Reflections in the Quiet of the Okavango Delta

Geo: -19.0933, 22.4451

Another rest time, unplugged from the internet, which is very enjoyable until I think about the thousands of accumulated emails I’ll have to begin to deal with once we reach Victoria Falls, still a week away. Most of the group seem to nap during these hours, but I prefer to shower in the heat of the day, meditate, and write. And, of course, just gaze out at the beautiful landscape, and listen to the sounds of Africa. It is a paradise here, different from anyplace else I have travelled.

When I was a camp counsellor in my late teens, the young staff used to meet by the lake at rest time, swimming and lying on the dock, resting and chatting in the sun, enjoying our break from the children, our 24/7 responsibility. This was at Birch Hill Camp in New Hampshire, not too far from Lake Winnepesake. It was also a beautiful camp, and I enjoyed my work, but at that age it is important to make friends and find a summer mate or two. There were six of us who became inseparable. Two of us were American: one young man from New Jersey and me; one from Austria, Robert; one from Germany, Leijla; and two from the Netherlands, Eliie and I don’t remember his name–although I can picture all of us clearly, as we were at 19, 20, and 21, a lifetime ago. The six of us worked to get our one day/week off together so we could hitchhike to places we wanted to explore. We were a lucky generation: it was relatively safe to hitchhike back then. On one of our days off we even hitched to Canada, but found no rides from Franconia Notch back to camp in the darkness, so we all bunked down in the lobby of the old tramway for the night. Our lives were full of adventure back then, but now on this tour, our adventures are delineated by not enforced, but seemingly welcome and necessary naps after lunch, at least for the majority of this group.

But back to the present, and to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Africa. This morning, in addition to a relatively unsuccessful game drive, we experienced riding in mokoros, dugout canoes poled along by our guides. Similar to riding in a canoe, except that we were sitting instead of kneeling, and had to do nothing except purely enjoy the sweet, fluid sensation of gently being propelled through the waters of the River Khwai, and observing our surroundings. What a treat! The river varied in width from large lake-like areas to seeing nothing of water at all, swishing through verdant grasses, avoiding the spiders and frogs on them, and yet our guide, Shaba, poled us along, knowing the “trails” through the water and tall grasses. The people who originally built these mokoros were a tribe called the Bayei. Since the Okavango Delta is mostly waterways, mokoros were their means of transport–and still are today, although jeeps have been introduced to expand tourism, Botswana’s second largest trade after mining.

The Batswana are very environmentally aware. Not only is killing any wildlife disallowed, but this country is green, literally and in the modern sense of the word figuratively as well. Our camp is solar powered; recycling is practiced (not only by nature but also by the people), and they appreciate the gifts they know Botswana has been given. In the middle of a small lake on the river, our guide asked us to sit quietly for a minute, to listen and experience all that was around us. What followed was a moment of magic, of meditation, of gratitude. I do not want this journey to end.