The Track to Lake Katavi

30 July 2011

We drove out in the morning, chilled and fleeced up, sans windscreen, windows, walls, but warmed by the knowledge that later on we’d be baking in the heat. That’s what crystal clear skies do to Katavi...they let the heat rise and drift away into the star-riddled sky, but by mid-day the plains are once again shimmering with warmth.

We drove through a dry sand riverbed, noticing fresh leopard prints there. We turned left at the giant tree and headed west across the northern edge of the plains, woodland to our right, yellow savannah to our left stretching as far as we could see. Sometimes in places this enormous, as on the sea, it seems like we can see the curve of the earth.

We drove for hours, passing through a tunnel of long grass that hung over the track like a mile-long archway. Emerging onto a dry, seasonal floodplain, we knew we were nearing the river, which we would have to cross, somehow. First we had to traverse the plain, riddled with the now dry footprints of thousands of buffalo, hippo and elephant, making it a kilometre-wide ride so bouncy we were all laughing but relieved to get to the other side.

We found a gap in the steep river bank, worn down by ages of big game passage, just wide enough to squeeze the landrover into, down, check for crocs, hippos, jump out, wade in, solid sand bottom, thumbs up to the driver, “Landrova inaweza!” (The landrover can do it) shouted by the driver, gun the engine to climb the far bank, and out onto more endless plains.

Wow. So rare was a vehicle to that side of Katavi that animals should have paid park fees, the way they stared at us as if we were the days top entertainment. Topi herds, zebra herds, buffalo herds, giraffe, elephant, hippo on the savannah like antelope, thumbing their noses at the belief that they can’t handle the sun’s mid-day rays. Warthogs cruising along with tails at full mast, impala flying through the air, hornbills laughing away...

We had set out at seven a.m. We came back to our wooded Chada hideaway at 7 p.m. We were covered in dust. We were physically spent, mentally high and spiritually sated. We ate like hogs and slept like logs.

There had been stretches of time that day when we saw no game for an hour, then hundreds all at once. We had found a pride of lions we did not know, who stared at us and hunched down into the grass as if they had never seen a car before. We had lost our way three times, but the distant mountains and the sun never lie so we knew what direction we had to go to refind the track.

That day we talked about many things, and sometimes we didn’t talk at all, relishing the silence.

That night at the fire, back at Chada, someone said...

“I never would have believed it possible to be on a track that was so old, so hard to see, so un-driven upon, while still seeing so much game.” We awarded them with the quote of the day.

We had not seen another vehicle, all day long.

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