Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: The Okavango Delta. Botswana.
On the far bank game scattered as we thundered near,
Giant trees joined sky to water, equally clear;
We rode past tsessebes, kudus and past
Giraffes loping, geese flying, till we came at last
To a wild, lonely place where large herds were at bay;
And with joy, at full speed, we kicked up cascades of spray.
Poetry in Motion
“Water cannot flow backwards, or uphill!” noted the famous African missionary-explorer David Livingstone when he reached the enigmatic Okavango Delta in 1851 in the company of hunter-explorer Charles Andersson. Livingstone had left his wife and children on the disease-ridden shores of Lake Ngami in order to go exploring, where they contracted various tropical maladies and succumbed one by one. But that is another story…
In truth Livingstone was a complete failure as a missionary, but a great explorer who was loved, even worshipped, by the Africans with whom he came into contact. On the other hand he was an obsessively driven expedition leader who was frequently despised by his fellow explorers. He would deny them such expedition staples as jam, tea, sugar and alcohol (he was a teetotaler) and accuse them of many and varied wrongdoings (mostly unjustly). But he was right about water flow, at least partly. Ever since Archimedes invented the water screw and the Romans built their aqueducts, people have known that open water can flow in only one direction and that is downhill.
However, when he reached the Okavango, the world’s largest inland delta which reaches some 15,000 square kilometres at full flood, he noted how the waterways seemed to flow one way one season and another the next. Channels would flow strongly, stop, and sometimes even reverse direction. The system seemed to defy all human logic. It had perplexed the local tribesmen forever and everyone else for the following 150 years.
Have a look at our video below:
We stayed at Macatoo Camp while photographing and researching this chapter.
Welcoming Nature at the Tent Door
When the hotel association of Botswana insisted Macatoo Camp have satellite television installed, they were politely, if metaphorically, shown the door. Prices for horseback safaris are understandably stiff, and the clients well heeled (in jodhpurs and riding boots), but that does not mean they need to be pandered to in terms of providing urban comforts in the wilderness.
Macatoo Camp is comfortable in the modern safari idiom: the canvas safari tents are en suite and are set on timber decks, but with little in the way of dainty décor touches. It is a working camp, a no-nonsense place where the riding, the game, the serenity and the deep sense of place, are accentuated by not overlaying the experience with haute cuisine and Persian rugs. The leather couches do lend an appropriate ambiance in the mess tent though, which is an ideal chill-out spot and rather well placed should elephants decide to walk through the camp.
Even as you sink into a soft sofa or easy chair with an ice-cold drink, it is still all about the Okavango. Meals are light and wholesome, rather than overbearing, and are taken alfresco under the ebony trees and the fire remains the hearth of this camp. Owner John Sobey has got things just right and it is a supreme pleasure to experience Africa in a place that is not trying to guild its every lily. Not least because Macatoo style is becoming the exception.