Game for Botswana?

Botswana’s Oka­vango delta is a na­ture-filled haven which makes for a fan­tas­tic sa­fari ex­pe­ri­ence.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By CHAR­MAINE NORONHA

I’M jolted from sleep by a deep and rolling roar and what sounds like the slith­er­ing paws of a large cat trawl­ing through my cabin.

“Oh, my God, I think some­thing’s in our room,” I whis­per, wak­ing up my friend and room­mate, Pa­tri­cia Law­ton.

“I know,” she whispers back, adding a few ex­ple­tives.

It might sound like the start of a Mau­rice Sen­dak story, but as we lay in our dreamy cabin in the great wilder­ness of Botswana’s Oka­vango Delta, we were truly snooz­ing where the wild things are.

Days be­fore, when our sa­fari be­gan, we were told never to leave our tent at night, to avoid en­coun­ters with the wild things. But what if they came to us? For sev­eral hours, Pa­tri­cia and I lay still, so afraid to move that we dared not even call for help. If this crea­ture was in our room, the only thing that sep­a­rated us from the po­ten­tial in­truder was a flimsy mos­quito net bil­low­ing around our four-poster bed. At one point, it sounded like an an­i­mal was drag­ging our back­packs around. I cursed Pa­tri­cia un­der my breath, think­ing she had once again left the pa­tio door to our cabin open – a mas­sive no-no while lodg­ing deep in the sa­van­nah.

Fi­nally, I picked up the phone be­side the bed, punch­ing in ran­dom num­bers since I had no di­rec­tory.

“Some­thing is in our room, we need help,” I stut­tered to the woman who an­swered. She alerted the sa­fari staff on pa­trol. They dis­cov­ered an ele­phant had been roam­ing around all night on the deck that lined the lodge perime­ter, feast­ing on fo­liage shad­ing our cabin.

Drenched in sweat – not from Botswana’s swel­ter­ing heat but from our anx­i­ety – Pa­tri­cia and I hugged each other and laughed, slightly em­bar­rassed that we gen­uinely thought we were about to be a large cat’s meow.

That drama-filled last night of our sa­fari was a fit­ting end to what had been a week of pure magic and won­der.

We landed in Botswana zom­bie-like but ex­cited, af­ter 48 hours with no sleep, travers­ing time zones on two back-to-back overnight flights and another four flights. The sa­fari be­gan as soon as we got to PomPom air­port in Muan, Botswana. We jumped into a 4x4 af­ter be­ing greeted by two guides from our sa­fari com­pany andBeyond. Guide Kgosike­batho Marota asked that we call him Chief, and guide Kutlwano Mobe said he goes by Kuks.

Min­utes into driv­ing deep into the sa­van­nah, we were shaken out of our bleari­ness by the sight of vervet mon­keys swing­ing through tree tops, herds of im­palas pranc­ing by and grace­ful wood­land king­fish­ers with fringed, bright blue wings sweep­ing through the cloud­less sky.

As if this wasn’t enough to tickle my African-born but North Amer­i­can-bred fancy (I was born in Nairobi but raised in Canada), Chief beck­oned us to look to the right of our jeep.

“Li­ons came through here this morn­ing, prob­a­bly track­ing the buf­falo we saw yes­ter­day. Those are their foot­prints,” he said, in­struct­ing the driver to fol­low them.

We drove through the vast ex­panse of sun­drenched land, sprin­kled with aca­cia trees, bul­bous baobab trees and tow­er­ing ter­mite mounds, steer­ing over and through bushes. We turned a cor­ner and spot­ted a pride of six li­ons sprawled in the grass, loung­ing in the blis­ter­ing af­ter­noon sun in post-kill splen­dour. Their lolling yawns re­vealed for­mi­da­ble fangs and hinted at the hard work that goes into rul­ing such a fine king­dom. The mo­ment was pure magic, a Na­tional Ge­o­graphic epi-

sode come to life.

