Apart from thorny acacia savannah, the terrain includes winding waterways with banks of reeds, palm-covered islands, thick forest and lush, lily-covered lagoons where hippos bathe and sport.
The islands afford places for the camps to be established, some having to be reached by light aircraft during the spate period. Chief’s Island within Moremi is exactly as it says – the tribal chief’s island and will feature here. The other islands are smaller, some becoming swamped when a large deluge comes down, or just small refuges for the land loving animals.
Camp Okavango was where my mother and I stayed when we holidayed together in 1989, and we were due to go on to Camp Moremi, where I’d camped the year before .. but that particular year we couldn’t get to the camp at Moremi as the flood waters were particularly large!
The two Camps had been built by a Californian lady, who had been regularly coming on safari to Botswana with GameTrackers since the mid 1970s. She then decided that she would like her own lodges, and duly applied – at that stage there were only a few photographic lodges within the Delta area. Jessie Niel had been spending six months in Botswana and six months at home – hence her desire for something more permanent.
They could only accommodate a maximum of 12 people .. and I’m sure it wasn’t full when we went out .. the Meru luxury tents were beautifully appointed with Laura Ashley furnishings, and each had private reed facilities behind them. Our original camp comprised a reed and thatch lounge, bar, dining room, reed and thatch kitchen and storerooms, with sandy paths around.
We were so well looked after by the staff, who were just part of one big team, that Jessie had nurtured .. and we had an amazing time. To get a flavour .. perhaps some of you have read or seen Alexander McCall Smith’s The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency .. set very much in the backdrop of the capital, Gaberone .. with its peoples. The founder of the Agency is a Motswana woman, Mma Precious Romotswe and I’ve found a Youtube clip (1min 45 secs) .. which shows the Delta, Gaberone and you can hear the dialect: link below.
I’m sure John Khata, will probably say it’s a resemblance .. but no more, but John is a generous fellow and will grant us licence to see the clip and get a feel of Botswana life. John was born in the Delta in 1944, and when still young with his parents went to visit relatives on Chief’s Island.
John was to return with his mother and grandmother to their home, but while they’d been visiting there had been a huge storm, and they lost their way on their return journey, as the tracking marks had been washed away. The women didn’t know how to start a fire and they survived by digging water lilies, and eating berries and figs. This went on for two weeks – Chief’s Island is quite large!
The family and friends had been out looking and searching for them, but had given up presuming them to have died, or been attacked by a wild animal.
John tells that in his culture, when you are three months old, your father has to take you to a big river, channel or lagoon, and dip you in three times, as they believe that to do so while they are young they will never be scared of water .. an essential in the Delta with its floods.
Then when he was eight – his father took him out to teach him how to hunt and how to sleep in the bush without being scared. He went out one day with his father and other hunters, then they camped .. a mix of the elders and the youngsters. However on one of the evenings, when they were sitting round the fire – one of the other boys moved three or four metres away to cut the grass to use it as a mattress .... but a lion came out of nowhere, grabbed him and ran away. His body has still not been found.
After that incident John’s family moved to another village further away. The elders believe that the best education is to learn about the bush, being in the bush and being involved from the time John was old enough to learn. School, as we know it, was not considered necessary for their way of life. The tribes people in days gone by could and would make sufficient money from nature .... as the animals were still free – so an income could be made from animal skins, mokoros (traditional crafted canoes) and some meat.
John started working for Mr Haroon of Oryx Safaris, learning the craft of skinning, before changing to gun bearer and/or tracker. He then moved to Bird Safaris, spotting and catching birds, from different parts of the Delta On the trips back they also caught baby Zebra by driving very fast in the middle of the Zebra herds, throwing a rope round the neck of a baby, injecting it to enable it to be lifted and put in the back of the truck.
While John was working for the safari companies, the Government in 1980 decided that the tribes people should be moved out of the Delta, nearer the town, so that they could all learn to read and write.
John had other plans .. and crossed over to Camp Okavango by mokoro, because he had heard that they were going to build a camp there – in the north of the Delta. John was duly employed, helping with the construction until Camp Okavango was finished in 1983.
First he worked as a groundsman, then because he knew about the traditional craft of mokoros and poling (similar to the punts at Oxford and Cambridge) he was promoted to taking tourists out on mokoro trails ... no-one better at being able to see the native flora and fauna and tell us stories about them than someone who has lived in the Delta all his life.
Then he says as he was meeting tourists everyday .. he started to learn English and just absorbed the language – he knew a little from his birding days .. and now he continues with his guiding being an integral and respected team member of Camp Okavango.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go on safari, mokoro around the Delta, spend time with John learning the bush background, get a grip on the area of Camp Okavango and its surroundings .. a treasure trove of history unavailable elsewhere ... John – I think I might be back for another visit fairly soon .. will you look after me? Thank you!
Walter Smith, Marketing Director, from Desert & Delta Safaris (ex Camp Okavango) very kindly gave me permission to print John’s story .. it is essence, as John wrote it.
Walter’s reference on John is thus: John has been working for our company at Camp Okavango for 30 years now and by pure default of his life story, is one of the most experienced and accomplished guides in the Okavango Delta. We are very proud to have him on our team and value his loyalty and commitment incredibly.
Thank you John and your family, together with Camp Okavango for sharing with us your magical land – holidays I will never ever forget .. and I know my mother loved them .. Dear Mr Postman – weren’t we lucky?
The founder of the Agency is a Motswana woman, Mma Precious Romotswe and I’ve found a Youtube clip (1min 45 secs) .. which shows the Delta, Gaberone and you can hear the dialect. There's some very evocative African music playing here too ... but please come back and comment??!! Thank you!
PS - I shall ask Walter on his return from holiday for some larger photos .. and replace these .. it's frustrating when you think you've got good pictures and they come out the size of postage stamps .. oh well too late to worry now!
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