I dream of snakes

I am spiritual person and although I don’t believe in conventional, well-defined preconceived notions of a higher power, I believe that there is more to life than just the mechanics of the world. Time and time again my “gut” has been there to screen and warm me of things my rational mind couldn’t grasp. So that is my brilliant logic as to why there’s more.

For the last few months I have been dreaming of snakes. When these dreams first started I happened to casually mention them to people during one of my safaris about six months ago. One of them said to me that dreaming of snakes means that enemies are lying close to you and that I should be careful. Because the snake in my dream was just lying next to me without doing anything other I assumed that perhaps this was a bit too superstitious and I left at that. I thought perhaps the dream meant I had a friend who I had to keep an eye out for.

In the last few weeks I have started dreaming of snakes again. Ironically the snakes in my dreams are always in the bathroom – this is perhaps due to the fact that my worst snake experiences have occurred in bathrooms (they always seem to find me there).

The last snake dream I had was absolutely disgusting.

I dreamed I found a drawer full of snakes in my mom’s closet. They were small, thin and black with a white side stripe running along their bodies. Because I didn’t want anyone in my family to get hurt, I decided to put all the snakes in my mouth. In dreamland, this seemed like the best way to take the snakes away from my loved ones and protect them. When my mouth was filled with snakes I then went outside and one by one started pulling them out of my mouth. I was so disgusted of this dream when I got up, and so puzzled by it that I shared with the girls that always have my back.

“I don’t know what it means or what went through my brain but this was too disgusting not to share”. Its not friendship if you don’t share the gagging details.

I left the dream at that because in all likelihood I had been dreaming of snakes because I was nervous that all the squirrels in the roof might bring an unwanted visitor into my life. Checking the bathroom before entering became a routine activity every morning.

Months after, and due to the most heart breaking succession of unwanted events; I realized that there had been a snake in my life all along. The snake is of course not a snake, but a woman. Someone we let into our lives and behaved in such a disgusting and unfaithful way that “betrayal” isn’t even a big enough word to explain what she did or how she behaved. When confronted there were no apologies on her side. As a first reaction she slithered and hid away like most snakes do – she used those who she had betrayed the most as a shield for her cowardice.

In a world like today it saddens me to no end to know that there are still women out there willing to betray, stab and bring down other women for no other end than personal gratification, in the most primitive level. Professionally and personally I have been on the receiving end of women’s cruelty on far too many occasions and it disappoints every time to know that it isn’t because of you, but because a deep innate insecurity that drives them to act in a selfish and irrational way.

I could destroy the snakes. Chop their heads off and pay them back with the same coin they have paid me. An eye for an eye for a life and a dream destroyed. I know the Universe will repay your actions. I know that whatever you had brought into my life, you will receive back in yours. Hell is a place on Earth, and we pay in this lifetime the evil that we bring upon others.

But…life is how we chose to react to the unwanted curve balls.

I am choosing to repay your venom with the only thing I refuse to give up: kindness. I will not destroy lives; in the face of all the destruction you brought into my life, I will not destroy yours.

I am choosing to be better.

I am choosing never to bring other women down the way you have.

I am choosing to be a better woman.

I am choosing not to intentional hurt people.

I am choosing to let go.

The Universe will handle it, it always does.

(And if it doesn’t, I have enough evidence to handle it myself.)

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Mana Pools Glory

This is not the greatest video, but it’s a happy video. I try to spend all of my time outside (except on nights like tonight when it’s too cold) and as every wildlife person knows, there is alway that “something” that eludes you, some animal or experience that seems unattainable. Seeing an elephant standing on its back legs has been at the top of my list for very long time and even though I’ve seen the individuals that are known to do it, for some reason they never felt like it when I was around.
 
On our first morning safari in Mana Pools Lovemore Chiwara stopped as he recognised this boy. Affectionately (well, maybe not too much) known as “Grumpy” he’s a new bull that’s picked up the habits of standing on 2 legs. We spent what felt like ages patiently waiting for him to move closer to the Ana trees, holding our breaths every time it stretched its trunk to reach the higher branches.
 

When he finally did rock back and forth and swiftly jumped onto its back legs, I couldn’t film, couldn’t photograph, couldn’t speak. In a split of a second our luck had changed. It took a good 20min before I could recompose myself and get my act together to immortalise this moment for myself using the technology at my disposal (thank you dear D600).

 

 
It’s not a great video, but now you know why it was a happy one.

The lucky & rare

“Roan!” – we screamed as we came across the most beautiful male gently grazing in the open area. As we decided to go around to have a better look and learn a bit more about such a rare antelope something caught the corner of our eye.

“There!”
“Running!”
“Jackal?”
 
