On September 8th, late in the evening, I pressed "Send" to email the manuscript of Once a Rebel to my editor. And the next morning we flew to Africa. I wrote 7K words that last day in order to have a semblance of an ending. I do not recommend this. <G>
But the safari in Botswana was wonderful. Nothing like going off the grid when you've just finished a book! I'd had no particular awareness of Botswana until I read the first No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith. Born in what is now Zimbabwe, McCall Smith was a law professor at the University of Botswana for many years, and his love and understanding of Southern Africa is profound.
The mysteries are gentle and involve the keen understanding of human nature of the protagonist, Mma Precious Ramotswe. The stories are entertaining, but what made the greatest impact for me was the portrait of a happy and much loved society. Botswana, once the British protectorate called Bechuanaland, has one of the most stable governments in Africa, and one of the highest average incomes. The size of France but with only about two million people, mostly from one tribe, it's spacious and beautiful–and a perfect place for a safari. (I loved watching the giraffes because of their elegant grace and zen-like calm.)
We chose Micato for our safari company because of their reputation for taking care of people very, very well, and we were not disappointed. Under the leadership of a very experienced guide/sheepdog, our journey was smooth as silk, from flying in itty-bitty 10 passenger airplanes to the grandeur of the Royal Livingston hotel on our last days to see Victoria Falls.
We spent two nights each at three different safari camps, each with its own special character and wildlife specialties. Since wild animals are most active at dawn and dusk, the usual pattern of a safari day is to be woken at about 5:30 am (bleagh!!!), given a Continental breakfast, then off we'd go on game drives in great big open Land Cruisers to see what we might see.
The drivers have rigorous academic and practical training and are extremely knowledgeable about animals, birds, plants, migration and mating patterns and many other things. At our first camp, the guide knew that the red lechee deer bachelor herd like to hang out on the airstrip, and he recruited several guests to help clear the strip before our airplane to the next camp could land. (Warthogs kneel and use their broad snout to excavate for goodies.)
At the Savuti camp, our guide could have drawn the family tree of all the lions who had lived in the area for the last couple of decades. He knew the lion sisters, and their young male half brothers who came for a friendly visit, touching noses in greeting. Very impressive knowledge!
Note how close the lioness at the right is to a truck. The animals get very used to the trucks and feel no threat. This lioness and her sister ambled down the middle of the road and flopped down to relax in the sand.
After several hours of looking at wildlife, it's back to camp for a substantial brunch/English breakfast, then several hours of lounging or napping through the afternoon. Tea at 3:30, then off for a second game drive. The evening drive pauses for the near-sacred ritual of "sundowners"–drinks and snacks as the sun sets. A South African told us that for him, it was a time to reflect on the day, but the British had instituted the custom because they like to drink. <G>
Dinner about 8:00, and after dark the camps always provide an escort for people returning to their cottages or tents. More about that later.
Created by a river that couldn't find its way to the sea, the Okavango Delta is a vast desert oasis of reeds and channels and wildlife. Our first stop was at Xugana (Ku-ga-na) Island in the heart of the delta. When I asked our South African guide if the channels were dredged so boats could travel through, he said no, that's what hippopotami were for. <G>)
Traveling by boat, we saw elephants bathing, a breeding colony of birds, a Very Large Crocodile basking on the bank, and elephants swimming happily. Magical!
Next stop was the Savuti Lodge in a very dry and desert-ish area. To keep the vast numbers of elephants alive until the rainy season arrived, the government had put in watering holes, as we saw a LOT of elephants there, as well as other animals. Harsh and beautiful, Savuti was memorable, and not only for its lions. (Baobab trees to the left.)
The last safari camp was in another part of the Okavango Delta, the Khwai River Lodge The other camps had solid cabins, but Khwai used tents. Luxury tents for what Anne Gracie calls "glamping"–that is, glamour camping. <G>
Besides close views of a lady leopard, there was also the opportunity to take a ride in a mocoro–a traditional hollowed out log boat rather like a canoe. Except that there is such a demand for mocoros that the government started making fiberglass versions to save trees. But they looked convincing, and gliding along at water level, poled by young men who had grown up by the river, it was peaceful and lovely. Though the hippo we visited who was so bad tempered that he was expelled from his herd had an exciting moment or two. <G>
Remember I mentioned that we were always escorted back to our quarters after dark? The last night we were heading back to our tent. I was ahead with a flashlight to unzip the tent when I heard rustling in the grass. It didn't sound like a large animal, but maybe hyenas or baboons like to scrounge around in the dark, so I went back to our escort and said I'd heard something, not anything big like an elephant but something.
So he went ahead with his flashlight and returned to say, "It's an elephant." <g> Directly in front of our tent, maybe four feet from the entrance flap. Calmly our escort said the best way in was to unzip the end flaps and enter our tent that way. Since he thought that was safe, I unzipped the end and we went inside. The elephant rustled around the tent for at least half an hour, crunching branches and brushing the canvas. The Mayhem Consultant took a shower, which showed great sang froid given that there was an elephant maybe four feet away. <G>
But the elephant eventually wandered off and all was peaceful. Just another night on safari!
Mary Jo, adding that "seeing the elephant" was a Civil War era expression for seeing something exotic and wonderful, though it comes at a price
. These days the price is only a credit card and jet lag rather than risking life and limb. <G>