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An Occasional Travel Blog

A River Runs Into It

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow” read the note left on my pillow on the final night of my stay at Wilderness Safaris’ Kwetsani Camp in the central Okavango Delta. I agree; one certainly cannot leave this magnificent and mysterious place and be untouched by it.

The facilities at Chobe airstrip have much in common with those at the other airstrips that dot the delta: undercover parking for game-viewing vehicles, a windsock and a hut-like ‘terminal’ with a bar counter and room to store emergency materials. All these are set against the edge of a mopane forest that hides the airstrip’s loo. And what a loo it is!

There’s no-one around, except when a Caravan (Cessna, not camel) drops offs or collects the next few guests, so a rope makes do as door. Two rustic twig walls screen the terminal side of the loo; the others are open to the forest. I couldn’t help wondering how I’d react if an elephant were to pass by closely while I’m in the loo… A very real possibility based on the elephant-browsed state of the mopanes only meters from where I was perched.

I was heading for Savuti camp – on the bank of the erratic Savute Channel that dried up from 1982 – 2008, then had water again for 2 years before once more drying up until 2016. (During my stay the water level had just started rising again after good rains in southern Angola where the Chobe River that feeds the channel has its origin.)

The woodlands, floodplains and marshes of this area teem with wildlife. We had not yet left the airstrip when we spotted the first herd of impala, The next two days delivered playful juvenile lions (on the first game drive of my stay), baboons, hippo, kudu, Nile crocodile and jackal to name only a few sightings. It’s however the elephant concentration that is the biggest drawcard here. Up to 70 000 elephants call the Chobe / Linyanti area home.

Birdlife is bountiful too and the twitcher in me could soon tick off an impressive array.

Savuti Camp’s seven thatched, tented en-suite rooms are strung out along the bank of the channel like droplets on a blade of grass. Boardwalks connect the rooms to the public area where the open-sided lounge, dining room and pool deck all look out over the channel. It’s the bar though that takes pride of place, overhanging the edge of the dark, lily-studded waters below. When the channel is dry elephants can be observed from the bar as they gather at the remaining deep water holes, I was told.

My room offered all the amenities one could wish for: from a super-size bed to a writing desk and a hippo-sized shower. Hot water and electricity are supplied via solar power, as at all the Wilderness Safari camps in Botswana. Best of all is what it did not have and is generally not available in the camps – Wi-Fi or cellphone reception.

I soon realised that the deck was not only my favourite perch, but also that of several Burchell’s starlings that made a game of flitting away moments before I could get the definitive photo of their iridescent plumage. Every few minutes my deck adventures were punctuated by the sound of hippos coming up for air in the reeds nearby.

The days quickly took on a familiar rhythm: wake-up call, coffee, morning game drive, brunch, lazing about, high tea, afternoon game drive, drinks, dinner, repeat. On my last day at Savuti, towards the end of our afternoon game drive we were surprised to find that a lantern-lit bar had been set up on the edge of a marsh. One couldn’t help feeling ‘Out of Africa’ standing with a cocktail in hand basking in the Okavango sunset to the tune of a frog and hippo choir from a nearby pool.

All too soon it was time to leave Savuti and head to Kwetsani Camp in the central part of the delta. With its five luxurious treehouse rooms, Kwetsani sits lightly among the soaring palm, mangosteen and fig trees of the eponymous elongated island. Sweeping does not begin to describe the camp’s views over the floodplains and channels surrounding the island. It really is a case of seeing is believing!

Game drives started with a 10-minute boat trip to Handu Island – dodging the occasional hippo along the way. African Jacana, malachite kingfishers, wattled cranes and other ‘water specials’ kept the twitchers happy, while the island soon delivered buffalo, wildebeest, kudu, warthog, water buck and zebra. Red lechwe were everywhere on the floodplains, with a few tsessebe and some elephants sprinkled in too. The highlight though was the female leopard and two cubs that we observed at length and close up as they rested in the shade of a shrubby knoll.

A mokoro excursion on a nearby channel revealed the delta’s smaller creatures up close. Surprisingly, the speckled golden jacana eggs in their floating nest proved most memorable.

My Bedouin-tented room was exquisite, but the outdoor shower proved to be the piece de resistance. High up in a majestic mangosteen tree with views over the floodplain it proved too tempting – even for this shy traveller.

On my final night, after a pair of pre-dinner tall negronis and the usual superb three-course dinner, I heaved myself onto a couch – Glenfiddich in hand – and pondered the peculiar contentment I was feeling. Later, in my room, it hit me. I’d been Okavangoed! I voluntarily allowed a very special place to burrow its way into my heart, where I hope it’ll always stay. At least until I can go back again.

The author stayed courtesy of Wilderness Safaris

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