Don’t let title fool you. This isn’t the first in my African Safari series, but the seventh. (Click on “Contents” above to link to earlier posts.) My title is a nod to the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith. Friends urged me to read them before we went to Botswana. He’d only written six at that time and I feasted on them, glad for the good advice. They are lovely books, charming, smile-inducing, each a page-turner but with pleases and thank-yous. There are nine more in the series now, and if you haven’t read them yet, please do, or at least look here.
African Safari – Part Seven
There were no sneaky, soap-eating, four-legged visitors in the middle of our second night at Savuti Camp. Good thing, because next morning, guide Russell woke us at 5:30! One of the best parts of our days in Botswana was awakening to the pink mornings, soft air, and Russell’s cheery, “Morning, morning, Judy and Peter.” We had a clock, but part of a guide’s job is to “sweep” the area surrounding each tent before guests step outside…sweep for animals, that is.
We were to head to Linyati Camp within the hour and by 6:30 Russell herded the seven of us into the Range Rover and headed out on the long game drive.
In spite of my pre-trip ranting, I loved everything about the trip so far, but that drive and the subsequent three days were the No. 1 best.
When we rolled into the camp, I knew this was The Place. The tents were the faded darkgreen I’ve always associated with camps in New York’s Adirondack Mountains or the Canadian wilderness. They were spare — two cots, chest, bucket shower, ewer and bowl, toilet. On the little porch overlooking the Linyati River, two folding chairs. By the way, none of the camps had electricity though they had generators for occasional use, nor were there phones, ready access to emergency aid, or even roads. We bumped along rutted tracks, or made our own paths.
The camp’s look was shabby chic meets African bush, and we met the real deal in Max, Jinx, and Pauline. Camp Director Max was “Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni.” Traditionally-built Pauline, “Precious Ramotswe.” Jinx, definitely a “Charlie.” (You really must read McCall Smith’s books.)
We arrived at tea time. “Oooh, redbush tea?” I asked, gushing hopefully.
Max smiled. “No such thing, Mma,” he said. “You’ve been reading ‘those’ books, haven’t you?”
I nodded. According to Max, the tea the author dubs “redbush” actually comes from a broomlike plant in the legume family, “rooibus.” I smiled at Max and kept my convictions to myself.
Pauline turned out meals with whatever “the trucks, they brought, Mma.” Apparently, even with the relative luxury the camps provided, food supplies arrived only occasionally. The ladies created meals with whatever was at hand — maybe enough caulfilower to feed an army for a week, or three fresh, local tilapia.
Jinx, a lively young man, was “on loan” from an elephant camp where he was a mahout. Yes, there are camps where game drives are on the back of an elephant rather than in a Range Rover! Jinx lived up to his name. He danced wildly to a beat only he could hear, creating his own version of lyrical rap as he went. A huge talent with big plans. I attempted to stay in touch, but mail delivery was awful at best.
Max, so polite, so quiet, always had a tiny furrow in his brow. When I asked, he said he was worried and he missed his “beloved.” The camps are normally run by husband/wife teams, but he didn’t have enough pula (money) yet to buy the five cows her father required. Later, I asked Max how old he was. He looked young, but he was cloaked in “old.” He thought for a while, brow wrinkled even more, and I apologized for asking such a personal question. “Oh no, Mma, not personal, but I’m not sure my age. We don’t keep track. I think…28 or 29 years…or maybe 31.”
I like that culture!
Later I learned that just as age isn’t an issue, neither is temperature. The day is hot or not hot. They don’t have thermometers, because what can you do? Nothing.
Everyone turned in early. As always, Peter was asleep instantly, but I sat up, listening to the night. There was a frisky wind blowing and the tent flaps beat an exuberant rhythm. Between gusts, I could hear a steady chomping sound. I could just make out a low, rounded, refrigerator-lying-on-its-side shape at water’s edge, six feet from our porch.
Hungry hippo, I finally decided. The chomping continued, lulling me to sleep.