I've wanted to post this story for quite a while. I actually wrote it just over a year ago but never got around to pressing publish. I haven't particularly written about my trip to Botswana but I will be sharing more tales of my African adventure over the coming months. So as a sweet teaser of what's to come, I present a tale of Two Tribes...
“You are too late. They are gone,” grumbled our guide in deep, matter-of-fact tones, his expression blank, in contrast to our disappointment. A scattering of dusty footprints indented dry soil around us on the open plains of the Okavango Delta. Our guide, a senior man from a local village, epitomised the essence of a Motswana stereotype. Although a friendly character, he was somewhat careless in his approach, leading our sunrise bush walk at a rushed pace, blaming us for the wild animals’ absence. His wrinkled face and glazed eyes spoke many tales we wished that he’d share, each notch in his skin suggesting a hard day’s work in the fields, a struggle, a part of Botswana’s fight for change.
We carried on with heavy steps, crunching through the tinder-dry grasses, a solitary sound on deserted lands where bushfires had recently licked the ground, leaving palettes of burnt orange and ash brown. Sunlight filtered through the morning haze as we took our first gulp of water, one of many that would keep us cool in the humid, pulsing wetland.
Ambling deeper into the bush, unwilling doubts began to slither their way into our subconsciousness, a pessimistic veil over our faith in seeing the Delta’s wildlife. All of a sudden our apathetic leader drew to a halt. “Over there...” he lazily nodded towards the horizon, “...you see?” Lifting our heads, heavy now in the sun’s intense glare of light, we squinted into the distance.
A canvas of water-coloured clouds met an ornate tree skyline, silhouetting a sea of shadows. Those with the best eyesight reacted first, their expressions transformed into excited masks as they identified the vast number of darkened creatures standing before us.
Creeping ever closer, we gradually became surrounded by a herd of blue wildebeest. Brindled gnus, as they are known in their native continent, are a common sight in many African lands, but here in the Botswana bush their population has seen a rapid decline, making this an event experienced by few others.
Our nonchalant leader encouraged us to walk further, but a trickle of hesitation seeped into my mind with the realisation that little more than a hazardous plain lay between us and these wild beasts.
An eerie atmosphere swept over the great plateau. Hundreds of dishevelled manes turned in unison, their glassy black eyes casting distrust upon us. Two tribes, humans and beasts, silently stared at each other, analysing the danger that each might pose. We stood still, sharing a moment of nervous appreciation for this surreal meeting, before a light-hearted note of musical birdsong fractured the stillness.
All at once, movement began to snake its way through the herd. Motionless creatures blended into a stampede of ungainly runners, a Mexican wave of fear and threat. A moment once so intensely quiet, morphed into a thunderous roar, an army of hooves smashing into the ground. Our bodies trembled as the wildebeest, wary of our human stance, ran for safety. As quickly as they’d appeared, they were gone.