So what constitutes your average day at Jao? Well, it varies. Breakfast at 06h00 would be upstairs at the main lodge. While you nibble on a croissant and look out over the channel just ahead of the lodge, you may find a lechwe timidly jumping across the channel. And after seeing lion cubs suckle on their mother near First Bridge on your morning game drive, you head back to the lodge for lunch.
The guide might then take a different route back and as he rounds a corner ahead of you stands a full buffet lunch with a dining table under the shade of a large sycamore fig. Back at the lodge, we let you relax after the morning excitement and you can head back to your room for a siesta. You can spread yourself out over the full length of the outside sala bed in the shade of a cooling thatch roof for your forty winks. Or if you prefer, you can read the novel you found in the Jao library while lying on your bed.
Once you’ve rested your weary soul, you head up to the main lodge for high tea, which this afternoon has been set up around the pool in the cool of the umbrellas. After your third piece of home-made fudge, your guide invites you back to the game-viewing vehicle. But this time, after driving for just three minutes he offers his hand, helping you onto a boat nestled amongst the reeds. In you go, and once settled under the protective canvas roof and you set off, winding through the snaking channels of the Delta. African jacanas dodge out of the way, coppery-tailed coucals dive into the thick of a bush, blue-cheeked bee-eaters sail above you head, and as the guide slows the boat to show you a fat crocodile sunning himself on a small bank up ahead, an African fish-eagle’s call resonates from an island just to your side. As the boat glides to a smooth halt, the guide hands you a gin and tonic while you eye a hippo up ahead as he bobs his mighty head in and out of the water.
After taking in the fresh air of this untouched land, the guide leads you back to the lodge and onto solid ground before the sun sets. After your shower back in your room, the guide knocks on your door to collect you for dinner. As you walk toward the lodge, he veers off in a different direction. You find yourself standing in the boma, or ‘kgotla’ as you’ve been told the locals call it. Used as a meeting place for local communities, this evening it is the venue for dinner.
As you seat yourself in front of the fire, you hear a deep rumbling just outside this ancient gathering place. The sound pulses closer and as it does, the distinct sound of individual voices start to make themselves known. One by one, the staff walks in, reciting words that make no sense to you, but the beat is contagious and you find yourself tapping your feet. Once they’re all in, at least 20, they begin to clap their hands, building up the beat, chanting words that enrapture you. Two of the men appear with tall drums which they clasp between their knees and they beat them with a natural rhythm. The smiles on their faces spread as the volume increases, until finally, in walks a man… an elderly man, with a tall, pure white feather towering from a band on his forehead, a knee-length skirt that hisses as he walks and small pods snaking up his ankles that rattle with every step he takes. He burst into dance and makes his way around the fire like it is a long lost friend. A manager leans in next to your chair to tell you that the people who stand before you represent the different tribes of Botswana but they come together in this kraal singing the songs they have taught each other in the village they live in on this island. The manager goes on to explain that the man with the feather is an elder on the island and he grew up in this water wonderland. He is a man unto his own, sometimes he sings and dances with the people of the village, sometimes he doesn’t. He is 70, maybe 80…no one really knows, but he is a product of this land, a free spirit and we will see it in his steps tonight.
After the singers and dancers bid you farewell the staff invites you to the dinner table set under the stars. If you’re not sure what constellation you’re seeing, just ask the guide, and he will explain how the hunter Orion forever chases the scorpion across the African sky. Finally, replete with local cuisine and a glass or two of one of the many fine South African wines stocked in the camp’s wine cellar, you head back to your room.
As you climb into bed that night, you hear the sound of a banded rubber frog calling for a mate, a nightjar peacefully churring from the road and a giant eagle-owl booming in a tree. It’s exhausting living in such a paradise, so you easily fall into a deep slumber from which maybe, just maybe, you wake up in the night to hear a lion calling from a distance. Or maybe not. You’re exhausted, aren’t you?
Words Angie Whiteman
Pictures Dana Allen