Africa - August 22, 2012

Our first zebra, followed shortly by 53 more...
One of the best days of my life. Slept until dawn since we didn't have to break down camp, then went for a morning hike. Not far from camp, we spotted a herd of zebra grazing on the dry grass. Then another herd joined them. Then another. Before it was over, Brad counted 54 zebra at that one spot.* Their call isn't what I expected -- it's a high-pitched whine somewhere between a wild horse and a hyena. While we were enjoying the view, a lone zebra raced over a nearby hill, maybe 10 meters from where we stood, and ran to join the group. Un-freaking-believable.**

As the herds began to move on, there was a heartbreaking moment when we realized one of the young zebra was sick and couldn't stand anymore. It tried a few times to lift its head but eventually gave up and lay down in the grass. Its mother darted nervously between the colt and the ever-moving herd. Our guide said she'll abandon the herd rather than leave her offspring. Judging by the leopard prints we've seen in the sand, there's no way the baby will survive for long,*** and I hope the mother can soon rejoin the others.

Enormous termite mounds dot the landscape, so large and strong that elephants lean against them for support at night while sleeping. And we spotted dozens of maribou storks, about the size of a child, walking upright along the edge of a pond. As we hiked back, a red lechwe lept across the field before us, lightning-fast.

We had a treat waiting when we returned to camp. Gerrit had toasted bread and bacon over the fire and heated a kettle of water for tea, so we had a lovely warm brunch.

After the meal, most of us marched back down to the swimming hole for the closest thing we would get to a bath for a while. Tormented one another with a game of Marco Polo, and Gerrit taught us how to make mud bombs. It was brilliant.

Kate teaches Matilda weaving with palm leaves.
Back to camp for a nap until the evening makoro ride. When I surfaced from the tent, our poler Kate (not to be confused with The Great Kate) was weaving bracelets from palm leaves. Several of us sat with her while she taught us how to boil and dye the leaves, and she let us each take a turn weaving one of the bracelets. It was great fun, but I'm pretty sure she won't be able to sell that sad, unevenly-spaced thing.

Sleepy, sleepy hippo.
Michael was our poler this evening, and he took us to a spot where two hippos were swimming about 50 meters away. We watched them yawn and splash for the longest time before poling to a nearby island to catch the sunset.**** Back to camp for a traditional dinner of samp (maize clumps liks hominy). Then the polers surprised us by singing and dancing around the fire for probably 45 minutes. Their voices were pure joy, and a few tears rolled down my face as they sang the last call-and-response in English so we could participate:

Beautiful Botswana (Botswana), Beautiful Botswana (Botswana), I shall never forget Beautiful Botswana (Botswana)*****

After the singing, we all played games and told riddles around the campfire. Endured more taunting from the Toilet Hippo, then went to sleep once again to the sound of treefrogs and braying zebra.

Firelight dancing and singing at the end of a lovely day.
Brad's footnotes:
* I had time to count because my camera battery went from fully charged to dead in like 10 shots. I only got one zebra photo. Started carrying one of the spare batteries after this.
** This zebra turned out to have a broken leg. Curiously, it seemed to gallop fine, but when it walked, it wobbled badly.
*** Unless it could muster the strength to run faster than the one with the broken leg, I reckon.
**** We watched them from what I thought was an overly cautious distance, until the hippos got curious about us and our polers poled like hell. By the time we were 50 meters from our stop, the pair of hippos had made it to where we'd been.
***** It's a very pretty song and I was hoping it was a traditional piece that they rewrote in English to share. But Gerrit thinks it was simply written for tourists. In any case, it was funny and sweet. They would interchange the nouns with each verse to express what they were thankful for. Beautiful "fire." Beautiful "Africa." Our favorite verse?: "Oh Beautiful ourselves (ourselves)..."

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