Story by Nathan Hindman
Photos by Tyler Wirken
As we approached the edge of the Okavango Delta, the foliage became noticeably more lush, and the wildlife more diverse. Within just a few dozen miles, gone were the vast grasslands of Chobe National Park, and in it’s place, dense trees and lush grass. Watering holes became more frequent and signs of nearby streams or dried stream beds (we were here during the beginning of the dry season).
At the north gate of Moremi Game Preserve, we had to cross the creatively named North Gate Bridge. Now, calling this structure a bridge is something a loose interpretation of the word. A better name for it might have been “a bunch of old, dried out logs tied together with bailing wire and thrown across the river,” but seeing as how that is a pretty cumbersome name, I guess “bridge” will have to suffice. Evidently, these bridges, which cross the frequent streams and rivers through the delta, are designed to wash away each wet season. I suppose the logic is that there’s no sense building a permanent bridge of its just going to get washed away perennially.
Once inside the borders of Moremi, the wildlife viewing went from “amazing” to truly spectacular. At our evening campsite at North Gate, we were quickly greeted by the “locals,” a large colony of crafty vervet monkeys. While we had some experience at a few other campsites and lodges with these little kleptomaniacs, this time we were to have met our match, both in sheer numbers and intellectually. Upon our arrival, these little primates surround the campsite and essentially “staked us out.” They sat and observed what we did, where we went and more importantly where we put the food. If you turned your back on any food even for a second, you could consider it gone. This guarding of food is not too terribly challenging when you’re looking after just your plate of food however, in the case of Connie Jackson, our expedition cook fending off a colony of monkeys when you’re preparing meals for 16 people, it can be quite a handful. I couldn’t help but laugh when the next morning we returned from a game drive to find Connie guarding our breakfast with a frying pan in each hand, shaking them menacingly to ward off monkeys.
That same morning we were greeted with signs of overnight visitors. For the past few nights, we had heard lions growling in the night. This past night however they had come to investigate our presence in their territory. Surrounding the campsite were the distinct 8” diameter paw prints of a very large lion. In some instances, the tracks got as close as ten feet from where the Land Rovers were parked.
Our route took us further into Moremi Game Preserve. Since we didn’t have far to travel, once we arrived at the campsite the balance of the day was a free day. The group split off to relax and explore the park. Most chose to observe some of the many nearby watering holes. As sunset approached, those at the watering holes were rewarded as an astounding number of animals gathered en masse. One group reported seeing a herd of elephant, which appeared to number in the hundreds. Others saw lions prowling for game virtually unnoticed by passing by gazelle and impala.
The next morning was to be our last in the national park system and it ended with a bang so to speak. Everyone woke up in the morning and they were instructed to go to the watering hole near 4th bridge. There freshly cooked breakfast awaited and we ate by the side of the watering hole and watched the animals of the African bush begin their day.
Throughout breakfast, the distant growl of lions was heard and a few of the vehicles went off to investigate. Those that did were greeted with the site of a pride of lions– one male, surrounded by three females basked in the sun atop a small hill. It was there, watching these massive, majestic animals that the expression “king of the jungle” truly made sense. I could tell, just by watching that these animals that they didn’t have a care in the world and that they were master of all that they surveyed.
After the drive out of Moremi, it was time to return to something vaguely resembling civilization. Our evening destination was Maun, the nearest town to the Okavango and a jumping off point for most expeditions into the delta. The day was spent buying souveniers for loved ones back home at stores ranging from local basket weaving co-ops to classic tourist trap stores to a trip to the local Land Rover dealership for rubbernecking and memento collecting.
The next day, a transit day, we drove at breakneck pace back to Khama Rhino Sanctuary, arriving just as dusk settled over the Kalahari plain. The groups reward for making such excellent time the day before was a relaxing morning spent on a game drive, our last of the trip. This game drive however, proved to be a perfect end to the expedition. While the group was stopped at a bird hide, a fenced off area for observation of a nearby watering hole, an elusive black rhino came out of the bush for a drink of water. His timing, positioning and behavior was so perfect that it was joked that what we saw wasn’t a real rhino but a pair of game rangers dressed in a rhino suit playing a prank on us ignorant Americans. The rhino sighting, a rarity for such an endangered species, was an amazing up note on which to end an incredible trip.
After exiting Khama, we made the long trek back to Jo’burg, South Africa and our inevitable return to the “real world” awaiting us all back in the States. I think there’s something about Africa that gets in your blood, and I don’t mean the Malaria. Ever since I’ve been back, the constant thought in the back of my psyche is “When am I going to go back?” Around mid-morning I frequently find myself daydreaming and wondering what is happening at watering holes throughout the Kalahari, since the sun is just thens setting over the western horizon. I’ve returned with amazing stories and pictures for amusing my friends.