Ernest Hemingway - Green Hills of Africa
Chobe National Park
Tuesday, October 3, 1995
We are awakened at 5:00 AM, in order to be on the road by 5:45 for the morning game drive. Everyone is ready to go by 5:47, but what we did not realize was that Edward’s watch was five minutes faster than ours. Edward is crestfallen when another safari truck drives by our camp at 5:44. The guide driving the first truck down the dusty road has an advantage, as he can easily see the fresh tracks of the animals that crossed the road in the night. That first truck then obliterates the tracks by running over them, making the game spotting task more difficult for the the guides in the trucks that follow.
Edward is trying to find the lions we had seen the night before. He has to get out of the truck to sort out which are the the fresh lion tracks and determine where they are heading. The game viewing along the river is spectacular. As the sun comes up we watch a large herd of impala mixing with an equally large group of baboons, moving out of the bush, across the road, and into the open area between the road and the river. The animals are indifferent to the vehicle, passing quite close as they cross the road.
Small groups of impala suddenly take off running, hopping and leaping high into the air as we watch. We find the seemingly pointless display and of their acrobatic prowess beautiful but inexplicable, within the context of their continuous struggle to find food, water, and avoid predators. Over the next couple of days, we were to understand and appreciate this exuberant and wasteful use of calories as the "It’s Sunrise and I’m not Dead" dance of celebration.
On the day’s two game drives we see giraffe, cape buffalo, a large water monitor, crocodiles, kudu, waterbucks, and elephants everywhere. Memorable elephant sights include watching: elephants eating peacefully a few feet from the truck, two young bull elephants play-fighting by a waterhole, and a mature female mock charge the vehicle, then stand blocking the road and trumpeting, as calves cross the road behind her.
Edward explains that the drought has driven much of the wildlife to the river, creating a higher density of wildlife near the river than normal. This also causes a higher density of tourist-carrying safari trucks along the river, which is why, he reminds us yet again, it is important to get out early.
I am learning to appreciate some of the nuances of Edward’s style as a guide. When he sees something of interest, he lets the truck coast to a stop, points it out immediately, gives a brief explanation, then turns, looks back at us, and smiles. The smile seems to be a question, or maybe a challenge. He is leaving something unsaid, and wondering if you can figure it out. He gives you the data points, then smiles. This morning, a data point: "Here, look at these tracks, there are lion hunting here." At sunset, watching a herd of hundreds of Buffalo cross the road in front of us, behind us, all around us, another data point: "Look at that one limping. Behind the others." Turn. Smile. Connect the dots. It all seems obvious as I write this now, but that Tuesday evening, driving back to camp, I didn’t put it together.
I was watching the fires burning in the fields, across the river in Namibia.
NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: This is a back-post / cross-post from my first on-line journal/blogging effort - a journal of our Southern Africa Tour in 1995. Originally posted to an abandoned domain (NetSnake.com), the term "blog" had not yet entered the parlance. I am migrating the original posts to this blog. Links to the original journal Date Index or Africa Tour Home Page will likely eventually disappear. The images from the original post were screen caps from video which I am leaving as is for historical integrity. My intent is to also add some of Sigrid's higher quality scanned photos to these blog back-posts. The difference should be obvious.
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