Out of the tall grass they emerged, with swaying gaits and thirsty upheld trunks. The arrival of these beautiful pachyderms was so in tune with the peaceful atmosphere and the calmness in my spirit that I almost felt like saying, ‘oh here you guys are, right on time’…
At Wilderness Safaris’ DumaTau Camp in Botswana’s Linyanti Reserve (on the western boundary of Chobe National Park), you have the unique option of swapping one of your afternoon game drives for a luxurious cruise aboard the camp’s barge. The barge is docked right in front of the tented lounge and dining area which looks over Osprey Lagoon, a gorgeous waterscape perfect for a chilled-out boat ride.
Often on this type of activity I feel pressure to constantly ask questions and take notes, knowing that I’m there to work and horrified that anyone should think otherwise! But moved by the tranquillity of the scene – or something else that I can’t quite find the words for – I instinctively knew that to make the most of this experience I was going to need to relax more and think less. To say that I did this wholeheartedly would be an understatement! I reclined royally like the Barge Queen, loving the soft lull of the craft’s movement.
In terms of wildlife, the lagoon was aflutter with activity; kingfishers hovering like string-less puppets, noisy Egyptian geese taking off, cormorants hanging up their wings to dry and a pod of hippos eyeing us out submarine-style. Most exciting of all was a purple gallinule, a gorgeous purple-plumed wader that I can only remember seeing as a child.
As the sun started sinking so the cheerful chinks and ‘cheers’ of wine glasses and gin and tonics rose. And then, to my great delight, the elephants came – mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters, brothers and young ones, making their way to the water’s edge. Baby elephants, with their jelly trunks and pinkness, delight me in a way that words could hardly explain. One particularly awkward little ‘trunkling’ caught my full attention as it snuggled shyly between its mother’s legs.
Were the ellies going to cross the river, I wondered… and if so, will this little one make it? It soon became clear that crossing was exactly what the herd had in mind, and after some refreshing gurgle-gulps of water, they slowly went deeper. When elephants swim, their trunks (used like snorkels) are all that you will see sticking above deep water.
But what about the little one? I thought, with a sudden hollowness in my stomach. Surely he’s too small to swim such a far distance? But I quickly washed away my instinctive fear with a more rational thought… don’t worry, Rach, elephants are incredibly clever and his mother wouldn’t place him in harm’s way. Although I knew deep down that everything would be okay I couldn’t help feeling anxious as the little guy plunged. Staring hard I tried to locate his trunk amongst the chaos of the herd… time ticked by and I watched nervously. Finally, “ta-da!” a tiny little trunk peeped out right beside his mother’s head. She was swimming with only half of her head underwater shepherding him – almost lifting him at times – most diligently until they reached the far bank where he clumsily clambered up with wobbly legs and dripping ears, surrounded by his family.
As the sky blushed pink and the scorching heat subsided, I thought over the event with a sense of wonder and awe. It’s no doubt that nature can be cruel sometimes (especially for the old, young or weak) but nature can, in equal measure, be most merciful. It was a beautiful event to be a part of and a reminder that, if in doubt, have a little faith!