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Published: October 9th 2008
Ghanzi is in the Kalahari Desert, a semi-arid area covering some 900,000kmsq of Botswana, Namibia and the northern part of South Africa. It's here that we spent our first night in Botswana, not too far from the Namibian boarder... and where we paid to upgrade to a dome shaped hut for the night (think branches woven together with a door that didn't anywhere near fit type of hut... we're not talking posh here), just to have a day off putting the tent up only to take it down again at 6am the next morning! The fact that it came with camping beds was an added bonus :0)
The Kalahari is home to the San people, or Bushmen, who traditionally lived a nomadic life as hunter-gatherers. These days many if not the majority of them live in settlements. A group of 6 local Bushmen, men and women, took us out walking for about an hour, two of whom were old enough to have once led a nomadic life and used the knowledge they demonstrated to survive. Unfortunately the traditional ways are slowly being lost through generations - children growing up in settlements go to school (obviously a good thing) but consequently
spend less time with their parents learning about plants (girls) or how to hunt (boys). As we walked the Bushmen panned out eitherside, each looking for something interesting to show - a tuber that when grated and squeezed can be used as soap, another that's a source of water, a plant used to cure an upset stomach, a natural dye for clothing or the traditional equivalent of the contraceptive pill.
The Okavango Delta is the worlds largest inland delta - with no outlet to the sea it empties onto the sands of the Kalahari desert. We stayed overnight in the delta, making our way to camp in mokoro's - dugout canoe's with a a 'poler' at the back who propels you slowly along through the shallow waters... it's kind of like punting but in the wild rather than along the backs of Cambridge. You really don't have much option but to relax in a mokoro - the only sound is the splashing as the pole hits the surface and because it sits really low in the water your view is limited to the reeds, waterlillies and colorful dragonflies around you, with the occasional sighting of another poler standing tall
on the back of the mokoro infront.
Having pitched camp somewhere in the Delta and not really managed much else thanks to the intense heat and humidity (we'd been getting quite used to the weather being cool so the change in climate at the delta pretty much felled everyone) we headed out on a guided walk later in the afternoon. We split into 3 groups and Helen and I went off with 4 Aussies and two guides - 'C-Company' who at over 6ft tall set a fast pace infront and another who followed at the back of the group - the rest of us walked single file inbetween. To begin with we only saw evidence of animals rather than the actually animals themselves - elephant footprints (which were huge and almost as big as their poo which we also saw), hyaena poo (white from the bones it'd crunched it's way through) and lots of different Zebra and antelope hoof prints following well used paths. The scenery was stunning though, flat and green with patches of grassland and trees interspersed with dark blue lakes that rather bizzarely had huge red termite mounds rising out 4 or 5 feet above the
We'd been warned that we might not see any wildife in the delta so were very excited when we saw a huge herd of wildebeast running in the distance. As we stood admiring the spectacle ahead the guide at the back had the good sense to keep a lookout behind - rather fortunately as it turned out because he was the only one who spotted, @50m away, a large single African Buffalo charging towards us!!!! Before heading out to the delta we'd been told not to run from anywidelife we encountered - they're more likely to give chase if you run. Great advice I'm sure, except when your otherwise unflapable guide takes one look at the buffalo running towards you and just says 'Run!!' - we didn't need telling twice! To begin with it almost seemed funny until after what seemed like an age (but was probably only 15m) he yelled at us to stop and we all turned to see that the Buffalo had changed direction to follow us! He then pointed at a tree 25m away and again shouted 'Run!!!'. At that point it seemed decidedly less funny. Apparently the next part involved running round the
Baboons at Chobe
We watched a troop of a hundred or so crossing the road in front of us
tree, climbing up it (never climber a tree in my life but I'm sure I would have found a way) and waiting it out - fortunately we missed out on that experience as the Buffalo changed direction again and thundered past us into the distance, leaving us in shock and gasping for breath..... and with plenty of opportunity to ponder how we all would have gotten up this one little tree given that the next nearest one was a good 200m away!!
Herds of Buffalo are relatively 'safe', as much as any large wild animal weighing @700kg and with huge horns can be I guess, but single male ones such as this are exceptionally dangerous simply because they are so unpredictable - they've believed to be responsible for the deaths of a few people every year. Apparently if chased by an elephant then you need to run in Zig-zags. But lions you don't run from. Great. Hoping I never need to put those to the test! After the Buffalo experience the huge and amazing herds of Zebra and Wildebeast, along with Fish egales and Antelope that we saw on the remainder of the walk rather paled in comparison ;0)
Back in the mokoro it was sunset and after a quick look at some elephants eating their way through the vegetagion on the bank we headed back toward camp. We passed through a reedless patch on the way and in the water around us were 2, 3 no maybe 5 hippos, all peering at us across the surface, submerging and then reappearing a few feet closer. When surrounded by animals that weigh up to 2 tonnes and are reputed to have killed more humans than any other animal (including African Buffalos and Lions) in Africa sat in a mokoro seemed quite a precarious place to be. To be fair Hippo's tend to kill when they're on land and you get between them and the water or between a mother and baby but I wasn't too keen to test that theory - I can't imagine a small wooden boat would have posed too much trouble for their huge jaws and razor sharp teeth!!
We had the opportunity to ponder the Hippo vs boat scenario a few days later when we took a boat safari along the Chobe River. We'd been admiring a group of 20 or more Hippos lazing
@10m away from the boat when chug chug chug, splutter... the boat broke down and the engine refused to start again. We were stuck for another 20mins or so before another boat came along to jump start us - plenty of time to feel precarious, particularly when they started yawning..... apparently yawning is a sign of danger and aggression rather than boredom or sleepiness!!! Broken boats aside the cruise was fantastic - we saw heaps of wildlife ranging from crocodiles and elephants to baby baboons and antelope.
The day of the cruise was actually one of our best for wildlife spotting so far - at dawn we'd been on a game drive through Chobe National park and been lucky enough to see a pregnant lioness who perhaps had a few weeks to go before she gave birth, a mum Hippo with its new born baby (literally a few days old) which kept afloat by balancing its nose on top of mums, and a leopard....well, it was a few trees back from where we stopped and about all I saw was a tail of spots and half a leg but I'm claiming it as a leopard sighting nevertheless!
there was the Black Mamba, aka the Shadow of Death, and the largest venemous snake in Africa - if you have the misfortune to be bitten by one and don't get treatment the mortality rate is about 100%... death ensuing somewhere between 15mins and a few hours after being bitten. Apparently there was one lurking in the rafters of the bar at the campsite we stayed at... so perversely a group of us went over to see if we could spot it.
Next up... off the truck and going solo in Zambia
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