"We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey." -Stephen Covey
It was a challenging week, one of those that you really “Thank God its Friday.” Filled with excitement and awaiting the much anticipated and needed arrival of team Francistown, I headed to the gym for the usual erg and aerobics class. Two hours of jumping around, awkward movements, drained sweat and filled energy. I met another friend there that night, her name is too difficult to pronounce let alone spell. She drove me home into the carefree darkness. A cold shower of bliss and Lyndsay and I were off to Pizza Pizza, Kasanes one stop restruant, a menu of curry, chinese, pizza, and coffee, a unique variety for a whatever your feeling vibe. Rajh, the owner brought us complimentary Castles, mine collecting sweat on the glass as I had yet to finish my cold and round of horse pill antibiotics.
In a flood of positivity, Thomas, Isabelle and Faisal appeared under the streetlight. A run skip embrace around sleeping bag packed arms and troubles were pushed into the past. We huddled around the patio table for a picnic of catching up, hand signals of enthusiasm, vibrations of laughter and pizza fullness. That night the five of us stayed in our room and in failure to push the two double beds together, Lyndsay, Is and I snuggled into one. Sleeping without protection… of the mosquito net. Heavy heat of off key notes sailing in from the open window with the unmistakable buzz of bites to be.
While writing this, now more then ever I realize the truth in one comment Isabelle made about us “coming full circle”. This further confirming Lyndsays “days till the end count”, that I have previously been trying to block out. “No, it can’t be, to come full circle is accepting that our time here is almost up.” Faisal answering me with, “No, a circle never ends.” With this mentality I can accept that we have come full circle, looking at the weekends events it is hard to deny. Three months ago we had all arrived in Kasane. We sat on the patio of Pizza Pizza and planed thirteen amazing weekends; now behind us. Lyndsay, Is and I squeezed into bed for a hot squishy night as we had on the first night at Mamas. We were preparing for our last game drive in Chobe National Park. Where we once sat, our past selves, first spotting a herd of elephants. As Faisal pointed out, and in the wise words of my elementary school Brownies leader, “A circles round, it has no end.” The experiences I have had here I will take them with me and Botswana, one day I will be coming home. The circle is not yet done turning.
From the early morning chocolate dark the British ladies voice of our alarm clock rang out, “It’s time to get up. The time is, five o’clock. Its time to get up.” With the off button reflex we pushed ourselves up and out the door.
My overly attractive snowflake fleece, $4.99 limited time offer exclusively from the Chinese corner store, defending the morning nip, I sat on the curb of Spar parking lot, enjoying our customary meal of bread and peanut butter. Swallowing to the stopping tires of an SUV and exchanging looks of open air let down, we climbed inside, our guide, Godfrey introducing himself. Driving the twenty or so kilometers out of town and into the park, all previous apprehension evaporated into the heat of the day. The top of the car came off and we spent most of our time perched on top. Monkeys holding the bars and swinging to the music of off road terrain.
Godfrey, or “The Bush Master” as he has come to be known in my mind, is both an incredible and inspirational person. He reminds me of the importance of intertwining passion and work. A guide in the greater sense, and a contributor to opening up the raw appreciation for nature, which the weekend has gift-wrapped inside of me.
En route to our campsite (a random place in the wild of the park where we were to be pitching tents) we sank into sand. Stuck like gum. Godfrey explained how he needed to deflate his tires a little. He preceded to jump out, grab a thorn from a nearby tree, let a wheeze of air out of each tire, hop back in and accelerate out of the hole. Through an exchange of raised eyebrow glances we were in undisputed agreement that we were indeed in the presence of a bushmaster. Isabelle turned to me, “wait till he sees our little tent from Game.. where you can go like this, *pokes my arm, and it falls over.”
At camp, aka the middle of nowhere, we set up the little tent who thought he could, a few yards from the shadow of Godfrey’s canvas fortress. Is and I prepared a lunch of tuna sandwiches and avocado slices while the boys constructed the toilet hole.
