Friday 30 April 2010

The Okavango Delta - the perfect place to Safari or holiday? = Yes for me! Part 2/3: John’s Story....

Many travellers regard the Moremi Wildlife Reserve as the most spectacular and beautiful game park in Southern Africa. It covers more than 1,000 square kilometres (385 sq miles) of grassy flood plains in the north eastern corner of the Okavango Delta {approximately 1/10th of the whole}.

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.

A very fitting tribute to a wonderful place, full of magical people, who care for their surroundings and for their friends – us the tourtists – ensuring that we understand the benefits of the call of the wild, as well as have a wonderfully conducive holiday – taking with us a love of the area .. to promote to others .. even if it’s twenty-one years later .. as I’m doing here!

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!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Paul C said...

How wonderful that this reserve is so large for the flora and fauna to have a chance to be authentic. Is this area always so well watered? I'd love to paddle one of those boats, if it's safe with all the wildness around.

Wilma Ham said...

Oh Hilary after this I will go to the link. John is very fortunate to have learned in the context of nature being taught by men who knew what they were talking about. He will be intelligent and knowing how to find appropriate solutions. In school we learn generalized theory that is never related to our context and we are not trained to find solutions.
That John is surviving and having probably an amazing life speaks for itself in comparison with most of us.
My partner, also a John lived on an island with a man who never went to school and he was very resourceful and always looked at a greater range of solutions that my well educated John.
However having someone being eaten by a lion would freak me out big time but would sure teach me a thing or two.
As always, I love your stories, hugs for you both, Wilma

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Paul .. .. the reserve is huge and as you say nature keeps to itself. The flood waters from Angola (starting in December - January) take six months to filter down the river, into the pan-handle channel you see on the map, then the tentacles of water creep down the smaller channels (kept open by the hippos) .. and generally cover the land.

No – please don’t think of coming to go canoeing there!!!! Take John with you and he’ll look after you .. hippos, lions, crocs etc .. don’t really make good companions!?!

Dream on though .. and do get out there .. it’s a brilliant place to be .. a Delta in the middle of Africa.
Enjoy the weekend .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma ... I remember reading your John’s story – so much to learn .. I must go back (I’ll send it to John Khata for interest I think – they’ll be interested). Your John being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean .. here John Khata .. “hops from island to island and paddles between islands – finding the open channels is the trick of the trade” - except now he’s at the Camp showing us all manner of secrets in the Delta and its wonders.

The knowledge we can find from living in the bush, or with nature .. as we know – is at the end of the day far more helpful in understanding the world – just scratching the surface though. I’m sure John has a wonderful time teaching visitors to his land about some of the insects, birds, animals, fish, and the stars, winds .. all things living ... all that he’s learnt – tracking, berries and plants ... etc

Lions are just there .. lying in the tent at night just listening to the roars resonating across the desert .. is such a wonderful feeling .. hearing the scuffling around where we’ve camped .. then seeing the tracks in the morning ... it’s a wonderful world.

Thanks Wilma .. have a good weekend .. appreciate your care and thoughts for us - Hilary

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Once again a glimpse of a life I will never know but so enjoy living through the stories of others who have been there.

You are a great storyteller, Hilary. I felt like I was there hearing the roars of the lions a bit scared, a bit excited (comment) and seeing the beauty of the land (body of article).


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Teresa .. just so pleased you enjoy the living through our stories .. it's great to hear about other places .. and I love your Ruralhood tales - it's great for me to hear those too. They had party phone lines in Rhodesia when I first went out in the 70s ..

Thanks Teresa .. fortunately I can draw on others writings and cobble my thoughts together into something that's got a little of Hilary in it ..

It's a wonderful place to be .. and the next post will be more of the sounds, the scents and that rich life that abounds down there I should say .. almost thought I was back in Johannesburg & put 'up there'!

It is exciting .. being chased by elephant twice?! Let alone the night howls .. and just being amongst that natural beauty .. nature at its best - away from the madding crowd.

Have a great weekend and thanks for coming by .. Hilary

Patricia said...

Wonderful story Hilary and thank you so much for sharing. I just love the #1 Women's Detective Agency books and now we have watched the first season of the BBC television series - the photography and music are truly amazing. It is just gorgeous area of which I knew very little.

Great write up Thank you
Yes! you and your mum were quite lucky ducks and to have John as a guide...Wow!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. thank you! & yes - I thought you might have read the #1 Ladies' Detective Agency books .. it's a comfortable and fun read. The translation into the BBC series seemed to be quite well done - but I must admit I haven't watched much of it .. & have only read one of his books I think! -- but you can't miss it - from the various snippets - so I was pleased to find the YouTube clip for others to watch.

It is as you rightly say a gorgeous area .. and I'm pleased I'm letting everyone have a glimpse of life in Africa ..

Mum and I certainly were lucky .. it was a peaceful time and a great honour to share his world, as well as that of the animals, birds etc

Happy days!! Thanks for being here - Hilary

Davina said...

Great story, Hilary. Thanks for sharing this wonderful adventure. Little scary though bout the boy who was dragged off by the lion. What a contrast to the comfort of those lodges. That picture looks very cozy.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. thank you! It's John's story and from it we can a little of another culture and another way of life.

