Even being charged by a herd of wild elephants could not dampen my enthusiasm for this beautiful country. My husband and I have traveled there twice now and have loved it each time.
However, getting there the first time was not so easy. I should back up to the events leading up to the first safari trip my now-husband and I made to Botswana. At the time I was still practicing law and had an extremely heavy caseload with little to no control over my schedule.
Taking off to travel to the other side of the world with little to no communication (i.e., no Blackberry reception) seemed quite undoable.
Plus, I was quite scared to go on the trip. Riding in an open air Jeep with lions, leopards, hippos, rhinos, and other dangerous animals all around just seemed – well quite dangerous.
However, my clever now-husband had two strategies up his sleeve to convince me to go. One was to ask everyone we knew if they had been on safari and if so whether they liked it. Everyone who had been on safari, of course, said yes.
The second, more long lasting and impactful strategy that even I did not realise the significance of until later was that he bought me a “fancy” camera for my birthday in preparation for a safari trip. Neither one of us knew a thing about cameras, but fortunately the salesperson recommended a 70-300mm telephoto lens, which made all the difference. When we landed on a small dirt airstrip in a six passenger plane in Botswana, I was amazed.
Everywhere you looked, there were different types of animals – some roaming on the “runway.”
The topography was wide open. What I did not see was a scintilla of human existence – no fences, no trash, no signs, no telephone towers, no wires, no roads, no structures, no humans except the driver who picked us up to take us to our camp. I remember having the feeling that I had been dropped into an alternative universe – and not only that, but it was at the beginning of time.
The first day we went on safari, thanks to our superb, uber-knowledgeable guide, we were very fortunate to find a leopard up in a tree with no branches against a gorgeous blue sky. This is where I took my first photos with my new “fancy” camera with the telephoto lens.
For the rest of the safari, I took so many photographs that my husband and the guide were having fun laughing at me. I think they had more fun laughing at me taking photos than watching the wildlife. My husband and I fell in love with our guide and tracker, both of whom were incredibly warm, genuine, hospitable, kind and most importantly, incredibly knowledgeable in all things wildlife.
This came in handy the day we had a rather heart-stopping experience. It was on the third day, after I had finally gotten comfortable with the notion that if you are in the jeep, not talking loudly and not standing up, the animals just ignore you – including lionesses who, in our experience, were literally right next to the tire of our jeep for a while. It is as if you are not there.
Well… not so fast. On this third day, we were watching a herd of elephants far in the distance. The jeep was stopped so we could watch them from afar. I was taking photographs of them and they were traveling across the area from where our jeep was parked.
After a while, however, I noticed that they changed direction and started coming directly toward our jeep. I was continuing to take photographs until I realised the whole herd of elephants was right on top of us (well, 5 meters from our jeep – we measured afterwards). The lead elephant was pregnant and she was mad.
The elephants were stomping their feet, raising and lowering their trunks and making a lot of noises to let us know they were unhappy. They walked part way around the jeep. Our guide kept saying, stay calm Kay. Hmm. I was not seeing a Plan B.
We could not start the jeep and try to outrun them. Just starting the jeep would startle them enough to cause them to charge for sure. I did not see any guns in the jeep – and even if there was a gun, or two, I didn’t think it would help against an entire herd of elephants.
Getting out of the jeep and running was obviously the worst thing to do. So, first I broke eye contact with the lead elephant and put my camera down. Then I bowed my head down, took deep breaths and waited and prayed, waited, and prayed, waited and prayed, and waited and prayed until the elephants got bored with us and moved on. Whew!