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Archive for June, 2011

You are driving down a dusty brown road and the wind blowing through the open window of the Jeep is whipping your hair wildly about your face. The surface is rutted and you bump along, feeling yourself rise slightly off the seat whenever your drive over a particularly sizeable hump in the road. This road is wide open and empty; you are the only traveller, casually heading towards your destination. There is no need to hurry; you have all the time in the world. You are in Africa now and all sense of urgency has left you. You are on holiday.

You see the big baobab tree coming up on the right hand side of the road; just as the old man had said it would be. You cannot quite fathom its strange root like branches reaching upwards toward the sky; surely it is the wrong way up? Its girth is so wide it would take 5 of you to circle it; arms stretched wide, fingers straining to reach the other side. You pull off the main road and head down a narrow path which opens up to reveal a rustic hotel which boasts a sun bleached thatch roof and a broadly smiling doorman.

“Dumela”, the man shouts above the din of you vehicle, “welcome to Botswana and the mighty Chobe River”. You grin in his direction, excited by the sight which you know awaits you; the mighty Chobe, source of life. You jump out of the Jeep, grab your backpack and head through the hotel. In the courtyard you are greeted by another colossal baobab and all around its trunk play families of mongooses; they roll and dance like kittens, each vying for attention under the baking African sun. You head down a small concrete path, following the sound of rushing water to the boat that awaits you.

When you reach the wooden jetty two men are readying the boat for departure. The water is dazzling as the sun shimmers across the ripples and you are momentarily blinded. It is so wide and so deep and the jetty moves beneath you as the strength of the current causes swells which roll past, smacking gently off the side of the boat. One of the men reaches out his hand for you to grab as you make your way from the jetty into the boat. You take a seat near the front because you are about to witness a show like no other you have ever seen. You are on the Chobe River and its energy is beginning to infuse you with excitement and delight. You are handed an ice cold Kili beer and you sit back as the boat leaves the jetty and enters the flowing streams of water.

 

Before your eyes the sheer expanse of the Chobe River unfolds; it dwarfs the boats which float off in the distance and makes the usually gargantuan hippo seem miniscule. You can hear the snorting of the hippo pods, as they loll against each other and shoot intimidating glares at the boats which venture too close. You could sit for hours watching them play; sinking into the murky depths and rising a few feet away with jaws open wide and little ears shaking water droplets. But on you float, and with each passing metre you become aware of great, glossy black birds with their wings outstretched, drying in the sun. They are cormorants; prehistoric looking creatures which dive deep for fish. They perch on branches like statues, their only movement their feathers which ruffle against the wind as they dry.

You become aware of a strange sound; a grinding? You are floating towards a reed bed and you suddenly realise that you are in fact not metres away from a large bull elephant. He has been camouflaged by the tall green reeds which he is eating a path through. Just the top of his head and his tusks can be seen but his munching rings clear across the water. This enormous pachyderm has swum out from the rivers edge to find the most tender and sweetest stalks and will remain here until he has had his fill and the light has begun to fade from the day. You move on and leave him in peace.

It is not just the river itself which is teeming with life; both the river’s edge and the sky are filled with various forms of activity. As the boat drifts towards the shore you make out a monitor lizard sunning itself on a piece of driftwood. Next to it a small crocodile lies with its mouth wide open; both lizard and crocodile studiously ignores the other. Their interest is purely in absorbing the heat of the day which will warm their bodies into the night. Above you the powerful fish eagle glides, its call has become your sound track to Africa. Its life mate is settled on the branch of a marula tree, eating the soft fruits; a starter before the dinner of fish her mate will bring. Smaller birds move through the air in great flocks, dipping low above the water and then soaring as one back over the reed beds. The calls of numerous birds fill the air and resonate across the water.

There’s a scent in the air; it’s unfamiliar to you because your nostrils still store the odours of the city. This is the scent of freedom, the scent of adventure flowing off of the river and across the lands. It swirls around the boat and soaks your clothes and your hair; it’ll follow you home. As you now motor back up the river you’ll take that scent with you and commit it to memory, to take out every now and again, to remind yourself of this time and this place and how right it felt. The Chobe is now part of you; it has become a place of rest, to be revisited in times of anxiety and worry. To be relived every so often, even if only in memory.

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