My backside hitting the cold metal of the jeep’s seat did more to wake me up than coffee. One tends to think of Africa as hot. Well, it is in summer, but we were here in May (winter in the southern hemisphere) and the pre-dawn chill, compounded by being in an open jeep, made me very glad we had warm jackets, several layers of sweaters, hats, and gloves. After my first encounter with the metal seat, I was also grateful for our driver’s thoughtful pile of warm blankets. As the sun rose, I could empathize with the baboons sitting in patches of sunlight, all facing the rising sun, thawing out from the cold night like some religious gathering.
Our morning drives started in lobby of the Lodge where we were served chunks of rusk, sort of a safari version of sea biscuits or hard tack. Got rather used to it by the second day, washed down with tea or coffee, and it certainly helped tide us over until we got back for breakfast.
While the afternoon cruises seemed to be mostly birds, hippos and crocs; the sunset drives, primarily elephants (they call them eles), the dawn drives were a free-for-all. Every morning we’d see something different. Much of the landscape is sandy with low, dense scrub sprinkled with dead trees, compliments of the ravenous elephants. However, the stark branches made elegant perches for the dozens of eagles we saw.
Among the other sightings were: baboons grooming (after they’d thawed out), an African wild cat scampering with the giraffes; an interrupted impala courtship (including a good tongue lashing by the handsome suitor for our rudeness), a Chobe bushbuck, very shy and found only in this area, and so well camouflaged that even after our driver pointed him out we had trouble finding him. We saw small herds of skittish impala; puku, which look like impala, only darker and stockier; glimpses of even more skittish sable antelope; Cape buffalo who aren’t the least bit shy and have attitudes to match their stony glare; and, of course, eles. Our guide also showed us the tiny creatures of Africa, including an army of ants on the move and a migration of frogs, which looked like leaves flitting in the wind.
Though we didn’t see any kills, we saw plenty of evidence of death in the wild: a Cape buffalo stripped to ribs, skull and spine by lion, and the carcass of one very large elephant 100 yards off the track. Even at that distance, and the fact he was three weeks dead, striped white with vulture droppings, the stench was substantial.