I lived daily in a tightly wound comfort zone; doing things that were strictly within my norm. But that was before my first trip to Africa. After that first trip, I found myself without any boundaries at all, with only the word yes coming out of mouth when an opportunity to stretch my limits came my way. One such opportunity came in May of 2004. I found myself with twelve days on my hands and nothing on my agenda, so I contacted Dean at African Bundu Safaris in Durban, South Africa who I had used before to book trips.
Dean suggested I go to a camp called Oddballs in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. The Okavango Delta is a beautiful oasis; a giant water hole for the thirsty wildlife of the Kalahari Desert. To get there I took two international flights then a single engine plane that landed on a dirt airstrip a short hike away from the camp. The couple running the camp introduced themselves to me then gathered the supplies the plane had brought and off we went down a dirt trail; baboons in the trees scurried as we passed.
I was shown down a sandy trail that I was told was raked before bed to better track the creatures that might came in the night. My tent was perched on a platform about four feet off the ground overlooking a channel of water filled with wildlife. There were no fences around the camp. It was completely open to any animals that cared to wander by and there is an abundance of them in the Okavango delta.
All meals at this camp were included with my fee as well as a local guide who I was told would take me out in a mokoro - a hand carved canoe - two times a day; morning and late afternoon for wildlife viewing on the river. I am deathly afraid of hippo. The river was filled with them. From the moment I arrived I heard their unmistakable grunts not far away. the next morning, I was to be in the water with them on my first mokoro ride.
That night, under a clear night sky filled with a gazillion stars, I heard lion huff their territorial call and baboons bark their sound of warning, then I was off in a deep sleep exhausted after my long journey. I was awakened by the dawn call of an African fish eagle perched high on a tree just across the river. I threw my hair in a ponytail, put on some clothes and walked down the sandy path to the kitchen for a quick cup of coffee where I met up with GB.
GB was a local man I guessed in his early sixties. He was born and raised on that land and knew it well; every tree, every bend of the river. I had no choice but to put my full trust in him. GB had no gun and no radio which I almost let bother me, but I had to let go, calm into the event and take it one minute at a time.
I was seated in the front of the canoe which sat low in the water. GB stood in the back with a long pole he used to push the bottom of the river to propel us forward. In the delta, there are deep channels which we were avoiding, instead we were traversing shallow waters thick with reeds which we quietly parted and slid through. GB explained that in the shallows he would be able to see and avoid hippo. On occasion we would have to cross the deep channel. GB would push us just to the edge of the deep water where we would sit for a while. I later learned he intentionally positioned our crossing at a sandy bottom channels to better see hippo that can stay hidden under water for up to five minutes. Once GB was sure there were no hippo, we would quickly float across to the other side, back in the shallows, then proceed.
After about an hour, he pushed our canoe up on a riverbank and told me to get out. Around us was nothing man made, just pristine land. The distinct smell of wild sage filled my nostrils. GB motioned for me to follow him; to where I did not know. We walked - me stepping quietly in his footsteps - around huge ancient trees, down animal paths and around termite mounds until GB came to a stop and pointed to some tracks in the sand. "Two lion slept here last night." He said then pointed into the distance. "They went that way." He was reading the ground like most read a book. I was amazed. Then he pointed to a giant footprint. "Big male elephant. We will find him." And we were off tracking elephant.
Yes. I was scared. I had thoughts of being attacked by the lion he mentioned or what if GB had a heart attack. How would I find the boat? I even looked at the trees and the position of the sun and tried to keep my bearings during the trek so I would be able to find the canoe myself should I need to.
We came upon wildebeest, impala, a black mamba (a deadly African snake), and finally our big male elephant grazing peacefully in a clearing. GB said, as he stared at the elephant getting a read on his temperament, "If he charges, we run that way." He pointed to a thick patch of shrub and trees to our right. I was amazed at the fact I had just tracked an elephant. I was scared of the thought he might charge. I felt peaceful and yet filled with a fear that instead of making me want to run and hide made me feel more alive than I had ever felt. Every nerve in my body was on edge and ever sense I had was in full use.
We left the elephant, me again following in my guides footsteps. GB was a man of few words when we were out in the bush, so I just kept quiet too and followed.
So much for me thinking I knew where our canoe was because suddenly it was in front of us. If it were up to me to find them, I would have taken us in a completely different direction.
I looked so forward to my daily outings with GB. He taught me so much about the Okavango; the people of Botswana and the animals which had been his neighbors all his life.
That trip that taught me to trust in another and just be along for the ride and take in all the ride has to offer. A ride completely outside of my comfort zone.