Gripping the railing the daughter looked out and through the bushes not ten feet away tall majestic creatures reached their heads towards the sky and stared towards them. As though shrugging their shoulders in boredom, they slowly turned away and proceeded to continue eating.
They stood grouped together and like keystrokes on an instrument, alternated between leaning down to eat and then standing upright to glance back at the vehicle. The mother and daughter sat in silence watching the family of giraffes, mouths open, eyes wide and expressions completely baffled and amused. The camera was extracted slowly and while leaning over the mother, the daughter took many photos before the vehicle jolted to start moving away again.
The next ten minutes passed quickly. The duo chatted ecstatically at each other, one hardly listening to the other for both were a tad too excited for that level of patience. They then entered the Chobe Lodge area after passing over a series of grates and under a series of electric fences. Once they arrived a drink was passed into their hands and they were whisked down to a boat for the sunset cruise along the river. After a moment’s hesitation it was decided that both cameras should be brought for as the mother said, “you never know what we might see!” And the daughter agreed.
As they set off, their guide narrated in the background while the duo was consumed with the drink in hand and the sights surrounding them. The water was still and clear, as though trying to tempt swimmers to enter its dangerous depths, luckily the duo knew better and anyone aboard that boat would soon too. When the duo leaned a little further out of the boat to glimpse a family of baboons drinking by the water or to try to catch a glimpse of the African Fish Eagle, the crocodiles wouldn’t been too far away. They hovered just below the surface of the water and at times you could see their scales and backbone appear as they kept their eyes locked on the sacks of meat aboard the boat slowly cruising down the river. Even if there weren’t any crocodiles, there were plenty of hippos.
The boat rounded a corner and the daughter was called to attention by the frantic motioning and gasping from the mother who had hastily put down her G&T and was struggling to undo the straps of the camera bag. Looking over the fray of activity the daughter too put down the G&T then snatched the camera bag from her mother and pulled out the telephoto lens.
“Holy shit”, she brought the camera up to her eye to catch a better look, waiting for the boat to close the gap.
Just ahead along the edge of the river over a dozen elephants were running down a moderate hill while a small contingent, already at the bottom, were eating salt off of the steep wall of the adjacent slope.
Ten camera lenses captured mother elephants and their babies feasting on salt and then witnessed an elephant waltz over to the water for a long drink. Soon after, his comrades joined him and they all waded into the water.
Unable to resist the opportunity to cool off, many of the elephants took this moment to bathe and spray each other with water from their trunks. Bobbing in the water, they took no notice of the vessel and the ogling spectators, but instead chose to sink to their knees to fully submerge their bodies.
Then when all that was done, they commenced another ritual of covering themselves with dirt. The air was full of dust and salt and the calls of one fellow beast to the other.
Upon return to the lodge, after first sighting hippos bathing and baboons drinking, the duo was delighted and could not stop speaking at each other.
Over the course of the next three days they rose at 5:00 to lug their bodies onto safari cars to depart the lodge at 5:30. They would return at 8:30 for breakfast and then be taken out on the boat at 10:30 to return for lunch. Then finally they would enjoy the late afternoon game drive at 15:00 and would return when the park closed at 19:00. Every outing was different and the park seemed to transform itself from dawn till dusk offering new and diverting sights each time the duo ventured out. All the cars were in communication with each other and would radio each other about different sightings, thus little that happened was missed.
“Pumba” – the warthog
Warthogs dogged the cars, the impalas and virtually just about anything as any animal with carnivorous tendencies would be more than willing to test their meat.
The mongoose (the wild ferret?)
Meanwhile the mongoose would frolic, both in the brush and at the lodge, their mannerisms reminding both the mother and daughter of ferrets.
A bunch of month old impalas waking up at 5:30
The man – male impala guarding his family
Herds of impalas littered the roads, the plains, the edge of the river and then the nooks and crannies in between. Either the duo would see herds of just males, those rejected by the ladies last year, or they would find a herd of females, their month old babies and one male to guard them all.
The duo was particularly mesmerized by the creatures with faces of tribal paint and horns reaching towards the sky. Kudu sightings left little to be missed. They reminded the duo of the Canadian moose due to its stature, but there was an added magic in their eyes, manner and markings.
A pair of African Fish Eagles
As the car rumbled along narrowly avoiding beetles rolling elephant dung up hills of sand and guinea fowl nervously darting across the road the duo had the opportunity to appreciate the fine bird species. The African Fish Eagle looked very much like the American Bald Eagle, though was not the favorite of the duo.
The African Darter
The Little Bee Eater
The beautiful colours of the little bee-eater and the African Darter always captured their attention. To the duo’s delight, it was virtually impossible to enter the bush without seeing an abundance of birdlife. And those bird in kind, cared very little about the existence of the duo, or were being just plain coy.
When the brush would part and the daughter could catch a glimpse of a field filled with wildlife she would imagine that she was hearing the Jurassic Park soundtrack.
Giraffes would walk around the vehicle and stare down at their admiring faces. Buffalo would slowly wander around, followed by cranes and other smaller birds. Then elephants and hippos in the distance would pay them no mind and continue to graze, to drink and to lounge around under the African sun.
