I forgot to mention that we’ve crossed the border on Day 5 and we’re now in Botswana. Details, details…
I ride up in the front seat for awhile during our drive to the next campsite with Barry. We chit chat about ourselves. At one point he tells me that both Nellu and I seem to be very comfortable with this camping thing – that we seem “outdoorsy.” If only he saw us trying to set up our tent on Stockton Beach, Australia. But good news, the illusion is complete!
We drive today to a campsite known as Elephant Sands. They tell us that animals have been known to wander in and out of the camp. In fact, if we want to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, Barry says, we should shine our flashlights around first and if we see glowing eyes get back the tent because it could be a leopard. It’s a good thing I missed this piece of advice the first time around and only registered it when I heard a few of our friends talking about it later.
There’s also a waterhole in the camp where all kinds of animals, particularly elephants, have been known to wander up to get a drink. After going for a swim in the camp’s saltwater pool, most of our group settles into chairs right in front of the water hole and we wait.
We wait until dinner and then after dinner we wait some more. No animals appear. But we are being particularly loud, telling stories and laughing. Around 11am, the camp manager drops by to tells us at 11:30pm, the generator and all the lights will go off.
I think I need to set the scene a little better here. So far our campsites have us anything but roughing it. The site itself is usually just a little ways off the main road as this one was. That main road is still in the middle of no where so we’re still in the middle of the bush. We pull in and they have various spots for trucks or cars or in our case the overland truckbus and room for about 10 or so tents if not more. All the sites so far have had basic bathroom and shower facilities in huts or simple structures not too far away from where you pitch your tents. At this one, it’s a saltwater shower, which is odd, but you still get the opportunity to get clean. The sites usually have some kind of non-tent accommodations, huts or bungalows, just in case there is anyone looking to upgrade. Most of the time there is a pool and there’s almost always a bar. Elephant Sands has a big bar area that looks like it would fit in just as easily on Caribbean beach as it does here, complete with thatched roof, stone patio and fire pit.
We’re sitting around that fire pit as close as we can get to the watering hole without going past the “Do NOT go beyond this point” sign when the lights go off and we’re dramatically plunged into darkness. Our group – holdouts of about 10 people – decide to stick it out just a few more minutes to see if any animals come by. We’ve been hearing elephants “trumpeting” (no seriously, that’s what the noise they make is called) in the close distance for hours now.
Just when we’re close to giving up hope, we hear something rustling in the grass 10 feet away from us. Everyone assumes it a snake or something and shines their flashlights toward the ground. Seeing something but not able to make it out clearly, the lights begin to move upward searching for the creature that’s making this very quiet noise. The lights go up and up and up until we see there in the darkness, a fully grown elephant complete with fully grown tusks, staring right back at us.
He was clearly as startled to see us as we were to see him and he high-tailed it out of there.
The fact that this enormous elephant could sneak up on us was a huge surprise. Mostly because I’d grown up with the idea that elephants walk very loudly. I can still hear my mother’s saying something like, “Don’t stomp. Am I raising a herd of elephants?” I guess mothers aren’t always right :) (Love you, Mom.)
We stuck around for a little longer, waiting to see if the elephant would come back or if any other members of the herd would join him. We could see one or two elephants in the bushes on the other side of the watering hole but they were holding back waiting for the excitement and the searchlights to stop shining around. Nellu was able to capture this shot above from afar.
Many of the plants in Africa from buses to trees have thorns. This particular detail sticks with me because I got a thorn stuck in my head this morning while taking down our tent. (By the way, it took me more than a week to get the thorn out.)
We’re off to Chobe National Park today, right on the Botswana, Zambia border.
The highlight: A safari river cruise with some quality elephant and hippo viewing.
To be continued…