My alarm went off at 5:30 AM, I got dressed and we packed up the jeep for a game drive. Animal viewing is best in the early morning hours. As the sun was coming up over the horizon, we passed hyenas, cape buffaloes and kudus by the dozens. Still, I was exhausted and could hardly keep my eyes open. What woke me up, though, were the leopard prints Chocs found in the dirt. We followed them for about a mile and then they disappeared under a tree. Chocs circled the tree and sure enough, we found a leopard resting underneath. It had just eaten. We could tell by the blood around its mouth. Now, we’ve seen all of the Big 5 — lions, rhinos, elephants, cape buffalo and finally, the elusive leopard!
Okay, quick funny story. Wyatt just stepped in a pile of elephant dung. I know, I know, it’s totally childish, but I can’t stop laughing. I mean, right now he’s sitting in the dirt trying to clean it off his shoe with a stick.
There is so much wildlife in the Okavango Delta, it’s almost hard to believe! Chocs said there are over 260,000 large mammals in this area and I don’t doubt it for a second. Everywhere you look you see something big—zebras or giraffes or cape buffaloes or elephants. We also explored the waterways on a mokuru, which is a small African canoe. To be honest, I wasn’t very comfortable on the water in such a small boat knowing there are 15-foot crocodiles and pods of hippos all over the delta. We did see a few crocodiles, too. They were sunning themselves on shore and lucky for us, they decided to stay put. We also paddled up on a family of hippos eating grass. Again, luckily, they didn’t pay any attention to us. I can’t image there’s a better place anywhere on earth to view wildlife. I want to see all of Africa’s Big 5, which include the lion, rhino, elephant, cape buffalo and leopard. Still no lion or leopard sightings. I hope it won’t be long, though.
When I heard the lion roar I got excited and a little nervous all at the same time. I mean, I couldn’t wait to see a lion, but this is the king of beasts we’re talking about. Ruler of the African savannah! Not an animal you want to mess with, right? Well, Chocs drove us right up close to one in the safari jeep. A safari jeep with no doors! This lion was literally within feet of us and could have easily pounced on top of me within seconds if it wanted to. I don’t think I moved a muscle the whole time we sat there, which seemed like an eternity. The lion just stared at me, like he was thinking, ‘Hmm, would this boy make for a good meal or is he too skinny to even bother?’ When Chocs pulled away, I said to Chocs, “That was cool and all, but next time we come across a possible man-eater, how about we keep a little more distance between us?” He just laughed.
As you may have figured out by now, I’m a people person. Wherever we go, I am always fascinated by the men, women and children we meet. I like getting to know a thing or two (or 200) about them and their local customs.
So, I’m going to share here some of the things that I learn and observe. Think of these “culture shots” as quick snap shots about the people we meet and their way of life.
In Botswana, there’s a principle called botho. If you look up the word “botho” on the internet, you are going to find several different definitions. But the way I understand it, as explained by one of our African guides, is that botho is a set of agreed upon qualities that make a person good. Among those important qualities are being kind and compassionate, respecting your elders, having good manners, being humble, and living up to your responsibilities.
In African culture, community is a big deal. Unlike the American ideal of being independent, African culture stresses interdependence. So botho helps members of the community have respect for one another, anticipate the needs of each other, and see the importance of taking care of the whole group.
In South Africa, botho is referred to as “ubuntu.” Here’s a great clip of Nelson Mandela explaining ubuntu.
Today was my kind of day. We went to a small Bushman village and met many of its residents. Everyone was kind, but I especially loved the children. They were so animated and excited to meet us. Our blond hair is pretty unusual to them! We took them lollipops, which they were excited about, of course. What kid doesn’t like candy?
Along with showing us around where they live, they sang and danced for us and tried to teach us one of their favorite songs. Wyatt and I were not quick to get the song down, but I think they knew how much we loved meeting them and hearing them sing.
We made it to Africa! I’m so tired and loopy from all of the travel and jet lag. I keep thinking one thing, but when I go to talk, something crazy comes out of my mouth. I’ll take that as a sign to climb into my sleeping bag as soon as I take a few notes, here.
Did you know jet lag is medically recognized as a psychological condition caused by alterations to circadian rhythm? It results from rapid, long distance travel across many time zones.
I think I could easily sleep for three days—if it weren’t for the enormous spider Gannon just found in our tent. Seriously the biggest 8-legged creature I’ve ever seen. I have to admit, I freaked a little. Probably because I’m so tired. (I know Gannon is never going to let me live this one down.)
During dinner, I asked our guide, Chocs, if there are a lot of spiders here. He said No with a big, mischievous grin that did nothing to put me at ease. Then he proceeded to tell us to be sure to let him know if we were to see astraight horn tarantula.
“You’ll know if you see one,” Chocs said. “It’s a menacing, hairy creature with a horn coming out of its thorax.”
Great. And they’re also very fast and aggressive. (But luckily, that’s not the kind Gannon found in the tent.)
OK, I’m giving my sleeping bag one last, hard shake to make sure there aren’t any spiders in there. Good night.
It’s late, but how am I supposed to sleep when tomorrow is the day we leave for Africa?
Wyatt, my twin brother, and I (with a little help from our parents) have spent a lot of time planning this trip. We’ve been dreaming about a visit to the great continent, and now it’s finally here.
Ever since I was 8 years old and read somewhere that leopards are skilled tree climbers, I’ve wanted to go on safari and see them with my own eyes. Now the only thing between me, Wyatt, and the Kalahari Desert is a lot of time on airplanes.
In the morning, we fly from Colorado to Washington, D.C. (It will take about 5 hours.) It’s a 17-hour flight from D.C. to Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city. From there, we’ll fly to a smaller city called Maun, and then hop on a little plane to the Kalahari Desert where we’ll meet our guides. All together, we have to fly well over 24 hours just to get from home to the Bush.
My mind is racing. Did I charge my extra camera battery? Will we get to see a lion? I have to get footage of a lion. What kind of food do you eat in the Bush? Will leopards walk through camp at night while we’re sleeping?
OK, signing off to try to get some sleep. Wish me luck.
Her gaze may look gentle, but this mother rhinoceros is fierce--especially when protecting her young.
I had another dream about Botswana last night. It didn’t make a lot of sense. But that’s not surprising since dreams are usually a strange collage of your experiences and your fears mixed with at least a few absurd details.
When I woke up, the first thing I thought about was the fever I got during our trip on the Okavango Delta. I had a lot of vivid dreams during that long, febrile night in the tent. I guess you could say I was delirious. I don’t remember the details of any of those dreams, but I know I had a lot of weird visions swirling around in my head. Did you know that after five minutes of waking, 50% of your dream is forgotten, and within 10 minutes after waking up you forget 90% of your dream?
Back to my dream last night … I dreamt that we were traveling through the bush to rescue an injured baby rhino. Ha. You’ll understand how crazy that image is after you read our book. (It’s finally coming out next month!) We met a baby rhino–and her angry mother–but we definitely weren’t rescuing either of them. Talk about an intimidating creature. Along with being fierce and fast–they can run up to 30 miles per hour–they have an “extended ‘vocabulary’ of growls, grunts, squeaks, snorts and bellows.”
Unlike my crazy dreams, I will never forget hearing those guttural sounds first hand. I think they are embedded in my bones.