The sun rises and falls in a rhythm so much more present and tangible than we are used to, no curtains shield from a bright dawn and camp lighting is so feeble in banishing darker corners. And so it goes, our temporary reinvention to our less modernised selves sees us up at 5:30am in accordance with our new found affinity with the world around us. On the flat plains of this land the sun turns the distant horizon into a halo rather than a sunrise, the night chased away so gently. So far is the view that the procession of the sun forms long before the main event crests the sky to blaze the morning into a new day on a canvas bigger than seems possible.
We’re on a game drive but with the recent rain we’re lone souls greeting this grand morning, the animals scattered far and wide. We retain that little ball of anticipation we can’t let go of, the desire to see predators among these vast fields of prey. With a wrestle we turn our attention to the wonders that are just being in this part of the world, this tapestry of imagery no longer hanging on the animals alone. Our eyes are widened to the world around us on the flight of released expectation.
We’re taking the first day in one spot for this adventure into the parks and finally adopting the natural cycle of daytime rest. Tea, sleep and relaxation seem less guilt ridden in this world so unshielded from the elements around us. On the downward swing of this routine we call a day we’re off for a look into the Okavango delta, a natural phenomenon so rare in the world yet it makes up the view from our campsite. The Okavango is part of the fourth largest river system in Africa an immense body of water that so remarkably never reaches the sea, it never even gets close. The famed Kalahari desert sands drink up the entire flow of this immense river system as it subsides into the earth, natures greatest vanishing trick. What is left is a vast sprawl of marshland, swamps and river outlets that create one of the worlds premier wildlife sanctuaries.
Not content with viewing the delta from shore, we board a boat with Alex and Amy, two Canadian travellers we are sharing a campsite with to dash through the reeds to more open waters far beyond regular human accessibility. And dash through the reeds we do, on the flat based boat we whip through a tight informal channel of reeds edging further and further from land and safety, this is croc and hippo country and we’re very much out of our depth. Of course the rains come in, we’ve been looking at the lightning over the delta on this trip and now we’re into it, this land of abundant water from afar that sinks into the earth flushed with water from above also, water water water. Hippos, elephants and water lilies make up our romantic new world, the still water a looking glass into the heavens above.
At the furthest reach of our journey so far from land we are as far into the rhythm of this world as we can be; time, date and all other markers we usually use seem so irrelevant. Irrelevant until the boat breaks down that is. We’re stranded in hippo land and the radio back to the campsite is drawing nothing but the crackly static sound of radio desperation. It’s a short time really but the relief is palpable, ‘third bridge, third bridge’ comes the reply. Alex our driver beams his big smile, we won’t be hippo bait sleeping out here tonight.
Salvation arrives later than we should be out here, hippos become active after sunset and the first glows of this mornings opposing face begin to grace our world. We need to rush back but the chance stranding delivers us a killer of a sunset, the mirror into the heavens that is our world panning out a blazing fire of grace and beauty as we whistle home to safety. Like a fire the skies start slowly but in no time the raging embers engulf us burning the heavens and setting the water to the torch also. And on we flee from the ever burning world of water we find ourselves in, the tight channel through the reeds more reminiscent of a James Bond chase scene as we race to safety against the shadows of a quelled fire. Whipped by reeds this sombre romantic journey has turned into an adventure into Dantes Inferno, purgatory chasing us so close behind. We arrive, we’re in the car and no longer hippo bait, the Okavango every bit of the wonder it promised to be.
From a day opening in serenity to a day closing in adventure we roll through the cycle of life, slumber brings us back down to the passive cycle of a forgotten sun. Or so we thought, the sounds of wild Africa are never far away, literally never far away, a scuffle drawing attention just outside our tent. A fully grown elephant scratches itself on a tree just the other side of the mesh, the pulse rises and we’re not done with today yet. Just like the hippos and hyenas we know there is no immediate need for fright but four elephants that could crush us like a bug are within spitting distance. The full moon illuminates every detail as the grandest of the beasts turns and trundles towards us, directly toward our tent. We question that lack of need for concern, I don’t want the indignity of being naked when we’re found crushed.
Damocles couldn’t be more proud of our situation, we’re circled and manoeuvred around, it’s not for aggression we fear but for casual movement, a brush or bump could equally spell disaster. Damocles sword hangs for nearly half an hour but we remain intact somehow, our immediate superiors choose clemency over domination; we’re delivered to safety on the sight of an elephant bum. And so the cycle rolls, we rise we fall, we settle we enliven but so rare is it our choice. In our regular lives we dictate our world; air conditioning, lighting, temperature, the start and finish of the day but on the delta we are removed from such determination. The oft thrown away quip that control is an illusion always seems so intangible in a world we so adeptly control. How far away that seems, on the delta we don’t so much choose a philosophical relinquishing of control, it’s wrenched from us and we’re forced like water to ride with the flow or perish like the delta into the sands. The cycle is our master, we await direction in this new world.