We couldn’t make the animal of the little bullets we saw running. When finally one, then two, then three of them emerged from behind a bush we knew without a doubt.
 
“BAT-EARED FOXES!”

Although not considered endangered, I’ve only had long-distance glimpses of them in southern Africa or just a fleeting visual of them as they move. To be able to see three of these creatures running around in the open (eventually) and just carrying on with their daily life was without a doubt, a privilege. A rare insight into the daily life of a creature I have read more about than seen.
 
That characteristic movement, big ears (hence the name) and playful nature was well worth all the layers we have to wear in the wintertime. To have observed them for long enough to calm down and take a semi decent video of them (ostrich was photo bombing the shot) was just the cherry on top!
We knew then Hwange was a special place to explore.

Tolerance

As I was grabbing a quick bite to eat before heading out in search of activity at the hyena den, I got stranded in the kitchen by a storm. I had seen it coming however I wasn’t expecting it so soon. When it rains, it mainly just pours in the rainy season.

With no need to rush, I settled on a chair and poured some tea while simply observing everyone come in and out of the kitchen. Kettle was boiling, coffee, tea and hot cocoa were being made by every individual who felt the chill of the rain in their bones.

Shadrack got caught in the rain too and proceeded to make himself a hot chocolate big enough to keep an entire village warm. We’d been exchanging greetings and pleasantries for the last few weeks but we had never had a proper conversation before. I enjoyed his good-humoured nature, and the fact that he was perhaps one of the most switched-on bush mechanics I have ever met.

As he poured his drink, he turned around and looked at me.

“Where is Tristan?”
“He’s at the bottom, do you need him?”

Silence. A scourge of courage afterwards that started with glinting eyes, he looked straight at me and asked with a smile:

“Do you believe in God?”

I nearly choked on my tea. Not because of the question itself, but because this was not the topic of conversation I was expecting.

I paused to think of my answer. Divinity (for a lack of a better word) has been a complicated topic in my life for a very long time, to the point that I have shaped my own beliefs and have trouble sharing them with others, I like to keep them personal and private.

After assessing where this could go, I answered as honestly as I could:

“Mmm, yeah I do,”

He looked at me while sipping his hot chocolate. I could tell he did not fully believed my answer but it was hard to explain that I had always had troubles with this question. So, I pressed him on:

“Why?”

“My friend said that you mzungus (white people) don’t believe in God, you only believe in science”.

“Oh. Who said that to you?”

“I used to have a friend, he said to me you only believe in Science”.

“Hmm. Ok, maybe that’s what he thought. What do you believe in?”

“I believe in God – he replied with pride – Science can’t make the rain stop now. If it could the rain would have stopped. If Science could, we could make the rain stop with a whatsapp message.”

“Well, that is true, Science can’t make the rain stop”

“Science…” he pressed on timidly “it can’t create a person, it can’t create a heartbeat”.

“If you want to get technical, to my knowledge I don’t suppose we can create a human outside of womb like you say just yet”.

“To me, only God can create a person; Science can’t make a person”.

More people started coming in and out and as the noise grew louder, and so he finished the conversation. With no ill intention, he left me wondering and puzzling over many things in my head while I finished sipping my tea.

I felt he had wanted to have this conversation with a mzungu for a while, why he chose to ask me, I’m not sure. What worried me was the tone in his voice. It made me wonder as to the reason behind the tone and topic of his questions: was this coming from him because a mzungu had belittled his beliefs saying God didn’t exist and that only science could be trusted; or had this come from a conversation with a “friend” and he wanted to confirm if what his friend was saying about mzungus was true?

I know little about religious practices of the Masaai culture. It is my understanding however that they believe in one God whom they call Ngai or Engai. They were of a monotheistic belief even before the arrival of the British and missionaries, and this is probably why many refused to convert to Christianity.

What I found thought provoking about this unexpected conversation was that “mzungus” all around the world, roughly 600 years ago had demeaned other cultures by telling them the God(s) they believed it in were wrong and made cultures around the world believe in new “correct” ones; now, 600 years later some are being told once more the God that now they believe in or have come to believe in isn’t real, but that only Science exists.

In 600 years or more, in one way or another, we haven’t learned our way of living and letting live. Some still try to impose what they believe in onto, hurting sensitivities and allowing grudges to take place.

If we call it God, a higher reason, or science, is it acceptable to tell others that don’t have the same beliefs as us that they are wrong?

My tea grew cold before I could make some sense of all the thoughts in my head left by such a casual conservation.
NB:
I wrote this post over a year ago. It was a conversation that struck a cord in me and because of the subject at hand, I wasn’t sure I wanted to share this with the world. In times of introspection I feel everyone needs to talk about more about tolerance. I tried to portray this conversation as it happened with no colouring of reality. Once the conversation was finished, we never approached the subject again although Shadrack and I had many more conservations about a plethora of things.

