Geo: -18.5421, 24.5105
Since first reading Alexander McCall Smith’s books on the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series years ago, I have wanted to come to Botswana. What a stunning country it is! We arrived yesterday, a group of twelve of us travelling on OAT’s Ultimate Africa trip. The Baobab Lodge is our home for three nights; this is a beautiful, remote camp in the wilds of Botswana, in my opinion much too elegant to be called a camp. Our tour guide is Sku, a very handsome, delightful and enormously knowledgeable guide. We are lucky to have him as our leader on this trip through these African countries.
When I woke up this morning the almost full moon was pouring its light through my big front window. I just stood there looking out, watching this beauty and wondering what wild animals were in the bushes, in the clearing so closely behind, incredibly happy that I was in Africa! A musical phrase from a song I once knew kept running through my head: “I bless the rains down in Africa…”, but that was all I could remember of the song. To me it was a dancing tune, and unresisting, I danced my way to the bathroom in the moon’s light, stepping on something as I made my way. Relenting and finally turning on the electric light, I saw that I had stepped on a rather large, fat black worm-like thing; I was glad I had slipped on my shoes. Later on I learned it was a millipede. The always helpful staff quickly removed it from my cabin.
After a sumptuous breakfast here in the bush, we climbed into open-air jeeps to bumpily drive to Chobe National Park, the second largest national park in Botswana, on our first game drive to look for animals. Jost was one of our drivers and my guide for today. The area is stunningly beautiful, vast and primitively natural. We stopped at first to see a herd of impala (correctly called a rank), so elegantly graceful, our first wild animal sighting. By the morning game drive’s end, we had seen so many impala that it began to feel totally normal. Thousands of bird sightings (593 recorded sightings in Botswana alone), and then our driver quietly pointed out lions. Sitting under trees, next to a ponding in the river, five young lions were resting on this quiet Sunday morning. We watched, awestruck, as five more lions meandered down to the river to join the rest of the pride. Baby lions were in the group; it was a delight to watch them all. Then, from the hills on our right, a rank of impala was approaching the water. Suddenly everything stopped. No one seemed to be breathing. The lions were aware, but were hiding their notice, as lions like to surprise their prey. The impala stood there, waiting for what I don’t know, and I wished for a chase. Not a kill; none of us wanted to witness that, but to observe a chase, the lions and impala racing for their lives. One young lion started creeping slowly toward the herd, and all of a sudden he broke into a run. The impala turned and fled. It was enormously exciting to see these animals in motion, providing us with our own, personal National Geographic experience! Impala, when they run full out, seem to fly over the ground, running and leaping in their escape, looking as if they are bending their graceful bodies almost in a backwards arc as they soar over the ground. I am happy to say we did not witness a kill this sunny, peaceful Sunday morning, but I had gotten my wish to see a chase.
We stayed there, watching the lions for quite awhile; no one wanted to leave this gift of a sighting. Sku said that other groups were lucky to see even one lion on their whole tour, and this morning, surprisingly, we had seen ten all in one pride.
Continuing on our way, we stopped to identify several stunning birds, and there, just off the rutty road that was really no more than a wide trail, two male kudu were trying to hide themselves. The males have gorgeous antlers, elegantly curving, symmetrically graceful. They stayed camouflaged until our jeep moved on. Large members of the antelope family, it appeared that one of their protective strategies is to simply stand still until perceived danger moves on. On our way back to camp I spied what I thought were large deer with big ears, but these were the female kudu. They used the same strategy of standing motionless until we left.
Baboons and warthogs had become familiar sights, as had solitary or couples of elephants foraging in the park, but then an extraordinary thing happened: at a turning in the “road” was a waterhole, where at least 27 elephants, mothers and babies and at least one huge male, a memorial of elephants, was drinking, bathing, and covering themselves with mud. So close to us! We were maybe 20 feet away from the delights of the waterhole when some elephants crossed both in front of and behind our jeep. At one point these lovely beasts were only ten feel away from me — if that; they watched us and we watched them, a mutual observing of another species. One of the older babies submerged himself in the middle of the pond; two other little ones splashed in the water and then fell sideways into the mud, playfully flicking their trunks at each other. As with the lions, I felt a great honor had been bestowed on us, to see these mighty beings in nature, as it is supposed to be.
Ever onward, we saw cattle (domesticated) and zebras infiltrating the herd of cattle, but this was at a distance, on this side of the Chobe River. Across the river is Namibia, whose policy is still to kill wild animals. Botswana passed a law years ago opposing the killing of any wild animal, being acutely aware of the rapidly diminishing numbers of animals, and of the likely potential of extinction for many species; thus, poachers are severely punished. The whole country of Botswana including Chobe National Park is a safe reserve for any animal who lives or migrates here, but woe to any who cross the river.