My journey to South Africa has ended, but the memories invite further dispatches, this time from home.
The sense of wonder and beauty that I felt in Cape Town, reflected in my previous Sidebars, was enhanced and magnified by the life-changing and mysterious safaris at the national parks of Sabi Sand and then Chobe in Botswana.
From a leopard and its giraffe kill, invaded and reduced in size by hyenas, but then lifted into a tree to dangle beside that leopard, was amazing to witness. So close, so real. To be within a few yards of lions, slumbering after a continuous mating dance, or another tribe resting by a river bank with three young cubs lined up all perky in a row, one would think it had to be staged, but it wasn’t.
Zebras, giraffes, warthogs, mighty rhinoceros, peeking hippos, impala, water buffalo and crocodile, playful monkeys and baboons were seemingly all on display. But they were not really on display; they were at home, in their environment, aware of, putting up with but not bothering with the jeep or boat full of gasping tourists with clicking lenses, both respectively keeping their distances, however short those distances were.
I cannot describe in words the majestic scene in Chobe as our boat quietly moved along the water, then was embraced on all sides by hundreds of elephants. They bathed in the mud, filled their trunks with water to drink or self-shower and shockingly, beautifully proceeded to swim across the river in front of us, trunks protruding from the water like periscopes. Add an African sunset for good measure and I think you get the picture.
But it wasn’t just the beauty and wonderment of what I saw, it was what I learned, witnessed and came to realize — the interdependence of the animal kingdom. The leopard made its kill, the hyenas, then vultures cleaned the table. There was no garbage in these lands. The elephants ate from the trees, branches and plants. Their dung was everywhere but full of the nutrients that they had gathered from the plant life they had consumed, which then sustained other animals and birds and on and on in the continuing inter-connection and dependence of the various species. Nature’s classroom was unforgettable.
Each plant served a purpose in the bigger evolution of growth and sustenance. Each bird was on a journey of its own important contribution to the whole, and, of course, each animal seemingly contributed to the same footprint. It was life changing. Suddenly, as we look around, we see how much we can learn, indeed how rapacious and wasteful humans often are, as we use, consume and selfishly don’t replace.
It was infectious, too. I travelled with 39 others on this magnificent journey with our travel company. What was interesting was how this new group supported each other individually and collectively, from sharing the experiences to the occasional Gravol to zipping backpacks, snapping pictures, exchanging seats and vantage points, laughing and sharing the awesome experience. The group was amazingly connected, treated to an unexpected lesson in life.
As we emerged at the end of our journey, I sat in an airport and connected again with the news from the outside world. I read the story of U.S. President Donald Trump’s appearance at the United Nations, where he bragged about how uniquely powerful and successful he and by tarnish, his country, was in comparison with the rest of the universe and the countries assembled at the United Nations. I was struck by the report that many of these countries ignored him, even chuckled at his isolated self-adulations. It was such a reminder that the rest of the world was moving to new alliances.
Suddenly, I remembered an experience in Chobe along the water safari. On one side of the river was a group of several elephants, supporting each other, protecting their young, feeding, bathing and experiencing life together. On the other side of the river was one huge, solitary bull elephant, strutting, almost seemingly looking across the river with disdain for the group. I asked the guide (interestingly all the guides in Chobe are women) what the significance of this scene might be, if any. She replied that he just doesn’t think he needs the group anymore, thinks he can go it alone and is bigger than the collective. That image will never leave me. I saw also elephant bones of one that perished, likely from isolation and starvation, I was told. I wondered whether it was a lone bull elephant who disrespected the important interdependence and support of the group.
On this journey, I experienced not the survival of the fittest but survival of the group, supportive inter-connecteness, dependent and seemingly quite respectful of their place and role in their environment. I was very much a visitor, invited to watch and perhaps learn of the importance of the circle of life not only on an African safari but on the safari of life itself.