As we have all been keeping blogs and while I thoroughly enjoy reading through the others perspectives of events, I made the mistake of skimming Isabelle’s post before writing this. I share in the way she described that no matter how I write this next part it will come across as just a list of wildlife sightings to which you will think “Oh wow, how cool”, and quickly read on. This is so far from what was actually experienced in the deep moving and primal emotions. When life and death are before your eyes. Blood and flesh. Beauty and grace. To what Isabelle coined “the circle of life.” The Animal Kingdom to which we named ourselves conqueors and yet fail so desperately to see the interconnectedness of it all.
Genetics interlude… Coming soon with internet access.
Three wild dogs ripping apart an impala. They like fresh meat, by the time it drops the intestine is already out. There are less then 550 wild dogs left in the world and over the course of the trip we have now seen four! “They have the most stamina, can chase an antelope for one or two miles.” It is the deciding factor to when the antelope trips or tires. The dogs work as a team, they do it in a relay. If one tires the other will take over. A unified family. “For members that are very old they will eat extra and then go and throw up the meat so that the elder one can still eat.” Gathered around the impala, fervent jaws licking meat from bones. They feast. Bushed tails vehemently waving from the bush. The scientific name, Lycaon pictus is derived from the Greek “wolf” and Latin “painted”, translating to paint wolf. Their tails are white tipped paintbrushes. It is a signal that the kill has been made. “That’s why they wag their tails. To signal others.”
The dog’s ears perk with attentiveness. They lift their heads from the platter and scamper away, leaving dinner on the table.
The vultures turn. Five white back vultures sweep in to tidy up. Joined by another ten… twenty.. a lost count. They take to the sky and the cloud of wings dissipates just as suddenly as it arrival.
My eyes struggle to make out the figure moving with the breath of the grass. The illusive leopard. He appears a golden ghost against the landscape of his hiding. Jaws forming a vice around the impala, he drags it back into the mystery of his world. “They are very strong, can pull an entire impala up a tree.” Two jackals trail him in whining cries.
“Now you can see how nature works. It is.. what is the word… symbiotic. The dogs will kill, eat half. The vultures come. And now the leopard carries it away.” Later tonight the hyena will come chew the soft bones, leaving the hard ones to the Earth. Bones to soil.
We continued the drive, a dialogue of smiles. Wide-eyed raining enthusiasm. I think it is important to explain that the reason we had decided to go on one last game drive is to fulfill Faisal’s desperate desire to see lions. Talking to Godfrey, he was telling us how he dreamt of lions last night. We came to a stop, heads turning, scanning eyes. Godfrey pointed to the ground. ”See, there tracks. Lions…. You have to follow the tracks, you have to work hard.” Through what is know as a “bush telegraph” or communication between passing guides, we were directed to the spot.
My journal reads: LIONS Alas
Two cubs gorging on a dead baby elephant. The mother watches from the shadows of the bushes. Different prides of lions have developed prey specialization. In most areas elephants will chase the lions. Here the playing field is turned, lions leading in offence. This pride in Northern Botswana is unique in that their forte is elephants. “They will feed on an elephant carcass for up to seven days.”
The cubs are four, maybe five months. Mortality rate is very high among the young. The mother will sometimes abandon the cubs if they are suckling too much- depleting her calcium stores. They often die from snakebites, the mamba poison. At night there is danger of hyenas (a bit of truth in The Lion King) the hyenas will kill the cubs in the absence of their mother.
They look up at us inquisitively; blood dyed faces and then return to the feast, bellies hanging in fullness.
Each of us speaking our own commentary of astonishment, I over hear Thomas, “There’s flesh EVERYWHERE” and “I feel so blessed right now.” And Faisal, “Ah so cute, look at him try to rip the trunk off.”
Moving on in voiceless looks of wonder, Godfrey proclaims, “I told you I dreamt of lions.”
Driving into the day… I saw animals, I saw life. I have learned so much. Godfrey is an encyclopedia of passion. “I always wanted to be a guide. And so even in primary school I would study the biology. And you see I followed my dream. I would memorize the book. Read it every night, so I could be like: water lily page 132. Great white egret page 79…” I have gathered knowledge and gained appreciation. With pictures and journals of memories. With more then moments, I left.
A journey of giraffes; the name given when they are walking. Elegant undisturbed movements. They walk for no destination but the present. Ballet slipper feet waltz through the grass. The upper body of a statue. “You cannot hunt a giraffe. Its like you shoot a baby. You can see the tears. The lips moving saying ‘You have done something bad.’”
