visit tAu cAmp

After a sixteen-year absence, in 2010 Andrew and I went back to Tau Camp for a visit.

Andrew was filming a documentary about the Okavango. His journey took him all the way from the highlands of Angola, the source of the river, to the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in Botswana, where the last of the Okavango water spills.

I joined him in the delta and we took a nostalgic trip back to Tau Camp. While wonderful to meet old friends and to see the forgotten, yet still familiar, beauty of the Okavango, it was a bitter-sweet visit.

If you would like to share it with us, you can watch what happened here: 

A Typical Sunset

No, that isn’t photoshopped. That is truly what a Tau Camp sunset looked like—virtually every single day of the year. Every evening we would meet with our guests around the campfire for drinks and snacks while we watched the sunset and listened to the hippos grunt. Unbelievably (now that I look back on it) we soon stopped taking photos of sunsets. Did we think we would live there forever? I don't think I have ever seen a sunset quite like this since leaving the delta. If ever I needed a lesson on living in the moment, Tau Camp sunsets provided it. 

Woodie in the Shower

Even surrounded by trees and the water, days of 45 degrees Celsius (113F) were not uncommon. With no air conditioning, I call these melting temperatures. Everyone—human, animal and bird—was lethargic and listless. For the guests, at least, long naps in the middle of the day were vital to survival. The rest of us plodded on—or we escaped to our shower and covered the cat with a damp face cloth to stop her expiring. Tell me again why I took a city-slicker Siamese cat to the Okavango? Right, because I was stupid! And hopelessly in love with her.

The CAMp

The entire place had been built using reeds and poles gleaned from the very spot upon which the buildings stood. Living tree trunks, bent and twisted like old men, propped up faded-gold reed walls. The leafy canopy, jutting out of roofs, cast a soft green glow over everything. And a multitude of birds chirped, filling the warm air with song.

The Bay in Front of the Camp

The bay in front of the camp was partially protected from the swirling river by a tiny reed island. Half a dozen mekoro, wooden dugout canoes, lay like giant toothpicks on the grassy bank that rolled down to the crystal water. In the shallows, jacana scurried over lily pads, and otters frolicked. It was from the trees across the river that the fish eagled called daily for his breakfast.

Swimming in crocodile-infested wAters

You know that thrill you get when doing something delicious, but also tinged with danger? That perfectly describes the joy of swimming in the silky-smooth, blissfully cool, crocodile-infested waters of the Boro River. Andrew and I never missed an opportunity to take our guests swimming.

By necessity, swims were short and we rarely swam in the same place twice—crocodiles are wily creatures. More than twenty years on, I still dream of lying, eyes closed, on a sandbank in the Boro River with the sun beating on my shoulders. Pure Heaven.

Stock Arriving

A Cessna Caravan loaded with goodies! Solar panels, cartons of milk, a box of oranges, pockets of potatoes, and plastic bags stuffed with meat. Not even an angel, flown in from heaven, could have been received with more joy than a fully-laden Caravan. That said, I do look a tad flustered in that pic. Seeing guests off and welcoming new ones while trying to get the stock sorted before the baboons rampaged through it was, without doubt, the most stressful part of a Tau Camp day.

The Resident Fish Eagle

A Tau Camp ritual, every morning we fed the audi (fish eagle in Setswana) a breakfast of fillet steak tied with grass to a length of reed. And every morning, the male audi would grace us with a magnificent display of wing-pumping, precision landing as he grabbed the meat. Bristling with cameras, the guests would gather on the bank to watch. The moment it swooped, the cameras would clatter like a celebrity press conference.

The only trouble was the timing—so many of the photographers were about a second off; all they captured was a splash in a lily pond. Nowadays, the wildlife authorities discourage feeding fish eagles and I can see why. They are wild animals and by interfering with their hunting, we are impacting their ecosystem. Still, it was a joy to behold.

PArAdise FlycAtcher & FlycAtcher BAbies

An untold Torn Trousers story…

This is a paradise flycatcher, a diminutive but beautiful little insect eater. It is also (probably) the most photographed bird in the world. Much to Andrew’s giddy delight, a pair of them built a neat cup of a nest in the trees above the Tau Camp lounge. There, under the watchful eye of her mate, the female laid three eggs.  All of them hatched, although only two of the chicks survived. For weeks, we were voyeurs of their domestic routine—defend eggs (aggressively), hatch eggs (joyfully), feed young (endlessly), teach chicks to fly (hilariously) and then they were gone…

Fun facts about paradise flycatchers. The female chooses the male based on the length of his tail. Once paired, the couple is monogamous unless disaster strikes.

Andrew And Gwynn's House

Andrew, Woodie and my home at Tau Camp. Airy! And the Siamese cat really did not approve. I share this photo with some reservation because, technically, it isn’t the best shot in the world, but it is the only one I have.

Now I must add a detail we clean forgot to mention in the Torn Trousers book…

Carpenter Bees, aka the out-of-sync-flute ensemble, or the curse of living in a reed hut. You think the whine of a single mosquito is bad—try a hundred carpenter bees buzzing near your ear. Hundreds of females gather to lay their eggs in perfectly round holes they gnaw in the reeds (or letaka, as it is known in Botswana) As they chew endlessly on their nests, their bodies vibrate, setting up a chirping hum that can persist for hours at a time. A hundred or more bees all humming can drive a person mad. Armed with a flashlight and penknife, Andrew spent many a night hunting carpenter bees. The bees always won.

Andrew writing His book

Andrew used his very limited, very precious free time to write his first book while we were at Tau Camp. His at-that-time-state-of-the-art Mac was flown into the camp, along with our own set of solar panels. The Mac ran off solar for a year.

ElephAnts Blocking The River

An all-too-common sight shot from the front veranda of Tau Camp. Elephants love to swim, and that included our resident bachelor herd. Those are our guests and guides trying to make it home for lunch. When elephants blocked the river, there was nothing to be done except wait for them to finish up and leave.

These are two of the boys from the bachelor herd that took up residence at Tau Camp. They look so innocent posing there, don’t they? Huh! Don’t be fooled. The tar-like discharge from their cheeks means they are in musth or must, a highly aggressive hormonal state when male elephants seek to dominate the world—and unsuspecting luxury lodges in the Okavango. They can be really vicious when hormone-pumped. And yet, our idiotic Matanta chased one of them to steal a tail hair. He’s honestly lucky to be alive.

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