In May 2019, our Africa expert, Winnie, returned to the Okavango Delta, eight years after her last visit.
The first thing that strikes me is the smell.
It simply smells of the Okavango Delta. I recognise it from my previous visits and I immediately feel right at home. It’s the smell of wild sage. There are tall bushes of it everywhere, and the smell hits my nostrils as soon as we drive over them.
I am in Botswana and heading through the Okavango Delta’s Moremi Game Reserve to the Khwai area in the eastern part of the delta. Khwai is a so-called concession area, which means that the local residents manage the site and benefit from the revenue it generates. They also make the rules, and here in Khwai – unlike Moremi, which is state-run – this means that you can go on an evening game drive and drive a little way off road.
The landscape is incredibly varied. Some areas are characterised by giant mopane trees, which thrive in the clay soil. Some areas are almost ghostly to look at. At times, the flat areas are flooded, and the water kills the trees, which – when the water is absorbed into the ground – stand leafless with an almost silvery glow against the blue sky. We are in the Okavango Delta after all, so in some places there is also water all year round; either the water that comes from the Angolan highlands or the rain that falls during the rainy season. Where there’s water, it’s green and lush. Herons stand on one leg, and parrots and bee-eaters grace the water’s edge and almost – but only almost – steal the attention away from all the hippos.
What always impresses me most about Botswana is the feeling of wildness.
Perhaps it’s because I know some of the elephants come from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola. They have fled from civil war and poaching, and even though the civil war in Angola has long since ended, elephants have memories like, well… elephants. It will be generations before they dare return “home”. But the fact that they can just go home whenever they please – without being stopped by any fence or boundary – takes my breath away.
Maybe it’s because there aren’t many other tourists here. Botswana has a reputation for being a very expensive safari country, only accessible to the rich. This is, of course, only partly true, but it certainly contributes to the feeling of being in the real wilderness when you don’t have to share your leopard with a lot of other safari cars!
It may also be because I know that all tent camps in Botswana are constantly on the move so as not to disturb the natural animal tracks. The animals and nature decide here.
Whatever the case, in Botswana, I always have the feeling of being in a BBC nature programme – where it smells of wild sage.