The big cats are among more than 100 species of mam­mals and 400 species of birds that call the delta home. This diver­sity found amidst the lily-speck­led marshes, blue la­goons and pic­turesque wood­lands make this place, set along the banks of the Oka­vango River, one of Africa’s rich­est gameview­ing des­ti­na­tions, al­beit for tourists, one of the con­ti­nent’s pricier ones as well. Conde Nast Trav­eler mag­a­zine recog­nised the Botswana gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to con­serve the Oka­vango’s en­vi­ron­ment while bal­anc­ing the needs of lo­cal peo­ple with a 2013 World Savers Award for a sus­tain­able desti­na­tion in a de­vel­op­ing coun­try. Our tour com­pany has also been work­ing with the gov­ern­ment to rein­tro­duce rhi­nos into the delta.

Af­ter hours ex­plor­ing the bush, we headed back to our camp­site, bathed in a tepid out­door rain shower un­der a sliver of a cres­cent moon and pre­pared for a Botswa­nian feast of seswaa – beef stew served over thick pap, a type of maize por­ridge. We stuffed our­selves silly and traded sto­ries un­der the stars with fel­low sa­fari-go­ers. Tuck­ered out, we re­treated to our lux­ury tents – with in­door plumb­ing to boot – which we slept in ev­ery night ex­cept the last, when we were in the cab­ins.

A 5.30am wake-up call be­gan another day of ex­plor­ing where ze­bras, hye­nas, wa­ter buf­falo, ele­phants and gi­raffe co-ex­ist and roam free. We left the wilder­ness of the delta to head to Chobe Na­tional Park, the third­largest game park in Botswana and one that boasts one of the largest con­cen­tra­tions of game in Africa, in­clud­ing the largest herds of ele­phants. It lived up to its rep­u­ta­tion: Just af­ter en­ter­ing the gates into the lush ter­rain, we were greeted by a jour­ney of gi­raffes munch­ing on aca­cia trees that dot the plains. Our guides im­parted this in­ter­est­ing fact: As a de­fence mech­a­nism, once the aca­cia fo­liage is torn by a for­ag­ing gi­raffe, the plant emits an air­borne gas, eth­yl­ene, alert­ing nearby plants to in­crease tan­nin pro­duc­tion, which the gi­raffes don’t like. The an­i­mals then move up­wind to dine on plants that failed to catch the drift.

Our ex­plo­ration and biology lessons were not lim­ited to land. We jumped into a boat and cruised down the Oka­vango River, where we saw ele­phants frol­ick­ing in the wa­ter along­side their adorable off­spring, glimpsed a hippo bob­bing in and out of still wa­ter, and staked out a croc­o­dile hop­ing to see its jaw snap.

Back in the 4x4, a tor­ren­tial down­pour sud­denly lashed us with­out a mo­ment’s no­tice. Chief hit the gas and it was like we were in our own ver­sion of Noah’s Ark-meets- Life Of Pi as an­i­mals whizzed past, the wind-swept rain mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for us to even open our eyes in the open-sided car.

“You’re not in Canada, any­more, are you?” he shouted from his wa­ter-soaked seat.

Def­i­nitely not, I thought, as wa­ter buf­falo bolted by us. Drenched and slightly star­tled, though, there was no place I’d rather have been than this self-con­tained sanc­tu­ary where nearly ev­ery crea­ture I’d read about since childhood came out to play.

“Let the wild rum­pus start!” I hollered back. – AP

— aP Pho­tos

Stand­ing tall: Gi­raffes in the chobe Na­tional Park in botswana. (Inset, from left) Sa­fari guide Kutlwano mobe, sa­fari guests Pa­tri­cia Law­ton and Noronha, and another guide, Kgosike­batho marota, in botswana’s Oka­vango delta. the guides are from andbeyond tour com­pany, which of­fers trips to the game-rich sa­fari desti­na­tion.

ele­phants and their off­spring cool­ing off in the Oka­vango river in chobe Na­tional Park.

trees sil­hou­et­ted against a bright orange sky lit by a sear­ing white disc is a typ­i­cal sight for sun­sets in botswana’s Oka­vango delta, a pop­u­lar desti­na­tion for an­i­mal­watch­ing sa­faris. (Inset) a wood­land king­fisher with fringed bright-blue wings perched on a branch in the delta. delta.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.