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Safari Journal



Campfire Stories

Another camp we stayed at during our Botswana safari was Pom Pom, a camp that Ker & Downey owned at the time. This was the first camp on the itinerary.  Pom Pom is located in the heart of the Okavango Delta and features a variety of habitats…from grassland Savanah to Acacia bushveld, Mopane forests, Delta floodplains, and permanent Delta channels.   The camp itself overlooked a beautiful lagoon which was home to hippos, crocodiles, and a multitude of aquatic birds.  The diversity of large mammals is also matched by the array of bird species in the area, including bushveld and forest species, as well as the Delta’s wetland specials.  Some of the most beautiful birds I have ever seen in Africa were at this camp.  There were also hundreds of water lilies in the lagoon.  Pom Pom was magical! 

The camp managers at the time were a husband and wife team, just like Mark and Ethel, except they were older.  They were wonderful people who made our group feel right at home.  There was a small bar beside the circle of chairs that surrounded the fire pit.  We would sit there at different times during the day and after dinner at night.  The chairs closest to the dining area set directly underneath giant fig trees.  Look up and you could see fruit bats hanging from the branches.  Those lucky enough to sit there kept their hats on.

One evening, after dinner, we made our way back to the campfire for drinks and coffee.  The night was black except for the millions of stars that dotted the sky.  The campfire was large this evening so it was easy to see everyone’s faces.  It provided us with warmth and security.  We were aware by this time that campfires also kept the animals away, or so we thought.  We were all exhausted and still a bit heady from the game we had seen that day including African wild dogs.  Most of us had also gone on our first mokoro ride in the lagoon too. 

A mokoro is a type of canoe commonly used in the Okavango Delta.  It is propelled through the shallow waters by standing on the stern and pushing it with a pole.  Mokoros are traditionally made by digging out the trunk of a large straight tree, such as ebony or Kigelia tree.  Makoro safaris are a popular way for tourists to visit the delta, but the boats are still a practical means of transport for residents to move around the swamp.  The boats are very vulnerable to attack by hippos, which can overturn them with ease.  Hippos are reputed to have developed this behavior after the use of mokoros and other boats for hunting.

The mokoros we rode in that day had two seats.  The guy with the pole stood on the back.  I remember feeling a bit uneasy when I first sat down.  Balance was critical.  When the other person stepped inside and sat down, the mokoro sank so much there was only an inch or two from the top of the canoe to the water.  I wondered at that moment if this was a good idea.  Five other group members had decided to sit this one out and stay at camp.  To make matters worse, the heavy-set person with me kept moving around!  Every time he saw an animal, a dragonfly, a frog, or anything alive, he got so excited we almost tipped over!  Once we were underway, however, gliding through the crystal clear water was an experience I will never forget.  There were tiny little frogs clinging to the reeds and papyrus; yellow, white, and pink water lilies on the water surrounding us; acacia and sausage trees on the banks of the river; and various species of wildlife all over the place.  An elephant observed us from a distance as did a red leechwe, a type of antelope that lives around the water. 

After discussing the day’s events around the campfire, sipping our cool drinks, Cubus, the camp manager, stood up and said “It’s time for a story.”  He motioned for his wife to pour him another whiskey.  When he got his drink, he stirred it with his fingers, took a sip, and started telling us his story.

“One evening” Cubus said “when we were sitting around the campfire, just like we are doing now, I heard a noise behind one of the tents.  Thinking that it might be a member of the camp staff, I didn’t think much about it.  But then I heard it again!  My first thought was that it might be the pesky hyena that had recently been roaming around our campsite at night.  I remember thinking to myself that this particular hyena was braver than some of the other hyenas that had visited our camp at night.”

Cubus then stopped talking, looked into the campfire, and took another sip of his drink.  We sat quietly waiting for him to continue. 

“All of a sudden” Cubus said “straight ahead, to the right of one of the tents, a single lion stood staring directly at me!  I quietly informed the people sitting around the campfire to stay quiet and to stay still.  I told them we had a visitor in camp.  A lion, as a matter of fact, who, for one reason or another, was interested in me!   The lion then began walking straight towards me, not the least bit concerned with the others.  When a log fell in the in the fire pit, this startled the lion.  That’s when he attacked me.” 

As Cubus took another sip of his whiskey, he looked down at his legs and then at all of us.  Someone then asked “What happened next?  Did you scare the lion away?”  Cubus replied “No, I’m afraid not.”  He stood up, unbuttoned his shirt and showed us the gashes on his back from the lion’s claws and teeth.  He also had deep gashes on this chest….just like Dougie Wright.  He told us that if it had not been for his kitchen staff who started banging on pots and pans, he would not have lived. The lion ran off into the dark of the night and Cubus was taken to his tent where he was nursed by his wife until he could be flown out to the hospital in Maun the next morning.  Fortunately, his wounds healed and he lived to tell his story.

But, this is not the end of this story.  After Cubus finished telling us his story, we all decided to have another drink before going to bed.  We were all a bit tense.  After we finished our drinks, we picked up our flashlights and waited to be escorted back to our tents.  Suddenly, at the exact time we all stood up, three lions ran quickly behind the bar!  One…two…three!  They were after something!  Only in Africa and only on safari.  Our Botswana safari!   We heard the story and then we saw the lions!  I don’t think any of us slept well that night.  I know I didn’t!



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