by Leon Openshaw ©
|It all happened on two recent, concurrently running safaris, just before the start
of Namibia's rainy season. The safari Guests were all from the United Kingdom of Great
Britain. The first group of Guests arrived at the International airport in Windhoek, very
excited, and hardly believing that they have actually arrived for their long awaited
African safari - but minus their luggage! The International airline had not transshipped
the luggage at the connecting airport. To the mystic believers, this would probably have
been interpreted as an Omen or bad sign.
With the comforting assurance of the local airline as our guarantee, the safari commenced towards Southern Namibia for the Guests' first night in the Namib Desert. At exactly 06:00 the next morning, the Guests were woken to sign for their luggage. (Their first night was spent 571km / 357 miles from the International airport) The bad start was soon forgotten as an awe-inspiring landscape unfolded before their eyes around every bend and beyond every rise while traversing Southern Namibia. They regarded the continuously changing colours of the sand dunes at sunrise and sunset, as the highlight of the Southern Namibia section of their tour.
While in the Erongo Region of Namibia, on the eighth day of their safari, a slight delay was experienced due to another Guest who had to join the safari at this point. Not wanting to miss any of the activities offered at their next Guest Lodge, it was decided to change the itinerary route by taking a "short cut" through the Central Namibian farmlands. About 16km / 10 miles from where this route joins with the original route again, one of the Guests suddenly shouted and pointed ahead in the road. There was a young Black Mamba crossing the road directly ahead. The vehicle was brought to a halt immediately, and while the Host explained the great honour of this encounter, one Guest was out of the vehicle in a flash, camera in hand, for a closer view. Needless to say, by the time the Host was at the Guest's side, ushering him back to the vehicle, the Host had lost two years of his life! As the vehicle edged forward towards the point where the snake had left the road again, a second slither track was clearly visible about 1metre / three foot from the other. All sat listening to the Host, giving accounts of stories about Mambas moving about in pairs, while staring at the spot where the sighted snake disappeared. As the vehicle started up again, a shriek in the car directed everybody's gaze to about 2 metres / 6 ft from the side of the road where both young Mambas could clearly be seen, fronts reared off the ground to an estimated height of 800mm / 32 inches, angrily observing this noisy intruder. The remainder of these Guests' safari was totally "snake-free" right up to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe - they seemed strangely disappointed in this!
The day after their departure from Victoria Falls airport, the second group of Guests was welcomed. They spent two nights in Victoria Falls before commencing their safari into Namibia. Travelling through the Chobe National Park of Botswana, they headed towards the Eastern Caprivi for their first night in Namibia at a Guest Lodge on a river island. Approximately 1½ hours before sunset, on the fifth day of their safari, they boarded a small, platformed river boat (pictured here), for a sunset Game viewing cruise down the Kwando river. The boat docked again soon after sunset and all walked along a narrow path through the bush towards a waiting transfer vehicle. While the Host was still assisting one Guest to disembark from the boat, the Guest walking in front suddenly stopped and calmly called back to the Host to please come and identify a snake crossing the footpath. Although the previous Guest's encounter was still very fresh in the Host's memory, his rush to the far end of the path was purely for safety reasons as many snakes are dangerous. On reaching the spot, a few more years of his life seeped away! Not more than 1.5 metres / 5 ft in front of the Guest, a Black Mamba, seemingly lazily, criss-crossing the path ahead. The Guests were all immediately requested to silently, but quickly return to the boat and remain there until the Host had taken the necessay steps to ensure that it was safe to continue towards the vehicle.
At dinner that evening, a full account of the encounter a few days ago, plus the dangers and general behaviour of Black Mambas was dicussed in detail, and the uniqueness of this day's encounter emphasised, to be cherished as an experience of a lifetime, never to be repeated - practically a guarantee!
The next afternoon, approximately 250km / 156 miles from this Lodge, towards the western regions of Caprivi, the Guests experienced another adrenalin-pumping encounter - planned this time - of watching and photographing a herd of wild elephants crossing the Kavango river, 3 metres / 10 ft from where they were standing. With all this excitement and competing amongst one another to "log" the highest number of viewed birds, trees and other wildlife into their personalised Check Lists, the return to their Lodge was somewhat later than anticipated. On finally arriving at the Lodge, the Host suggested that all the Guests return to their respective chalets to freshen up for dinner, while he will unload the vehicle and see to it that everything is delivered to the correct chalet.
