Botswana: Dreaming on the Delta
One early October, we flew halfway around the world to see just about everything that Botswana’s Okavango Delta has to offer.
What we found were fancy coffee breaks, big termite mounds, small unicorns — and a whole new way of life on safari.
During our stay at & Beyond Africa’s Nxabega camp and private concession, we were introduced to the safari schedule and lifestyle. Sadly, we became almost absurdly accustomed to it. Since returning home, I’m sad to report, we haven’t once been introduced in great detail to exciting landscapes full of wild animals, or served tea and biscuits out in a pristine field.
On the other hand, I’ve consistently gone to the bathroom indoors.
But I digress.
At Nxabega, every morning at about 5:30am, we peeled ourselves out of bed in our tented cabin, dressed in beige layers, and ate as little as possible to prepare for the day’s near-endless feast. We’d head out into the chilly sunrise on a four-hour safari, our guide at the wheel and his apprentice/scout perched in a metal chair extending straight out from the truck’s front grill. From here, the scout can see tracks on the ground and other tell-tale signs of nearby wildlife.
At the halfway mark, we’d stop for what I came to call “Teddy Roosevelt’s mid-morning snack.” Pulling over just about anywhere, we’d shed our long sleeves in the growing heat and our guide would head to the back of the truck to fiddle with a leather-strapped trunk full of fabulousness. Within moments, he’d have assembled a cloth-covered table laid with coffee, tea, cookies and, for any tipplers along for the ride, a bottle of Amarula.
Now, if you feel it’s ridiculous to stand around outside in the African bush and sip a warm, French-pressed beverage from a stainless steel cup, all while keeping your eyes peeled for small, exotic birds, it’s fair to say this: A luxury safari isn’t for you. That, and it’s possible we have nothing to say to one another.
This break would be followed by two more hours of being driven around, visually gorging ourselves on the animal kingdom and taught fascinating things like “that’s the oldest tree on Earth,” “that bird is designed to attract bees,” and “an adult giraffe’s heart weighs sixty pounds.”
Then it would be back to the camp to shower, loll about and eat…again. During this slothful break in the action, we could generally find a little wi-fi on the public dining deck or outside the main office, allowing us to check in with suddenly bizarre constructs like “Twitter” and “the office.”
By about 4pm, rested and ready, it would be time to head out for the night safari, which proved to be less than our favorite experience. Well, except for the cocktails-at-sunset version of the mid-morning snack. That we liked.
See, when darkness falls in the bush, it falls hard. Without night-vision goggles or proper flash equipment that could potentially blind a hapless antelope, you’re pretty much scanning the pitch blackness with a red light that illuminates animal eyeballs. You go long periods without seeing much besides said glowy eyeballs. Occasionally, something small and terrified will run by or in front of your safari vehicle, making you (read: us) feel bad about causing something small to feel terrified.
However, this is how we came across one of the most spectacular sightings of our trip. On our very first night in Botswana, a honey badger broke out of the bush, fast-waddling his black-and-white way ahead of our truck’s headlights before zagging off again. A few days later, when we recounted this seemingly innocuous tale to a pair of 50-something South Africans who’d been on countless safaris, they stared at us like we were circus freaks. According to them, spying a honey badger in the Southern African wild is not unlike seeing a unicorn. That is, a small, furry and hornless unicorn who can burrow his way to China and rip your face off with his sharp and tiny teeth.
The most significant drawback of a night safari? My bladder. During the day, it’s one thing to ask your safari guide to stop in a clearing and check for wild critters behind a great big termite mound or sausage tree. At night, when you have to go, no one’s getting out to help you. You’re on your own…behind the truck.
Did I mention the pitch blackness? Well, much like blindness, it heightens your other senses. It also seals your entire being like Fort Knox. You have to go, but you suddenly can’t go. There could be hungry lions just over there. Or there. And there you are, bare-tushed and vulnerable, keeping a group of strangers waiting while you curse your last beverage and struggle with your own imagination.
This is not one of those moments that ends up in the brochure. But now that I think about it, it is pretty funny.
During the daytime safaris, we actually came to love dressing in bottoms that started as pants and became shorts. We appreciated watching the light change from bitter orange to peach to pale blue. We never tired of wondering: what’s that off in the distance/up in that tree/behind that mound/just up ahead?
We soon came to trust, and for good reason, that it would just about always be something amazing.
Botswana: Dreaming on the Delta – Part Three