A tower of giraffes; the name given when they are eating from the trees. They graze down wind as to avoid the gossip of trees. The trees release hormones in a complex network of communication as a defense mechanism. The giraffes stand, watching us through spidery eyelashes. “They have long eyelashes to see further.” They chew, sideways teeth and kissing lips, velvet black tongues.
Two males begin crossing necks. “Giraffes have only 7 vertebrae in their neck, the same number as humans!” At first mistaken for the romance of two lovers and then quickly contouring with violence. Loud thumps and flexible twists. “God created them with fur on their horns so they don’t puncture the stomach when fighting for dominance. The horns anchor on to the skull at age four or five. Boys fight over the girls… natures interesting.”
Crocodile Comments: “If you fight with a crocodile before killing it, you can be killed by its blood. It will release acid making it blood toxic…this is why you can only eat the tail. The system is so strong, with a very acidic stomach… They have evolved over thousands of years. Their red blood cells have interesting immunity properties, killing bacteria.” There have been studies on crocodile blood as it has been shown to kill the HIV virus.
“The hippo is going to prey. It is a Muslim hippo, it dips its head.” Fun fact from Lyndsays gum wrapper: Hippos are susceptible to sunburn.
NINE Lions and a MALE sleeping in the shade of a thorny tree! Mufasa Mufasa Mufasa!
A family of elephants play in the mud and water. “Elephants just like humans… the males mature at age twenty-five, the females thirteen years.”
They splash themselves in the mud to cool off. “Later, they will go up against a tree and press it into their skin to absorb the nutrients.” They are very smart. If you listen you can hear the different sounds of communication. Not heard at first but there are unique notes. “They look at us with the truck and camera clicks and say, ‘wow look at them, the Homo sapiens are very stupid.’”
“Zebra stripes work as an air conditioner. White to dissipate heat and black to absorb.”
We stop, the engine is turned off. Breath held in silence. A herd of elephants is surrounding us. “When elephants kill an animal, they will always cover it with leaves or sand. To respect the dead.” If they come across the bones of another elephant, they will carefully place the bones somewhere in mourning.
Whispering foot prints as their feet press down, the Earth sinking beneath the weight. The remote is on slow motion as their reality moves in front of us. Immersed in a spirituality, you could almost reach out and touch. Texture of age, soft wrinkles. Our eyes meet and I say “may you be happy, may you be peaceful.” There is nothing quite like love from an elephant.
Kudu have big ears. Satellite dishes for good hearing while they are feeding. White stripes under their eyes help to reflect light in the dark.
Monitor lizards will lay their eggs in termite mounds. The Queen termite can be up to six inches long and live up to thirty years. She lays 35,000 eggs per day! They cultivate mushrooms. The hot air goes up to the top of the mound, where there is lots of carbon dioxide. The fungus, mushroom and termite are symbiotic, working side by side, each dependant on the other. Rock, paper, scissors. Termite, fungus, mushroom?
The termite mounds go so deep into the ground that they are studied for mining. “You can sample the soil to determine its composition and see if diamonds are there.”
“You wear the wedding ring on the left side because this is the side of your heart.” We got speaking of diamonds and conflicts… Thomas made an interesting point about “how we have created its value.” The dollar gives power to the diamond.
Into the early evening we returned to the spot we saw the lions sleeping under the tree. Godfrey said that we would wait here for them to return. “They would come from the bush to drink… let’s think like them. Lets be lions.” We proceed to “be lions”. Fully trusting his bush master instincts and bloated with happiness, we sat on the top of the car, sun tanning in laughter. A safari car drove by and the guide asked Godfrey “what’s wrong with your guests? They look so happy and they are not even watching the animals.”
"What I know for sure is that your life is a multipart series of all your experiences- and each experience is created by your thoughts, intentions, and actions to teach you what you need to know. Your life is a journey of learning to love yourself first and then extending that love to others in every encounter." - Oprah Winfrey
In the distance there was a massive herd of impala, “the McDonalds of Chobe”. The black stripes on the bums of impala are for species identification… license plates. They have black hair on their feet that covers glands. These glands release hormones when the back legs kick up, running from predators or when in the dark to communicate with the rest of the herd. Impala can jump an incredible twelve feet high and 32 feet in distance. Thomas and I joined in mutual jaw dropped expressions as one soared through the air, legs of a birds wings. The female impala will give birth as soon as the rains hit her back.
