Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Peaceable Kingdom

My friends Plynn and Elaine arrived  in Botswana two weeks ago and headed out on safari with me. Safari is big business in Africa and one can choose to go the luxury route--being met at the airport and practically carried across the tarmac to waiting a/c transport to lodges where the animals come up to dine tableside. Or one can choose the route we took--met at the airport by Lucky, a Motswana who is building his own safari business and who knows the animals and land and respects every inch of each.

Lucky put us up in a lovely lodge by the river the first night, and went over where we would be going--up from Maun through Moremi Park, where we would stop in the road and pick up Dannie the cook, who was finishing up a week in the bush cooking for some Australians. They gave us the thumbs up as he piled into our chariot. It wasn't exactly "Out of Africa" but we had three men waiting on us--cooking, cleaning, driving, setting up camp, and tending to our needs as we traveled through Savuti Park, Chobe Park, and arrived in Kasane before crossing the border into Zimbabwe for Victoria Falls.

After a good night's rest we headed out of Maun and crossed the border between domestic animals and wild animals. For the next 5 days we would be living in their world, with no tar roads, no billboards, no sounds but theirs (and our truck engine, which I assume they think is our sound...) The first animal to appear was the giraffe. Plynn and Elaine squealed and pointed their cameras and I sat back thinking, 'of course, a giraffe' Maybe I've been in Africa too long, but why are the giraffes the first to appear and always standing in the middle of the road?

As we bumped along a certain rhythm overtook us. Long periods of quiet interrupted by animal sightings (Elephant on left! wildebeest behind bush!) left us calm and introspective. Lucky is still working on his truck, and we quickly adapted to the fact that the front left seat was the ejector seat, prone to popping off on big bumps, the front right seat was the thinking seat, whoever sat there reported they had found answers to some of their life questions, and the middle back seat was the sunscreen seat--the only place where sun didn't hit from each side.

Day by day we found ourselves getting in touch with our inner animals--Elaine had a special affinity for the hippo (those little eyes and ears popping out of the water above) as they personified the idea that our conscious life is just peeking out at the world while our subconscious takes up immense space beneath the surface. Plynn is a nature woman and had a huge heart for all the beasts, all the birds and particularly for the Baobab tree, which is over a thousand years old. I fell in love with the warthog--those sassy little asses disappearing with their tails in the air, or chomping along mowing the lawn...

In Savuti all was green and the animals moved among each other peaceably despite the presence of predators such as leopards (we saw three in three days) and lions. What surprised me the most is that none of them could care less about us, the strange beast of the motor world. At one point two wild dogs were stalking a lone wildebeest and came straight at the line of camp vehicles lined up to watch. They walked around us, never veering from their target, who faced them off and sent them on their way.

By the time we reached Chobe and camped along the river that divides Botswana from Namibia, we had no idea what day it was and no interest in knowing. Other guides were excited to tell us there were lions mating and so we headed out on our evening game drive and learned that this king of the jungle has to work hard to keep his species going. When the female lion alerts him to her needs (by pushing her ass in his face--something all cat owners are familiar with) he has to take her off on a solo vacation and pleasure her every 18 minutes for two weeks 24/7. Needless to say, this can be tiring, so there is often another male waiting in the wings to take over when he gets too exhausted. We watched as he finished up one show and little miss lion started walking towards the fellow behind the bush--no way, he rounded her up and led her away. We watched them rest, and then, sure enough, even without a watch, he was up and about his business 18 minutes later. Plynn has it all on video, but here's the 1-2-3 scenario from my little camera:

For the record: lions roar when they have satisfied themselves and their lady. Also for the record: don't blink or you'll miss it...

Chobe was not as green as Savuti, partly because elephants are herbivores and they need a LOT of greens. They basically eat a forest for breakfast. And since Botswana has the most elephants in the world [because they protect them] they have sacrificed a lot of greenery.

Somehow nature saved the best for last (or maybe Lucky did that). When we got to Kasane, he took us out for a sunset ride on the river, just the three of us in a boat with him and an aquatic guide.  We knew we were blessed when we saw the large riverboats with tourists bellying up to the bar and pointing and shouting. Even though our little boat put us a bit too close to the crocodiles and hippos for my comfort, by then I knew that Lucky loved this world (he took as many photos and stopped for binocular looks as often as we did) and that he knew just how close he could go to maintain the animals' comfort level. We cruised along quietly and he pointed out that the elephants who had gone across the river to the Nambia side were now wanting to cross back, but the riverboats were bothering them. We waited patiently until the large boats finally headed back for last call at the bar, and then sat in utter awestruck silence as the large matriarchs got their brood together--smaller elephants in middle, babies well circled, larger elephants at back, and they began to swim across. Swim may not actually be what they did. Elephants go down to the bottom and push themselves off to come back up for air, bobbing along the river. I swear all those silly Disney cartoons were not far off--the elephants were dancing across the river.

We were so taken with these elephants, we decided to try riding one once we were in Zimbabwe. We still walk like cowboys who have been in the saddle too long.

Oh, almost forgot--we saw Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world:

It was impressive, but there were no animals other than the human kind and they were all too busy 'getting and spending.' I miss the peaceable kingdom...