16 December 2015

Finding Inner Peace

What does peace mean to you, and where do you find it?

Is it lying in a hot bath with a good book and a glass of wine, or doing yoga? Losing yourself in your favourite music, or going for a walk in a park. Climbing a mountain, going to the beach, or perhaps taking a drive. Or is it the wind in your hair as you explore tar and gravel on a motorbike?

For me, I am at peace when I am in the air. It doesn’t matter what I’m flying; all that’s important is that I am flying. The problems of the world just disappear as soon as the wheels leave the ground. It’s invigorating.

But today I found a different kind of peace. It was a sense of peace with the world, a sort of serenity, beauty, and complete relaxation. I didn’t have to be in the air to find this peace, no, I found it whilst in a mokoro, navigating one of the many thousands of water ways of the Okavango Delta.
Upon arriving at Nxabega Tented Camp for a night stop, I asked if there was any space on the game drive. There wasn’t, but they did have room on a mokoro. I had never been on a mokoro before, so this was going to be great! I imagined it would be similar to the boat, but it was so much better.

In the year that I have been living and working in Botswana, I have had the opportunity to go on a few game drives, and a couple of boat trips. Every now and then, it’s a welcoming experience to go on the boat – as opposed to on a game drive – as it gives you a different perspective of nature; it’s quieter for one, and you get to see all sorts of little bugs and critters and birdlife that lives in or near the water, that you wouldn’t be able to see from a vehicle.

A Pied Kingfisher hovers above the water, hunting for its next snack

Going on a mokoro just adds a whole new dimension to that. It’s SO quiet; there’s no engine noise, you can barely hear the water lapping against the hull. It’s just you and nature. And even though we didn’t say any big game, we saw so much more than what you would on a game drive.
Like, fish darting beneath the water (and coming to an abrupt halt as the went head-first into a clump of reeds), insects balancing on spindly legs as they make their way from lily pad to lily pad, having dragon flies follow us, almost as if in formation with the mokoro. Seeing the clouds reflected in the water. It’s truly phenomenal, and relaxing.  Even the thought of knowing that if there is a hippo nearby  it could easily tip us over wasn’t enough to destroy the peace.
I was happy to sit back, relax, and take it all in, so much so that I almost dozed off a few times.

When you’re in a tiny floating vessel, looking up at this great big blue sky, it makes you feel so small and insignificant, and you realise that there is this whole huge world out there, just waiting to be explored. But we’re so caught up in our urban lives where it’s a cycle of working and sleeping, and focusing on technology and social media, and running around trying to earn enough to put food on the table, while staying up to date with the latest gossip and political drama.

But is that really living? There’s no beauty in that. We are so caught up in this routine that we forget to stop and look around us, and see what we have. See what we’re missing.

On the drive back to camp from the mokoro station, we stopped in a clearing. The sun had just about set and the horizon was only just visible in the distance. The guide switched off the engine and lights, and said “We are going to listen.”
For a nanosecond there was complete silence. And then all of a sudden there was a cacophony of noise, like being at a rock concert, deafening, but different. Nature was all around us, and our ears were assaulted. Crickets chirped from every direction, frogs croaked at one another, bats squeaked and the whizzed across the air like ghosts. It felt as if the entire earth, the entire universe, was bearing down on us. And it was almost overwhelming- the sounds of nature, raw, untouched wilderness. That is beauty, and freedom, and serenity.

Being able to experience just a minute of that is living. That is what I love so much about being able to live and work in a place where I am afforded the opportunity to experience the simple things in life.

13 October 2015

Snake on a Plane

It's one thing clearing animals from runways before landing, or loading clients with elephant trundling throw the bushes in the background.
But it's quite another when a snake decides to make your plane it's new hiding spot.