The prophecy of lions emerge. Seven lions and sunset. Right where Godfrey said they would be. He says he knew this because they follow ancient trails. More cars began to pull up, but the lions did not break the stare down of supper. “Lions don’t move their eyes much. They must lock on one animal that is not in a group to more easily distinguish.” Locked and loaded the pride split, taking up different stations in the brush. Right before our cameraed eyes the head impala, a one horned buck pranced right into the trap. “What the hell is he doing?... was he insane?” A cloud of growls as dust rose around the dead. The lions feasted in a circle of a vicious manners.
Behind us the sun was setting on their dinner party and we headed back to camp to start ours. For Top Chef: Chobe, it was arranged that both the boys and girls would cook a small meal and Godfrey would be the impartial judge. Thomas and Faisal cooked a traditional dish of pap and chakalaka with cabbage. Isabelle and I made a papya avacado chutney over mandrine orange chicken with a side of garlic bread. When asked what the dish was called we named it “The Best Day Ever.” Godfrey was too polite to decide a winner and although out of character, we were able to put a pause on the competition and sit around the fire talking and enjoying The Best Day Ever.
The pep rally sounds of our excitement had not yet faded. In fact I was able to ride the weekend high through most of the following week. We simply could not believe it. The amount of incredible things we were blessed to see. Godfrey spoke a lot of how we were such a lucky group and that it had not been a long time since he has experienced such an eventful trip. Some people will go on a 21 day safari and not see a single big predator. We talked about “the energy and balance of the universe”, a power too great to comprehend. The subtle magnetism of nature. I have been fortunate to feel its pull.
With the tiredness of an overwhelming day we headed for the tent. The instructions of Godfrey fresh in our minds: “If you hear noises close by, don’t worry. That is the honey badger… if you hear big noises that is the elephants. They know you are here. Be quiet and stay inside the tent. Do not wander past the toilet. This is the wild. Good night.” Despite the warnings, I slept calmly, cozzied up with the others. Waking to Thomas’s occasional nudges and whispers “Chloe.. Chloe..” yeah “Do you hear that?” … no. “There is rustling outside.” I did hear it. I just didn’t know how to comfort him. We laid there and listened to the untamed night.
A thunder storm of elephants. You could feel the tremble of the ground, although there is a possibility it came from within our tent. “Its time to get up. There are elephants outside. Its time to get up.” The cracking of branches and rustling of leaves. They actually we not dangerously close to us but in the silence or dark every sound was amplified, you could hear even a fly on an elephant, and most certainly the elephants meandering through the bush.
Rolled sleeping bags, stuffed tent, piled packs, shoveled sand and we were on our way out of the park. Carried by the depth of sand tracks we rode, wind on cheeks, the smell of freedom. Lyrics of The Lion King to the rising sun.
A pack of cars surrounding a tree. Godfrey parked on the other side of the commotion and we waited. Russling leaves in the upper flank of the tree and a piece of meat dangling from its limbs. Out of the shadows a leopard and her cub leaped down. Surveying the swarm and moving towards us to model, gracefully stance and curled tail. They disappeared into the grass and the park boundries disappeared behind us.
The trip back to Kasane takes about fifteen minutes. It boggles my mind that just fifteen minutes from where I sit at my desk, walk the streets and lay down to sleep, this just took place and continues to on a daily basis. When describing this weekend to my brother on the phone he said “wow sounds just like the discovery channel!” And it was, it was just like the discovery channel, except with wind in your hair. This is the circle of life. And it moves us all.
I am extremely moved by my overall Botswana experience and this weekend. I am going to further research from a genetic and nerological prospective the interconnectivness between humans and animals.
Walking forward as if on on the journey of a giraffe.
"Trust in what you love, continue to do it, and it will take you where you need to go." -Natalie Goldberg
*Photos by my wonderfully talented friend Isabelle Jones