Botswana: Okavango Delta Riding Safari–Dispatch 1

Mornings we’re awakened by a hushed voice outside the tent, gently advising that hot tea has been left on the table. In the freezing pre-dawn darkness I cup my hands around the mug’s burning sides to warm them. The sun is barely peeking over the horizon when we mount up and leave camp, in search of whatever we might see. Though the first day or two there are inevitable expectations of spying big, impressive animals, I quickly learn that the beauty, the magic of the day is in what appears, not in what’s expected. We skirt rain pans, following animals paths. A shy reedbuck springs from dense green cover on a wooded island. A herd of delicate lechwe, their extra-long hoofs and water-proof hair making them ideally suited to this environment, leap through a shallow pool. In a flash they’re gone, a spray of crystal droplets of water left by their mad dash, still hanging in the air.

I’m not a bird watcher, so it’s a surprise that I find myself fascinated by the major wading birds clustered in droves in and around the ponds. The macabre marabou stork with its bald, scabby head, standing 5-feet tall and looking like an undertaker. The equally tall saddlebill stork is everything the ugly marabou longs to be, with glossy black plumage and a long brilliant red bill interrupted by a swatch of black in the middle and topped off with a yellow shield at the top. Egrets abound, both large and small, all of them white as new snow. These avian masterpieces are interspersed with the elegant slate grey wattled cranes which approach 6 feet in their bare toes, their white breast like a fancy dress shirt tucked into an elegant tuxedo with tails. And that’s just the giant birds. I’m captivated by ibis, both the white sacred ones and the glossy green-purple wings of the hadeda. There’s the ever-haunting cry of the African fish eagle which looks like a large bald eagle, and I can’t turn away from a crowd of white-backed and lappet-faced vultures, going about their carrion-eating business.

When we get hot during the day, we canter through the shallow water, vying to be middle of the group, the better to get a good drenching. It doesn’t matter how wet we get because the air is hot and humidity low; within an hour we’re dry.

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