OKAVANGO DELTA, Botswana (AP) — I'm jolted from sleep by a deep and rolling roar and what sounds like the slithering paws of a large cat trawling through my cabin.
"Oh my God, I think something's in our room," I whisper, waking up my friend and roommate, Patricia Lawton.
"I know," she whispers back, adding a few expletives.
It might sound like the start of a Maurice Sendak story, but as we lay in our dreamy cabin in the great wilderness of Botswana's Okavango Delta, we were truly snoozing where the wild things are.
Days before, when our safari began, we were told never to leave our tent at night to avoid encounters with the wild things. But what if they came to us? For several hours, Patricia and I lay still, so afraid to move that we dared not even call for help. If this creature was in our room, the only thing that separated us from the potential intruder was a flimsy mosquito net billowing around our four-poster bed. At one point it sounded like an animal was dragging our backpacks around. I cursed Patricia under my breath, thinking she had once again left the patio door to our cabin open — a massive no-no while lodging deep in the savannah.
Finally I picked up the phone beside the bed, punching in random numbers since I had no directory.
"Something is in our room, we need help," I stuttered to the woman who answered. She alerted the safari staff on patrol. They discovered an elephant had been roaming around all night on the deck that lined the lodge perimeter, feasting on foliage shading our cabin.
Drenched in sweat — not from Botswana's sweltering heat but from our anxiety — Patricia and I hugged each other and laughed, slightly embarrassed that we genuinely thought we were about to be a large cat's meow.
That drama-filled last night of our safari was a fitting end to what had been a week of pure magic and wonder.
We landed in Botswana zombie-like but excited, after 48 hours with no sleep, traversing time zones on two back-to-back overnight flights and another four flights. The safari began as soon as we got to PomPom airport in Muan, Botswana. We jumped in a 4x4 after being greeted by two guides from our safari company andBeyond. Guide Kgosikebatho Marota asked that we call him Chief, and guide Kutlwano Mobe said he goes by Kuks.
Minutes into driving deep into the savannah, we were shaken out of our bleariness by the sight of vervet monkeys swinging through tree tops, herds of impalas prancing by and graceful woodland kingfishers with fringed, bright blue wings sweeping through the cloudless sky.
As if this wasn't enough to tickle my African-born but North American-bred fancy (I was born in Nairobi but raised in Canada), Chief beckoned us to look to the right of our jeep.
"Lions came through here this morning, probably tracking the buffalo we saw yesterday. Those are their footprints," he said, instructing the driver to follow them.
We drove through the vast expanse of sun-drenched land, sprinkled with acacia trees, bulbous baobab trees and towering termite mounds, steering over and through bushes. We turned a corner and spotted a pride of six lions sprawled in the grass, lounging in the blistering afternoon sun in post-kill splendor. Their lolling yawns revealed formidable fangs and hinted at the hard work that goes into ruling such a fine kingdom. The moment was pure magic, a "National Geographic" episode come to life.
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