I’ve now reached the third camp in my two week trip to Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Having worked in the travel industry for over 8 years, I’d learnt plenty about our camps there and always enjoyed hearing about our guest’s experiences on their return. Even though December isn’t usually considered the prime time to see the Delta, I had high expectations. Would the ‘Jewel of the Kalahari’ live up to its reputation?
As I sit on the deck outside my tent at Macatoo, the heat of the afternoon is beginning to wane and I gaze out at the horses grazing contentedly. What a day it has been, beautifully warm and filled to the brim with adventure, excitement and good company. Soon it will be time to drag myself from my reverie and don my riding gear for a leisurely afternoon ride. Each evening we gather around the dinner table and recount the day’s adventures. Bongwe or Mod might regale us with stories of past safaris, colourful characters or camp traditions. We may have known the staff and other guests only a few days but it already feels like a dinner party with friends. Each time we gather, whether it be to ride out across the flood plains, for delicious meals or sundowners, such is the relaxed atmosphere and lively conversation, you feel at home, settled, welcome.
During dinner one evening we are seated around the table and over the conversation we hear a crashing noise close by. It sounds as though branches are being torn down, but nobody turns a hair. ‘Its just Henry’ somebody murmurs. Food continues to be eaten and wine continues to be sipped…as the noises get gradually closer, we turn in our seats to see a huge bull elephant only a few metres away. Henry has a bit of a cheeky reputation for helping himself at mealtimes and occasionally having a little fun chasing people, but tonight he seems content to eat for a while, before turning around and walking away into the darkness.
My instructor always told me “there’s no such thing as a perfect horse”. But on my first morning ride I am given Zorba, a handsome bay gelding who proves the exception to this rule! He is brave, balanced, forward going and full of character. We have a fabulous time together cantering beside impala, following giraffe and careering along twisty forest tracks.
At one point we stop to look at a hippo skull but before long off we go again, zooming along sandy vehicle tracks and hopping over rough ground. As we canter along in some tall grass, we catch sight of a couple of elephant and pull up to watch them. The next moment we see there are many more in the bush to our right and suddenly Bongwe says “go” and we do – off across open ground, our horses only too happy to oblige for another blast.
Then Bongwe calls to us to stop and we turn our horses to see the elephant herd gathered in a circle formation, the youngest safely in the centre. More slowly we make our way back to Bongwe and watch for a while. He flashes a wide grin and remarks at how far we cantered away. Behind us, back-up guide Thomas grins sheepishly; he wasn’t taking any chances!
On one afternoon I’m riding a stunning ex-show-jumper called Casa. We’ve just had an amazing sighting of a bull elephant so close we could make out the grooves and wrinkles in his grey skin. As we make our way through the Mopane forest, we see a soft glow lighting up a huge termite mound. As we get closer we see a beautiful bush dinner has been laid out. Some of the staff ride our horses back to camp, whilst others stay and have drinks and dinner with us. On our way back to camp we use the spotlight to see bush babies and other nocturnal creatures as we hang out of the side of the vehicle to get a better look.
The next day we have a fabulous ride in another direction. At a large pool we see about 25 hippo relaxing in the cool water. We have wonderful canters thought the water and even zoom alongside a herd of zebra…wow! This is once in a lifetime stuff and I am enjoying every moment. Later as the heat begins to build, we are cantering through some more water with water lilies either side of us. As we approach the tree line we look upwards and see a huge treehouse up in the branches. There are Katie, Kobus and Riana waving to us from above.
We hop off the horses and climb up into the boughs for a magical view of the Delta. I can just imagine it in the height of the floods – it is beautiful now, but must be really spectacular then. Some of our clothes have been brought from our tents and there is the chance to get changed if we want to. Soon afterwards a delicious lunch is ready and we pile around the table for another magical meal.
What a time I’ve had in the Delta. It’s been an experience of a lifetime, I’ve seen amazing game, met some wonderful people and now sadly, it is time to go home. But I can’t wait to be able to recount my experiences and help In The Saddle guests plan amazing adventures of their own.
You can read more about In The Saddle’s wonderful safaris at Macatoo here.