The pull of Delta force
By Sal Roux
Gaborone - Everywhere I looked there was water interspersed with little island pockets of land and tracts of green and trees. When the Cessna dipped, I could see the elephants roaming across the land barely glancing up to the sky, and hippo congregating on the river banks. There was not a building in sight. This was Africa at her most glorious and expansive.
Because it was the end of the dry season, our transfer from the Pom Pom landing strip to the lodge was overland all the way, but when the delta is full, transfers include a boat trip.
At the first water crossing we had to pile everything on to the seats of the Landcruiser and lift our feet on to the backrests because of the water that swirled across the floor.
A young crocodile eyed us from the reeds as our driver opened the door to let the water out while the early afternoon sun baked down.
When we pulled into the car park the entire Xaranna team were there to greet us, singing at the top of their voices (they are worthy winners of the andBeyond Botswana choir trophy) and offered a welcome ginger and lime drink and a cool towel to wipe away the dust.
Any preconceptions about camping rough were dispelled the second we were shown our tent. The only thing tent-like was the canvas roof and walls. An enormous bed overlooked the delta and a view of water glinting through the reeds.
There was a mini lounge with a complimentary jar of rocky road that was singlehandedly responsible for an extra kilo.
On the other side of the tent were twin basins with hot and cold water, a separate loo, free-standing bath and indoor shower and, just for fun, an outdoor shower as well. On the opposite side was a very inviting sala with a round daybed and a private pool.
Unlike game lodges where you have two drives a day, Xaranna offered an array of activities that would appeal to the laziest guest or the most adventurous.
In fact, with food of that calibre some may be tempted to just stay at camp and eat all day.
We started off with a river cruise and trotted down the dock to where Ben Taolo, our ranger/guide, was plumping up the cushions in the boat and checking that the cooler box was adequately stocked.
We chugged past a hippo and her baby on to the hippo highways, narrow canals in the reeds cleared by these huge animals, while startled Squako Herons and African Jacanas rose to the sky.
As the sun sank we stopped to watch two elephants feeding from waterlilies. We then meandered into a water clearing where, Ben assured us, “the fishing was great”. He wasn’t wrong. Every throw was a fish, either a barble or a tilapia or the fighting one with fierce teeth, the river pike. They were all released as Ben splashed ice into the gin and tonics and refilled the wine.
Dinner was on the deck with lanterns lighting up the dark. The menu included a crisp roasted duck breast.
Wake-up call is just before sunrise in Africa and we fuelled up on oatmeal porridge and tea and coffee before heading out for a full morning’s game drive. As we arrived at the vehicle a wild dog shot past.
We spent half an hour watching her debate a water crossing, sniffing, testing the water depth, wandering on to the reeds searching out an easier way and then abandoning the idea and running back on to the island.
I didn’t believe the day could get any better, but we then stopped and watched a few elephants using their feet and trunks to find some roots. A huge bull broke away and walked straight up to us, his ears open wide.
Then he began to rumble gently. He stood “talking” for 10 full minutes. It was extraordinarily moving.
Before the long rains, the elephants come into the delta to find water and feed off tender aquatic plants, and throughout our five-night stay we had some wondrous encounters, the most playful being a group which were enjoying an evening swim as we boated up the river.
They splashed and dived and submerged themselves completely, using their trunks as snorkels, and gently nudging a baby afloat before wading ashore with glistening coats.
But the delta seduces with more than its herds, be it elephants or buffalo or zebra galloping past in a dust cloud. I couldn’t decide which was more special: falling asleep to the sound of hyena and hippo outside the tent or finding fresh lion tracks as we walked down the path for a dawn drive. Or perhaps it was the extraordinary bird life or the delta’s tiny creatures like the leopard frogs.
My love affair with the delta was helped along by some memorable moments. The chance to plunge into the delta and swim where animals have been and fish and birds hang out; the sight of termite mounds the size of a tiny hills; the surprise picnic lunch laid on by chef Pauline and our butler Kenney on the river banks under a spreading tree; the opportunity to hug a Baobab so vast it took five of us to reach around its mighty trunk and then to taste the fruit from its branches. Then there was the joy of walking across her islands and viewing her wildlife from foot; a bath brimming with bubbles and a private candlelit dinner on the deck next to our pool, with a genet to share our food.
It was hard to say goodbye, but the yellow helicopter that waited to take us back to Maun and give us an aerial overview of this magnificent place eased the parting somewhat.
Xaranna, you are awesome. - Sunday Tribune