My story picks up after an unbelievable trip from a frigid -30C in Alberta, Canada to a balmy +30C at the iconic Victoria Falls. You can find it here: Snow to Sun: A long journey to the heart of Africa
We say goodbye to the Zambian people and gear up to head deep into Botswana. Starting our adventure with a river cruise through Chobe National Park, we see astounding numbers of animals in the area including the cape buffalo and gigantic hippos. They seem clumsy and slow on land, but cruise gracefully in the water. At one point we even notice the small wake and bubbles appearing from just below the surface: a telltale sign we’re being pursued by one of these dangerous animals. I bounce barefooted between the rails on our boat trying to take in as much as I can, drifting along as the sun sets.
We then took a trip into the Okavango Delta. The scale and magnificence of this delta secured its spot as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Africa. Its water provides for large populations of both people and a diverse array of wildlife. Climbing into traditional dugout canoes, mokoros, we create a convoy of supplies, food and even one seasick Kiwi, all being steered true by our guides, the polers. After a brief tale of how people travelling through the tall weeds of the delta are routinely attacked by spiders, crocodiles and even the ornery hippo, we’re quickly assured that, “Everything will be fine! But the water is quite shallow in case you need to escape.”
All innuendos of danger aside, we enjoyed the paddle chatting away with our guides about local customs and culture. They showed us local fauna, edible insects and tried to explain the importance of the delta to the Botswana people. We spent our night listening to local legends at meals, learning dances around the fire (after huge amounts of cask wine) and falling asleep to the sounds of elephants moving off in the distance.
Far from the waters of the delta we spend the next short while exploring the Kalahari Desert. Enter the San Bushmen. These people have survived in these parts since ancient times as hunter-gatherers. A nomadic people, we were exposed to them on several instances. Taking part in a cultural performance we learned about their history and how they struggled with imposing development and modern culture on their ancestral lands – being persecuted and pushed out for mining and farming development. Groups of these admirable people live as close to their previous nomadic lifestyle as possible: holding tours and performances to keep their way of life alive.
At a small camp ground deep in the desert we met one man who insisted on taking us out to teach us survival techniques. This man had completed an ancestral pilgrimage in the 1990s, which consisted of running 100kms through the desert along the dry Tsauchab riverbed surviving on hunting and foraging desert animals and drinking from water buried in ostrich eggs. Showing us some of these tricks, he easily pointed out spider and insect nets and even snapped up a lizard running along as a little snack.
This leg of our journey ends in Windhoek, Namibia. We spend a day enjoying commodities like pour over coffee and fried chicken and resupply our cask wine, getting ready to go to the Etosha Salt Pan and our search for lions. Turns out we get more than we bargained for!
Written by Stephen Underhay. Photos also by Stephen.