I throw my helmet in the dust and my arms up in the air. “WHAT NOW?!!” He has stopped again. It is a long straight, quiet, easy road for biking at a decent speed, but he has been stopping every 10km for something or another. I’m impatient. We’re in Botswana on our way to Nata, the Okovango Delta and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Zambia. I want to get the ride over with. Dressed in helmet, gloves, jeans, heavy boots and leathers overheats one very quickly in this semi-arid desert heat where temperatures can reach in excess of 54 degrees C.
He doesn’t say anything and points at something behind me. I turn around. Behind me, the biggest bull elephant I have ever seen is slowly crossing the road, so close that I feel I can touch him. I freeze. He stopped when I threw my helmet. His head and trunk sway from side to side, ears slowly flapping backwards and forwards. He lets out a dignified sigh that sounds like a snort. I can smell his grassy breath and he starts moving again to the other side of the road. “Clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp” go the feet against the asphalt. I didn’t expect to hear his footsteps, but he walks on his nails. He disappears into the bush and vanishes like a mammoth ghost. It takes me a while to get my wits about me to get back on the motorbike. The next time he stops in front of me, I have more respect.
This is not the first time we encounter a wild animal out in its natural environment. A while back we went rhino tracking on foot in the Mokolodi game reserve. It didn’t take long to find them. Our guide and animal tracker kept on pointing to the signs, but we couldn’t see it and suddenly there they were. He said it’s easy to find a rhino. When he was a child, he learned to track rabbits for the pot and brought home dinner every night by the time he was 6 years old. I stand in awe. We get back from tracking and go into the cheetah enclosure. Inside are two brothers. Their mom got shot by a farmer. He had the decency to call the game reserve and they came to collect the cubs and took care of them in their enclosure in the wilderness. They did an amazing job rehabilitating them and they remained in their natural habitat, cage free, albeit in a large enclosure as they would not have survived in the wilderness on their own.
One of my best memories of Botswana is Stan grilling breads and steak on an open fire in the bush out somewhere in a game reserve or outside in the garden on our 5 acre property. It was a weekend institution, especially Saturday evenings. The smell of that fire & the steak grilling is unsurpassable and that atmosphere hasn’t been found in any other country. The tenderloins there used to be dirt cheap. All the cows are free range, grass fed and lean. This made for a healthy, flavorful piece of meat that needed very little cooking and that had very little bleeding. Temperatures in the summer used to soar to 54 degrees C, a whopping 130 degrees F, and it never cooled down at night. We lived on the edge of the Kalahari desert.
The cold berry dessert was the most refreshing in summer and we also used this for Sunday brunch with friends on a regular basis. While living in Botswana, we visited Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia Kenya & Zanzibar. All of these are part of Africa with similar cuisines, however the coast of East Africa has a distinct Indian and Arabic spice influence
We lived in Botswana for 5 years and there are too many stories to share in this one post, so as time goes by, I’m sure there will be more to follow. Always about snakes, crocodiles, baboons, monkeys and the likes of birds, spiders and scorpions I’ve never encountered anywhere in the world.
More about the Botswana culture in the Foreign Lands section of this blog, as well as a sample recipe from my book in the recipe section.