When It's Wet, It's Dry And, When It's Dry, It's Wet. The Okavango Delta, Africa’s unique Paradox..
It’s a long way by road from Johannesburg in South Africa to the dusty town of Maun in Northern Botswana, the gateway to one of the most spectacular wildernesses in Africa, or anywhere for that matter.
The journey from here to our final destination, Third Bridge camp inside the sprawling Moremi Game Reserve is a mere 156 km but will take us a tortuous six hours along thick, sandy roads that prove to be unkind to even our sturdy four - wheel drive vehicles.
The sun disappears quickly at this time of year and twilight lasts barely a few minutes until the landscape plunges into an inky blackness leaving us battling to free our bogged vehicles while keeping a cautious eye out for any of the ‘big five’ that roam these sprawling wetlands and who might look upon us as a tasty midnight snack.
My fellow travellers, experienced as they are in all matters bush, eventually manage to steer our convoy of three vehicles and two large trailers safely into the sanctuary of Third Bridge at 10.30pm under a vast night sky peppered with a billion stars.
The Okavango Delta is a unique pulsing wetland or, to use the correct term, an alluvial fan that covers 15,000 square kilometres of Botswana's Kalahari Desert. It owes its existence to the Okavango River which flows south from the Angolan highlands, across Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and into the harsh Kalahari Desert.
Each year this mighty river discharges a staggering 11 cubic kilometres of water into the delta which percolates into the aquifer system before flowing into Lake Ngami. This seasonal event is what makes the Okavango Delta Africa’s unusual paradox because, between April and October, barely a drop of rain will fall and much of the country will endure dry, dusty conditions.
this traditional dry season great migrations of plains animals and birds, escaping
the harshness of the scorched hinterland are drawn to the abundance of water
and lush feeding grounds that will sustain them for months.
The Delta is predominately flat, comprised of thousands of islands formed when vegetation took root on the millions of termite mounds creating a vast labyrinth of channels lined with thick bulrushes and papyrus. The plains are dotted with thousands of spreading trees that provide not only shade but nourishment for the herds of roaming elephants whose trunks enable them to reach the juiciest leaves.
Our camp turns out to be more than comfortable and, once set up, one of the trailers magically converts into a gourmet kitchen! Like a Rubic Cube, drawers slide out revealing sinks with hot and cold running water, gas cookers, fridges and all manner of cupboards and storage areas. To add to all of this we are travelling with a master chef, meaning that for the duration of the trip we will eat like kings.
Our first-morning game drive proves to be a memorable one when we encounter an 800kg female buffalo lying on her side in the process of giving birth. Unfortunately for her, she had obviously become separated from the rest of the herd and, as she is going through her painful labour hyenas had already begun to gather.
When we pass by the area some six or seven hours later it was to discover that the buffalo was dead, lying still and bloated under the spreading boughs of a Morula tree.
The African plains are an unforgiving place.
Our morbid curiosity draws us back the following morning to the buffalo’s final resting place and we are rewarded with what can only be termed a rare and wondrous sight. Seven wild dogs are frolicking around the carcass making occasional forays to try and bite through the inch- thick hide of the dead beast. Eventually, they retreat to the shade and allow skulking hyenas access to the kill in order to perform the hard work.
The jaws of a hyena can be compared to a hydraulic press and we watch transfixed as one sinks it's teeth through the hide and gains access flesh beneath grabbing a chunk of treasure before being driven off by the dogs who now have access to mountains of fresh meat. This is the signal for the entire pack to gorge.
After a while even us sapiens have to turn away from this orgy of blood and gore and drive on to explore the vast waterways of the delta. We do however return to the carnage the following morning only to find a pair of horns and a bloodied ribcage being feasted on by a pair of white chested vultures.
The Lions have come in the night to take their share.
The next few days are spent traversing the narrow channels in a flat - bottomed boat flanked by lush papyrus and bulrushes over water that seems impossibly clear. Wading birds, fish eagles, long-legged cranes, crocodiles and the occasional hippopotamus give us scarcely a glance, intent as they are on their quest for food.
around a bend, we suddenly encounter an adolescent elephant whom we obviously startle and
it lets out a loud plaintive cry. A few hundred meters away on one of the
islands its mother sensing that her offspring is in danger immediately breaks into a gallop throwing up clouds of fine dust in her wake. Elephants are
able to run at an astonishing 40kmh., faster than even Usain Bolt can achieve on
his best day.
With a mighty crash the bulrushes part and she launches herself into the shallow water, ears flapping her trunk waving and trumpeting loudly ready to drive off anyone or anything that might pose a danger to her precious calf.
Naturally, we beat a rather hasty retreat.
I am once again reminded that Africa is definitely not for sissies.!
Long languid days and nights follow where the delta treats us to the sights of vast herds of buffalo, zebras and countless varieties of buck and birdlife, sporting all the colours of their magnificent plumage.
As each day ends with the sun sinking behind the horizon like a giant, fiery ball I am, as always reminded that the world is indeed an amazing place.
Paul v Walters is the author of several best selling novels and when he is not cocooned in sloth and procrastination in his house in Bali he scribbles for various international travel and vox pop journals.
Photography copyright Paul v Walters & E.J. Lenahan