“Be quiet, shhhh” are the only whispers you hear. Seated on hard wooden benches are hundreds of people. We have headlamps around our necks, torches in our pockets, canteens next to us and cameras in our hands. We wait. As the sun sets, the horizon is set ablaze in hues of red and orange. The colours change as quickly as the scene. It’s cable television live, in colour and directly in front of us. Even the youngest children are silent. You can hear a pin drop.
We sit at the Watering Hole in Etosha National Park. Namibia’s premier park for animal citing and game drive viewing has campsites, a pool a restaurant and this, the watering hole. “I could stay here for days”, we both say to each other simultaneously knowing that if we could, we would. Within the first minutes we know we have to return someday. Each day people come and sit for hours. Sunrise, daylight, sunset, night-it doesn’t matter the time or the weather-they wait.
This is the real animal kingdom where wildlife roam free and humans are second stringers. As the hours shift, so do the animals. The sun starts to set and the jackals appear. “Be sure to keep your shoes inside your tent” Paul (our guide) reminds us because these scrappy little guys will take them for a chew toy. We smile and return our gaze to the scene before us. The zebras arrive. In a sea of black and white stripes, over forty adult and little ones come out of the shadows and wander into the water. Some fully enter, others dip their toes and a few put their little zebra lips down for a drink. Today, there are no lions guarding the precious water so it’s safe, for now. Suddenly in the background tall silhouettes start to take shape. Dusk has arrived and with it, the giraffes begin to appear. Stretching their tall necks to reach the leaves of the trees a few grab a snack while others lean the far distance for a drink at the watering hole. The oryx and springbok come next.
Day turns to night and the street lamps beside us change from dim to glow. The stars sparkle in the sky and we know it’s now eight. How do we know? The elephants arrive. Out of the dusky night sky they trudge along with babies in tow. I grip Mathew’s arm so tightly as I can’t believe what I’m seeing. We look at each other knowing that this is the reason we’re here-this experience, right now. With a leader in front and lookouts on sides and in back, over twenty-five elephants make their way towards us. Incredible. No one moves a muscle. The only sound you hear is the click of the cameras as their monstrous lenses capture the moment we’ve been privileged to witness. The babies head straight for a full body wash as their parents shower them with sprays from their strong trunks. They roll in the mud, stretch their legs, jump in and out of the water and enjoy their surroundings knowing that they are safe for the moment and can get their fill before lumbering the long distance to the next spot.
We watch in awe as the procession continues. The elephants start to make their way out of the watering hole. “Is this really happening”? We’ve dreamed of these moments and experiences and it’s hard to believe it’s real. We had pitched our tent earlier, had dinner around an open fire, covered ourselves in bug spray and have now been sitting here for hours just existing. Impressive is an understatement for this brilliance. Marshmallows and sticks await us back at the campsite and a morning game drive is in store. With my husband’s hand in mind it’s hard to believe that life could get any better than this moment.
Elephants leave, rhinos arrive-nine o’clock. Like Broadway productions, every night the same cast of characters tackle the same script to a new audience. Ticket holders feel fortunate to watch an opening act, observe exceptional talent, wait during intermission and if they’ve enjoyed themselves share a standing ovation of appreciation for the artistry they’ve just encountered. This is nature’s Broadway. Every night is opening night. The seats are harder, the air warmer, the cast-volunteers and every night the audience shares internal applause in a silent ovation of exuberant grins. Difficult to pull ourselves away, we turn towards our campsite headlamps aglow. We leave for the night with indelible memories of nature’s show and consider ourselves lucky that just for a moment we glimpsed a piece of the wonder and magic that is Africa.