You don’t want to anger this buffalo!
While their entire stay was filled with activity and things to view and take photos of, it was in the last two mornings and afternoon that shit really happened.
The duo felt that they might fall asleep though the car shook them awake with every frequent bump. The car jostled to a stop and the driver hastily turned around the shot back in the opposite direction at full throttle. She spoke rapidly into the communication system in a language the duo did not understand, though they picked up on one word, “leopard”. Maybe it was the cool damp wind that awakened their senses, though their minds immediately tuned in at the mention of that one simple word.
In the distance they could see a group of other safari vehicles on the narrow dirt road and all of their passengers were poised cameras ready. As the duo approached they didn’t see anything, what a disappointment. Then they were informed that the leopard had descended from a tree after eyeing the impala that was naively eating close by.
For five minutes no one moved. Then there was pointing.
The leopard was slowly moving through the green brush towards the impala. Still eating, the impala looked around, looked at us and then continued to exist in blissful ignorance. The leopard was crouching now under ten feet away and it rocked back and forth as though winding itself up to pounce.
A jump, a fight and then collapse.
In the dense foliage the duo could see the leopard holding onto the neck of the impala while choking out its windpipe. The leopard eventually got the impala down and while they disappeared from view, the witnesses could see the foliage move as the leopard dragged the impala back to his tree.
Later in the day, the leopard lay poised in the tree, relaxing after the ordeal of the morning.
Meanwhile in a time twenty-four hours later, the same duo, the same car and the same driver cruised along the dirt roads in Chobe till they abruptly stopped by what seemed to be a bush. Pulling out the binoculars the duo could see in the distance a pride of female lions and their cubs. A lone warthog naively wandered closer and closer to the sleeping pride till one lioness rose up, causing the warthog to rapidly retreat towards the vehicles. To the delight of the duo the lioness pursued and stalked the warthog right up to the vehicle and then to the other side of the road. However, she seemed not to be too serious about this endeavor and once the warthog got too far away she padded her way back to her pride and lay down for a nap.
Lioness stalking the warthog
Driving away, the duo was very pleased with the sighting and talked animatedly about it. Their driver however knew that they were not finished yet. The duo frantically tried to turn on the camera and bickered about who should be taking photos, for in the distance and rapidly approaching was a full-grown male lion. He paused and looked towards the duo, and they responded by taking tens of photos within the span of a minute. The lion calmly walked beside their vehicle following a female lion that was already disappearing into distant bush. When they headed back to the lodge that morning, the duo couldn’t stop envisioning the two prides they saw and the full mane of hair donned by the male.
The male lion
But the tale is not over yet.
In the final afternoon the duo was found in a safari ranger leaning out of the vehicle to take photos of the African Darter. When they finished the car moved on and they entered a valley. The vehicle came to a crawl as they encountered two elephants bathing in the mud. They parked to watch the small group contentedly cover themselves in dirt, not noticing that a large herd of elephants had emerged from the brush on the opposite side and were making their way to the vehicle. Elephants, large and small, moved around the vehicle though it were a rock in a stream, passing so close that if the duo were to reach out they would be able to touch their tusks.
Nothing like a good mud bath!
The herd gathered around the water and using their trunks they sucked in the mud and then sprayed it upwards to cover their backs, sides and heads. For the select few who were not satisfied with this method, they chose to drop to their knees and submerge their bodies, lathering themselves with dirt by rolling around on the ground.
Using their trunks as leverage they fought gravity to stand up and moved on to a pile of dirt to cover their glistening forms with a layer of dust. Meanwhile the duo watched for as more elephants kneeled to the ground before them, several others emerged from the bush surrounding the vehicle.
Once most of the elephants cleared the road the driver started the vehicle and started to slowly move away. This alarmed a few of the elephants and one raised his trunk to the sky and called out to them while running towards them. He stopped just short of the car and called out again. The duo sufficiently shocked asked their driver what that was about and she simply responded,
The next day after the safari the bags were packed and reluctantly the mother and daughter piled into a safari car to leave Chobe and Botswana. The driver weaved through the park and the duo surveyed their surroundings in the hopes of catching a glimpse of another lion, leopard, elephant, giraffe or even mongoose.
After a short boat ride and a few more stamps in the passport, the duo re entered Zambia to return to Livingstone for the final leg of the trip. They were staying at a hostel just outside of the city and when they arrived they proceeded to the main desk to check in.
As the mother handled the details the daughter busied herself looking at the brochures to figure out what they could do for the next few days in Livingstone. She picked up one leaflet and turned it over a few times. A smile crept onto her face as her heartbeat picked up, a sign that she had made up her mind, but the question was could she convince her mother?
She walked over to her mother and showed her the leaflet asking if she wanted to take the plunge.
The mother gulped and stared at her daughter’s keen face and though she held very strong reservations to the activity in general she didn’t want to deny her daughter the pleasure of this adrenaline junkie activity.
And so they made the reservation with the woman at the front desk who in turn told them to be ready to be picked up at 7:00.
As they walked away, the mother turned to the daughter, “I’m afraid Di.”
Though the daughter didn’t confess it, she was too.
To be continued…