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  Field Notes From
Africa's Miracle Delta

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Africa's Miracle Delta On AssignmentArrows

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From Photographer

David Doubilet

Africa's Miracle Delta On Assignment

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From Author

Kennedy Warne

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs courtesy of Jennifer Hayes (top) and Kennedy Warne


Africa's Miracle Delta On Assignment Photographer Africa's Miracle Delta On Assignment Photographer
Africa's Miracle Delta

Field Notes From Photographer
David Doubilet

Best Worst Quirkiest
    The Okavango Delta is an intensely beautiful place. One of my greatest experiences was swimming under forests of water lilies. It's a kelp forest designed with delicacy and beauty, with elements of art nouveau. Only it's a real place, full of dark crevices and shafts of light. From below I could see the undersides of the water lilies, which were maroon, purple, red, and—astoundingly—pink. Through this lily forest swam small silver schools of mosquito fish, shadowy schools of African pike, and, occasionally, large schools of juvenile tiger fish. As the water level changed, large tiger fish came in too. Big, silvery, thick-bodied fish with enormous teeth.

    Two words: crocodiles and hippos. This was the scariest story I have ever done. Hippos rule the waters and probably kill more people in Africa than any other animal. We had to be very careful because they even overturn boats if they aren't feeling particularly happy.
    Crocodiles—on the other hand—will stalk a person. Nile crocodiles can grow very large, and we saw some that were about 15 feet (five meters) long. It was like seeing an armored boat coming toward us with a mouthful of extraordinary prehistoric teeth. Although we had no close encounters, crocodiles surrounded us at all times, and we could see their eyes glowing at night.
    We took as many safety measures as possible. We made sure to never dive in the same place twice. If we came back the next day, a crocodile would be waiting. So we'd wait a week or two before going back. It's terribly dangerous diving; sport divers never go there.

    Researcher Jennifer Hayes and our guides, Brad and Andy Bestelink, decided that I needed protection from crocodiles, so they took me to the witch doctor. It was a kind of birthday gift. The witch doctor was a very strange fellow (being a witch doctor). He performed an elaborate ceremony with lots of drums, music, and singing. He also used secret potions, which I later couldn't get out of my clothes. I'm not sure what they were made of: crocodile blood, ostrich feathers, eye of newt, who knows? I sat there quietly and soon got quite into it and felt very good. The witch doctor and others performed various kinds of magic on me and did some very serious dancing. It took hours, but I lost track of time.


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