Egyptian geese flew in moving pictures above me, homebound in soft golden light. The sun hugged me just enough for me to peel off my dust-covered clothes, settle them in a nearby bush, and stand there beneath the “shower tree” without shaking with cold. I was on holiday with my family in Botswana, in the newly-named Khwai Private Wildlife Reserve, a 200 000 hectare concession which shares boundaries with both the Moremi and Chobe Game Reserves. With my family being investors in the new reserve, we had the privilege of wild camping; driving along neglected dirt tracks and setting up camp far from other humans and vehicles.
As I stripped off, the sudden vulnerability of my bare white nakedness heightened my senses as I swivelled to peer in all directions, could anybody see me? An old bull elephant about 100 metres away (he had been there all afternoon and had hardly moved) was too busy chewing on a clump of vegetation to be bothered with me. I wondered if there were bushbabies waking up in the branches above me… oh how I love those little bouncy wide-eyed wonders! In fact I was surrounded by many well-loved sights and sensations; the smell of wild sage, the confident crescendo of a pearlspotted owlet, the warm laughter of my family around the campfire and the beautiful open glades with termite castles and animal paths that surrounded the little island we were camping on.
I opened the little plastic tap on the canvas bucket to welcome a warm trickle of water that smelt delightfully like campfire smoke from being boiled over the fire. It was a smell that would remain on my skin afterwards, along with the citronella soap, washing away the layer of sandy dust on my cheeks. In Botswana you make friends with dust and sand, so much so that when you leave it follows you home – in your shoes, in your sleeping bag, in your fingernails and in many other places.
It was something special knowing that I was washing my hair with the most pristine water (the Khwai River extends from the Okavango which means the water has come all the way from the Angolan highlands and travelled many many kilometres!) sifted gently through Kalahari sands. If these droplets could tell stories of their journey, I wonder what they would be of… maybe crocodiles in their underwater lairs, hippos giving birth in private channels, of the shy sitatunga in it’s papyrus hide, or tiny marbled African jacana eggs camouflaged on a floating reed nests? Perhaps of the gossip at heronries, the tickle of a skimmers’ beak, or the conversations of fishermen as the poll their way through channels in mokoros?
The warm water slid down my shoulders and back, washing away my initial shyness, and leaving only wild abandon. Suddenly, standing bare in this wild place was the most natural thing in the world. Why do we wear clothes anyway? I caught myself wondering. Animals don’t and they seem to get on with life quite well. Perhaps it’s not just clothes I was thinking about, but other things that we as humans wrap ourselves in… expectations, hurriedness, schedules, habits, fears – not that they’re all bad things, of course, and often necessary to survive in the world as it is today. But letting these go and getting purposefully lost in the wild pulse of wilderness creates an unfathomable joy. It’s a raw delight that I think can be carried beyond the actual experience, like the Kalahari sand in your shoes. I’d like to think that the magic of the Okavango is with me always, begging me to keep dreaming, to keep exploring and to keep listening to the stories of trees and rivers.
The shower left me with a beautiful feeling of newness. I dried myself thoroughly, combed through the knots in my hair and dressed warmly, careful not to lose my balance and stand on something thorny as I put on my socks. It was time to sit around the fire now and let the warmth of it dry my hair and the flickering flames kindle jokes and stories and gather us together in a circle beneath the stars.