The African Wonderland that is the Okavango Delta perfectly encapsulates what the enchantment of Africa is all about.
While travelling from Maun, also known as the Tourism Capital of Botswana, to Xabaxaba Island in the Okavango Delta, I felt like Alice travelling down a rabbit hole and, ultimately, emerging in Wonderland – Africa’s Wonderland. I quickly realised that I was experiencing one of the most magical journeys of my life. This certainly was not going to be any ordinary holiday.
After travelling via the Thamalakane River to Xabaxaba Island, my and my co-traveller’s refuge for two nights, we arrived on the island where I experienced the true sense of a mobile safari for the very first time. Completely isolated, we were now somewhere amid the Okavango Delta, at the mercy of our leader and guide who knows the area like the back of his hand (luckily for us!).
We realised that his warnings to not wander out of sight were not in jest when an elephant made an appearance and decided to play about 30 m from where we were having lunch – it was fantastic and a tad terrifying at the same time. However, after the first 24 hours, I got used to wildlife all around me, and I realised that Botswana truly is a peaceful and wondrous destination.
Day two on the island and we were off on the Mokoros (a type of canoe most commonly used in the Okavango Delta, quite like an African version of a Gondola) to a nearby island for a safari walk. With tales of lion encounters freshly planted in our heads by the ever-so-calm guide, I was a bit wary, yet I took on the day with optimism and enthusiasm. But, even before the walk started, I was astounded at the peaceful feeling of serenity while on the Mokoro. This gave me a whole different viewpoint of the Delta (literally), and it was like I became part of nature – gliding over the calm waters amid the long grass of the land, one or two hippos groaning here and there, elephants grazing afar, crocodiles quickly jumping back in the water once they noticed us, birds chirping from the trees, and I even spotted the most colourful spiders and butterflies living in this wonderland called the Okavango Delta.
The morning after a lovely dinner under the night sky sporting endless stars, we were off to the small air strip to be transported back to Maun. The views seen from flying over the Okavango Delta, over this magical network of waterways, truly is one of the most inspiring sights I have ever witnessed.
Sitting around a bonfire, staring into stars scattered among the endless horizon; finding leopard footprints beside my tent; sleeping with a hippo grazing 10 m away; experiencing wildlife, unfiltered and unplugged; walking with giraffes; being transported along the streams of the Delta on a Mokoro; spotting rare species of animals; and just being immersed amid the truest form of nature – an intrepid traveller’s dream. In this small spec of time, I learnt a myriad of things not only about Botswana as a country, the people, and land – but also about myself.
By Monique Vanderlinden | Image © Julie Graham