Big Safari Number Three, Part I of III: Close encounters of the lion, elephant and hippo kinds

Back in Botswana, after failing for three straight days to get to Zimbabwe and hitchhike back to Gaborone. More on that later.

Big Safari Number Three, Part One:

I wanted to see lions on this trip. And by “wanted” I fully mean in the seven-year old, fascinated with big animals, going-to-pout-if-I-don’t-get-to-see-lions sort of way. Early Sunday morning, we woke up for game drive number one – to encounter along the road to the park three young male lions lounging by the highway, nonplussed by the six safari vehicles and international assortment of camera flashes now interrupting their morning naps. We would end up seeing a handful more that day – including at night, when we passed a female hunting pride on our drive through the park to our campsite, as three of us were hanging out of the windows of the truck (affectionately named “Big Red”) to see the African stars.

However, lion attacks on humans are rare. The most dangerous scenario in Africa is an upset elephant, which we encountered on Monday morning. Twice. After waking up to a picturesque seen on the banks of the Chobe River dividing Botswana from Namibia, with impala grazing and watering less than a hundred yards away, we took a seriously wrong turn out of the campsite and ran across a herd of elephants on Firebreak 15, a sandy patch of road created to prevent bush fires from spreading through the park. The herd watched us lazily, then ambled on in front of our truck. But not before one of the younger males, as happy to pick a fight as any adolescent human, raised up on two legs, trumpeted, and began to head toward our vehicle. Says the Bradt guide to Botswana: “If you get into a hair-raising situation with elephants, then you’ve probably not kept your distance. They key was prevention, and you failed.” Oops.

Lions and elephants, however, were not enough for Michelle, who had yet to see Zebras in Africa. Unfortunately, the thousands of zebras in Chobe had already begun to move southeast of us to the Savuti strip, too far for us to go before the Zambia border closed that evening. So we asked a guide at Chobe National Park, who gave us a fifteen-turn set of directions which led us down another firebreak on the other side of the main road. We drove for forty-five minutes down another questionable and seldom-navigated sandy path, spotting only an abandoned tractor (probably an old male, as construction equipment tend to travel in groups called “crews”). Still, it was hard to be too disappointed that we were cruising through the African bush on a beautiful day, listening to Jack Johnson and Keeley Valentino. Driving, I stuck my head out the window and said, “Hey ellllephants, where aaaare you? Come eat me! I taste goooood!”

There is little about this particular situation that I can fully explain. First, why would I offer myself as a culinary interruption to the pachyderms’ rather bland diet? Second, why would I make such an offer in Spanish, which I did? And third, why in the world did I choose to yell such a thing exactly four second before driving within ten feet of a herd of mother elephants quite capable of defending their (hilariously awkward) young babies)?

Matching the roar of the less-than-pleased beasts, our truck let out five screams at once: one mechanical (the truck, as I floored it), two masculine (myself and Carl) and two feminine (Michelle and, worryingly, Jason). We pulled to a halt about seventy meters away, allowing ourselves to breathe and Big Red to recover. The rest of the story is rather anticlimactic – Michelle got to see her zebras, who had poked their heads into the firebreak to see what all the fuss was over, and by the time we snuck past the elephants they had returned to their typical herbivorous fare, apparently having forgotten my meaty offer.

The last story I will make brief as I am already breaking all laws of blog length. During our boat “cruise” Sunday evening (actually, more like a barge. Bob, you’d be proud), I noticed some hippo snorts around the corner from where our river guide had decided to end the tour. With a bit of cajoling, I was able to convince her to steer around, where we found a forty-strong breeding herd of mother and baby hippos. Beautiful. Until we got stuck in the mud. With a little help from the included drinks on board, I began translating our situation for the Spanish family on our barge while Jason vainly shoved the barge’s one oar in the mud, the guide radioed for help and the emergency beeping of the engine began to agitate our fat friends. Neither the hippos nor the guide nor the Spanish mother were amused by my offer to jump out and “push.”

The sum moral of these stories: in Africa, a small shot of bad judgment goes a long, long way. Use sparingly.

One Reply to “Big Safari Number Three, Part I of III: Close encounters of the lion, elephant and hippo kinds”

  1. i have been speaking spanish lately. and i taught french students about turducken and other cajun eats, which i only recently learned about. have you ever eaten turducken??

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