In sharing this personal episode, I have no intention or interest in sharing or imposing my personal views about this matter onto others, the aim of this story  was to share the questions that this conversation provoked in me about the way humanity works – nothing else.

The final one

Like in all great adventures, time starts off slowly and before you know it, the end is at your door (or tent?) step. For us, our time in the Congo basin had to come to an end.

Our days exploring Lango bai in wet, dry and muddy conditions were followed by a night at another clearing where the beautiful Mboko lodge sits. Surrounded by beautiful and enormous termite mounds, there is a dramatic beauty to be found in this camp in the rainy season. It was here where we were caught in a furious storm while doing one of our hikes and fully understood the meaning or the term RAINforest, and confirmed that truly there are no Bongos in the Congo.

On our last afternoon, we embarked on a boat cruise down the Lekoli River once more. Water systems are fascinating and the amount of life that can be found around them will always leave returning for more. On our last boat cruise we were particularly silly, having summed up the pros and cons of the trip, we had now all decided and re-affirmed we felt happy and honoured to have had the opportunity to explore such a pristine piece of wilderness.

Being the more sensible one at the silly hour, Adam asked us all for a minute of silence down the river, somewhat reluctantly we agreed. When you focus on being silent, nature unravels itself better, allowing you into her secrets.
It was in this 60 seconds of silence that we came across a sight we had all been hoping to encounter: a forest elephant. We had patiently waited for them at the Lango River deck, looked for them on our hikes and walked on their footsteps to no avail. As if by magic, as we came across a corner, there he was. Unaware of our presence until our gasps and camera clicks gave us away. He was deep in the water looking for minerals. When we got a little to close he let us know that was enough and we eventually retreated to give him his privacy. Adam’s request for silence couldn’t have been timed any better.

Giggling away in a fashion you can only do when your heart is full, we gave thanks to the Universe for this gift. This was a much-awaited sight for us; one we had been looking for since the very beginning of our adventure. We had only heard stories of the mythical forest elephants, a creature that for us had proven to be so elusive and mysterious.

Laying eyes on the forest elephant touched Tristan and I, and we couldn’t help but draw comparison from the Savanna elephant we had come to know so well and had spent hours with.

“What struck me the most were their eyes”
“Yes! Did you notice they are of a honey colour?”
“So silent, I never expected to see one in the river like that”
“We got lucky”
“We did at last”

Intoxicated by our encounter, Jeremy proposed we take a chance and departed early on a last boat cruise the following morning. When rationally thinking about the alternative of sleeping in seemed silly not to go on a last expedition even if it meant travelling back wet. Adventure was calling and we had to answer.

My adventure partner

So, early in the morning the river was mesmerising. Maybe because the caffeine hadn’t kicked in, we gently drifted down the river in silence – something that had become unusual for our group.  In this last morning, we saw a side of the forest we hadn’t seen before, a much more awake, active and spirited side of it.

We found a small breeding herd of elephants feeding close to water; they nervously retreated back into the safety of the forest without a sound, in contrast to the noisy birdlife and the moustached monkeys.

We then found two more elephant bulls in the water, enjoying the coolness and calmness of the water. In between these two sightings perhaps we had the most unexpected encounter of them all: a hippo. We had seen no signs of them around and it was surreal to see such a creature in the rainforest. It quickly went under water and navigated past the first elephant we encountered. According to our guide, this was only his second sighting ever of a hippo in the 5 years he had been there.

Our final sighting was perhaps the best. The second elephant bull we encountered was not bothered by our presence. If anything he seemed curious about us and – dare I say – almost playful towards us. While searching for mineral at the bottom of the river, he would casually find the time to flick some water in our direction.

Being late for breakfast and for our flights back, we reluctantly bid our goodbye to the elephants and the forest where it dwelled.

 ____________________

Writing the series about Odzala has been a bit of a mammoth task (Hallelujah it’s done!). It’s perhaps the longest series of posts I have ever written and I would like to thank everyone who has followed this adventure. It has been challenging to put into words this experience but after reliving these moments again I feel more certain that Odzala – Kokoua National Park needs to be protected, celebrated and visited. Few places in the world, like Odzala and the Congo Basin, need tourism so crucially to carry on existing and preserving all life within it; we will not get tired of promoting this treasure we have found within Central Africa’s rainforest, as it is our duty as naturalists to protect such ancient treasures.

I will be heading again in June 2019 to this magical place and we only have 2 more spots open. To book your spot you can email me on ale@wanderingthru.com or have a look at the itinerary link here