The dry season in Botswana is a time of struggle and suffering for many creatures, and in particular the aquatic creatures trapped in the rapidly dwindling pools on the floodplains of the Okavango Delta, for they are at the mercy of the elements and the predators who feed on them. Despite this suffering, however, the promise of the new season grows with each passing day.
The first signs of change are seen in the sky, when a brief shadow indicates a cloud, but these first-season clouds are quickly swallowed up by the heat. As the days pass the clouds build into formidable thunderhead formations that move across the sky, but they too are beaten away by the unrelenting season.
As it has been for millennia though the rain will come, at times the scent of a distant storm the only indication that the first rains have fallen and at other times the wild recklessness of an African thunderstorm signaling the new season.
Many people with ties to the wilderness talk of the moment the first rains of the new season fall on the dry African earth - and will describe the scent of the moment. It is truly a seminal moment in the cycle of the seasons!
The first rains rain may fall in the afternoon of a steaming day, in a light smattering or a rush of a storm, there may be thunderous accompaniment or soothing lethargy of soft dripping. There is also a time when the first rains will fall during the hours of pre dawn with the build-up to the moment hidden in the hours of darkness, hidden from sight but followed in the senses. The rumbling of thunder, distant at first, rises to a cacophonic explosion as the rain approaches.
The rainy season in the Okavango Delta, as in the rest of Botswana, usually starts in November and carries through until March or April. The rains are normally in the form of afternoon thundershowers, the clouds building up in the early afternoon and breaking late afternoon to evening, but the thunder and lightning can also occur during the night and early mornings.
Many people are put off visiting Botswana during the rainy season as they are under the impression that the time means persistent rain and wet days, and though there are the times when the rain lingers, the days of the rainy season are mostly sunny and warm.
The changes in the vegetation of the Okavango during the rainy season are as dramatic as anywhere else in Africa, with lush grasses shooting on the islands and floodplains, and flowers and shrubs springing up all around.
The local rains may not visibly affect the water levels in the Okavango but what the rain does is raise the water table significantly and as such have a bearing on the speed and level of the floodwaters when they arrive later in the year.