16th May 2017, Day 3, Camp Phiri
Our coffee and toast is serenaded by the cracking branches and rumbling vocalisations of a herd of elephants as they move around the outskirts of camp. They pause to feed in the thicket to our south and this is encouragement enough for us to drop breakfast and head off with Kane.
Again we move off towards a large pan in our vicinity, and in the general direction in which these pachyderms are heading, in the hopes of beating them there. Kane and Joseph, our tracker, lead us straight to the pan where we sit in a covered position downwind of the water and of the side from which we expect their almighty arrival. Kettle-whistle cicadas, chuckling turtle doves and the giggle of a panicked squirrel, in the branches above us, envelop our vigil with sound. The elephants don’t show.
They must have swung south west away from their bearing, perhaps they caught our smell or heard our clatter and decided that there were plenty more pans to choose from. I can see that Kane is disappointed, it’s particularly challenging this time of year as there is so much water retained in the pans and he had hopes for a magical sighting. He explains that as the pans dry out, the game condenses at the channel and the wildlife becomes a lot easier to locate. That said, the channel waters will also drop, the paddling becomes much harder and most of what we have covered in the canoes will be unpassable unless traversed on foot. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.
Our afternoon walk is a highlight indeed. Kane and the team arrive to collect us dressed in the traditional leather loincloth and Steenbok skull head decorations of the Bukakwe River San. The effect is remarkable and they wear it with such comfort and confidence that their carefully pressed safari shirts from this morning suddenly seem so false and cumbersome.
Everything is different about this walk, the briefing is a cultural education in itself and we begin as all Bukakwe journeys are begun, with a moment of thought towards our ancestors and a request for their protection. Kane’s explanation of the ceremony is as personal as it is succinct and I’m not alone in being moved and humbled as we are asked to think of our own ancestors and loved ones that have passed away. With their faces and voices fixed in our heads we walk out individually and then kneel to receive a blessing and a mark of protection on our foreheads.
The distance we cover is short, Kane and the guys are literally bubbling with fascinating things for us to feel, smell, see, taste and imagine. We collect honey from a tree trunk, assemble an impressive antelope trap and finish to together by making fire with the friction of a peel bark tree and brandy bush.
At the fire Kane’s stories blend into an explanation as to why he has chosen to lead the Selinda Adventure Trail. Why he dropped the twice daily game drives and gave up the high end lodges. He speaks about the damage from vehicles and the off road driving. He explains how he feels about having “so&so on the back of my vehicle dictating what we should do”, and he does this as he does everything else, with the poignant honesty and heartfelt care of someone born just a short walk (for a bushman) from the camp. This is a man that bears witness to and is living proof of all the benefits of Botswana’s wildlife tourism. But also one who is acutely aware of its’ impact. He is refreshingly brave in delivering this to us, particularly as we are a mixed bag of guides, safari agents and guests. Jana and I love him for doing so.
The sun sets and darkness is fast upon us. We have a short, torch-less walk through the bush and back to camp. All our senses are on high alert, straining to build a faint picture of what’s around us and the feeling of vulnerability coupled with a tense excitement is an extraordinary end to our day.
17th May 2017, Day Four, Camp Ndlovu
Today our journey takes us to our third and final camp. We paddle out at 06h30, the cool air has brought with it a thin layer of mist that sits some thirty centimetres above the water, perfectly calm and beautifully illuminated by a golden early morning light.
Quickly the woodland gives way to a more open flood land, punctuated by termite mound islands and sparse, gnarled Leadwood trees. Here we find a group of tall, stately Roan Antelope and come across numerous russet Red Lechwe feeding amongst the banks. Inspired by the sightings we pull over to explore the islands on foot and wade through the channels in between. It is this simple spontaneity and the adaptive nature of Kane and his team that make this adventure so pleasurable.
We arrive at a stunning camp for a late lunch and it is my favourite spot of the three brilliant camp sites. Our tents are nestled beneath the large trees that border the channel’s reedy edge offering a dappled shade for a nap in the heat of the afternoon. Kane has arranged to pick up a vehicle and take us on an evening drive in search of the local cats. I am unwilling to sit behind a diesel engine again just yet and opt instead to hang out in camp and take an exploratory walk in our immediate surroundings.
The whole trail team join us at the fire this evening and there is a charming atmosphere throughout another delicious meal.
18th May 2017, Day Five, Departure
Our final morning and it is overflowing with elephants! They have been few and far between throughout the trail and true to form they now show up out of nowhere in droves.
We say a fond farewell to Kane and his team as well as our fellow adventurers and then drive off to meet the next step of our adventure. We are heading off to an extremely posh lodge and much as I’m looking forward to all those bells and whistles (we are certainly not averse to being pampered), we are really going to miss the simple, immersive pleasure of this life on the trail.
The Selinda Adventure Trail runs from April through to September and we would highly recommend a departure in mid to late June.
The trail head is reached by a short helicopter flight from Selinda Airstrip in North Eastern Okavango Delta and is easily combined with fabulous locations throughout Botswana.
We would recommend The Selinda Adventure Trail for couples, groups and families (maximum of eight guests) with a strong desire for an adventurous, authentic safari experience out of the vehicle. You need a good level of fitness and a willingness to leave the comfort zone for a few days. It may be more than a little challenging for those that are terrified of spiders.