Tuesday, April 12, 2011

King's Pool, Okavango Delta, Botswana

      A knock.  Then another, more insistent.  Good morning! we yell from under mosquito netting, across the room out of a movie set, and through the carved-wood door to make it go away.  (Is there any luxury greater than luxury where it’s least expected?)  We dress quickly in layers – T-shirt, sweater, jacket -- all to be peeled off in a few hours when the sun begins to bake away the cold desert night, grab the flashlight and hurry over raised planks to sleepy coffee and our morning safari.     
      But already this is wrong: a landscape with people in it, though all landscapes have people, if they’re to be described.  A conundrum of travel writ large in this vast preserve in northern Botswana, the world’s largest inland delta, we’re told and tell repeatedly, as if we know what that means beyond the flat expanse of dirt and waterways we can see from our land rover.  It’s the animals’ livingroom, and we’re here on sufferance.
      And yet they pose, as if for the easel, in chiaroscuros of wildebeest and zebra, with a stubby warthog snuffling in the foreground.  (Warthogs are born with calloused front knees so they can kneel more easily to graze: another factoid to learn in this crash course on a world where I know nothing.)  Impala leap insouciantly across the track, as a giraffe in the distance stretches its improbable neck to nibble the topmost, tender-most leaves of a rain tree.  We’re on the lookout for lion and leopard, but the other animals will scatter at their scent before our eyes can catch up.  Elephants too disturb the peace, pull up whole trees with their trunks, leave landscapes of destruction.  No one messes with an elephant, except maybe a crocodile. 
      Morning smells baked and new (evening is a mix of wild basil, elephant dung and bug repellant) and in the moment before the sun pops like a champagne cork over the horizon, the light shimmers so golden I long to touch it.
     This is the closest I’ll ever come to the beginning of time.