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Botswana & Vic Falls - Part (Chitabe Trails) -- First Timer Reporting

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Aug 8th, 2004, 09:14 AM
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Botswana & Vic Falls - Part (Chitabe Trails) -- First Timer Reporting

Our next camp was Chitabe Trails. We had no water activities here, although we did drive out to the Gomoti Channel one day to see the hippos. There was a whole pool full of them - sunk all the way into the water so that only their eyes and twitching ears were visible. Every once in a while, one of them would yawn, showing off its cavernous pink mouth. Nearby, crocodiles sunned themselves on shore, occasionally slithering into the water to feed off an elephant carcass. As Ebs, our guide, put it, there was no need for them to hurry up and gorge themselves; the cold waters of the Gomoti provided a natural refrigerator for the carcass.

Folk tales about the animals of Africa abound. I am going to insert a story here that was related to us by Wendy from Australia, a fellow-guest at Chitabe Trails visiting the bush for the third or fourth time. You may have heard or read a different version of it. As with all folk tales, this one has more than likely undergone changes with each telling. In any event, here goes - this is how it was told to me:

When the Creator made the hippo, he made a very handsome creature indeed. The hippo had long, coppery golden hair that was smooth as silk; he was very proud of his hair coat. The hippo was good friends with fire. He loved his friend, and asked him to come for a visit. The fire was touched, but he warned his friend the hippo, "no one wants me to visit." The hippo, however, insisted.

One day, the fire came to visit. The hippo was so happy to see his friend that he ran out to greet him. Alas, all his beautiful hair burned in the fire. He jumped into the river to soothe his now tender skin. After realizing that all his beautiful hair was gone, he determined to stay in the river for the rest of his life. The crocodile, however, was not happy with this plan and complained to Creator: "he'll eat all the fish in the river."

Creator went to the hippo and told him he could not stay in the river all the time. The hippo begged him, saying he could not leave since he had no hair; he promised not to eat any fish. The crocodile did not trust the hippo; he asked Creator for proof that the hippo was not going to eat the fish. So Creator told the hippo that everyday he would have to open his mouth wide so Creator could look down his throat and see if there was any fish in the hippo's stomach. Also, he said, "you will have to go on land at night to do your poop so I can check your dung for fish bones."

And that's why to this day the hippo spends its days in the water and comes on land at night.

Back to the safari. Our first game drive at Chitabe Trails was definitely a highlight of the trip. Just 20 minutes in our game vehicle and we had our first lion sighting - a male. He was obviously not in the mood for hunting. He just ambled down the dirt road directly towards us, paying no attention whatsoever to the kudu in plain sight at the tree line. He stuck around for a while and checked us out while we checked him out. Having him so close that he literally brushed up against our Landrover was the thrill of a lifetime.

Shortly thereafter, we came across more lions - another male and three females; Ebs identified them as part of the Chitabe Pride. They were a bit lazier - one of the lionesses was fast asleep on her back, legs in the air; the other two were alternately snoozing and grooming themselves. One of them deigned to eventually get up, go do its business in a nearby bush, and then come and sit right in front of the vehicle. The male lion mostly sat around, periodically yawning wide to give us a glimpse of his huge pink mouth and big, sharp teeth. Eventually he ambled over to the females as though to say: "get up, time to go hunting." Shortly thereafter, they walked past our Landrover and into the deepening darkness. My one regret here is that I was so busy photographing these magnificent creatures, I forgot to get pictures of us with the lions - it was a perfect photo op missed.

We later came across the pride again. On an evening drive, we stalked them as they stalked a herd of Cape buffalo. The lions crouched in the tall grass and inched forward towards the passing herd of hundreds upon hundreds of buffalo. They were so intent on their quest that they completely disregarded the honey badger that accidentally wandered into their midst. The badger's quick halt and even speedier return to where it came from was hilarious to see - as though to say, "oops, don't mean to intrude!" Neither did the lions pay any attention to us; except to periodically gaze back as though to see if we were up to anything.

The patience the lions showed as they waited to single out the one animal they wanted to go after was amazing. The buffalo were definitely tense. As they crossed the opening, they would stop and look down the narrow path - it was as though they knew something was wrong, but couldn't quite put their finger (perhaps I should say, "their hoof") on it. All they could see was our vehicle; motionless as the sphinx, the lions were camouflaged by the golden grass that perfectly matched their coloring. We did not stay for the kill, as by that time the sun was well set and in the pitch dark we would not have been able to see much. The next morning, we came across the two males again; they had the contented mannerisms of well-fed lions so I imagine their hunt was a success.

Before the hunt, we had come across the same herd of buffalo in a wide open range. Never mind that a great many of them are bulls, my husband calls the Cape buffalo "his girls" - he nicknamed them as such because of their wide, upswept horns - they remind him of cartoonish, Heidi-style pigtails with the hair parted down the middle. It was a pretty large herd, spread out as far as the eye could see; nearly 1000 was Ebs' guess. They paid no mind to us when we stopped the vehicle in their midst; simply made sure the calves were in protected circles and went about grazing on nature's bounty.

Another animal of interest to us was the cheetah, which we sighted twice. The first was a very shy animal that quickly lost itself amongst the tall grasses that offered such a perfect cover for it. The second cheetah, being less shy, parked himself in the clearing in front of our vehicle. He watched us just as intently as we watched him. Playing with us a game of "I can outstare you," he sat around until he became bored with us and lazily ambled away.

Next Chapter: Duma Tau
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