Okavango Delta"Never sleep under a sausage tree," says our guide Basha Xeenyane, with a warning glint in his eye."
I look at the little yellow fruits splattered around and think yes, it could get messy. Then Basha picks up a solid chunk of wood weighing about 4kg. "Because if this sausage tree pod lands on your head it could kill you," he says.
The innocuous yellow fruit had come from a nearby jackleberry tree, lobbed at us by playful monkeys when we stopped to enjoy a welcome cocktail. A handful of people are preparing snacks while a couple of guides fill us in on the local wildlife. Considering there are only five guests, they have us outnumbered. This is life in Botswana's Okavango Delta in the luxury of an &Beyond lodge, and the pampering has begun.
Later I'm standing on a termite hill so tall it gives me a view across the whole landscape. The sun is blood orange, and as it disappears a chorus of crickets and frogs chirps up. Thankfully my ears don’t pick up the high-pitched whine of enemy number one, the mosquito. Basha tells me the distinctive smell wafting across the plains is wild sage, used by the locals to keep mosquitos at bay. "Is it more effective than Tabard?" I ask. "Stick with the Tabard," he says. "Lots of it."
The next day we're balancing in a skinny little mekoro boat being punted through the delta, with Basha balancing on the back and propelling us forward with a huge pole. It's a bit like being on a gondola in Venice, but without the singing. Basha threatens to sing, but settles for imitating bird calls instead. He's so good we expect the ever-present African fish eagle to swoop down and drive us off its territory.
Then he plucks a water lily, showing us how the stem is a mass of tiny holes that make a natural drinking straw. He whips out a knife and carefully splits the stem to carve me a water lily necklace. Later, after shaking hands with Basha, and thanking him for sharing his amazing knowledge, we climb into a little power boat. We're transferring from Xudum Lodge to Xaranna, another &Beyond camp an hour away.
On a fishing trip we see kingfishers hover then nosedive, and so many fish eagles I think I've wandered into a brandy advert. I learn to fish and catch several skeins of reeds, then reel in a flapping bream.
While the watery parts of the Delta are great for bird watching, idly punting through the reeds, fishing or frog spotting, the drier parts are teeming with game.
Next morning we're back in the mekoros, and my new guide Joseph describes the breeding habits of the large yellow spiders whose webs we disturb as we punt along. Joseph, I say, I'm happy to see the spiders from a distance, rather than unwind their webs from my hair. That's when I realise that a safari is all about the people. You think it's about the animals, but the humans are just as important.
In some reserves you'll spot animals by the score, but with a taciturn guide you won't enjoy it half as much. &Beyond has some excellent guides at its Okvango lodges. You won't see herds of elephant or prides of lions, although you may see one or two, yet Joseph will make the frogs and spiders fascinating.