The Okavango Delta in Botswana. Picture: iStock
There is a scene in the Vietnam war movie, Apocalypse Now, where a riverboat crewman who doubles as his comrades’ “chef” gets off the vessel to search for fresh herbs in the jungle.
He nearly gets his head taken off by a tiger and later, badly shaken, utters the words: “Never get out of the boat, man, never get out of the f—ing boat!”
Some people say I had a misspent youth and for a significant part of it I lived on the banks of the Kavango River in northern Namibia, about 20km from the Botswana border.
My mates and I didn’t need much coaxing to construct a couple of canoes and paddle downstream into the Okavango Delta for a spot of R&R between military operations. After a few days, we’d sink the canoes (rather than paddle upstream) and walk back to base through the bush.
The Okavango Delta in Botswana. Picture: Jim Freeman
The best part of these adventures was the fishing. Tigerfish put up a great fight despite being so bony as to be almost inedible but there are few better tasting fish than the freshwater bream that teem in the Kavango/Okavango.
Fast forward three decades or so and I found myself headed into the delta for the first time having showed my passport to get into Botswana.
It was just after a fairly healthy rainy season and the river and its tributaries were flowing quite strongly. Wildlife and birds abounded on the banks and in the trees.
We were – with some exceptions – a fairly genteel group of about a dozen men and women, most of us travel and lifestyle journalists, who were experiencing Botswana in tented luxury courtesy of Sun Destinations.
Perhaps it is because journalism is driven by deadlines that those who practise the profession are extremely competitive by nature. Forcing a group of hacks to share experiences (with very little chance of stories being appreciably different) for the best part of a week can therefore be a PR practitioner’s worst nightmare.
It’s like trying to herd cats and the fact that the group is in a game-viewing vehicle or on a boat of about the same size for much of the day doesn’t exactly lighten the mood.
We’d spent the best part of a very hot and boring day in Moremi game reserve before alighting from the Landcruisers at Mboma boat station for transfer to the camp at Xobega Island.
The Okavango soon began to work its magic on our frayed tempers and it wasn’t long before we were trailing our fingers in the cool waters and oohing and aahing at the elephants standing up to their quarters in the shallows and reeds.
At one stop, Em Gatland (the wildlife photographer who had been commissioned by our hosts to document the event) told us of her fruitless month-long quest to find and photograph the ultra-elusive painted reed frog.
A painted reed frog. Picture: Jim Freeman
“You mean one of these?” asked Marie Claire deputy editor Lynette Botha, indicating a tiny amphibian clinging to a stalk not 20cm from her side.
And there and then, everything was okay. The boat rocked with our laughter and very, very soon the pressgang was on its way to becoming a familial group in a way I’ve never experienced in 40 years of journalism. We even – shock! horror! – started liking one another.
Of course, it helped no end that there was plenty of booze awaiting us at Xobega. Not enough, though. It ran out on the second day and the marketing manager of Sun Destinations had to go by boat and then road back to Maun to buy more.
Poor Em Gatland – every one of us got a picture of a painted reed frog.
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