The International Writers Magazine: Okovanga Delta
in the Delta
did not strike. In fact, he introduced himself. Disaster was the
name, when translated from Swahili, of our boat pilot for a three-day
adventure in to the wet wilderness of the Okovanga Delta, Botswana.
It could have been worse. His name could have been 'Bound to Sink'
or 'Attacked by Hippo'.
is one of the best places in the world to explore and meet Africa's
wildlife on foot and without the protection of a 4-wheel drive.
The only way in is by dugout canoe. The journey took four hours
as Disaster, using only a pole, expertly navigated us through meandering
rivers before we arrived at our remote tent camp for the next two
We had barely hammered in the last tent peg when fifty elephants
emerged from the forest across the river to bathe. It was an awesome
sight as they hosed their bodies clean and then rolled around in
thick mud that made the shower seem redundant. As a kid I would
try and do the same thing but it only gave my mother an excuse to
hit me hard.
Our first up close
and personal experience with the elephants was only the beginning. It
was time to set out on foot and do some tracking. Our guide for this
part of the trip was simply called Dave. After his initial talk of how
we should conduct ourselves in this wild landscape - be quiet, wear
neutral colours and stick together - he stormed off wearing a bright
orange cap and shouted at us to get a move on.
Ten minutes later, the crunch of the hard earth below our feet was
with the loud but low rumble of a lion. Dave stopped, tilted his right
to the sky, and listened intently. He told us that the lion was some
distance away but we were now hot on its tail. I began to panic.
Glimpsing a lion in its natural habitat is all well and good from the
confines and safety of a large metal car but on foot? I could not convince
myself that lions were vegetarian.
One hour later, the lion noises had stopped and so did we. It was time
to find a quiet bush for some relief. Whilst others searched for privacy
behind inadequate pieces of scrub, I pressed my ear to the ground, as
a tracker would, and pretended to listen for animals. A huge roar suddenly
erupted behind us. My initial reaction was to run. For others, this
was not an option as many still had their pants around their ankles.
We were told the sensible thing to do is stay still but over a period
of one second you find your mind says run while your legs freeze to
the spot. One thing we all did was turn quickly to witness a huge male
lion dart across the track we had just crossed. It was barely 50 metres
My heart was pounding. Adrenaline was pumping rapidly through my veins.
I wished that I had already emptied my bowels before the excitement.
The lion must have just sat there watching us as we walked by. I then
began to wonder who was hunting who. Dave said we were lucky. I didn't
know if he meant because we had seen the lion close up or that we were
alive. With hindsight we should have seen this incident as a sign to
head back to the relative safety of camp, but we put one shaking leg
in front of the other to search for more scary animals that possibly
fancied us for lunch.
It did not take long.
Walking through a clearing Dave stopped and pointed towards to the thick
swath of spiky Acacia trees ahead of us. I saw nothing but greenery
until two huge white tusks, attached to a very big grey head, appeared
above the trees. I longed for another toilet break. Dave whispered that
the best course of action was to head in the complete opposite direction,
towards the lion! It was not much of a choice but we all slowly turned
and walked away.
The elephant did not follow and the lion was nowhere to be seen. We
made it back to camp safe, alive and full of heroic tales of how we
had all stared danger in the face and won. I then retired to my tent
to make a note that I needed to make a will when I got home.
© Darren Shea November 2004
darrenshea at dodo.com.au
Adventure Travel in Hacktreks
all rights reserved