The journey down the Zambezi was nearing its completion and our destination of Mana Pools was only a day away. The familiar taste of bittersweet often comes at this time in almost all trips; this one was no exception. How could it be that this dream of paddling down the Zambezi River was already done and dusted?
I was being premature as the river and the wild was not about to let us go without an extra satchel of parting memories. I guess we thought that a hippo attack, a canoe stranding in crocodile infested waters, a robbery by Zambian thugs in the middle of the night, and countless more pleasurable take away tales should be enough.
There was another day left and at the rate we were collecting memories, it was, in hindsight, naive to think nothing more would happen.
As always we woke early, wrapped up our mosquito net tents, and began paddling towards where-ever it would be that looked like a good spot to stop and cook up some breakfast. We ate well with every meal being a plate of comfort.
Our first elephant of the day was a bull; shy but big. He attempted to go unnoticed by hiding behind a tree one tenth his girth as soon he spotted that I had spotted him. It was like a scene from a cartoon. His head was hidden but the remaining nine feet stuck out from behind the tree.
I couldn’t help thinking that he likely had an emu complex.
We arrived at camp that evening. Earlier than most days but as it looked like the skies were about to open on us we felt it was a good thing. We set up a massive blue tarpaulin to save ourselves from the expected down-pour and then set about relaxing on our African island in the middle of the Zambezi River. Life does not get much better than this.
I rigged up a bush shower and got all spruced up. You never know who might come by so you always want to look your best.
This section, and others in italics, is from my journal written at the time.
Now I am sitting here. The others have all fallen asleep; I guess the relaxation took hold. The sounds of birds and hippos fill the air. The occasional twig breaks; bushes move. Otherwise all is silent.
I am going to take a walk around the island. There is no track but the guide said it should not take more than half an hour so I will be back before nightfall.
Going to the toilet at home can be a time of reflection and sometimes even a mixed bag of emotions. Here in the wild it is no different except the emotion count is greater. We had all grown accustomed to the jungle toilet routine; dig a hole, add the paper, burn it, and then cover it with the dirt initially removed.
I sat there in between stages one and two, my right hand propped against a thorny Acacia Tree, the herd of local but noisy hippos muffled any sounds associated with my presence.
I felt primal.
A steady stream of African wildlife sauntered by. I could see them through a natural window made by two arching branches from opposing trees. All of a sudden an absolutely gorgeous and massive elephant came into focus. Standing there like he was posing for the cover of National Geographic; perfectly centered and no more than fifteen feet away.
I knew it at the time; just as i know it now. This was an image I would take with me my whole life. My image of Africa. It was a beautiful and majestic sight. To be that close and presumably undetected was a treat given at a time when I least expected it. He stood there, drinking, perfect in all ways, framed by the natural portal of his territory.
He wandered about the shoreline paying no attention to me or my small bonfire created from the burning ashes of my single ply loo paper. Everything is an experience here; nothing is as it is back home.
I am in Africa; very surreal.
I return to camp to find a band of monkey’s heckling the group with cackles and screams as they sit high in the trees with all our remaining loaves of bread. Dinner tonight is spaghetti bolognese; lucky for us the monkey’s weren’t interested in pasta.
Unfortunately the trees and sand were also home to smaller creatures. Our camp became infested with ants. Millions of them descend on us from above and below to the point where we must seek relief. We board our canoes which have the added benefit of cooler temperatures as breezes caressed the river surface. We relax; limbs dangling over the side.
The moon is full and bright; high overhead. Wedmore tells me of his work as a guide on the river and I tell him about my life in Chicago. We then discuss Sumo Wrestling until my eyes, finding it difficult to focus, finally close and I am done for the day.