Wild Travel - Canoeing the Selinda Spillway

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Trip Report

Gentlydown the stream SELINDA RESERVE

rom around a bend in the river ahead emanates the sound of deep, honking laughter: “Ha, ha, ha, haaaa”. It prompts a chorus of chuckles that scares the skulking egrets into trees like wind-blown napkins. My imagination conjures images of a family of giants at dinner, cutlery clutched in meaty fists, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the main dish. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my hands on the oar grow damp. Are we to be supper? Three days earlier, I had arrived at Botswana’s Selinda Spillway, a legendary seasonal waterway that was dry for 30 years and has only recently begun to flow again. My mission: to paddle a canoe 45km down this capricious river, to see its incredible wildlife from a unique perspective and explore places few others have seen.

The Selinda Spillway, an offshoot of Botswana’s famous Okavango Delta, is perfect for a canoe safari through a wildlife-rich wilderness Words by Sophie Stafford photos by neil aldridge

First, though, I had to master the transport… Beached in a quiet backwater on the 320,000-acre Selinda Reserve I was sitting on a pea green, 18ft, two-man canoe. Electing to perch in the front of the vessel, so that I didn’t have to master navigation as well as paddling on my first outing, I lowered myself onto a tiny seat cushioned by a life jacket. Then, gripping the oar, I swiped tentatively at the water… and smacked the hull with a loud bang, soaking myself in the process. Clearly, it was harder than it looked. Before long, however, four canoes were weaving up, down and across the river, some even going backwards. Like unruly horses, we had little control over our craft and collisions – with each other as well as with

Here: guide Josh Iremonger approaches a drinking elephant with caution Opposite: an African Fish Eagle swoops low over the Selinda Spillway

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DECEMBER 2014 35