Less than 3 minutes after the Guests left the vehicle, one returned and very calmly told the Host that one of the other Guests asked for him to quickly come to chalet No.1, pictured here, because they are almost positive the snake there is the same specie as that of the previous night at the river's edge. Almost considering this news as a practical joke, based on the dinner discussions the previous night, the Host smiled at the Guest who immediately added: "No, really!" Instinctively the Host dropped everything and rushed to the particular chalet. He found the Guest standing absolutely motionless in front of chalet No.2, next door. As he reached the Guest, the Host's attention was drawn to a movement halfway under the elevated porch of the chalet. The Guests were all ushered into chalet No.2 for safety before the Host investigated.
You guessed it! An adult Black Mamba of over 3 metres / 7 ft in length! At the Host's action, the snake reared almost two thirds of its body off the ground, fixing an irritating stare on him for a few seconds (which felt like a lifetime), before dropping to the ground and disappearing down the bank of the river at lightning speed. The owners of the Lodge informed us that evening that they were aware of this creature, but could not manage to find it yet. They had killed a similar-sized Mamba a month ago, believed to be this one's mate.
Afterwards joking about these encounters and jabbing the Host with comments such as: "I thought you said an encounter with a Black Mamba is such a rare, maybe once in a lifetime occurrence?" Well, obviously the Host had no defense for that remark, and on reaching the next Lodge in the Kavango, shown at the right, he was jokingly requested to get rid of the Mambas before the Guests book in. All had a wonderful dinner - as only Namibian cuisine can be - and just before retiring for the night, the owner of the Lodge came across and announced that breakfast will not be served inside, the next morning, but on the decked patio overlooking the river.
There was no particular rush for breakfast the next morning. It was planned to be a leisurely breakfast as most of the "long haul" distances were behind us and the total distance to the next Guest Lodge was only 524 km / 327 miles with only one stop at the Hoba Meteorite in between. As the Guests approached the patio, remarking on the beauty and tranquility of the morning, they noticed that, with the exception of a few staff members at the far corner of the patio, nothing seemed to be ready for breakfast. Then the owner appeared and ushered everyone into the dining room, where all was laid out for a sumptuous breakfast. Under an enquiring look from the Guests, the Host asked about the change in plans - having looked forward to a breakfast on the patio. The owner seemed surprised at the question and retaliated with: "Didn't the shot gun blast wake you up? Look outside on the patio, that 6 ft Mamba spent the night on our dining room's rafters and was found on the patio this morning - my staff shot it". As calmly as that! Of course, for the rest of that day the Host was strangely silent.
The next two days of the safari passed, returning to reality. The immediately preceding days overshadowed by the abundance of Bird- and Wildlife viewed, good cuisine and relaxing in a Natural mineral hot spring, right there in the African bush. The Guests spent the last two nights of their Nambian safari at a Guest Lodge dedicated to the Feline species of
African Wildlife. They enjoyed wonderful drives on a Leopard trail, Cheetah trail and joined one of the most informative Bushman trails available. Their last dinner in Namibia seemed to combine all the good food that they have had throughout the safari - an absolutely excellent meal with masterfully prepared Ostrich steaks as the main dish. After dinner, they all walked towards a specially constructed night hide to observe the nocturnal animals of Africa, as they came out of the darkness to feed. On their return to the Lodge, they seemed noticeably reluctant to retire for the night. Instead, they joined the circle of Guests from all over the world, and in various different safari groups, around a crackling, Acacia wood, camp fire to chat and enjoy a nightcap. (campfire setting shown at right) A girl from Belgium, also sitting in the circle, excused herself to retire to her room. A few seconds later, a spine-chilling scream cut through the silence of the star-studded African night.
All heads turned, apprehensively, in the direction of the sound, which had by now drifted away into the darkness as if it had never happened - only the ringing in each individual's ears, remained. Considering where we were, most minds around that fire had already created pictures of this huge African Lion, compacted like a spring, ready to release that wound-up energy in one enormous leap. Instead, the girl was standing in front of her room, hands clasped over her mouth and eyes wide and glistening with the reflection of the camp fire's dancing flames - but nothing else! The Host and several members of the Guest Lodge's staff was next to her, almost instantly, and followed her faint eye movements towards the branches of the tree in front of her room. Hanging from the bottom branch, and visibly disturbed by the racket and sudden movement, was an adult "Boomslang" (A very poisonous tree snake). As a particular staff member of this establishment was in fact an expert snake handler and well known for it, the host left them to it and returned to his own Guests. One glance sent around the circle was enough, and each member of this particular safari group simply burst out laughing. The other Guests around that fire are most probably still wondering what those silly people found so humorous about a poisonous snake in their midst!
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