I’m sitting along the bank of the Zambezi River, looking out onto those golden yellow island grasses studded with awkward, patchy green trees. Beyond, Zambia, its rocky mountains silhouetted in the dusty, red late afternoon African sun. A light breeze keeps me cool, the river smell refreshes me, and the occasional laughter from a hippo reminds me that this beautiful landscape is wild.
Close Encounters with the Wild Pt I
For me, a New Brunswick beach girl/North American suburbia-dweller whose notion of “wilderness” consists of the Atlantic Ocean on the one hand and suburban parks on the other, it’s easy for me to associate natural beauty with calm and danger-free peace.
But here, along the banks of the Zambezi, wild animals come to play.
Hippos hide from the blistering sun in pods scattered in the water. You wouldn’t even know they were there but for their eyes and ears poking out from the water, suspiciously watching you as you walk along theirbanks.
Speaking of banks, be careful as you brazenly saunter along them, or you might step on the tail of a 5-foot croc sunning himself. If you’re lucky, he’ll hear you before you see him, and he’ll slither down to the safety of the water and his fifty croc friends. Oh yeah, those logs you see aren’t really logs…
And those roars off in the distance are not car motors, but lions sharing the success of a kill. Those cackles near the campsite are not campers laughing as their buss themselves on beer or wine, but hyenas slyly approaching at the smell of roasted campfire meet. The barking sounds near the trees are not dogs, but gigantic baboons baring their daggers of teeth. And the trumpet calls off in the distance are not those of an orchestra rehearsing, but the sounds of elephants approaching the same river you find yourself next to.
Just make sure you’re not in their way when they approach the banks for a drink or a mid-afternoon dip.
So yes. Look at the lovely banks of the Zambezi, with their mountains over yonder. Listen to the sound of its current running eastward, and smell its freshwater breath. But don’t forget where you are. You’re in Mana Pools National Park, home of the wild.
“How did you get so wise, Brittany?” you may ask.
“Well,” I’ll tell you, “I’ve had a few close encounters with the wild.”
Then I will proceed to tell you about how last night, when I was sitting at my campsite playing cards, I heard a rustle in the bushes at the river bank. It turned out to be two hyenas wandering just past me, through the reeds on the side of the river. Later that night, another rustle turned out to be a hippopotamus, leaving the Zambezi waters for a night of grass-crunching.
A more heart-thumping encounter occurred two days prior, further west along the Zambezi. I was sat under a tree along the river, enjoying the cool breeze as I attempted to escape the sweltering afternoon heat. Suddenly, to my left, not 10 meters away, emerged two gigantic elephants, one with a crooked back leg. It seemed that they were trying to make their way down into the river via an access path between us. I stood slowly so as to back away from them and allow them free access to the river. At that moment, a gust of wind blew my scent in their direction, and they saw me standing upright in the sun. I backed up slowly behind my tree, but the two elephants, jittered by this human surprise, retreated and opted for an access point further down the river. I watched, in absolute awe at my luck, as the two elephants disappeared into the water.
“So you see”, I tell you with authority, “I know what I’m talking about. This piece of African nature is Wild. Full of dangerous close encounters. Yesterday an elephant, today a hyena, and tomorrow – if I’m lucky – a lion!”