Miracle # 1 – Water In The Desert.
River deltas in deserts are rare on our planet. Indeed most rivers meet their end in an ocean or lake. There is no such body of water waiting for the Okavango River, just the dry sands of the Kalahari Desert. But nice things happen when you water a desert. You get an oasis. In this case an oasis about the size of Connecticut. It is the Okavango Delta, a wetland in a dry country, a green jewel that harbors teaming numbers of our most endangered large animals.
Most of the water in the delta doesn’t come from rain; it surges down from the highlands of Angola, hundreds of miles to the north, so this otherwise arid landscape gets a good once-a-year drenching. The water empties itself into the desert, flooding a little more everyday, gradually greening it. As the water fans out, grasslands gradually disappear under the flow and the delta becomes a network of islands, rivers and pools.
We visited in March, on the shoulder as they say, to take advantage of lower prices at the camps. March is the beginning of the dry season. It hasn’t rained for days and soon it won’t rain at all, but the water from the north continues to feed the flood. The landscape is scrub brush, a few trees, grass and sandy soil. It’s festooned with small ponds, shot through by narrow water ways and punctuated with islands. This time of year the temperature can reach into the 90’s F. The skies are mostly sunny and the wind feels Arizona-dry but the clear waters in the Okavango continue to rise. Oddly, the water floods highest when the weather is driest; July to September. That’s when most people visit. It’s winter then and the weather is a little cooler, the foliage less dense and the animal viewing is easy.
For sheer numbers of animals, variety and access, a Botswana safari is the ticket. The African thesaurus of animal groupings is hilarious whether you are a biologist or grammarian. You will see herds, packs, troops, prides, journeys and dazzles…of (respectively) antelope, wild dogs, baboons, lions, giraffes and zebra. It’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys. And it will stick with you like a memory of elephants. Yes, those are also the names of the groups of those animals and I was as happy as a giddy of guinea fowl to be among them….and no, a giddy is not a group of guinea fowl, I just made that up.
In the next post, miracle #2.