Saturday, June 9, 2001

Savuti Marsh, Botswana III

I leave camp with lights out, driving by moonlight. I heard a lion’s roar near the campsite, and I drive south. Stopping the truck a mile or two out, I sit and listen to the African night. A jackel’s yelp. Bird song. Baboons squabbling in a distant tree. No lions.

And then I make out three shadows, padding silently through the sand, moving with quiet purpose. I feel a mix of wonder, fear and joy at the sight. I hear nothing but the odd growl and purr as they stroll into the night.

Further south, five sets of eyes reflect in my headlights, small golden coals lighting up with curiosity. Half-grown cubs play in the sand tracks, rolling around in the tall grass and setting up ambushes and leaping onto each other. A lioness’ call sends the cubs scrambling off into the brush with me fumbling behind.

Friday, June 8, 2001

Savuti Marsh, Botswana II

Pop quiz. In the things they never taught you in photo school department...

An eight-foot long, highly agitated python hides under your truck. What do you do?

I think it’s safe to say that prodding it with a tripod leg until it emerges enraged, and promptly setting off after it with a macro lens to shoot a portrait is not on everyone’s short list of bright ideas.

And that was assuming that my guidebook was right, and the python would only bit me with his numerous sharp teeth, then coil around me, working toward my eventual suffocation. As opposed to something truly unpleasant.

We danced back and forth for a while before he broke cover and darted for the thick brush. On the way past, he struck once, hard, at my tire, leaving two little fang marks on the dusty sidewall.

Thursday, June 7, 2001

Savuti Marsh, Botswana

In the depths of winter here, the nights are quite long, which gives me way too much time to think. I spent much of last night pondering mortality, but only after nearly stepping on a puff adder. I’d taken one step too many in the dark, heard a long, low hiss and hopped back swearing. Grabbing a flash light out of the truck, the light showed a stout snake with small head and ugly disposition.

After I disturbed him, he weaved through the tall, dead grass and leaves in no particular hurry, allowing me time to fetch my guidebook, turn to the reptiles page and to authoritatively identify him as one of the more lethal snakes on the continent. Shit.

I follow after the snake with my flash light for longer than necessary, inexplicably drawn to him. It’s as if Death itself brushed past in the darkness. Instead of being suitably chastened, I cape along behind, tugging at his robe. “Hey, mister. Is that really you?...”

It occurred to me later, sometime after midnight when the lions began to roar near camp, that this is all an exercise in blind faith. In particular faith that my thin nylon tent will somehow discourage a lion or elephant or hyena from sending me to an early, unpleasant demise.

I followed the lions’ progress through camp, debating whether to start being officially worried. I apparently wasn’t that worried, since I drifted back to sleep instead.