Dispatch: Adventures at Leroo La Tau in Botswana
PHOTO: Chalet number 7 at Leroo La Tau in Botswana (photo by David Cogswell)
Imagine this: You have just climbed out of a sleek, tiny Cessna aircraft and into a big 4WD safari vehicle. You are driving on a small dirt road that is essentially a path ground into the sand by tires, and you are rolling toward the Leroo La Tau safari lodge with tall brown grasses, bushes, and trees lining both sides of the road. Suddenly a herd of running zebras breaks out of the brush on the left side and runs across the road, disappearing into the brush on the other side — maybe 20 or 30 zebra zipping across the road. Then a black body appears among them — a wildebeest!
I laughed. It was like a cartoon. It was like a "Sesame Street" “one of these things is not like the others” clip. It was as if one character who obviously stuck out like a sore thumb was trying to pretend to fit in, trying to pass as a zebra. It was pointedly funny. The wildebeest was the punch line. Mother Nature was sharing a little joke with me.
It felt like a greeting. A little nod from nature, reminding me that she will always be unpredictable, and yes, she does have a sense of humor.
When we reached the lodge we received the first of many identical greetings when we walked through the doors — hot towels, a drink, and welcoming smiles. I was led to my cabin, number 7 of 12, built along the Boteti River.
Cabin, chalet, suite, whatever you call it, I had my own little house with a thatched roof, artistically-designed rustic woodwork throughout, and a porch that looked out on the river and the land beyond, from where I saw many elephants, buffaloes, zebras, and giraffes in the couple of days I was there.
The central lodge was also a thatched building. The air was so fresh and wholesome it almost felt like you could bite into it. There was a small swimming pool on the grounds, an indoor restaurant area and outdoor seating, a library with big coffee table books on Botswana next to a well-stocked bar. The food too, is a revelation in Africa, so wholesome, fresh and untainted, and served with great skill and creativity by the chefs.
Leroo La Tau main lodge (photo by David Cogswell)
As in most safari lodges, game drives are offered in the morning and in the evening. Meals are arranged to fit around the game drive schedule. During the mid-day people are free to hang around, read, nap, swim, or visit a nearby village.
The wildlife viewing was rich, from the big, spectacular animals down to the many varieties of birds. Some, like the lilac breasted roller and the blue starlings are so brilliantly colored it’s hard to believe nature produces such wild colors. The camera doesn’t really capture the brightness that you see in reality.
On all levels, from the macro to the micro, there was no end of fascinating things to see and learn about, all the while breathing in that rich African air.
As an American used to all the electronic devices, the entertainment media, the hours spent looking at computer screens, constant connection to the Internet, it might seem as if it would get dull out in the bush without any of that stuff. But it was amazing to me how quickly I was able to let go and how easy it was to give it all up.
It was actually extremely empowering to be out in the wilderness in a setting of overwhelming natural splendor, surrounded by the great fortitude of nature, and to be able to just drop all the trappings of civilization and not care.
In Botswana, we were essentially off the grid. The lodge had a satellite dish that it used it for its own communications and for one computer that could be shared by all the guests for checking email. In the bush the connectivity was not entirely reliable and transmission was slow.
But hardly anyone was thinking about the Internet or missing it, certainly not me. I felt a great sense of freedom just knowing it was a virtual impossibility to try to continue my normal Internet behavior in Botswana.
It was cold turkey, but you know what? It wasn’t cold at all. It was a great pleasure.
A citified bloke like myself might wonder, don’t these rangers ever get tired of driving westerners around the bush day after day? But once you’ve made that transition, which happens quickly, in which the environment commands you to become a part of it, you see that the wilderness is always changing, always evolving.
It changes from hour to hour during the day, and it evolves constantly day by day. Animals are moving, populations are growing or shrinking, the river floods or the river dries up, weather conditions are constantly evolving, dramatically these days along with the rest of the world. No, there’s no danger of getting bored out there.
I’m repeatedly impressed by the way nature constantly presents novelty. It always surprises. And it’s usually the most unimagined things that leave the deepest impressions. Sometimes it is not the massive, but the tiny that impresses.
On one game drive, the vehicle I was in drove up near another vehicle for the guides to confer. And while they were talking I noticed there was a very loud cawing sound making it hard to hear. Suddenly realized it was coming from a black and white bird on the ground about two feet from the other safari vehicle. It was between the two vehicles, surrounded by these vehicles that were gigantic in comparison to this bird that was about the size of a New York City pigeon.
The blacksmith plover, or blacksmith lapwing, my guide explained, was defending its eggs. Two eggs were in a footprint dug into the earth in the middle of the dirt road. My guide explained that the blacksmith plovers lay their eggs in the ground like that and protect them against any possible threat.
There it was on the ground between two vehicles that were only a few feet from each other. The vehicles were on the scale of a skyscraper to this bird, giant metal things that groan and cough and dig ruts into the ground. A couple of feet over and the wheel would have smashed the eggs and the mother too. But she was fearless and defiant.
My guide said he has seen the birds defend their eggs that way in the middle of a wildebeest migration, standing there screeching to ward off anything coming. He said he’s seen them do the same to elephants. And the elephants walk around them.
It was pound for pound about the most impressive demonstration of courage I have ever seen. It gave me a new appreciation for motherhood.
More by David Cogswell
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