As you say a contrast .. in comfort zones .. people still get taken in the wild - if you're not careful or your guides!

It was extremely comfortable especially being in the camp, lying under the canopy watching the birds, listening to them and hearing the scuffles all around .. better than a wet Sunday here! Thanks for being here - Hilary

Short Poems said...

Thanks Hilary, for sharing this great adventure, really great story :)
marinela x x

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Marinela .. thanks for visiting .. and good to see you .. and really glad you enjoyed the adventure and the story ..

Happy Days - Hilary xx to you too ...

J.D. Meier said...

I think it would be an amazing treasure trove of history and a safari would be GREAT!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi JD .. it would be: so many tapestries of life over the millennia .. and a safari would be wonderful .. magic me away please - now's the best time?!

Have a good week .. thanks for coming over - Hilary

Anonymous said...

Do you take all of these pictures? Do you carry a rifel with you. I saw on TV these Indian guides were on elephants were tracking a Tiger. Problem was, he was tracking the.

The camera caught this Tiger pouncing out of weeds and jumping over the elephants to attack one of the Indians. He survived, but the awesome power of a charging Tiger was speatacular.

Stephen Tremp

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Stephen .. no - they're from Wikipedia mostly. The camp ones came from Camp Okavango's website - except they've changed it & I can't find the pictures now. When the MD gets back I'll ask him!

Sometimes they carry rifles and sometimes they don't .. depends where you are in the bush .. I think we probably had them with us in the trucks, when we were camping, but they certainly weren't obvious ..

The amazing thing is at night you just sleep in the tent .. and the tent is a barrier to the animals (not the mozzies though!!!) somehow ..

I saw those tv films .. weren't they amazing .. actually I didn't see the tiger attacking the guide .. but the BBC made stone cameras, which moved and followed the tigers .. I think they were pretty quick to catch on - but some amazing footage - & Tigers are on the endangered list.

I've always loved the Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright - by Blake .. and we had the Little Black Sambo books as kids .. and I was entranced by the animals and the scenery .. we only holidayed in England & occasionally in Europe! So palms, sea and sand weren't around.

Thanks for being here - wild animals are amazing ..and beautiful .. Hilary

Sara said...

Hilary -- I love reading about your adventures. I'm not very daring myself about travel,but coming to your site and learning all about John, this beautiful land and it's wildness was a virtual tour:~)

I also very much enjoyed both The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books and the series:~)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. good to see you & glad you're better. I was in Africa .. you take your advantages while you're there .. too good to miss - & I was lucky .. friends who went to the Okavango, and my Ma - who wanted to visit different places .. eg Nambibia and the Delta ..

& yes - Precious Romotswe is a special lady .. but it's so lovely seeing the sights of Botswana via her detective tales ..

Beautiful wilderness .. sights and sounds coming up .. next post! lots of pics ..

Just delighted you enjoy being here .. have a great week and continue improving and feeling better .. Hilary

Jillian said...

Wow, Hilary - you really know how to holiday!! It's all so fantastical, and so far beyond my realm - to think that for somebody else, it's just another day in their life! :)

Thank you for all your kind and thoughtful comments on my blog :) We take possession of our new home on May 15th and our 'official' moving day is May 22nd. Very exciting for us!

'Bye for now,

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jillian - thanks for coming over at this busy time and exciting time in your life .. your first home .. I'll be thinking of you.

Yes - exceedingly lucky to have had these opportunities .. I managed to get to the Okavango three times and to Namibia for once fantastic trip up the Skeleton coast.

It is a glorious place .. but exactly as you so rightly say - another day in their life!

Enjoy the future .. it'll be great by the time the end of May comes round .. have fun - Hilary

Catrien Ross said...

Hilary, thank so much for this amazing, astonishing journey you shared. Kohdoh and I reveled in the striking photos - what a sensory gift you gave us. I very much appreciate your generosity in pulling together all the elements of this 3-part travel extravaganza - your writing, the information, the photos, the beauty of the wildlife - the sheer wonder and diversity of the greater web of life you revealed for us. I feel so full, so satisfied this morning. All I can say is thank you. Thank you, Hilary.

And thank you, too, for your warm comment on my blog in Japan - you make the time to journey to this part of the world, too, across the netwaves, and I appreciate your presence very much.

Morning greetings from the mountains in Japan - Catrien Ross.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Catrien .. great to hear from you & that you and Kohdoh enjoyed the post and the pictures .. with the narrative bringing it together – I enjoyed writing it .. there’s so much there and so much to tell – a brief "trip" is a good way to introduce everyone to that part of Africa.

I love the way you’ve described the posts for me .. ‘the sheer wonder and diversity of the greater web of life that’s revealed’ .. is so true .. your yabusame (samurai horse archers) pictures and the history instalment .. is so interesting .. and most definitely adds to that web of life across the continents.

Your life in Japan is so interesting to read .. gain a little comprehension of the area, the traditions, the cultures .. learning history this way is such a good way & interspersing it with spiritual aspects .. doorways to energy .. another area to have an insight into. We are blessed we can reach out to the areas we need to find for ourselves ..

Thanks for your greetings and thoughts .. mine to you – from a slightly cold England .. perhaps a good thing .. it’s keeping the Spring bulbs out for longer .. all the best for the week ahead - Hilary