The road to Savuti was hard driving and we were frequently in four-wheel-drive. Although the terrain was dry, animals were plentiful. We saw the rare sight of a mother and baby rhino. Competition to see who would be first to spot a lion kept the children from falling asleep. The Savuti plains were sparse yet exciting with a smell I can only describe as ‘Africa’.
We reached camp as dusk turned the silver sand into a grey army blanket. There were elephant in the lower camp, so we pitched our tents higher up away from the dry channel. This was the place where all the men had, on previous trips, been visited by lion and hyena in the night. I was full of electric anticipation and intended to sit up and see everything there was to see.
After supper the numbers around the campfire dwindled rapidly as exhausted drivers and children flopped into their sleeping bags. Terry was in no hurry to get into his bed, so we sat gazing into the fire, philosophising about life. The magnitude of the star-studded sky and the primitive atmosphere of the bush seemed to put my life in perspective, and I felt at peace. For the first time I didn’t feel at odds with this alien Africa. Maybe I needed to feel its dust in my pores, its soil under my fingernails.
A lion called in the distance. Another answered from the opposite direction. Terry put more logs on the fire. I didn’t feel frightened.
Suddenly there was a rustling in the bushes. A honey badger emerged from the darkness, striking in his black and white coat. He sniffed all round the fire looking for scraps left from our meal, walking fearlessly right by our feet. Finding nothing to interest him, he snuffled back into the night.
We heard more rustlings, and Terry said it was a hyena. I could see nothing because I had been staring at the bright fire. We sat very still but nothing appeared.
The next morning, Terry admitted that the lions had been a lot closer than he’d led me to believe.
We packed up, once more stopping at the waterhole. We hoped to see lions, but all the other animals were too calm, so we guessed there wasn’t any danger. We drove over the sand ridge towards Chobe, and Michael’s exhaust fell off.
Eventually we reached Kasane, luckily before the shop closed. Camping leisurely beside the river, we watched as the twilight exploded into a glorious sunset. As we lay in bed we could hear hippos grunting and snorting, and the shrill ultra-sonic pinging of the fruit bats.
The next morning the men fixed their exhausts before taking us on a leisurely drive to view game. We saw a tawny eagle demolish a small baboon. Areas of nothing but grey sand spiked with white dead tree stumps, looking like the aftermath of atomic war, showed the devastation caused by the elephants. It added a bleak and haunting edge to the hypnotic fascination of Chobe.
The following day Terry had to drive back to Orapa, and we were booked on the afternoon booze cruise. It was a wonderfully relaxing way to look at game and tan our legs. The boat weaved in and out of the hippos stopping at an island, where the more adventurous of us could leap over the black mud, on to terra firma, and walk closer to the grazing buck. The children all managed to clear the mud, but Rod did not. When he got back into the boat, there was a mass movement to the other side of the boat, where the air smelt sweeter.