It has been more than two months since my last blog. On April 24, 2019, I published my first blog and until recently, I published at least one weekly blog. I felt the need to take a writing break and scheduled a sabbatical during my five week Covid-postponed travel. I wanted to fully enjoy this international adventure and not concentrate on my writings or research. I desired some down time to rejuvenate me.
My wife and I first flew to London. Upon exiting the plane and entering the UK border control area, we were shocked by the number of unmasked travelers crowding in the airport walkways. We had not experienced close proximity to many people since the pandemic started, and it just did not feel comfortable. As we were driven into central London, we peered out the car windows at the masses walking on the London streets. We attended several theatre productions in tight quarters and while we wore masks, most did not. It took time to adjust to this ‘new’ normalcy.
We flew to Nice, France and spent the next 15 days on a cruise ship visiting the Mediterranean and Atlantic ports in Spain, France, Portugal, and England. There were other cruise ships docked nearby that were full of tourists. Restaurants and historical sites were open and busy. Except for the masking requirement while inside the transport buses, Europe was operating like pre-pandemic. Travel professionals were grateful for tourists returning after a difficult two years out of work. There were occasional signs of staffing shortages and operating errors. This is to be expected given that the European tourist industry was rebooting after two lost summer seasons.
We next flew to northern Botswana for a nine-day safari in the Okavango Delta and Linyanti River area. Our guide, Richard, met us upon arrival at the Maun (Botswana) airport. We then flew in a 15-passenger bush plane to the first of three Wilderness Safari camps. Their camps reside within large government concessions designed to limit the human impact on nature. We slept in above ground platform tents with electricity and indoor plumbing. Our tents were connected to the above ground walkway system that led into a central dining and gathering area. These camps were nicknamed ‘glamping’ by the tourist industry; however, the camps had a primitive feeling because wildlife freely walked around us and we were serenaded nightly by hippos, frogs, lions, and buffaloes.
Each morning, we awakened at 5:30am and Richard escorted us to the central camp area. We quickly drank hot tea (the temperature hovered around 40F) before loading into a jeep and driving out into the bush. Wildlife is active in the early morning hours and the low light is optimal for photography. We never knew what the day would bring as we wandered into the bush tracking wildlife. We bundled up in layered clothing since the cold wind blew through the open-air jeep until the mid-morning sun warmed us. I had two cameras and two specialized lenses always ready to photograph wildlife in their natural setting. Serenity could change into wild action at a moment’s notice. A safari is not for tenderfoots as bouncing through the rugged bush will test your stamina and pelvic muscles.
The Okavango Delta is the world’s largest delta. Seasonal Ugandan monsoon rains drain into northern Botswana’s flat plains flooding the three rivers. Wildlife flock to the life-giving water which lasts long enough to keep the migration localized. The Botswana government does an excellent job at preserving the natural habitat through strict conservation restrictions. Most of the camp staff are Botswanans who are both competent and dedicated to protecting the natural conditions. Given the sheer volume and variety of wildlife, their conservation policies are working.
As I daily observed nature, I felt joy in God’s creation: the colorful birds, the gentleness of elephants under a matriarchal hierarchy, the balanced coordination of giraffes galloping over the plains, the roar of male lions communicating with their pride, and a leopard balancing on a tree limb while nursing her young cubs. God must value diversity since it was in abundance as we bounced through the delta.
Each morning and evening, we were greeted by spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Given our remoteness, the night sky was cloudless and abundantly visible. As the sun approached the horizon, dazzling colors developed and grew more vivid until the sun crested. The reverse happened each evening as the sun set. We usually enjoyed a ‘sundowner’ drink while snapping pictures of the painted skyline. No human devised entertainment compares to God’s daily performance.
Our first awareness of God is through nature. Human works and reasoning cannot rival God’s creation; it is not even a fair comparison. An African sunset or sunrise will awe your senses and humble your ego. Seeing elephant herds gather in front of you will render you speechless. Those who deny the Creator will not be able to explain how our world happened out of nothing. Those who believe in the Creator will just sit back and joyfully exclaim, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1 NRSV)