Botswana, Africa: a place so far away yet now so close to my heart. This country’s name alone conjures up an image of exotic intrigue. From the moment of arrival, the beautiful smiles of people welcomed me to their land, as if it were my own. Driving to the first lodge, herds of elephants alongside the road stopped me in my tracks. I quickly clicked my camera, thrilled at my luck so early on my trip. These first images marked the beginning of my life’s greatest travel adventure.
Elephant Sands Lodge, a “Place Where Elephants Rule”, was the first dwelling of my stay. The four-hour drive took place along a dusty road that appeared to be heading to nowhere. A lone giraffe or zebra appeared sporadically, reminding me that this place is truly magical. Elephant Sands is a lodge devoted to these creatures, and it did not disappoint. Tents were built surrounding a watering hole, quenching the animals’ thirst on their long journeys across the savannah. I sat by a fire in the dark of the night, the sky lit brightly by the millions of stars in the milky way, watching the graceful elephants congregate by the water and then silently walk into the forests, like giant grey ghosts. This surreal experience felt like a dream.
After Elephant Sands, I headed to the Okavango Delta, one of the largest flood plains in the world. I began my morning by riding a jet boat to a small village, whose entire way of life revolves around transportation by Mokoro canoes – crafted from trunks of twenty-foot trees. Hippos wading through the Delta day and night create the “roads” for the canoes. Each canoe held two passengers and a driver who navigated the pathways using a ngashi (a pole made of wood) to push the canoe. We passed intermittent animals sitting on the banks, looking as interested in us as we were in them.
My canoe reached its final destination and I found myself back on land strolling through the eye-high grasslands on a walking safari. I asked my guide, Andy, if we would be safe, as we seemed a bit unprotected from large animals. Andy responded with “I’ll handle it,” seeming unfazed, just as the rest of the Botswanan people. I learned then that animals in Botswana have the same rights as humans and their relationships revolve around respect for one another. For three hours I walked the grasslands, finding a zebra carcass that a lion pride had taken down within the past day. Andy mentioned that every piece of this dead animal would be consumed, the lions eating first, followed by the hyenas, buzzards and other scavengers. No part of these kills go to waste.
As I made my way back to the canoes and eventually back to the lodge for the long trip home, my mind and heart felt fuller. While admiring the natural beauty of this far-away land, I’d learned so much. I smile more to welcome those around me, knowing how much a smile can mean whether far from home, or right around the corner. I’ve stopped to take time to watch and listen to the world around me – taking my glance away from screens to really see the beauty in my every day. And I look at the circle of life differently, respecting animals even more than I always have. I’m a different person than when I first stepped foot in Botswana. I can’t wait to expand my horizons and visit again.
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