Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Khwai River Lodge, Botswana

This lodge, in the Moremi Reserve, is striking.  It is situated right on the lip of the delta and the sight of grazing elephants greeted us as we checked in.  The 'tents' look rustic from the outside but are luxurious within, including polished wooden floors, double sinks, and all the amenities of a fine hotel.  The porch, facing the tall grass of the delta, features a hammock strung beneath a thatched roof.  Linda climbed in and was asleep within minutes.  Can't blame her.

Marc, Patti, and I stayed awake for a sundown game drive and it was quite the experience.  Elephants were everywhere, exceeded in number only by the omnipresent impala with the resemblance of the letter 'M' etched in brown hide on an otherwise white rump.  Our guide explained that this makes the impala the McDonalds of Africa because they are such a common food here.  We saw other variety of antelope, hippos, and exotic birds fluttering away in every color imaginable.

After cocktails and snacks in the bush, we headed back to camp while our guide used a searchlight to spot for animals.  A skulking hyena darted across our path, and we then came upon a honey badger eating a cobra--the badger is immune to the cobra's venom.  The snake was still alive, writhing, as the badger ate away.  This likely sounds quite gruesome, but none of us were particularly disturbed by witnessing it in person.  The spectacle reminded us all of the cycle of life.  If I've taken away anything in a few days here, watching the hunter and the hunted, it is a new appreciation and acceptance of my own mortality.  The vast diversity of nature and the uncertainty of the next moment of life serves as a constant reminder to, indeed, focus on the journey and not the destination.

This point was reinforced when we returned to the lodge just as a bull elephant strolled across the grounds.  It turns out that this particular massive beast has a taste for palm fruit.  Just such a tree stands next to the administrative office of the lodge.  As the bull approached, our guide urged us to get out of the vehicle and into the lodge.  There was no argument from any of us.  We watched from ten feet away as the bull placed his head against the palm tree, which has a diameter of at least a foot, and braced himself like a gigantic football lineman.  With an incredible heave, the elephant rocked back and forth, each time shaking the tree like a human being would shake a sapling, to dislodge the fruit.  The resort says that he does the same thing nearly every night, has destroyed the garden they once planted below the palm, and in general does what he wants.  As the guide explained, "No one stops the elephant but the elephant."  We were ignored by the bull as though we weren't there.  Of what consequence to him were we?

Night brought an excellent meal, chats with some fellow travelers, and the anticipation of another day.  We were told we'd see lions, and none of us could wait.  The camp insists upon escorting all guests to their rooms after dark.  Thinking of the elephant, none of us disagreed and we strolled to our tents to imagine what wonders we would encounter on yet another day.

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