I landed at Piajio airstrip and went to offload bags and freight from the Airvan pod. When I opened the pod door I felt something against my leg, and before I knew it a snake had seemingly leapt into the pod. Thank goodness I was at the Caracal Biodiversity Centre in Kasane recently, where I had the opportunity to handle snakes of various shapes and sizes, otherwise I probably would have freaked out.

We determined it was most likely a sand snake, but I still removed the bags with care in case it decided to strike (nevermind the fact that it was this tiny little thing, you can never be too careful). When I had all the bags out, we coaxed it out with two sticks, where it promptly tried to get back IN the pod.

Quite little guy, it's an Psammophis subtaeniatus... don't worry I can't pronounce that either.

Also known as the Western Stripe-Bellied Sand Snake.

22 June 2015

Shinde - Hyena and Leopard

On the morning of 29 April, I was fortunate enough to go on a morning game drive. This doesn't happen often, as we normally take-off from camp around 10:30, which means we're at the strip an hour before, and we can't go on the morning game drives as they generally only get back to camp around 11:00.

But for once, I had an afternoon departure, and I grabbed the opportunity to go on a game drive before "work" with both hands.

Wake-up call with some piping-hot coffee:

A cool, misty morning promises a great day!

Our first stop was a hippo kill not too far from the camp:


A hyena gets tired of the vultures and comes over to inspect our vehicle

What do you do, when there's a hyena right outside your door... block your nose, because they STINK!

Vultures tucking in

Hyena getting annoyed with the vultures

Face-off: Hyena vs Vulture

On the way back to the camp, we were told by another guide that there was a leopard in the area. Following the sounds of bird alarm calls, our guide managed to find her...

Relaxing in the shade. It wasn't long before she set off in search of a tree...

Typical cat, having a scratch along the way...

Hmmm, maybe this will make a good tree to nap in?

Nah! Too much climbing required!

Ah-ha! This is much better!

I shall sit... HERE!

No, wait, I will sit HERE!

Aaaaaaahhhh, that's better!

Time for a bath...



Oh, wait! People are watching...

... I better look civilised...

Ah, screw it! I'm going to sleep!

29 May 2015

Lions and Equines

Friday, 20 April 2015

Today was one of those early ones. I was up at 0515 and at work by 0615. For a 0800 take-off – a freight run to Nxabega. They always tend to bring the freight while you’re in the middle of your pre-flight, so I like to get there extra early to make sure I get all of my things done undisturbed.
At the last minute, one of the guys from the office asked if he could come with on the flight so that he could see how far the water was.

It’s quite amazing to see rivers flowing where, just last month, there were only dry riverbeds. While we didn’t get a lot of rain this season, the water from Angola has transformed the Delta. I’ve spent over 300hrs looking at the Okavango Delta, and it still takes me breath away every time I see it.

After touching down at Nxabega I looked to the right and saw a game vehicle. Curious as to why they were there, I slowed down as I rolled past them, and saw that they were looking at two huge male lions lying in the grass about 10m from the runway.

After shutting the aircraft down, I left the offloading of freight to my “loadmaster” and one of the camp staff, and asked the other staff member to drive me over to where the lions were.  I had never seen a fully grown male lion before. Typical cats, shortly after we got there, the one flopped over and fell asleep. The other one, a couple of metres away, was a bit more alert, so we drove closer to him. I was quite surprised to find myself not 2m from him (I wasn’t expecting the guy to drive so close).  So there I was, looking at this lion, and he was looking right back at me.

I read somewhere that when a lion looks at you, it can see into your soul. That is how I felt. I was mesmerized. This massive creature could easily leap up and take a swipe at me. But he didn’t. He got up in a bit of a huff, wandered over to another spot of shade, and settled down. It was a humbling experience.

That afternoon I tied my aircraft down in Motswiri, finally done with a long day of flying (11 stops, and just under 5hrs of flying). RAW Motswiri offers walking and riding safari’s, along with the usual game drives, and when the Selinda Spillway is flowing, boat trips. A very friendly, relaxed, and slightly more rustic camp.

