New Year’s eve was spent on the Murchison Delta. I had no idea what this meant or what it would be like until I actually did it, it has taken on quite the legendary status amongst campers here. The Delta is basically a game park, about 70km down river from the powerful Murchison falls. At this point the river is calmer and many animals gather to drink or cool down. Unlike a traditional camp site, there is no designated area to camp, no showers, toilets or any facilities at all. You just select a spot whilst driving through the savannah, quite close to the river and pitch a tent. It is certainly quite extreme and for someone who is not a seasoned camper it can be a little nerve wrecking. The truth is, I was not excited and when the two nights were reduced to one I was relieved.
Not only was it a full moon, it was also a blue moon and there was a bonus 20 min partial eclipse of the moon. Once the campsite was up, the fire was roaring and dinner was cooking over the flames we began to relax. Due to some delays at the ferry crossing to enter the Delta we only arrived at our chosen spot at 6.40pm. As we were zipping through the savannah, past gorgeous birds and giraffes we were up against nature’s clock. The tents had to be up before sunset or this camping trip was not going to happen. And every lodge within a 2 hour drive was booked solid. Like the intrepid and experienced camper I am not, I was hurling luggage and chairs out of the back of the car, setting up tables and putting out the wine like a Dervish in a whirlwind. Everyone was battling with tents or finding firewood, worrying about where to pee and sorting out who would sleep in whose tent. There were 3 adults and 6 children so we were totally outnumbered. I was amazed at the ability of all these mini campers to stoke fires, unroll bedding and deal with tents. I hadn’t a clue, and still don’t. I poured wine, took photos and chopped veggies for Kebabs.
Of course, for the sake of safety we had Joel the guard and his trusty gun beside us at all times. He is a game ranger and was hired by us to sit and guard our little camp all night. Guard us against what? You may very well ask.
Joel was quite informative while we munched on chargrilled vegetables, cheese and very baked potatoes.
“ This is the favorite hunting place for the lions!” He eagerly informed us. “ And many times the buffalo too, and many hippo walk here at night and graze while you sleep.”
“Really!?!?!” I replied, chewing my flame cooked red pepper. “Did you ever see lions while you were guarding?” I asked, nervously.
“Oh yes, many many times. Even there behind where you sit just now I saw three lions just the other night.”
“Oh,” gulped Princess, did you shoot one?”
“No. No need to kill lions”, he replied with some authority, “ we just wait and if they come too close we make one, maybe two shots in the air, pow pow!”
“Ahhhh,” we all breathed out. “So no danger then, really.”
“No danger Madam!” He laughed. “You cannot worry.”
Strangely we didn’t really worry all that much. The wine helped, the flickering flames, the little paraffin lamps, the full moon, New Year’s eve; it was all so extraordinarily romantic and so terribly cool to be out there all alone with not another person in sight in the middle of Africa.
At 10.30pm, with another hour and a half before the champagne and count down we decided to go on a nighttime game drive. We hid the food, just in case, ensured that the fire was well stoked to keep any curious animals away and all hopped into the large white Range Rover Defender that belongs to our friend, Indy. He had done this many times before, having spent close to 20 years in Africa, and we felt safe in his capable driving hands as long as Joel came along as the last time Indy had been on a night game drive he had got quite lost.
There are no photos to accompany the description of this night drive but the images taken from that experience will never leave my mind. At the sight of a hippo, rustling through some bushes Indy whipped that tank of steel to the right and before I could say Indiana Jones we were chasing that poor hippo like there was no tomorrow. The kids were screaming, Princess was trembling, Trooper was laughing and I had visions of cars tipping over and accidents, but onward we stormed at some speed and that hippo waddled at some speed away from this never before seen roaring animal on tires. Our head lights were pinned onto his vast bottom and short yet terrifically fast legs. I know that hippos, as enormous as they are, are only really dangerous if you get between them and the water, their safely zone. I was very worried that just to be funny and maybe even too thrilling for his own good Indy would try to chase the hippo and overtake it. (I learnt the next day, this was a controlled risk he was taking, he wasn’t really that stupid.) As we finally veered away from the hippo, we turned our headlights and caught the startled eyes of a very large buffalo. When we started to chase him Indy’s daughter yelled “ NO DADDY STOP NOW!”
When we got back to camp we breathed a giant sigh of relief and prepared to crack open the champagne. Under the full moon, with 1 watch, 2 phones and 3 ipods at the ready we started the countdown to 2010. With a pop and a squeal the new year was here.
Climbing into my tent sometime later I listened for the silence and instead heard the hippos. Hippos sound like a very large and uncomfortable pig trying to burp with something stuck in his throat. It was the perfect sound and one that sent me to sleep until the rain came beating upon the tent some hours later.
No, the lions never came. We were all safe and I am hoping to do it all over again when I get the chance. It was perfectly magical and it made the lovely lodge we moved into the next night even more special and luxurious.