Friday, February 13, 2004

The unexpected is what adds that extra dimension to a safari experience. Sometimes, it is the experience.

Several years ago at a safari lodge in the Okavango Delta of Botswana, I spoke to a British lady I had seen two days earlier at another lodge noted for being in an area that was home to many elephants.

“You missed it,” she said. “The night after you left, I was awakened by a dreadful noise. The elephants were responsible. They rubbed against the acacia trees, and first the pods fell on the canvas roof of our tent. Then the worst noise of all: The elephants with their trunks whooshed them off so they could eat them. I got up at one point and opened the canvas window. And there, about a foot away on the other side were these enormous elephant tusks. That’s all I could see in the dark.”

“Wow,” I said, “you must have been scared.”

“Yes, and no,” she said, “but I would have given anything to have had such experience. I will never forget it. Splendid.”

Last year, a friend sent me a copy of an e-mail received from a safari lodge in … let’s just say Africa. The names of the innocent have been deleted.

The boma, in which the people sit, is a fenced enclosure — often not too sturdy and usually with an open entrance — around a house. In a safari lodge, it also may be an open area that is partially surrounded by buildings.

“Hi. I thought I would let you know about our hair-raising experience in the boma last night. Three men, one of them blind, and I were sitting in the boma having coffee after dinner, chatting and laughing, when I heard something behind the table. I looked around, and there was this big male lion standing about 25 feet from the table.

“I told them to sit very still because there is this male lion at the back of the table. Well we all froze. But when I looked to the other side, I had even a bigger fright. Not even a yard away from me was this other huge male staring me in the eyes. I told the guest who was still watching the other one, ‘… there is another one right next to me; sit very still.’ (First time ever I swore in front of a guest.) Well, then this lion started moving even closer and started sniffing at me.

“By that time, I couldn’t look anymore; I was waiting for him to take me by the arm and drag me off. The two other guests said to me afterward that at one stage he was about 7 inches away from me and sniffing me. I was so scared.

“Well, after what felt like hours, but was about a minute or two, this lion started to walk past and behind the table and went to lie down about 20 feet from the table, watching us. Lion No. 1 had moved on and was nearly past the main building when another male (No. 3) came walking out of the bush, [relieved himself] behind the table and went to lie down next to lion No. 2.

“[Another lodge employee] walked into the boma to check on the table, so I signaled that she must stop, go back and call [another member of the staff]. She got hold of [another employee] on the radio, and he and [another man] came down. In the meantime, lion No. 4 came out of the bush and went to lie down next to lion No. 2, and No. 3 got up and moved farther away.

“[The two men reached by radio] came into the boma with their rifles and first helped the blind guest out and then came to walk out with the rest of us. We waited in the kitchen for a while for the lions to move off and for our heartbeats to slow down before we could move to the lounge to have a few stiff whiskeys.

“[Our two rescuers] saw that the guests got to their rooms safely, and they took me home when those lions started roaring in the lodge. [The rescuers] went down to the lodge again to check if the guests were OK and tried to chase the lions out of the camp with the vehicle. After that, things started to calm down, but it was about 3 a.m. before I managed to fall asleep.

“Well, I am very happy to still be alive and in one piece this morning and am sure the guests are, as well. …

“See you soon.


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