A drone’s eye-view of the HALO Trust camp in Menongue, Angola. In the centre of the image are our red tents surrounding our mekoros (traditional dugout canoes) that we will attempt to take from the source of the Cuito into the Kalahari sands.

Angolan unknown

This is a post by James Kydd from the field on a National Geographic supported expedition to explore the Okavango River system from source to sand. 90 days, 1,000 miles, 3 countries, 2 rivers, 31 adventurers, 100% open data. Join us in real-time as we explore the beating heart of our planet. IntoTheOkavango.org

I was drowning blissfully into the abyss of the first good night’s rest in two months. Not even the distorted malerone-induced dreams could stop my mind’s body falling hapless into this deep blue ocean of sleep. Yet something was yanking me up to the surface.

Someone shouted.

My brain was rebooting like an old PC: green, flashing MS DOS messages trying to connect my synapses to reality.

[C:\STARTUP>:_*someone_shouted* _ ]

[…_ *don’t_worry_just_dreaming_anti-malarial_medication*_…]

I turned in my tent, pulled my beanie off and exposed my ears to the cold, falling back into the blue.


[_*Someone_just_shouted_for_John_[CMND] wake_up_NOW_and_get_game_face_on_this_is_serious_!_*\\END]

I sat up, wide awake and listening intently…a sleeping bag moved in one of the tents. Was that Alex? Was he okay? Were we being robbed? We should have left a night watch over all the tech gear…

When my orientation returns to me I realize John’s tent is to my right, the shout from Alex came from the left…and judging by the silence which now prevails he is probably just suffering the same affects from the meds that I am. I try desperately to return to my abyss but the roosters won’t let me.

We have been based at the HALO Trust mine-clearing camp in Menongue, Angola, for the past three days, preparing for an expedition down one of the world’s most unexplored catchments. While waiting for scientists and meetings with government officials crucial to our conservation efforts we have been somewhat confined to a high walled, barb-wired compound…. so I jumped at the chance to go birding with ornithologist Maans Booysen.

Maans Booysen, an incredibly skilled ornithologist who somehow operates a tablet, binoculars, camera with telephoto and cigarette all at the same time.

We found a nearby river and as the mist rose off the water and the bird parties began to show themselves we got a chance to test run our live-data recording. As a birder Maans, (a hardened Afrikaans gentleman with a diffusing laugh), is in a league of his own. Before long we had found three species we weren’t expecting for the area. He passionately followed a call down a disused path and I chased after him until a cold shiver reminded me I had just broken a promise to two close friends…I was walking well off the beaten track. Maans stops, noticing my hesitation, and points out that the land has been previously irrigated.

“There are no mines here.”

I decided to put my faith in his extensive military experience and was rewarded handsomely: red-capped crombec, red-throated cliff-swallow and sharp-tailed starling.

Was it my imagination?.. Was it the compound we are camped in?.. Was it simply a case of being in an unknown land?.. Or was there a palpable energy here reflecting a recent three decade war? I was reminded of the way our family had cat reacted when we moved into a new home… mindful of every step it took. I know so little of this land, and these two experiences highlighted that for me in some way.

The part of the Angolan Highlands we head to in a few days has not been explored by non-military personal for almost a century. Remarkable considering the catchment feeds one of Africa’s greatest wildernesses: the Okavango Delta. Who knows what we will find?