Part 3 of WTA Travel Services’ Client Kathy Barry’s story of her 2014 African vacation picks off midway through Monday, May 12, in Khwai…
We arrived in beautiful Khwai, which is north of the Moremi game reserve and went out on an afternoon game drive while camp was set up. Khwai is lovely – beautiful big trees, lots of wildlife, and elephants…..so many elephants.
Once again our camp is nestled into the trees and lamp lit like a scene from a movie. Big Jackalberry and Strangled or Twisted Figs are everywhere which the elephants just love to shake for the seed pods. We came back to the camp after our Sundowners and were relaxing by the fire enjoying a beer while a delicious Brei dinner was being created and then this happened…..
The Battle Royale
Of course Clinton heard it first. I will just refer to it as The Battle Royale. A pride of lions had taken a buffalo. And the hyenas got word of it- or smell of it – or sound of it….and… it was on. Clinton asked if we would like to investigate and, of course, we did! We grabbed our cameras and gear and were off. We drove, we stopped, we listened and the night was quiet and inky black. The sun sets so fast here…no twilight at all. Once the sun is down it is pitch black. We continued on, driving, stopping, cutting off the engine and listening to the black, inky, starlit silence. It was the coolest thing ever. Dad announced that he needed to “water a bush” and Clinton granted him permission to step behind the Green Mamba. Well, Colby Johnson decided to mosey his youthful 74 year old self on down the path a ways. Out of the blackness came a massive bull elephant striding his 7000 pounds straight at our vehicle. He did not slow down, he did even look curious; he just kept coming – straight at us. Cheri told Dad to hurry it up and as Dad skedaddled, well he really ambled….I don’t think he skedaddled at all, into the vehicle that Bull elephant was not 6 feet from Clinton. He could have easily swatted us had he wanted to, but in his infinite elephant wisdom he instead chose to keep one huge heavily lashed eye on us and walk directly around the perimeter of the vehicle and disappear into the blackness.
The whole incident left Cheri scolding Dad, Clinton with his hand on the ignition and me speechless – which, I have been informed, is something! On we went, looking for those lions and hyenas. We were in a wet area and as we headed into what looked like a puddle that meant business we actually got stuck in a deep miry pit of logs and muck which jammed themselves under the axels or chassis or something vehicular. We were, as my Tim would say, “stucker than a monkey”. It was dicey. Clinton remained calm and got extremely muddy while trying to jam logs under the vehicle for purchase. Dad offered a few tidbits of advice, Cheri wore her very concerned and doubtful expression and I just said a prayer to the Patron Saint of The Working Man – Saint Joseph – humble servant. Somehow with all of that and Clinton’s sheer will and determination we got out of there. We whooped and cheered. Dad asked about the choice of walking back to camp – which we would have done at home. Clinton reassured us that would not be the choice to make here in Botswana. A better plan would be to make a really big fire for the night and drink up whatever alcohol was on board! We still couldn’t hear those lions so we headed back to that lovely Brei dinner waiting for us. It was delicious and maybe even tasted better after all of the excitement. Lawrence had made us steaks and chicken kebabs, butternut squash and a green salad. We were all happy and chatty. Lawrence came over to the table and looked at Clinton, “Are you hearing this Boss?” The battle was back on and we could all hear the fray between the hyenas and even a lion growling and carrying on. Clinton ran off to get his gear. When he returned Cheri and Dad announced that they were going to call it a night. They had enough excitement with dad’s close call with the bull elephant and getting stuck in the muck. I couldn’t believe my ears that my dad was willing to pass this up. Being the consummate gentleman and host Clinton completely acquiesced but was clearly disappointed. I was so bummed…This is AFRICA!!!
Somehow with a little encouraging Clinton appealed to Cheri and Dad’s sense of adventure and we were off. Lawrence came as well. We were able to drive straight to them with all of the barking and screaming and howling. Lawrence held a red light so as not to impair the hyenas and lions vision. And there it was. A group of 23 hyenas had run the pride of lions off. We had just missed the lion pride by several minutes. Darn It! The hyenas were fighting with one another over the kill. There were several lying down and apparently wounded and a couple with bloody bite marks on their backs- complements of the lions. The queen and her daughter walked straight into the fray with big full bellies and helped themselves to more while the others just made way for them. It was incredible to watch. Some hyenas were fighting like crazy; some would grab a chunk and skitter off and it seemed like they were all snarling and howling and yelping into the night. I would have really liked to have seen those lions. A pride of lions must be formidable but no match for 23 bloodthirsty, hungry, strong hyenas who are all front-loaded power. It was bloody and violent and chaotic… and may have been one of the most exhilarating things I have ever witnessed. Once again, there was a lesson in there somewhere. I didn’t understand what it was… but I would.
We drove back to camp and everyone headed to bed. It had been a big day. I couldn’t sleep at all. I woke Cheri up as a big elephant walked right in front of our tent. I just kept remembering Clinton’s words….”There is no off-switch here”. WOW!