Friday, November 13, 2015

I remember my first time in Botswana

I arrived in Botswana on foot from the Zambia border and entered Chobe National Park to head through Savute, Moremi, Delta across the Kalahari Desert to reach Gaborone.
It was in August 1983. There was very little tourism in those days. Not many people around the world were talking to visit Botswana as a "holiday trip". (Marco was already traveling with customers through the Southern countries of Africa since a couple of years before, but I had not met Marco, yet)
Chobe sunsets remained in my mind forever and I still compare sunsets with Chobe River now…

I was floating on a raft with no edges to protect and a self-made-ranger of the moment as pusher on the long stick to move the raft around. It was my second time to see hippos as I do not recall to have seen them in Nigeria. So, Tanzania hippos were my first and Botswana hippos were my second ones.
I hiked to Savute where I stayed a couple of days. I used to pitch up a nice fire in the evening and used to wash myself with the pipes that were around the “camping” places where elephants used to come and drink and the only thing you could do is to share water with that trunk hanging from over your shoulder.
I was not used to wild animals as those days were the really first one spent in the wild and alone.

In Savute I really had my first “terrifying” moment. There was a big round shiny moon in a very dark sky. I do not recall seeing stars, maybe they were not out yet… I decided to take a walk in the dark…
A bit far away from my fire I heard noises; I watched on my right side from where I was walking and noticed eyes. Not only two, but various, maybe to count at least five animals. I stood still, right there, where I was. I did not move… maybe because I was frightened, maybe because I wanted to understand who was in front of me, maybe because I really did not know the procedure of what to do in a case like this yet.
I do not know how many minutes I was there standing still… at a certain point I bowed and then bent on my knees and waited. I thought they would have gone away… but a few seconds after I heard a rooaaarrr…. and understood there was something else on the other side of the bush on my left side.

It was in a second that my heart jumped in my throat and started pounding in my chest so hard that it was almost paining. Very gently and very slowly I stood up again, turned around, headed for my fire with one step after the other one in such a straight line I could have not done it more precisely otherwise.
I did not know if that was the right thing to do, I did not know if I should have remained still, I had no power to run and I was afraid to run and to move fast… so what I did, I looked at the moon, followed a path that was printed in my head and hoped to reach my fireplace the sooner.
I was lucky, I know. After that day, and when I started working in this field, I found myself many other times in the bush and walking along. But I must confess that I keep on suggesting my customers not to do walking-safari because of the great danger. I know that many of them are always tempted and on their way back to camp they are very proud of themselves. But they can be proud because they came back! It might not be a lion or a hyena the most dangerous animal: buffalos and hippos can be really nasty and unpredictable.

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