant they killed is a prime example. The hyenas and their cubs would be well fed, and a mother elephant would be suffering untold grief and distress at the loss of her baby. There are so many conflicting emotions tied up in that one incident that it cannot fail but have a profound effect on the observer.

The sadness at the loss of one creature and the admiration for those that killed it.

As I pondered the things I had experienced over the preceding days, the VHF radio crackled into life. Attention was suddenly now focused on Ace, who seemed excited about what he was hearing. Someone had spotted rhinos, but there was a problem. We had a plane to catch and the rhinos were in a place that would take us on a detour and possibly make us late. What is life for if not for taking the occasional risk? The rhino hunt was on.

With the baggage trailer bouncing along behind us, Ace sped up and we held onto our hats. Rhino was one species we had not encountered, and this was a chance not to be missed. Ace kept getting updates over the radio about the movements of the rhino and eventually we found them in a thicket. There were two of them and they were white rhino rather than the black variety. Despite their names, they both are exactly the same colour. The quickest way to tell the two types apart is to look at their lips. The black rhino has a pointed upper lip which is used for browsing on leaves and shrubs. The white rhino has a flat and wide upper lip which is used for grazing on grasses. The term ‘white’ is a mispronunciation of term ‘wide’ mouthed.

White Rhino ~ grazer with wide mouth    (stock photo)

Black Rhino ~ browser with narrow upper lip  (stock photo)

Another interesting difference between black and white rhinos is in the behaviour of their offspring. In situations where they feel threatened, a black rhino calf will seek refuge behind its mother and follow her. Conversely, the white rhino calf runs away in front of its mother, and the mother follows the calf. As if to bare this theory out, the youngster in the thicket moved away deeper into the bush and was immediately followed by the adult.

It was the briefest of sightings, but it was another species to tick off on our list. Unfortunately, this brief sighting had resulted in us falling way behind our schedule. A high-speed drive to Maun was now on the cards.

As Ace navigated his way back toward the road to Maun, something in my peripheral vision caught my attention. I spun around and saw yet another new species for our tick list. It was a honey badger. Now as a devotee of all things honey, I was over the moon to have spotted this amazing animal. The honey badger is notorious for its strength, ferocity and toughness. It will savagely and fearlessly attack almost any other species when escape is impossible, even repelling elephants, lions, and hyenas. It will climb trees to steal honey and bee larvae and seems impervious to bee stings. Honey badgers might be small, but they are certainly not to be trifled with.

Honey badger           (stock photo)

As we powered along the now infamous dusty road towards civilisation we had to stop at a ‘foot and mouth’ control point. Everyone had to disembark and walk through a disinfectant foot trough. The vehicle wheels and undercarriage were sprayed with disinfectant and then we all clambered back onboard on the other side of the check point.

We had a packed lunch onboard the vehicle, but we could see Ace nervously checking his watch. Shortly after picking up the tarmac road again he pulled into the side and got the food and drink out for us. But our excursion to see the brief glimpse of two rhinos had eaten into our time. So after just a few minutes we piled back into the Landcruiser and sped off again.

Ace was receiving phone messages as he drove, and as we reached to outskirts of Maun it had become apparent that the airport was holding the plane for us. As we pulled up outside the Airport Terminal we all rushed inside with passports and tickets at the ready. The crowds in the building parted as we rushed in. At the check in desk a whole host of airport staff were waiting for us. As they checked our passports and tickets Ace came charging in with a trolly with all of our baggage piled on top. We were instructed not to worry about who owned what case, and they were all stacked onto the weighing scales in one teetering heap. We were then shooed towards the security check point which was staffed by officials who oddly were in no rush whatsoever. Hand luggage was searched. Belts and shoes were removed. Documents were scrutinised and some of us were given a frisk search.

Sweating profusely and feeling stressed, we cleared security and passed through into the small departure lounge, only to find all the other passengers for our flight sitting there. We had expected to be rushed onto the plane to be met with tutting disapproval from those we had delayed. But for reasons best know to the staff of Botswana Air, we were kept waiting in the sweltering heat of the departure lounge for another twenty minutes before being invited to board.

Our chaotic and rushed arrival meant that none of us had had a chance the thank and say a proper goodbye to Ace. Much though I hate long goodbyes, on this occasion I regretted not being able to tell Ace what a massive contribution he had made to making our camping safari in the Okavango Delta so special. He had truly lived up to his well-earned name and had given us memories that will last a lifetime.

As I write this blog, it is February 2021. The world is gripped by the Corona Virus pandemic and international travel is forbidden in all but extreme circumstances. Throughout the prolonged periods of lockdown, I have found escape in recounting my times in the Okavango.

Throughout my life I have been fortunate to have been able to travel the globe extensively, visiting amazing places and seeing many of the wonders of the world.  I have been to many countries in Africa, like Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Egypt, Morocco, to name but a few. But the jewel of them all is undoubtedly Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

As the Covid vaccination program is rolled out, I keep my fingers crossed that in October 2021, I will again be able to return to the Delta with my great friend Malcolm. The trip is booked and the fingers are crossed.

A few thank yous.

Naturetrek who organised the trip is a passionate and well organised wildlife tour operator and my experience of dealing with them has been faultless. I have no hesitation in recommending them to you.

Letaka Safaris, based in Maun, provided the safari vehicle, the tents, the wonderful camp staff and our guide. Once again, they were brilliantly organised and found such amazing campsites, fed us on superb food and ensured that we had the best possible time in the Okavango.

A huge thankyou to all my safari companions for being so friendly, humorous, interesting and engaging. It was a pleasure to spend time in their company.

Our amazing guide is the best named guide in the Botswana. He was simply ‘Ace’. His knowledge of the flora and fauna was exceptional. His tracking skill and ability to see things that mere mortals would miss was extraordinary. His good nature, his patience, his sixth sense, and his determination to make sure we had the best possible experience in his beloved wilderness is something I shall forever be grateful for. Thank you Ace.

A final thank you goes to my great friend Malcolm Lind. My first trip to the Delta, I made on my own. My wife wanted something more substantial than a sheet of canvas between her and Africa’s ferocious predators and so opted out of joining me. But to do something as special, as this trip truly was, and be able to share the experience with your best friend was a joy. In years to come we will no doubt frequently reminisce over a few drams .

If the two of us are successful in returning, there will be a third series of Sunday Safaris with more of our adventures to tell.

I will leave you now, with a few more images of our camping safari.

Ace talking about the leaf of the Mopane tree.   Photo by Malcolm Lind

The ‘almost’ take-off of the lilac breasted roller. Photo by Malcolm Lind

Malcolm bending over backwards to get the best angle

Enduring the hardships of camping in the Okavango. Photo by Malcolm Lind

Dry season Delta landscape

Standing by the dining tent, focused on the elephants

Seeking shade and solitude. Photo by Malcolm Lind

A bird watches from on high as the sun sets.     Photo by Malcolm Lind

Yours truly in the rear seat of our trusty Landcruiser.   Photo by Malcolm Lind





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