THE BIG DIAMOND
In November last year, the world’s second-largest gem quality diamond was discovered in Botswana. Weighing more than 1,100 karats, it is the biggest diamond to be discovered in Botswana and the largest find in more than a century. The size of a baseball, the gem is too large for the onsite equipment in Botswana. It has been sent to Antwerp for scanning and valuation.
In addition to big diamonds, Botswana is also home to big mammals. The Mashatu Lodge Rangers that picked us up at the airfield brought us to a beautiful lodge in the middle of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve. According to Wiki, the “Reserve is a private reserve covering an area of 46,000 hectares (110,000 acres) made up of savannah plains, riverine forests, open marshland and rugged outcrops of sandstone. It is the largest private reserve in Southern Africa. It has the largest elephant population in the world. In addition, more than 350 species of birds have been reported here”.
We spent about 12 hours in safari trucks viewing the animals at different times of the day. We saw two sister lionesses hunting at night and then one of them sleeping it off the following morning (pictured below). We heard the male lion roar at sundown, after seeing it resting beside its warthog kill the previous day. We giggled every time we saw the warthogs, busybodies scurrying through the bush with their tails raised like antennae.
In Africa, the “Big Five” game animals are the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and White/Black rhinoceros. Three of the five are present at Tuli (there are no buffalo or rhinos).
There is also the “Ugly Five”, consisting of the Hyena, Marabou stork, Vulture, Warthog and Wildebeest.
Here’s John’s shot of a wildebeest.
We had our own “Cute Five Six” that took great pleasure in seeing all the animals and checking them off in the lists of animal sightings in the kids workbooks that Mashatu staff thoughtfully provided.
Here’s the gang.
Our family has been traveling for more than seven months, in Asia and Southern Africa. We know that we’ve been high value targets for thieves in places like Phnom Penh, Hanoi, Saigon, Indian trains, Jaipur and Delhi and Cape Town. Our stuff- small knapsacks, money, cameras, tablets, phones and credit cards – attracts furtive, covetous glances on buses, in restaurants, on the street. We take some precautions; in November, I had passport-sized pockets sewn into all of my shorts and, aside from border crossings, I haven’t taken our passports out of those pockets for five months. My thinking has been that we could easily part with most things; losing the passports would be more complicated and time-consuming to resolve than other thefts. Somehow we managed to not lose a thing before coming to Botswana.
At about noon on Friday, the Mashatu Rangers dropped us off at the local airfield. We got into our trucks to drive home to Gabstown, in what turned out to be an eight-hour journey. I drove the final three-hour stretch, mostly in the dark, with Louise, Lotte, Ida and Saga. We stopped in a shopping mall near the Gaborone airport to pick up a few groceries and Indian take-away while the others continued home. While we were getting the food, someone broke into our car and took Saga’s tablet and Louise’s knapsack containing a book and a couple of pairs of sunglasses. They also got my camera bag with my camera and all the photographs I’d shot on the trip.
There is a gap in time between when we recognize that our stuff has been stolen and when we actually understand that our gear has disappeared. During those few seconds of disbelief, time stretches out, interminably. All the sounds around us fade into the background. Incredulous, we run through different scenarios: our stuff is under a carseat, left in the restaurant, the knapsack/ camera bag is actually still on our back. Finally, reality sinks in. It’s gone.
From Saga’s perspective, the biggest loss was her tablet. It has been with her through thick and thin all along; she’s a voracious reader and learner. Plus, in her words: “It’s the best tablet ever”. Louise was 500 pages into A Little Life, one of the finalists for this year’s Man Booker Prize; 200 pages to go in a riveting book. Prescription sunglasses are handy to have. The camera is a Fujifilm x100t, a Leica without the Leica pricetag, a good balance of quality and portability for a trip like this.
But the pictures were by far the most valuable: over 3,000 shots from our trip documenting all the places, people, and things that we’ve experienced. Since the beginning of this trip, Louise and I have sorted our shots every couple of days, selecting the ones we like the most, saving them to a phone or IPad or loading onto WordPress. We have more than 700 of the best shots from our adventures. It could be a lot worse.
Things went back to normal quickly. Saga and Ida’s birthsday was on Monday. Their Toronto grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins gave them each a new tablet. Lotte spent the day in Johannesburg yesterday and picked up A Little Life for Louise. Meanwhile, I’m spared the job of having to edit 3,000 photographs that I’ve already sorted and having to decide what to do with them and where to store them. As for the camera, I bought it for the trip and it made it through almost to the end. We’ll be back in Toronto next Thursday.
This morning, the girls joined Viggo’s class for the day. All the kids went to school together. They had a blast . Here’s a shot (from my phone) before they left.