CR5G3N Botswana, North West District, Okavango Delta, herd of giraffes and zebras (aerial view)
Botswana – Been There

Botswana: reading the signs of an invisible world

Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Botswana – Been There Botswana: reading the signs of an invisible world

The Okavanga Delta in Botswana is a miracle of nature, whose vast landscape of water and sand can hide entire herds of animals, and much more besides.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

“Look!” whispers Johnson, pointing. “Giraffe!” As always, the park ranger's eyes are seeing something it takes me long moments to also recognize. In the shadows of the trees, I glimpse movement before the outline of the giraffe resolves itself. Then another, and five more. How did I miss them? They gaze warily at us, slowly chewing leaves and even more slowly considering our presence. One suddenly bolts, startled by a rising bird, loping away in the rolling, slow motion gait of these over-legged antelope.

I am on an island in the Okavango Delta in Botswana but the waters are invisible in the seemingly flat landscape. A small rise, a screen of rushes or a line of trees, can hide a surprising amount. Low on the horizon, the sun is still gathering strength for what will soon be another shimmering day.

The ground underneath is sandy, with ankle-grabbing holes hidden by long, dry grass and broken up by tall termite mounds. Thorns of all shapes and sizes grab at my clothing from the shrubs and trees that dot the landscape. A giant baobab – the “upside-down tree” – thrusts its stumpy limbs into a cloudless sky. Used to the dull, grey skies of Europe, my spirit soars to see the heavens so open above me.

This is the world’s largest inland delta, a gigantic oasis of plant, fish, bird and animal life, expanding and contracting as the river’s flow varies with the seasons. It’s a miracle of nature all the greater in a desert country where rain is so important that the word for it – “Pula” – is also the name of the currency as well as a greeting.

We walk on, stopping to look at the spoor of some African wild dogs. “They came past last night,” says Johnson. “They hunt in the late afternoon or early morning.” The tracks cross those of an elephant and the textured marks left by its large pads suddenly come into focus as my eyes once again see detail in the dry dust underfoot. He breaks apart the dry elephant droppings to show me the animal was feeding on its favorite mopani leaves.

Johnson’s eyes not only spot animals I cannot see, they also see a whole other world that is invisible to me.

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