Take a walk on the wild side

Posted: October 16, 2010 in Africa
Tags: , ,

We’ve just spent 2 days knee deep in African bush and I want more!

The bus journey from Gabs to Maun was long and hot, oh so hot. For the first time in 4 weeks it was Muneeza who had travel fatigue and a dose of the grumps. To assuage her wrath, I took her to Nandos in Maun to pick up take away before we headed to the backpackers. We arrived  at The Old Bridge backpackers about 17.30 – 15mins drive out of town, it sits at the river’s edge and has a chilled out, manana vibe. It was the perfect tonic to the long bus ride. All the rooms are permanent tents, full bore outdoor numbers with ‘squito mesh nets all around to keep the varmin at bay.

All the tents are surrounded by bamboo fences for privacy and the communal toilets and showers have the same set-up, with thatched rooves made from local wood (not my own). Everything is outdoors: the bar, the pool table, the rooms, the showers. The floor is the sand and your neighbours can’t see you but can hear you.

The English lady who checked us in came out here to travel round the delta about 8 years ago but ended up marrying one of the owners and now has a 6 month old boy, Dylan. She’s here for keeps and we understand why. Maun has a lazy quality that we love. We paid up for the accomodation and booked a 2 day Mokoro trip leaving on Wednesday, giving us 1 day to shop for supplies and chill to the max river side.

Tuesday am we headed into town and hitched a ride with one of the owners. Having filled up with food & water supplies for the trip, I wanted to get a hair trim for the deep bush. We found a local shack – literally a few corrugated iron sheets wrapped around flimsy wooden poles and a cardboard sign announcing “Hair cut”. I stepped into the man’s pad to be greeted by the most basic of hair salons you can imagine. One slightly old plastic chair, a dusty drape to cover my shoulders and clippers hooked up to an old and battered battery. There was only one style on offer – prison boy. So, with some trepidation, I went boldly forth and handed over the dollar ($3 in fact) and he went to work. 5 mins later, I left with a wonky grade 2 at the back and sides and an uneven grade 3 on top. Still, the hair was short and ideal for the heat and it was another experience on the list.

We set off at 8am Wednesday and took a cool motor boat trip to the local Mokoro station to meet our guide. The scenery was immaculate. Sweeping river bends shrouded in leafy canopy with lots of birds flying in every direction to escape the white hunter. We set foot on land about 9am and met Nemile, our Batswanan guide for the 2 days. Moments later the Mokoro (a wooden dug out canoe) was loaded and our poler pushed away to take us into the Okavango Delta for 2 days of wildlife and bush walking.

The Okavango is one of the few gebuine wildernesses in this world. It is not a national park, it is pristina delta where animals roam wild, not hemmed in by park boundaries. Nemile has been doing these trips for 5 years and knows his bush. Ironically, he gets lost on roads in towns but can navigate his way through the labryinth of water channels, obscured by reeds, without so much as blinking.

After a beautiful 2 hour punt, with crocodile hunter naming all the birds and answering my plethora of questions, we disembarked at our camp site. The camp site was something out of a distant world – entombed with tall reeds so the naked eye can’t see it, we pitched tents on a sandy ‘beach’ surrounded by tall palm trees and dense bush for shade from the scorching sun. Signs of elephants were everywhere – elephant dung (man they pack a big poo) and stripped trees in all directions.

Day 1 was a relaxed affair involving establishning camp, going for a swim and then a short walk before dinner. During the swim Nemile showed me how to find the local mud that could be used to rub on the body to cleanse the skin. We stood there for 20mins to let it dry in the sun, being nibbled by the small fish, before rinsing off in the cooling water and returning to camp. After dinner, Nemile gave us a history of Botswana and shared his stories of life as a guide. Our favourite was of the time he took 2 german tourists on a bush walk and they walked round a clump of bushes to come face to face with a male lion and his recent kill. Lions don’t like you messing with them at dinner time. The lion charged, a mock charge to warn them off. Nemile told his guests to stay still and not move but face the lion at all times – if you turn your back they will kill you. One remained calm but the other, scared, jumped on Nemile’s back and started crying. He then wet himself. It took  about 30mins for the lion to go through his warnings and then they could back off and retreat. After that the pant wetter wanted to stay in his tent and go home. Even the lions don’t like ze Germans!

The next day we woke early (I missed the lion roars at 3am – gutted) and took a short boat trip to a nearby island for a walk on the wild side. We were miles from any other human and could encounter animals at any moment. We walked for an hour, tracking elephants as Nemile followed their tracks and examined their poo to tell where the fresh tracks were.

Suddenly we lucked-in. Nemile spotted an elephant emerging from a large cluster of trees. It was a male, about 30 years old and he was no more than 40m from us. We were advised to step back, so retreated from the elephant’s critical zone. Elephants are short sighted, so if you get to close they can pick you out from the bushes and feel threatened. From a safe distance we watched, mouths agape with astonishment, as we walked on the same ground as wild elephants. We were then lucky to spot another elephant round the corner, this one older and bigger. He checked us out then continued munching his way through the trees. It was an awe inspiring experience and we felt truly humbled to walk with wild animals in such a stunning place. We will be coming back as we don’t feel we have even touched the surface of this amazing place. The Okavango Delta has more to offer and we want to see it one day. But for now, we’ll take that memory with us.

Walking on the wild side gave us mixed emotions and it also made me realise how naive I had been in how I thought of these animals. We’ve all seen the documentaries and I have always had a reverence for the king of the jungle but considered Elephants with less fear, though with an equal amount of awe. When you are isolated in their habitat and have to act on their terms, you start to realise how fragile your life is amongst them. Nemile explained that more people have been killed by elephants than by lions – if an elephant feels threatened or you don’t know how to behave around them, they will charge. If you hide up a tree, they’ll kill you. If you run, they’ll kill you. If you stand still, they’ll kill you. They have been known to tear humans to pieces in anger.  I walked in silence with a mix of carnal fear and total astonishment at what we were doing. I knew at any moment we could encounter lions or other such beasties – part of me hoped we would, the sane part the opposite. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated slightly by my surroundings. Muneeza on the other hand didn’t think about the mortal danger and walked with no cares in the world!

So on to Zambia and more adventures!

Love james &  muneeza x

  1. Si says:

    Sounds like you are both having a half decent time. Pilates and early nights? I turn my back on the travelling world for a few years and it all goes metrosexual.

    Still it’s good to hear you have found humility. Please try and crow bar a few more ‘bush’ gags into your blog (deep or otherwise).

    Look after yourselves.

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