Southern Africa has been one of my favourite places to travel for many years, with a complex variety of activities, climates, cultures and landscapes. It a true explorers dream! From the harsh deserts of Namibia to the beautiful archipelago of Mozambique, the touristy game parks of South Africa to the unspoilt deltas of Botswana, and even the wealthy sea front of Cape Town to the local Townships metres away, it’s a land of many beautiful and shocking contrasts.
I have been lucky enough to experience all of Southern Africa; however one trip really stood out as a collection of wandering memories not to be missed. The tour itself was with company called Acacia Travel and was essentially an overlanding truck tour going from Cape Town to Johannesburg via Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It just looked amazing and wasonly around £600 each including meals – an opportunity not to be missed.
What my partner didn’t realise was that it was 25 days camping, yes camping in the wilds of the African plains. In hindsight it was probably a bit of unfair of me to subject her to such an experience at the start of our trip around the world – but then the stories we now have from this trip are timeless.
One such story, took place upon our arrival to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. The group did what we always did, exited the truck, found good spots for us to pitch our tents and started to make camp. The campsite was enclosed within a small forest area with mud tracks and small patches of greenery, the ideal place to pitch tents. The sun was beating down, as it had for the majority of our trip thus far and we all know that Africa is dry right? Ha… Well, out of nowhere the sky darkened and what ensued was the freakiest of storms I have ever witnessed. The sky just went completely black as huge clouds emerged in what seemed like a blink of an eye, and rain started to pelt down on the dry ground. I am not sure when the last time it was it rained in this area, but the campsite floor was like rock, so, you guessed it – the muddy pathways soon turned into streams, then to rivers , then to segmented pools, and threatened to turn into the ocean!. It was amazing how quickly the earth changed into the sea, I had never seen ground so unable to soak up water.
We all took refuge in the truck as soon as the rain hit… however not before the campsite was struck with a bolt of jagged folk lightening, no further than 100 metres away from where we stood. Believe me you can’t comprehend the feeling of witnessing a bolt of folk lightening hitting the earth in front of you. It rattled all of my senses, the crackle of the electricity, the extreme flash of the bright light, the smell of the fresh burning ground, the shaking, and the taste of shock and fear. It’s actually pretty indescribable, the rush of emotions was incredible.
As the rain continued with no sign of stopping, the lightening continued crackling throughout the clouds making viewing the storm memorising. Even the truck canopy outside of the bus started to struggle with the amount of water accumulating above it. From the safety of the truck we soon noticed that the rivers were rising, and with the rise they were starting to engulf the tents. It was when one started to move and float downstream that three of us jumped out of the truck into what could only be described as a pond… grabbing the tents one at a time we salvaged what we could. It soon became apparent that running in the rain was fruitless, we were already drenched through, so Danny, Tom and I started to make the most of the experience, after all it was only water. Funny we always run from rain, but when we decided to embrace it the 3 of us had a great time splashing around like kids, watching the storm pass.
The rain did eventually cease and remarkably the rivers stopped flowing and dissipated quickly, the ground however stayed primarily hard, if not a little muddy. Some tents were too waterlogged to be saved, and since we were heading into the delta the next day, a few of us either slept on the truck or in shared more stable accommodation. The experience of this freak storm showed us that Africa’s volatility doesn’t just come from its inhabitants, but from Mother Nature herself. The power of that storm was so intense it re-sparked my imagination and made me realise how small we really were, but how important our experience was.
The next few days were priceless, with the delta providing another set of remarkable experiences never to be matched.