Elephants With Wet Feet: African Safari by Boat
by Karen Misuraca

Between rising cloud columns in a limpid yellow sky and lavender jacaranda trees below, we flew low in a six-passenger plane on a hot, sticky afternoon, our first day in Africa. As we banked over the curve of the wide green Zambezi River heading for a red dirt airstrip, we made our first sighting, a herd of elephants huddled at the foot of a giant baobab tree. Just as a dozen striped impala danced across the runway, we bounced down into the dust.

Mom, fifty-something, and daughter, thirty-something, we had come to see the Africa of our dreams, the romantic, tented safari of a hundred years ago, and hoped we were not too late to find it. We planned to stay at fly-in bush camps that are inaccessible, or nearly so, by road, and to forsake the traditional vehicle drives in game parks for expeditions by canoe, kayak and other watercraft.

Floating and boating on rivers, deltas, lakes and lagoons in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana over a month's time, we encountered only a handful of other travelers. We got a proper dose of the "big five": elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino, and had the added pleasure of seeing the marvelous birds that frequent watery habitats. Take it from us, you can get closer to animals in a canoe than in a Land Rover, close enough to hear a 2,000-pound Cape buffalo sniff and snuffle, close enough to look into the liquid brown eyes of a hippo as big as a Lincoln Continental.

We got our first taste of the bush at Chikwenya Camp on the banks of the Zambezi in Zimbabwe, where we flew in that first day. The thatch-roofed, open-sided lodge is shaded by leafy umbrellas of huge mahogany trees.

Scattered along boardwalks are tents with teak floors, thatched roofs, private bathrooms and bamboo-enclosed outdoor showers, with mosquito netting for walls. Built entirely of native woods, the common room is softened with bright wall hangings, carpets and art work. Kerosene lanterns and candles provide the only light. No phones, no electricity most of the time, no electronically-produced sound -- the better to hear wildlife and wilderness.

The first night, after being led to our tent by an armed guide who flashed his "torch" back and forth into the bush and told us not to venture out for any reason, we huddled on our beds while several elephants rubbed against our deck outside. Later in the night, we woke to the sound of lions screaming and Cape buffalo thundering through camp.

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©Karen Misuraca; all rights reserved.