She came out of the sun, as we motored our way out of Etosha. Mark and I were fast asleep, and roused by Jo's piercing cry: "Lion, lion!" The Big 5 of African safari are elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard, and lion; the latter is on the top of that elite heap.
Ours came from the East, and regally angled her way to the edge of our stretch of road. A minor traffic jam formed up immediately: 4 or 5 cars in the vicinity were at dead stops (or slow crawls, to position themselves), telephoto lenses bristling from windows. But this cat was oblivious to all of that. Here, palpably, was an animal that was master of her universe nothing troubles the lion.
She crossed the road directly in front of us, sending the fear of God into a herd of springbok on the other side. (In point of fact, they could easily outrun leonine pursuit but nobody takes the presence lightly.) Then, to our suprise and delight, she crouched and drank from a roadside rivulet, for nearly five minutes, and no more than 25 feet from the truck. Here are my best shots:
As I half hung out the window, twice she looked into my eyes. Both times, I was trying to pin that deadly butterfly with the camera and missed out on the experience, really. Later, Doug told me there's nothing like it and nothing really there. Just complete soulessness. I got at least a sense of that. Overall, it was quite an experience to gaze across open air on such a bundle of perfect, rippling, muscular grace and knowing that animal would separate my flesh from my bones like a skilled Japanese steakhouse chef.
The rest of the day was a long driving day our longest of the whole trip, in fact, 600 kilometers. We crossed into Botswana, which, word on the street is the one sub-Saharan African nation that's really got it's act together: they've got a leader who really cares about the people (corruption being the number one killer amongst endemic African diseases), they won't let the U.S. military in and they even kicked out the Peace Corps, for drug use and hooliganism. Botswana is home to the Okavango River Delta, as well as Chobe Park (another totally top game preserve).
Many complained about the long hours on the road; but, somehow, I found it one of the best days so far. I'm now able to sit and stare out the truck window for hours, doing nothing and not even generating major thoughts (that stick with me, at any rate). Toward the end, I went three hours without speaking, watching Africa and her wood-and-thatch huts go by, and the truck's shadow lengthen. Just shy of our campsite, we stopped to climb on the roof and watch another killer African sunset. Very funny thing about this continent, though: at sundown, the sky in the East is even more amazing. I don't get that one.
Settling into our new camp, on the banks of the river the borders Angola, Mark and I hit the bar and spent time talking with an extremely colorful South African guide type (and former entomologist, to Mark's delight, and evolutionary scientist/geneticist, to mine). In the morning, an ostrich wandered into camp.
Next: Okavango Delta I.