There are few things more exhilarating than flying into the Okavango Delta in the smallest aircraft you could imagine. Especially when your pilot is a trainee and there are several visible thunderstorms ahead which are not particularly friendly to tiny Cessna four-seater planes. As we make our first foray into the Botswana wilderness, it becomes fascinating in a ‘can’t look away’ sort of way watching how the senior pilot points the safe route between tall columns of rain hanging from even taller columns of cloud.
As we approach our miniscule airstrip for the tented camp, which was to be our home for the next 4 nights, our ever vigilant but surprisingly relaxed looking trainer pilot spots a large flock of secretary birds – not the smallest birds in the aviary, note – enjoying a conference at the foot of the runway. With no desire to break up their party in any distressing way it becomes urgent for our aircraft to swoop giddily up and over the flock and take advantage of what meager offering remained of the runway. We bravely hit the hardened earth and grass stretch and proceeded to eagerly speed towards a large puddle that looms into lake-like proportions as we approach. Happily we slew to a stop, short of the embracing bush, after a diagonal path through the water. Adrenalin charged we leap out into the waiting arms of our driver, flicking away tears of relief. Our African safari in one of the most beautifully unspoilt wilderness areas in the world has begun.
The next five days are filled with large and small moments of delight. The staff who people the luxury tented camps of the Delta are passionate about their jobs as well as the landscape that surrounds them and it’s easy to see why. This is a glimpse of how one would imagine Eden to have been like. There is little evidence of man’s interference here, the camps are extremely sympathetically built with the environment being their chief concern.
Life takes on a new tempo, languid and easy. We wake before sunrise to watch zebra and giraffe take their first drink before the threat of lion send them into their grassy hideaways. Afternoons are spent dozing in the shade of our tent away from the hottest time of the day. Later we catch a ride in dugout canoe or mokoro, gliding between bubble tracks created by hippos as they tread their way along subaqueous paths. Evenings are another adventure out into the bush to visit the carcass of a kill or witness a herd of bachelor elephant bulls strut their stuff. Occasionally they’re angry elephants who flap their ears, toss their trunks and kick up earth at your human intrusion into their world.
Africa is a complete sensory experience. The variable bird and animal noises, the spicy bush, earth and dung smells, the heat on your skin all captivate one. And always as a never ending backing track is the high-pitched shrill of the cicada beetle – the ubiquitous lovesong of the bush which intensifies with the heat of the day. Oh, and the tastes! Being a luxury camp all our meals and drinks are included in the rate – so we feast like kings. Our sunsets are accompanied by the comforting icy clink of a G&T (bottomless if you prefer). We are replete and sleep deeply.
Four nights and five short days are not enough to satisfy our new-found love affair so we leave with a thirst to return. As the word safari derives from the Swahili word for journey I realise this was no safari for us as it hasn’t ended. It was merely the first step in what will ultimately, hopefully become a lifetime of travel.
To our relief we don’t recognise the pilot who brings us back to Maun. But I presume our young trainee friend has passed with flying colours, and even if he hasn’t I would allow him fly me back into the Delta again, because surely it’s true when they say that ‘perfect love drives out fear’!