In The House of Tom Bombadil
October 30, 2013
By Ema Mayo (University of Alaska, Fairbanks)
Our stay in Dibatana has finally come to an end, and tomorrow we will pack up the tents load the two land Cruisers down to their max and head off to Mababe. Although it seemed to fly by, our stay in Dibatana was lengthened by about a week due to some car problems. The brakes gave out on our way back from Maun, which turned out to be a blown wheel bearing. Several trips to Maun later for parts, and quite a bit of work done by Mike and Jon, the car emerged from the shop today under its own power. There is always a good side to things going wrong, because now thanks to Mike’s expertise I know a lot more about Land Cruisers and how to put back together an axel and change the brakes. It was a very educational delay.
I will try my best, but it is impossible to sum up a week in Africa just in words. Every day something amazing happens, and we all will have so many more stories to tell when we arrive home. This week began with a planned surprise, which cascaded in to a week of unexpected adventures. Jon, a care taker at Dibatana, (who I am sure has been mentioned in the previous blogs as being incredibly nice and really fun to hang out with), told us that he was taking us out at 1:00pm for a surprise and we would be back later that evening. So when one o’clock rolled around we all piled into his land cruiser, which has seats on the roof, and headed out into the blazing sun of Africa. I did not believe I would ever get used to the heat, but after spending a month in Africa we are all becoming slightly more acclimatized to 90-115 degree temperatures. There are so many different little sandy roads surrounded by Acacias and Mopane trees that all I knew was that Jon was taking us in the general direction of the river, and sure enough we stopped at a bend in the Gomoti river, and there, thanks to Jon’s expert surprise planning, were six makoros pulled up on the bank. A makoro is the traditional Botswana boat, a dug out canoe traditionally made from a long tree. Because the government has been trying to preserve the forests these makoros were made out of fiberglass instead.
A couple of guides from a nearby safari camp took us all out on the water. They stood in the back with long poles and silently propelled us through the narrow channels. The boats glide through the water cutting the surface with their slender prows with each steady stroke of their poles. After our peaceful ride over the water we all tried piloting the mokoros ourselves, and soon realized how skilled the guides were at maneuvering through the small waterways. I loved being on the water and we all had a blast trying to get the hang of propelling a boat with a long pole. We wrapped up the evening by fishing and painting on the river bank while watching a near by hippopotamus and crocodile. That night we went back to camp to a supper of catfish and barbel.
There are so many different animals here, every day I seem to see something new. The most exiting animal sighting for the week was at the very beginning of one of our transacts. We rounded a corner and there sitting under an Acacia bush near the road was a female cheetah with two little gray cubs. Cheetahs are amazing creatures; when the female stood up and walked away you could see how graceful and strong she was. The cubs tagged along after her, running and playing with each other as they went. There have also been several prides of lions coming through camp at night, so we have been lolled to sleep by the calls and roars of nearby prides. Yesterday was Anna’s birthday and to start off her day, she came across her favorite female lion with a short mane. We think of this lion as the protector of the female prides. She is massive and incredibly strong. Needless to say Anna was thrilled to see this lion on her birthday and to make things even better they rounded the next corner and there was the whole Santawani pride of eleven lions lying in the road. That was Anna’s beginning to what I am sure will be an excellent 22nd year.
One of my favorite nights so far was when we ran out of petrol on our way back to camp from a bird count transect. Due to slight radio misunderstanding our rescue car drove right by on a side road. We thought that they were just trying to be funny and had really seen us, but when the dust settled and the car gunned it off in the opposite direction we realized we had some how been missed. Knowing that they would come again we put the car into natural and pushed it up the side road to the middle of the main road so there would be no way we would not be seen. Under normal circumstances running out of gas could be annoying and having to wait three to four hours to be rescued could be slightly tedious, but not under a beautiful African night sky. I had wanted to drive out to a clear area and just watch the sunset so that night I got my wish.
There is nothing more beautiful than an Africa horizon at dusk and down. We watched the sun set in a flame of red and orange and the full moon come up over the horizon, and climb steadily in the ski as each star slowly appeared twinkling over us. We could hear the calls of lions all around coming on the night air as deep mournful cries from deep within then. It is times like these that I realize how incredibly lucky I am to be here in Africa, a place I have dreamed of seeing ever since I was young, and how truly fortunate I am to be part of this land and see all its beauty.