It was as if I were a tiny little kid again, you know that time when you could get lost on a regulation size soccer field. I wasn't the best soccer player when I was little I have no illusions to that, especially if I was getting lost out there. This is no secret. It was kind of like that, except instead of a kid on a soccer field, it was a range rover full of photographers, in the middle of BFE Botswana. Almost the same.
We were on the road for an hour or so, deep in the middle of nothing. So deep in the middle of nothing that animals didn't even travel this way. The road wasn't even gravel, only dirt. There were more people in the vehicle than usual, eight in total, we invited a few of the lodge staff to go with us that evening. We were headed to a very special place in the Tuli Block of Eastern Botswana, our driver knew about it, however, we knew very little of what we were about to experience.
We traveled across the dirt road about as quick as those vehicles could go. It was an open top range rover, it had three rows of bench seats, plus the two seats up front. Behind us, a thick cloud reddish brown dust churned as we rolled down the road. I had my camera gear on my lap, but it was clear there was little need for it right now. I kept thinking I should have left it at the lodge. There was little water in this area and therefore no wildlife to speak of.
There were two agriculture posts, small check points along the road, fenced off with guards. Twice along on our trip out we had to stop, get out and pass over on foot as the tires of the car were washed down. It was meant to stop the spread of disease between farm land and wildlife as I understood it. After the second checkpoint it wasn't much further. Maybe another 15 miles or so.
Our first stop was along the river, the water had been receding for a few months and the bank was far below us. We just sat there an enjoyed the view, joking about nothing in particular. Dad, as he often does, wondered off a little toward the river bank, just admiring the sights, not paying any attention to the rest of us, yelling at him to stay away from the water. We had to send Gums, our tracker, out to bring him back. They returned a few moments later, Dad, still oblivious to the crocodile that was sitting just a handful of yards off the bank. Once I pointed it out, his response "yeah, but that wasn't there the whole time, plus, its not even that big." Hard to argue with that solid logic. We spent a few minutes more watching the crocodiles, which is like watching a rock, before we piled back into the car and headed back along the road.
It didn't take much time, we parked perhaps 5 minutes later and piled out of the car again. I grabbed my camera bag and we headed out on foot. It wasn't an overly step climb up the rocky hill, and it probably took less than 15 minutes to make the summit.
Once on top, it was clear why we came. Perhaps the highest point in 15 miles, it was a beautiful sight. No man-made structures that I could make out with the exception of one radio tower off in the distance. But the view wasn't what got us, across the ground were thousands of artifacts, pottery shards, grinding stones, ancient games. It was an archaeologists dream. We spent the next few minutes acting a bit like Indiana Jones, picking up artifacts, blowing the dirt off, cleaning them with our fingers . . . as if we had any idea what we were doing. I sure did play the part though
At the edge of the hill was a massive rock outcropping. I took my camera to the edge, preparing for the upcoming sunset. Our guide poured us our sun downers, my standard gin and tonic, and we sat waiting for those final moments of light, that perfect moment to capture the sunset. It wasn't long before our groups was a-stir. An Elephant Shrew had popped his head out of the rocks. He stared at us a few minutes before deciding that he was brave enough to see what all the commotion was. It was as if we weren't even there, he scurried down the rocks and started crawling all over our gear as he searched for food. Perhaps he just wanted to share our gin and tonics.
As he scurried about, we tried to get in good position to capture an image or two. A pair of photographers, husband and wife, were already in position waiting for him to emerge again so I had to find a different spot to capture a shot. I circled to the other side, and shimmied along the rock edge, waiting for him to emerge. What you don't see, 5 feet behind me, the rock face drops almost 80 feet to the ground below.
After almost 10 minutes he finally poked his head out again, and froze. I had only a moment, and snapped less than five images. Only one of the four was even in focus, typical. There are so many little details about this image that I love, but what I love most, its this tiny creature, no bigger than a mouse, looking out over a huge expanse of land as if he came out to watch the last moments of the day, and like we did, wanted to enjoy the vast space, and incredible beauty of the place that he is lucky enough to live. Who is to say shrew's can't enjoy sunsets, they sure like M&M's.
Night came upon us quickly once the sun started to set. We walked back to the car as the final light of the day disappeared. Heading home along the road was different at night. I could taste the dust this time, but I couldn't see it. The trip back to camp to camp was almost in complete silence, the day took it out of us.
It's amazing though, no matter how alone you feel, or empty that world can seem, you should still always close the top of your trail mix bag. Otherwise you most certainly will find an elephant shew inside, with an expression on his face like he just won the lottery. True story.
"Elephant and Gun" is part of my collection "Of Things Large and Small" and is offered in three sizes, each in a limited edition. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this photo will go to conservation efforts in East Africa.
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