Text and photographs Elzanne Erasmus
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I was sitting at the waterhole at Halali one evening. This camp is by far one of my favourite places to be when the African sun dips beyond the horizon. The sky is filled with bright purple and pink hues, the white dust from the famous pan catches fire as the microscopic particles grasp at the fading light. A certain silence seeps across the landscape, quiet but for a shuffle or the slightest human whisper somewhere nearby. The humans fade in the dusk and, as the sun sets, the houselights dim and the red curtain rises. All focus is on the ‘stage’ where a theatrical marvel is about to commence.
This specific night seemed extra dark. There was no moon, and the slight chill from the departing winter made it seem even darker. In such darkness one can often feel lonely. But not on that night at the Halali waterhole. The darkness brought with it a certain pulse in the air.
A flock of famous fowl descended on the edge of the waterhole in a flurry of wings and chirps and delight. It was time to drink and feast and be merry. Like an Italian family around a dinner table, they babbled and jibed and chattered away simultaneously. Then followed the unmistakable ‘crunch crunch crunch’ of twigs as large-footed, big-eared giants made their way through the nebrownii bushes toward the stage. With tusks in the air and in a straight line, they wound toward the water. Underfoot and between wrinkly grey legs, a youngster peers, never wandering too far from the realm of his mother’s protection. Their large bodies cast spectacular reflections in the water, backlit by the hue of pink, purple and blue. The ripples in the water, caused by a dipping trunk, make their reflections dance, and the first scene of this phenomenal performance is underway.
Without much of an interlude, an endangered gentleman steps from the wings. Fearless and proud he approaches centre-stage, his sword raised high as he tests the current before bowing gracefully to drink. As the scene unfolds the wrinkly grey youngster tentatively departs the safety of his mother’s hold and starts to explore his surroundings. He is inquisitive and probes at this and that. Curiosity leads him over to the newly arrived gentleman. But the hunk is in no mood for childish delights and shoos the youngster away. Within a nanosecond the scene transforms as giant and gentleman delve into a dual-like dance. Maternal instincts kick in. Threats to her baby are not taken lightly. The stand-off electrifies the air. Neither backs down. Eventually they ease apart. As tensions dissipate, each slowly retreats and returns to its own flank of the stage. The youngster has long since found a next curiosity to poke at.
As the light dwindles, the scene changes and the predators approach the stage. Soft chuckles are a precursor to the arrival of a group of spotted rogues. They dance about in the edges of the light, yipping at each other as they approach the main podium. Titters and sniggers ensue, but are cut short abruptly at a dramatic sound cue. The low rumble of a jungle queen nearby has them exiting stage-left in a flash of ruffled spotted fur. With feline grace she glides across the stage and lowers herself to the water’s edge. Yellow eyes gleam as they reflect in the slight light. She is the main act, the lead role and her audience sits raptured, mouths agape as she commands their attention.
Then she rises from her prone position and gracefully retreats back into the darkness. Silence falls. The lights dim and the curtain lowers. We take a deep breath and smile. Our smiles are our thunderous applause and our standing ovations. We’ll be back for tomorrow night’s performance.
This article was first published in the Travel News Namibia Summer 16/17 issue.