All entries for Sunday 07 December 2008

December 07, 2008

Don't Run, Whatever You Do by Peter Allison

5 out of 5 stars

The Okavango Delta, Botswana: africa's last great pristine wetland; final sanctuary of the persecuted African Wild Dog; dry-season saviour of one of the last surviving free-ranging elephant populations (over 80,000 of them).

And africa's most expensive tourist destination.

Low-volume, high cost is the rule, interpreted as luxury camping and champagne bush picnics by the handfull of safari companies good enough to win a concession from the local people. It's not a national park. The Delta remains largley in the hands of the local communities, some of whom still live there, and many of whom work in the scattering of camps that dot the wetlands from the pan-handle in the north, through the Moremi Tongue, Dead Tree Island and Chief's Island, and down towards Maun. Amongst them are some of the best safari guides in Africa. People who have lived the entire lives in the Delta. They have an impressive knowledge of nature. Most speak several languages, African and European.

For an outsider to succeed in that game is quite impressive. For one even to survive, where unlike in other countries safaris are commonly on foot and un-armed, is slightly miraculous. And to do so with great humour and friendliness - brilliant.

Peter Allison did just that, eventually becoming manager of a luxury camp. His account of those years gives a fascinating insight into the business, its difficulties and many, many strange events. I've heard anecdotes along these lines before, sit at the bar at Nata Lodge for any length of time and you'll find them hard to escape. But Peter goes well beyond that, with humour and with a great understanding of ecology and tourism. Ultimately, this behind the scenes look might leave you feeling a little bit bemused by the safari business and its customers. The Okavango certainly is a unique place populated by some rather unusual animals. I've never quite felt comfortable there myself - far too fancy!

Here's a few photos that give an idea of what it's like...

Press the play button on the bottom right of the slide show.