Thursday, December 2, 2010

On Safari (Part 1)

Brian Jackman, the 2004 Travel Writer of the Year, once wrote, “Everything in Africa bites, but the Safari Bug is worst of all.” I couldn’t agree more. Over the weekend, I went on my first African safari and had an incredible experience. The PC volunteers who hosted us for language week arranged a safari for all of us to go on after we finished our language training. All week I was like a kid waiting for Christmas morning and it was hard to sit still on Friday waiting until we could leave.

We left Maun shortly after finishing up our language lessons on Friday and headed to a place called Kwhai in the Moremi Wildlife Reserve. Other than a brief rain shower, our ride up was uneventful. We got into the park just as night fell and found our campsite. We quickly set up our tents and our guide got a fire going and prepped for dinner.

We were all milling about, unloading the truck and standing around the fire when our guide, Alwyn, froze and cocked his ear. “Lion!” he yelled, and headed towards the truck. We all quickly looked at one another and in the same moment all bolted after him, thinking that there was a lion in camp. Alwyn shut off the engine and stood there. He quickly laughed when he saw that he had spooked all of us. He explained that he had heard lions calling and wanted to turn off the engine so we could hear it. We all stood in silence and then we heard the lion call again. A lion’s call is hard to describe in words, but is short of a roar. A lion’s call kind of sounds like a heavy huffing sound and I would never have guessed what it was without being told. Alwyn explained that it was two different groups of lions calling to each other to meet up to hunt. The lions were a few kilometers away but we could hear them clearly.

We sat around the fire and Alwyn cooked up some spaghetti. As we sat there fighting off the bugs. I heard a rustling sound behind me. I turned to the volunteer next to me and asked if he heard the same thing. I looked around and everyone was seated in a chair by the fire. The sound was not one of us. I turned on my flashlight and aimed it at the sound. It was a hyena which had snuck into our camp and was 15 feet behind me and he quickly ran off. We joked about “almost being eaten by a hyena” and Alwyn told us that we should not worry too much about a solitary hyena. Someone then asked if lions would walk through our camp. Alwyn said that in this part of the preserve, the lions are somewhat used to being around humans and are not curious about their camps. He told us that since there is nothing you can do to keep lions out (even fires) that we shouldn’t worry as long as we were in our tents. He has a story about waking up next to a lion but didn’t tell it to us.

Alwyn has been a guide in Botswana for over 15 years and has guided all kinds of people and even helped out for some television shows. He helped the filming of some footage that appeared in “Planet Earth.” The scene where lions take down an elephant was filmed in the Moremi Wildlife Reserve (not far from where we were) in Botswana and Alwyn served as a guide and helped out. We sat and peppered Alwyn with questions and listened to his stories until it was time to turn in.

All through the night I could hear the lion calls as well countless other animal noises, bird calls, and insect chirps and decided that I really didn’t need to leave my tent for anything.