Thanksgiving, Middle of the Okavango Delta, Botswana –
We woke up at 6:00 a.m. to start our elephant trek – our guides were taking us walking around the island we were staying on. We walked inland quite a distance from clearing to clearing spotting tons o’animals along the way. The animals are really funny; they’ll run away a bit then stand there and stare at you; run some more and stand and stare at you. Throughout the course of our walk we saw (in order of appearance): red buck, impala, baboons, a stork and a tsesedbe (one we can’t spell OR pronounce) to name a few. We also came upon a herd of wildebeests who had one zebra hanging out with them. The thing is that the wildebeests are so stupid that when they went to go run away from us they ended up running around in a circle in the clearing. The poor zebra started running in a different direction and since the wildebeests didn’t know any better they started following the zebra. As we were walking off it appeared that the zebra no longer wanted to hang out with a bunch of animals with brains smaller than its own, but every time it went anywhere the plebe wildebeests would follow.
We started walking back to our camp when we came across a herd of buffalo standing in a clearing. Now buffalo are a totally dangerous African animal with a bad attitude. The locals are way scared of them and make every attempt not to piss them off. The buffalo have this reputation for always being in a bad mood, even though they don’t look that menacing with their 1950’s boufontic looking hair-dos (that would be their curved horns).
When we saw the herd the guides told us to be really quiet while we watched and waited for then to run away. After a while the buffalo got bored and headed off to the next clearing in a cloud of dust with the thundering of hooves. We started back towards our camp again, but after another twenty minutes of walking we found yet another herd of buffalo grazing in a huge field. We sat there behind the trees and bushed watching them for a while, but the buffalo knew we were there and wouldn’t move – they just stared back. Our guide shook a sapling and clapped, which effectively sent the buffalo to the far side of the clearing so we could pass. We started walking out into the open field towards our camp – each of us eyeing the buffalo as we went. The buffalo were too curious and really wanted to know more about these people walking through the field, so the entire herd (about 150 of them started slowly making their way towards us as we meandered by. This was really disconcerting to us humans, so we took a few quick steps towards the trees (which we were going to use as viewing towers should the buffalo get any closer). We stood there and stared the buffalo down until they moved back a bit so we could continue to cross this field.
We left the safety of the trees and actually crossed in front of the herd. This was really groovy for the herd as now they could get an up close and personal look at a human. Slowly but surely the buffalo began to walk across the field trying to get a better look at us. When the buffalo got a little too close one of the guides began to jog a bit towards the trees (which were 30 meters away). When a local begins to take quick steps, normal white people run. We all ran a few yards away then stopped to see where the buffalo were – just in case they’d decided to follow. We rather looked like the animals that had been pulling the same method of viewing us as we entered each clearing. We were now the smaller animal on the food chain and apparently, instinctively, used the same technique. The buffalo were far enough away for us to continue to cross the field, but we all still had a certain amount of adrenaline running through our veins until we got to the next set of trees – where we know we could easily escape.
It was walking across the field where it hit me that I have come this far to see these animals in their own environment. This is their turf, and when a herd of buffalo decide they’re going to eat some Europeans for dinner there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s exciting seeing this stuff first hand – especially like the buffalo – but it makes you realize that this is the true, wild Africa – the one we came here to see.
We finally made it back to camp after our three hour nature hike and immediately made a bee-line for our drinking water as we were all parched. We’d brilliantly forgotten to bring our large jerry can of drinking water so we were forced to boil pot after pot of Delta water for drinking. Not the best tasting stuff, but it did the trick and none of us managed to get sick. Later that afternoon there was an optional ride in the boats which I opted out of because I was beat. We made dinner a short while later and when we looked across the field from our row of tents we spotted a giraffe munching on a tree, followed by a herd of wildebeests who thought a jog across the field might be good fun.
It’s amazing to see these animals just wandering around in the wild. We had the most surreal sunset that evening. So beautiful – you’d never believe the colors nature can come up with, plus we had the perfect crescent moon hanging in the sky with Venus just below it. A photograph wouldn’t have done this scene justice – it was too beautiful. After another night of gazing at the stars (while trying to track down the Southern Cross – as usual) it was time to turn in – we were going back to Maun the next day.