Monday, March 15, 2010

Blinded by the Baobab

   My gaze roamed the horizon.  A smile slowly spread across my face. I was standing at the edge of a salt pan in the middle of Botswana. A sign board posted tidbits of information on the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan that we were exploring. A nearby observation tower gave visitors some height to partake in bird watching, without disturbing the myriad of species that inhabited this unique place. No other significant structures could be seen. That certainly was not due to an abundance of trees to block the view. In fact, very few scrubby trees could be seen. Dry, dusty-looking soil gave a tenuous hold to vegetation that looked not far from fossilization. This was home to flamingos in the thousands when the rains from further North made their way down to this former inland lake. Now, my little band of travellers was scurrying around it with cameras, binoculars and grins at our first taste of the wilds of Africa. We gathered dust and salty shoes, as we pointed out new species for our mental checklists; kori bustard, secretary bird, springbok, reedbuck. It was just a taste of what was to come. It fuelled the excitement of our adventure.

   As the rains had not been down to fill the pans in what appeared to be many moons, the area was quite dry around the edges. Upon wandering further into the pan, you could manage to get your shoes a little more mucky. Without more moisture, we did not spy the legions of flamingos and other birds that were attracted to this area for breeding at other points. The novelty of the salty terrain soon wore off for those of us who had toasted our travels once or twice the night before. We eventually remounted our sturdy Samil truck and slowly  left the reserve, scouring the brush for sight of game. The sight that awed me the most though was of a tree. As noted many of the trees were rather sparse as a result of infrequent irrigation. One tree stood out from the rest. Rising majestically above the world was a most unique species; the baobab. It was monstrous. It appeared to have been flipped upside down by the Gods pulling pranks in this arid land. The sparse branches appeared more like a  root system, with what should have been the main part of the tree living underground.  We came across one giant that had finally succumbed and was lying on its side. It was two stories high as it lay prone! We were let out of the truck to gape at its immensity and several of us tried to scrabble up the sides of it, to no avail. These behemoths had time spans that surpassed lineages of locals in the area, perhaps growing a thousand years. I was completely awe-struck by this magnificent piece of nature that seemed so stark, but somehow survived.  

   Still slack-jawed we were ushered back into our transport. The road lay ahead of us and another traveler was to join our midst at our next stop, Maun. With a laughing blackbacked jackal trailing behind us, we settled back into our benches and dreamed of drifting through the Delta in the days to come...

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