We reached Maun, Botswana, a town known as the perfect jumping off point to explore the Okavango Delta. Botswana and its neighbors Angola, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe did something radical in 2011. They removed all of the fences so wild animals can migrate across thousands of kilometers again. KAZA (Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area) encompasses 106 million acres, the size of France! This is thrilling and unnerving. It’s thrilling because most of the time we had the roads to ourselves – and needed to stop the rental car every day for zebras or springboks that were crossing the road in herds.
And it’s unnerving, because wild animals are, well, wild, and that definition includes lions and the aggressive African buffalo*.
But I was telling you about Maun. One night at the lodge we sat next to a table occupied by a rowdy group. We could tell from the accent that they were from Eastern Germany. They were noisy as they enjoyed their beers. When the Botswana man sitting at the head of the table began to speak, they quieted down a little so a fellow German could translate from English for them.
“Everyone needs to to be ready at 5:00 tomorrow morning to leave for our bush trek,” the guide stated. A few groans from the table; he ignored them and went on talking. “Bring only the items you will need in the bush. Leave everything else in your suitcases. Those will remain on the tour bus. You need to wear good walking shoes or hiking boots! Do not forget the sun screen and insect repellent. We are in malaria territory! And make sure to bring enough water to last for the next few days. There are no stores where we’re going. When you don’t carry sufficient provisions for yourself, you compromise the safety of the entire group.”
The table got quieter, with only the voices of the guide and his translator admonishing them.
“You stay with me at all times. We were forced to cancel the last trek because there were too many lions in the area. It was far too dangerous.” He scrutinized each of them in turn. “You will follow my instructions. Never leave the trail or go off by yourself. You would easily get lost in the delta and never find your way back out.”
At this point Uwe and I were shamelessly eavesdropping. Everyone had stopped eating and the next table had gone completely silent. The guide pointed at himself and raised his voice. “In the bush, I am your father!” he thundered. The translator repeated the words in German with all the right emphases. “And, you see this man sitting next to me?” The guide pointed at his translator. “While we are in the bush, he is your mother! We will be your parents! You will do exactly what we tell you!” He informed the utterly still Germans that at the end of the road a private helicopter service would be waiting to carry them in small groups deep in the Okavango Delta. Once they were all flown in, they’d be met by local bushmen who had been hired to take them trekking. And, he promised, they’d have the adventure of their lives.
Uwe and I think they got way more adventure than they’d planned on!
NOTE: * More people are killed by African buffalo every year than by any other wild animal. © 2023 Jadi Campbell. Photos ©2023 Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photography and his photos of our trips can be viewed at viewpics.de.
My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded and The Trail Back Out.
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