*This artilce first appeared here on Journey Magazine.
Go Tsamaya Ke Go Bona
There’s a proverb in Botswana which says ‘go tsamaya ke go bona’. This loosely translates to travel is to see.As with many African expressions however, there’s a richer meaning hiding humbly below the surface. My recent travels through Botswana showed me that there are two ways of seeing. The first is simply apprehension of what’s in front of you – or your lens, but the second is way of seeing is a much deeper one. It is an invitational one, drawing you into an experience… and leaving you a participant rather than an observer. An experience that changes you and immerses you in a different world.
I’d accepted an invitation to travel to Botswana for the first time, joining TV travel host Gerrie Pretorius on one of his tours. With a single day’s notice bags were packed, camera ready, and I was sitting excitedly in a propeller plane flying over new land. Botswana has recently celebrated its golden jubilee, widely regarded as an African success story. It’s equally well known for the astounding natural beauty, with an impressive third of the country designated under national parks.
An Ancient Conversation
After landing in Maun, a short drive took us to the Delta’s edge. The Okavango Delta is an enchanting, almost otherworldly place where an ageless natural drama unfolds. The flooding of the deltais an ancient conversation between neighbouring Angola and Bostwana: rains from the Angolan highlands make a six-month, 1600km journey to Botswana, where a dramatic transformation of Botswana’s desert into water-wonderland takes place.David Attenborough speaks of it as one of ‘nature’s great events’ (I can clearly hear him speak the words, with his characteristically rich and mesmerizing timbre).
Imagine an upside-down hand. The water enters the delta in the North via the Cubango River, and then fingers off into several tributaries. These blue waterways dissect the land like veins, and navigating them is a journey of biodiversity unlike any other I’ve experienced. Our arrival was at the start of the flood season; the animals seemed as excited as we were at discovering this water paradise.
The Delta is a magical place where kingfishers danced in the morning light while semi-aquatic lechwe left trails of watery iridescence as they skittered along the shallows. All manner of intimidating creatures hide under the deceptively still blue waters. Whilst most fly into the Delta, our five-hour boat trip meant maximum wildlife exposure – in every way a photographer’s dream.
When Time Stands Still
Sitting between the Delta and Chobe, you’ll find another wildlife oasis – the Khwai Development Trust. This one of several reserves run by local communities, and would be our home for the following three days. The camp is surrounded by a forest of dead trees, killed decades ago by flood and foraging elephants. This plantation graveyard may give the impression that the area was uninhabited; I soon discovered this was not the case.
Disembarking from the game vehicle, I couldn’t have strolled more than a few meters before stopping in my tracks, spellbound at the elephant walking around the camp…a stone’s throw from the outdoor shower. I promptly informed the guide, who simply smiled and wished me a pleasant shower.
G&T in hand, we were about to take in the surrounds on a game drive. A nearby leopard sighting was called in and we were suddenly off with a jolt. After bounding through the bush we eventually stopped and the roaring engine gave way to a surprising silence. Sometimes it’s only in the wilderness that you realize how loud silence can be. Within a few minutes, out of the thicket, sauntered a beautiful three-year-old female leopard. Our guide recognized her as the daughter of Mama Gotho, the matriarch of the area.
We followed her for almost 30-minutes as she explored her environs, until she sat framed perfectly by surrounding trunks, and holding me transfixed with her alluring gaze. She then, as part of marking her territory, proceeded to roar – an event I never thought I’d experience mere meters away. I’m sure the clock hands were merrily ticking on but, as I sat spellbound through the encounter time stood still. For the following hour, I could hardly speak –nor even look at the pictures I’d shot, mesmerized by the intimate experience that had been gifted to us.
The Sentries of Chobe
The well-known Chobe would be the final camping spot in our 10-day sojourn through Botswana. It’s another wildlife spectacle with elephants at every turn. In fact one of the startling realities of Botswana is the absence of fences. Often because of cost or time constraints, wilderness journeys are confined to only a few days, and in smaller reserves closer to home. As a result the feeling of being fenced in can be inescapable.
In Botswana the animals decide for themselves where to make home, and are free to roam into the neighbouring countries at will. Their freedom is somehow contagious and adds to the sense of open wildness that pervades the land. Every person deserves to feel this –at least once in their life. The unspoiled landscape does wonders for the soul, and leaves a person changed.
Time at Chobe will also include many encounters with some rather unique sentries: the majestic baobabs. These ancient trees would surely have countless chronicles to recount, as many have witnessed thousands of years of natural drama unfold around them. Their scarred trunks reveal the marks of time and creature, looking like they’ve been coated with layers of molten lava. If creature and tree could speak, I’d be the first to sit at the boababs’ feet.
A Thousand Worlds
John Keats said rather aptly “I feel more and more every day, as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live in this world alone but in 1000 worlds”. A trip through Botswana feels as if you’ve been initiated into several of these new worlds. As my flight home touched down on familiar ground I felt the weighty privilege of being able to capture it both in image, and heart.
As I take my first pass through my images, memories flood back. The fluorescent flashes of the lilac-breasted rollers in the reeds. Sparks from the campfire flirting with the cold evening air. The nocturnal soundtrack of hyena, lion and leopard punctuating my sleep. And most poignantly, having accepted the gentle invitation from spectator to participant. To travel is to see. Yes, take your camera, but also be prepared to see as never before.
Alwyn Myburg (Local Guide), Gerrie, Jared
* I was privileged to be the guest of Gerrie Pretorius on one of his outstanding Botswanan tours. Find out more about his tours, which take guests all over the world, online here.