Gliding down the calm waters of the Chobe River in Botswana in gentle communion with herds of Elephants - this could be what Eden was like.
There's a glamorous lady with dark hair delicately eating a sandwich and for a minute I see Elizabeth Taylor. Perhaps the greatest claim to fame of Chobe Game Lodge is that Taylor and Richard Burton spent several months there in the 1960's and even go re-married in the Park. The high tea spread out before me was fit for Hollywood royalty. After sandwiches and spring rolls, cake and pastries and a refreshing ice-tea, it was time to embark on our evening river cruise.
At the dock I ungraciously clambered aboard the flat bottomed pontoon and our excellent guide took the boat out into the current. Just up the river bank we passed two old Buffalo Bulls (usually called Dagga Boys in Africa) they form separate solo groups from the large breeding herds. "Dagga" refers to mud which they love wallowing in. They gave the boat a doleful stare and lay down to rest. Later that night they would come and investigate the excitement of our boma dinner.
A little further up the river in the dappled shade of the sparse riverine bush we spotted a shy bush buck and her fawn which had eyes that were liquid black pools. They slipped away into the undergrowth and we puttered up river. Zebras called to each other with honking whinny's as they galloped and frolicked across the floodplain.
I was awed by the sense of space; the horizon seemed to stretch forever. I could just make out black specks, indistinct blobs that were scattered like peppercorns across the landscape. Through my binoculars I realised that these were herds of Elephants feeding on the rich grasses of the floodplains. There are reputed to be around 120 000 Elephant that converge on the northern regions of Botswana in the dry winter months. Suddenly we had a much closer view.
We came up to a well worn path and barrelling down towards us, trunks outstretched and rumbling in anticipation was herd of Elephants. They splashed joyfully waist deep into the water just meters from us and quenched their thirst. There was a tiny little newborn among the group and we delighted in his inept fumbles, as he had not yet learnt to use his trunk.
It was now time to play and the Elephants stated spraying water over their backs to cool down from the heat of the day. Some plunged in quite deep, and lay down to wallow. We sat watching them for about twenty minutes till they had slaked their thirst and turned to go back into the bush.
There was much amusement at watching the little Elephant struggle to clamber up the steep bank, until its mother gave it a heave from behind with its trunk. Continuing upriver the black specks became more distinct and there were herds of Elephants as far as the eye could see. Some turned out to be Giraffes which were silhouetted against the horizon. As the sun dropped lower and the landscape took on golden pastel hues the drinks were retrieved from the cool box.
Our guide Chipo cut the engine and we drifted tranquillity in a backwater. Nearby an Elephant bull was ripping up clumps of grass. We watched him bash of the dirt, slowly inspect it before eating it. We could hear him slowly masticating each clump. On the other side of the river two Impala rams chased each other, clashing horns and butting heads as they fought for the right to mate with the nearby harem of females, who seem somewhat disinterested in the outcome.
The sun changed colour becoming a deeper and deeper orange until it was as red as a drop of blood in the sky. We turned out attention to a pair of acrobatic African Skimmers who were performing daring flying feats as they flew with incredible precision with their beaks just skimming the water to catch a fish.
As we started up the engine and headed back down to the lodge a huge herd of Buffalo numbering in the hundreds came down to the water's edge to drink. (The next morning we would encounte them again, less one which had become dinner for a pride of Lions). We arrived back at the lodge in the gathering darkness and headed up to our suite to freshen up before an exciting Boma dinner.
By Michael English