Like wrenching our heads out of the water in an old fashioned apple bobbing contest we plunge our senses back into the all encompassing world that is the National Parks network of Botswana. It remains to be determined if we are masochistic or optimistic; probably both but it’s the ratio which seems undetermined, and just like an apple bobbing contest it’s water that we’re diving back into. Comically we’re told very specifically not to drive off the roads, there seems one very obvious way to stop people driving off the roads: make the roads drivable. But this is what we asked for, Nxai Pan is in a drier part of the country, south of Chobe and Moremi and apparently it’s through here at about this time of year that a staggering number of Zebra and Wildebeast make their migration so hopes are high.
Entering the pans we do come across a family of 16 giraffe on the road, literally on the road. We can’t go around so it’s time to just wait but with a view like this waiting is no problem, they are a study in grace these big monsters with elegance belying their size. And onward, after we left game driving behind with some measure of relief we’re back into it like junkies that can’t seem to give up what’s not good for us. Our attempt at a game drive in the park does reinforce our less than fantastic experiences with this activity to date. Venturing off to make a wide sweep of the park it seems that we’re not on the popular trails and it’s easy to see why, we’re back in Botswana road hell.
Well we thought it was boring then it became something far more in an instant. Sadly I don’t talk about a great animal sighting, it’s more animal behaviour, that being the best tantrum that Botswana has seen since 1983 when a young Charlie Winn left the country: we’re bogged again. Although I’d been doing all the driving in the parks, it’s Charlie behind the wheel now and you should hear the words, such filth from such a sweet innocent mouth. Oh dear, can you hear the few birds vacating a distant tree? And that poor steering wheel, whatever did it do to Charlie I will never know but it gets what it apparently had coming to it. Like the well oiled machine we are now, we’re breaking branches and wedging them under wheels to get going in a jif. With tantrum ground zero survived we ride the violent aftershocks for about an hour as we battle nearly ten kilometres as our trusty Toyota, Simba, saves us once again to deliver us out of the sodden eastern end of the park.
We should have known we tell ourselves, we should have known; still the filth pours from the mouth of an angel and still we struggle on. The roads are drying somewhat but the temper rages unabated, all we want to do now is get back to the campsite. At the depths of our despair we trudge on, barely gracing second gear at the rarest of opportunities, there’s only one baby cheetah leaping across the road for us to see. Hang on. That’s a cheetah, and another one, cue the filth but now from elation and celebration, two baby cheetahs bound across the road about 20m before us. Dumbstruck doesn’t begin to describe our mood, from glum defeat to triumph in the pad of a paw.
Immediately following glides mama cheetah, barely in stride the machine flows like liquid across the path, each bound clearing about 3-4m with offensive ease. Fittingly it’s all too fast, the road is vacated before our excitement can even peak with the movement, the moment, the rise in emotion all indescribably fast. We’re left to ride the wave of this sudden burst in the eternity after the event that passed too soon. The high we feel for seeing the cheetahs is matched only by the relief of seeing the cheetahs, this sighting means more to our psyches than we thought. In the bounding few seconds the punctuation was placed at the end of this safari, it’s unavoidable that if you don’t see a cat there’s a nagging doubt that you didn’t quite get the experience: box ticked.
Fleeting as it was we finally got the experience. The campfire roars as we opt out of another tedious game drive, it’s mission accomplished and we deserve an afternoon of rest. Strangely enough the conversation doesn’t hang on the cheetah as the hopes of sightings have thus far, there’s more to this trip than those few seconds. Maybe it’s the calm night, maybe it’s the ice cold beer or maybe it’s the over 100 different animals we’ve been introduced to so far but this safari now seems so much more than a big cat. Seeing the cheetah was all it was cracked up to be, an amazing animal, we expected that. What we didn’t expect was that by seeing it the pressure valve of expectation would be released and in doing so the joy of seeing the cheetah is now permeated through the entire trip; the safari was a success all along, we just needed the cheetah to permit ourselves to declare victory