The last time I stayed there, the spillway was as dry as a bone. But now it is flowing freely, completely transforming the area. This meant the guests could go on a boat trip instead of an evening game drive, and lucky for me, there was an open seat!

We chugged along the river, and while there wasn’t a lot of game to be seen, we were treated to an amazing sunset, with drinks and snacks laid out at the bow of the boat. Game drives are always good and fun, but the boat just adds a new perspective, and is so much more peaceful and serene.
Female kudu in the foreground, with a male in the background

 -- I find myself reflecting on life a lot lately --

That evening we had a braai and gazed at the stars. I was asleep by 2230, only to be woken up an hour later by the calls of lion. My first time hearing them (I normally sleep through everything), I listened for a while before rolling over and passing out with a grin on my face. They woke me up again around 0100.
A fish eagle takes flight

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Normally I like to sleep in on night-stops, but today I was at breakfast by 0630. A hot cup of coffee in hand, we sat around the fire and ate porridge. Such a simple affair, it felt perfect. The guests were going to go on a riding safari, and I walked with them to the stables to see the horses.

I’m not really a horse-y person, so I was a bit unsure about walking amongst a stable full of horses. But after about 20 minutes of walking around and greeting all of the horses, I relaxed and felt comfortable that I could judge their mood, and took a liking to two of them; the aptly-named “Amigo”, who was very patient. And Blitz, who decided to try and eat my jacket, but only succeeded in gobbing all over it.

I could have spent all day with them. The sounds they make, looking into their big brown eyes, feeling their muscles quiver as you rub their neck or shoulder, it’s calming. I think every day should begin with spending time with an animal.

One of the stable hands eventually managed to tear me away with the promise of finding some lion tracks. And there they were, not much more than 30m from the stable. Spectacular.

With the guests out and the staff busying themselves with setting up brunch, I had the lounge to myself. Hornbills calling, and starlings were flitting around, a cool breeze came off of the river, a mug of coffee in one hand, pen in the other. Today will be a good day...

And it was. Good flying, finished off with a scenic flight for 6 Australians. There were a lot of zebra grazing alongside wildebeest on the floodplains, and the Gomoti River was teeming was lechwe and waterbuck. As we turned back to Maun, I just happened to look down and spot a lion. Some of the guests snapped some decent photos. What a great way to end the day!

Kings Pool

Kings Pool
Linyanti, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Wilderness Safaris

I have stayed in two Wilderness camps so far; Vumbura North, and Kings Pool. At Vumbura I stayed in the pilot room, but at Kings Pool I was fortunate enough to stay in a guest room, and I was blown away. But my favourite thing about the camp wasn’t the room (which is kitted out with a massive shower, small pool, and outside bed), but the hide...

View of the camp from the hide

A crocodile silently slips into the water and makes its way across to the opposite bank, barely causing a ripple.
Birds sing their tune and lizards rustle in the reeds. 
Clouds and blue skies are reflected in the still water.

The peace is broken by hippos waking up on the far side of the river, their call, somewhat reminiscent of a laugh, carrying over the water. I can't see them from the hide, but I can hear them surfacing and spraying water everywhere.

Cumulonimbus clouds build in the distance towards Kasane. Great fluffy towers of cloud rising into a crisp blue sky.
Fish eagles call from nearby trees, and insects dance on the water.
With the slow descent of the setting of the sun comes cooler temperatures, and animals of all shapes and sizes start to wake.

And here I sit, in a hide about 200m from the main camp, sipping on coffee, camera beside me, taking it all in. And I wonder what I did to deserve the opportunity to gaze upon this phenomenal world, and witness nature at its best.

Later that evening I lay on my outside bed and watched the hippos. It was the closest I have ever been to hippo, and I lost track of time as I watched them in the water, sinking down and bobbing up for air, running along the riverbed, and interacting with one another.

Here I am, where I'm supposed to be.