Botswana #3: Real Men and Man-Eaters


kwara-dinner-table1

Dining al fresco in the Okavango

In my last dispatch I said I would tell you all about the animals at night, but more interesting than the furry ones are the human ones. Every night we dine in an open-air hut lit with candles and lanterns. In the middle is a long wooden table large enough to fit twenty people, including the guides, who have to eat with their guests.

MG&SH

Everything’s better with friends

At the first night’s dinner, Susan and I sat next to each other, with TJ on her left and Moz on my right. Moz was a guide for another group, a businessman from Philadelphia and his wife and son and a son’s friend. I’d overheard in the lounge the other day that they might leave early because the wife had found a big snake in her bed. They’d been on safari now for two weeks and had saved this rustic bush camp for last, not knowing how much adventure the little lady could take, which apparently wasn’t much. The high-end Gucci camps she could withstand, but her chipped manicure, fraying hair bow, and haunted eyes revealed she was past ready to return to what I’m sure is a quiet and tidy home.

As servers came around with dainty appetizers of filo dough stuffed with fine-ground kudu, camp guests compared notes about what they had seen on the day’s game drive. I enthusiastically told people at my end of the table how we’d seen maggots dripping and oozing from an elephant’s head, making sure to describe the stench as accurately as I could. Maybe it wasn’t the best timing for such a story, but I figured we’re on safari, why not? I thought everyone was riveted by my description of the most disgusting thing I’d ever seen in my life, but then I felt a tug on my right sleeve.

“Everyone is waiting for you, you know,” said Moz, pointing to my plate. “They won’t start the next course until you’ve finished this one.” I looked around the table to find all the other plates empty while mine sat untouched. The only one not embarrassed enough to look at me was the vervet monkey sitting on the ledge across from the table. I suppose he was trying to calculate the odds of jumping over a few heads to steal a snack.

After starter plates were removed, Precious, in a long gold-and-orange dress, proudly announced the evening’s meal, which sat steaming behind us buffet style. When she said the main course would be chicken pie, one guest muttered that she had been hoping for something more “exotic” (not yet knowing it would be the best chicken pie of her life!).

Then Moz stood and bellowed our dinner-retrieval directions in a bossy baritone voice. “Ladies first, then gentlemen, then the real men!” He puffed out his chest and gave a knowing smile to the other guides, who smiled politely but did not puff out their chests in return. Susan and I rolled our eyes and sighed. I was relieved to see that someone else might earn the idiot award for the evening.

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A postprandial campfire

After dinner some of us gathered around a crackling camp fire. As the wine flowed the safari stories grew taller. One man-eating-animal story topped another until one guest said, “I wonder if anyone has ever died on a safari here.”

“I’m sure it happens all the time,” said another guest.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “How could they keep the camp open if guests were dying all over the place?” I looked at the guides to see if they might chime in on the matter, but they were engaged in their own conversation on the other side of the circle.

“They don’t tell anyone,” said a big man with a southern drawl seated next to me. “They keep it very hush-hush. But it happens. I’ve read about it.”

“You’ve read about it? Where?” I asked.

Death in the Long Grass

Death happens here

“In a book called Death in the Long Grass by Peter Capstick,” he said. “Haven’t you heard of it?”

In the distance I could hear twigs snapping underfoot, probably a baboon’s. A family of them had spent the afternoon using our tent as a trampoline. I was hoping that by now they’d have tucked into their own trees for the evening. “No, I haven’t heard of it.” I said.

“I suppose that’s why you’re here then. If you’d a read it, you’d probably a gotten scared off.” He chuckled and took a sip of his Diet Coke. The smoke had shifted and now came right at me. “What’s it about?” I asked, squinting my eyes.

“Oh, man, Capstick’s got some real toe-curlin’ stories about the huntin’ safaris he led all over Africa—Rhodesia, Zambia, Kenya, Ethiopa. Here in Botswana too. And, girl, you better believe hunters get attacked regularly, even in their own tents. One lion killed three men at one camp. Well, technically the lion killed two. One guy lived, but, oh boy, he’s a mess now. Capstick tells all about it in the book. He’s really good with description. Really good.

“Then I guess I’m glad I haven’t read it,” I said, wiping away smoke-tears with my shirtsleeve.

As TJ escorted us back to our tents in the pitch-dark of the new moon night (we’re not allowed to walk anywhere after sundown without a staff escort), I wondered about those stories. Were they real? Or was this guy just trying to wind me up before bedtime the way older kids do at summer camp with ghost stories?

Monica&Hemingway

We go way back

I tried to soothe myself with the thought that these were tall tales told by an author (is “Capstick” even a real name?) who probably imagined himself a Hemingway hunter, God help him. Here in this concession, hunting isn’t allowed, and so far the animals have appeared downright docile, agitated neither by the jeeps nor the people.

In fact, up to this point the drives have reminded me of the Motor Safari tram at Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo—except, of course, there are no bars or concrete enclosures, for the animals or for us. Certainly the camp’s open-air jeeps and canvas tents offer zero protection from a hungry lion. And that got me to wondering … just how vulnerable are we out here? Little did I know that within the hour I’d find out.

But I’ll have to tell you about that in my next letter. Today I nodded off on one of the game drives, so I have got to catch up on my sleep!

Pula!

(Hippo photo by Susan Hunsberger)

Categories: Africa

25 comments

  1. It’s a very interesting read for me because I have never found wildlife camps exciting. I have always stayed away from them. Although we don’t have game reserves like Africa but we do have some properties in the middle of a jungle, these are usually owned by government. Private one’s are right on the periphery of sanctuaries. What I enjoyed was the conversation going around.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You never fail to have me in stitches, Monica! After reading this and then perusing the reviews on that book you mentioned, I will have to see about getting a copy to indulge in the macabre tales told. A snake in bed? I’m fairly adventurous, but I am not that cozy with the snakes. My zoom lens is about as close as I really care to get to them.
    As always, I’ll be impatiently waiting for your next post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great hook for the next installment- I’m waiting with bated breath!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love Love Love this!

    I read it aloud to Dan. We can’t wait for the next one.

    Will you PLEASE write a book!

    See you next week.

    Xoxo.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good cliffhanger. Wondering whether we’re going to hear about some of the animals dining al fresco next!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love reading about your adventures in Africa ! Have you guys gone to Rwanda to see the mountain gorilla ?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. At least your elephant’s head tale didn’t put the others off their starters! I’m amazed that they could shovel them down while you held forth.

    I’m looking forward to the next installment. My mother went on safari in Kenya when she was 78(!) – not exactly glamping, but not roughing it either. That was in Kenya, and she had a great time.

    She said she didn’t sit round the campfire as late as some did, “but when I went back to my tent someone always leaped up to escort me.” Now I know why. All dem dar predators.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve always figured I’d be game to go on safari, and not necessarily even Gucci style, but I have to admit finding a big snake in my bed might just put me off.

    But I think I could live with a chipped manicure.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m behind on my blog reading. But the great thing about that is I don’t have to wait to read the next dispatch! 😀 Yay!

    Like

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