The Okavango Delta is burning
The fire is coming closer, the flames enclose us. The baboons roar, the elephants trumpet, the lions growl. The sounds are getting nearer. “We are on an island, no need to get scared” Hydro reassures me. It doesn’t sound that way though. I climb on a little pile of dirt. I can’t see the flames but I can feel the heath, the smoke makes me cough a little. Suddenly the branches start to move, steps are heard, we all look into the darkness of the night.
After seconds Ger walks out of the bushes. His red socks in his flip flops are easily recognizable. I return my glance at the fire I can’t see. The night is dark, the stars shine and except the crackling of the fire far away it is quiet. Ger is standing a bit further away and decides he can see more from where I stand. He breaks the silence and walks like a bear, his tramping feet come closer. Just a second too late I shout at him “No Ger, don’t!” but I am too late. With one step he drops with his one foot, his foot sinks into a hole. He looks at me with big scary eyes “Oh shit” he says. And shit it is. Ger made the impossible possible, he just stepped in a whole pile of human shit.
For a moment everything seems silent, even the grasshoppers and locusts seem to hold their clacks and buzzes. For a moment only, because in the next moment loud laughter escapes from my mouth. Not my mouth alone. Ger, luckily, finds it funny as well and laughs the loudest. He gets his foot out of the pile of shit and his red sock isn’t as red anymore. Together we walk back to the camp where he puts his foot immediately in the river.
A fire is burning and we sit around it, holding our sticks with meat and happily talk, laugh, make jokes, tell scary stories, be amazed by this wonderful nature. After a while we get our stuff together and we retreat to our tents. “Milene, could you please take the bread into your tent?” Dave asks me. I’m curled up in my sleeping bag, ready to sleep but soon I’m reminded why I have taken the bread inside. Mice gnaw and nibble everywhere, trying to enter the tent. The sound makes it hard to sleep. RJ and I kick and hit the tent around us but it doesn’t help, they come back after seconds. “You know what? Here you annoying beasts!” I shout while I throw my sock towards the bread. It’s quiet, very quiet. We wait, wait for them to come back but they don’t.
I open the tent, it is a beautiful morning, the fresh air welcomes me and the sun shines low. I get out of the tent and walk towards the river. On the other side of the river everything is black, here and there I see trees burning. The Okavango Delta has changed, the islands have different colours now. I walk a little bit into the river, it isn’t deep but I look at the river anxiously, afraid there might be a water snake, a crocodile maybe, or a hippo if I’m really not lucky. I take another step, the sand spreads between my toes. The water is cold.
Around me I see little islands. One is black with ashes, one still burning, the other green and full with trees and bushes, another one small with only one tree. A leafless tree, naked, alone. I hear water splashing behind me, I look around quickly. It is Hydro. “Don’t be afraid, I won’t bite, nor will I poison you”. We talk a bit about what happened last night, what is happening now and how beautiful it all looks in the rising sun. “Let’s go for a walk”.
We follow Hydro in a small group. The Okavango Delta is big, it looks magnificent. Wherever we look are small islands, a lot of water, big trees, small bushes, baboon skulls, snakeskins, strange fruits and more. One area we walk through is empty, with nothing more but grass, dry grass. The other area is full with trees, green trees which stand high and tall. We find elephant poop and soon the elephants show themselves. Carefully we walk around them, keeping the wind in the right direction. “We don’t want to scare them, nor make them angry” Hydro whispers.
Slowly we return to camp, clear up the site and get into the mokoro’s, or dugouts. We sail through the islands, sea eagles rest lonely in the top of trees, overlooking the damage the fire did to the land. Some hippo’s graze on the shore, others are sunbathing in the mud. Baboons run around, climbing trees, playing with each other, eat or just sit and watch us. We sail through this world, every island seems to be another television channel, another page of an amazing book. I slide through them, watch them like moving photographs, trying to put this view in my memory for ever, not wanting to forget this unprecedented beauty, this magnificent place. Okavango Delta I whisper.