While living and working in South Africa, I made a trip to Botswana to visit Okavango Delta. The largest inland delta in the world, it is created by the Okavango River seasonally spilling into the Kalahari Desert. The safari camp where I planned to stay could not be accessed by road but only by a small airplane that took off from, at that time, an equally small village.
As it turned out, I was the only passenger on a two-seater plane, sitting so close to the pilot that our shoulders rubbed. To my surprise, he landed the plane literally out in the bush with no person in sight much less a camp. Instead, in sight were wildebeests near a rivulet. I might stand eye-to-eye with one of the youngsters but not with the adults. Adult wildebeests weigh 600 pounds or more and come equipped with curved horns.
Naturally, I was surprised when the pilot told me to exit the plane. He said that someone from the camp would pick me up. I opened the plane door and cautiously slide out. By the time my feet touched down, the pilot was already nearby, putting my luggage on the ground. When he started to climb back into the plane, I said, “Are you going to wait until the people from the camp come to get me?” He replied that he had to keep on schedule because he was delivering the mail. Even in Botswana, the mail must go through! With that explanation, he closed the plane door, started the engine, and away he flew.
For a while, I admired the wildebeests, but I became a little concerned as they started to move closer toward me. I moved a few paces away. Eventually, out of nowhere, a truck came along with two men in the cab. Assuming they were from my camp, I threw my luggage in the back of the truck and climbed in after it. There was no room for me anywhere else. Behind the cab of the truck, was a black chest-high bar. I held onto that bar as the truck drove away.
What I clearly remember from that drive was how hard it was to stay vertical and, of course, the elephants. We drove through what only could be called an elephant parade. On every side of the truck going one way were elephants going the other way. I was too thrilled by the sight to be afraid. If I could have wrested my grip from the bar, I think I would have reached out and touched one of those elephants. Because the land was so rugged and overhanging branches were sometimes in our path, I kept gripping that bar and doing deep dips like an exercising ballerina, not that there is anything remotely ballerina-like about me.
When the elephants had finally passed, the driver stopped the truck, jumped out, and came around to the back where I was still hanging onto the bar and trying to steady my legs. I will never forget how he looked up at me and said, with disbelief, “Who are you?” Of course, I said, “Are you the guys from the camp that were supposed to pick me up?” His answer was swift and loud, “NO!” Fortunately, when I told him the name of the camp, he knew its location and said he could take me there. “You were very lucky,” he said. “In that spot where you were waiting, there was a lion kill yesterday.” Maybe that is why he let me swiftly board the truck—uninvited and unannounced. I never asked.
When I finally arrived at the camp, I did ask someone in charge why I was never picked up. I was told that things were hectic, and they lost track of time. God bless those two men in a truck! There were only a few people at the camp. The small tent that I was assigned was on the outer edges. I remember in the morning asking the tour guide, “What were those pigs that kept circling my tent last night?” For emphasis, I made snorting noises—just like I had harmonized from my tent the night before. The tour guide walked me to my tent and finally answered. “Those weren’t pigs,” he said. “They were hippos.” He showed me the tracks circling my tent. From all the nature programs I had watched, I knew that hippos kill more people than any other animal in Africa, so that was sobering. I like to think my snorting noises convinced the hippos that I was one of them!