Text and photography by André F van Rooyan
I’ll never forget waking up at dawn in a luxury lodge adjacent to the park, overlooking a waterhole. The elephants were there! No matter what else happened that day, I knew I’d never forget that hour. I made strong, black coffee, pulled up a cane chair and watched. Like lists of promises or notes marking the events of a good day, they came to drink. The ragged-looking pachyderms drank and left – no nonsense, no playing around. They looked like a wild herd, not used to people but driven by thirst and clearly on the move. Hwange is massive and wild and this was a large herd.
The rest of the day was marked by the promise of that first beautiful hour, with various groups of elephant coming to the waterhole to drink and play. We watched for hours, but my mind constantly returned to that first, skittish herd which announced the day. Life is strange that way: some people or places remain etched on your mind, while others, even though they may have brought happiness at the time, are soon forgotten.
Hwange and its elephants are like that, embellished on you forever. At times he’s almost aloof, and you may begin to feel isolated. He holds back, showing you little until you realize he’s providing you with time to think; time to find yourself again in the tranquil silence and open spaces as the endless mopani shrub flit by; almost motionless… purposely monotonous. The rhythmic monotony allows the real you to germinate amongst those infertile and sodic patches. Your thoughts carve canyons in your mind and the deepness of the bush soothes you into a perfect wilderness trance. I’ve often felt that for every good thought a new mopani tree will grow.
Then, just as Hwange allows you the quiet space to find yourself, he surprises you, ripping you out of your thoughts and giving you a lone kudu bull as a gift for your understanding, for submitting to him. You switch off the engine. In a different place you may have slowed down to glance and carried on driving… but Hwange makes you stop and look and actually see. The ox-peckers fly up momentarily, settling in the low branches, and as the universe stands still, one by one they return to their host and continue grooming. These small events spawn new thoughts and the punctuation’s followed by more monotonous text in the story of the mopani-scrubland. The scale of Hwange consumes you; you submit to his presence, accepting the need to be patient. In Africa, patience is everything…
© André F van Rooyan. All rights reserved.