By Christine Kornylak
In October of 2004 I went on a horse safari in the Okavango Delta region of Botswana. Every year, the floodwaters from the highlands of Angola replenish this unique inland delta and create a network of twisting rivers and marshy plains surrounding islands of permanently dry ground.
I visited during the height of the dry season. As the temperature rises, only the sunburnt remnants of the vegetation remain on the islands. The yellow-baked grasses and dry trees contrast greatly with the islands’ lush surroundings. The extreme heat is the one constant.
|Our saddles were carried across the river by canoe while we swam across with the horses; game spotting from horseback is an amazing experience. |
During the nine days I was on safari, my fellow riders and I woke up around 5am. to a hot cup of tea, were mounted up shortly after 6am, and rode for around six hours until we broke for lunch. In the afternoons we usually went swimming at good waterholes (i.e. no hippos and no crocodiles!) and took naps. It was too hot by that time for much else. In the afternoon, we would always have “tea” and evenings were spent on night game watches or just hanging out by the fire.
Over the course of the trip we took several long rides around the base camp, and spent two nights each at two different fly camps. We traveled to these fly camps by horse, sometimes riding in the afternoon as well as the morning. Every day we covered a lot of ground, and each camp was located in a slightly different type of territory.
The rides were amazing. Although we would sometimes ride more than 20 miles, we never once saw another person. Except for the occasional truck track, there was not even a sign of human activity. The most extraordinary aspect of the experience was of course seeing the animals face to face, on their terms, in their natural environment. It’s amazing and humbling to realize how much more vulnerable you feel when you see an elephant from the back of a horse, instead of from the safe vantage point of a steel truck. The experience forced me to pay more attention to what the animals were saying with their behavior and body language. We all had to be much more attuned to what was happening in our environment, and that made the experience more meaningful and significant.
Some of the memorable experiences from my trip were: swimming on horseback across a river with grumpy noisy hippos nearby, seeing a leopard near its kill, watching our guide actually holding his flare at the ready (to scare lions away) as he turned to us and said “watch yourself”, galloping with herds of zebra, buffalo and giraffe, and having an elephant shake my tent in the middle of the night as he foraged for leaves that had collected on the roof.
I think my favorite animal was the elephant. They are amazing to watch especially when they’re interacting in family groups. I also loved to watch them in the water. At one point I was swimming in the river and an elephant crossed upstream, so I can actually say that I swam with elephants in Africa.
The Okavango has almost all of the animals associated with game viewing in Africa. At the same time it’s peaceful and largely free of crowds of tourists. It's simply a magical place.