Driving with Rhinos
Trip Start Apr 26, 2005
42Trip End Nov 17, 2005
It's been 12 years since my first and only driving lesson, and what better place to pick up the reins again than the Khama Rhino Sanctuary an hour outside Palapye. When I heard that the place existed--one of the only areas in Botswana where you can see rhino--I put it high on my wish list. And when Catherine heard that I didn't drive she put driving lessons on my to-do list.
At the sanctuary we spurned the offered map for a more DIY adventure, which paid off almost immediately
Then the giraffes showed up. Out of the haze of heat and bush came seven lumbering yet graceful giraffes intent on a cool drink. The male rhino was less impressed, and as the newcomers arrived he began charging at the giraffes to force them away from the water. Several tonnes of squat, hard muscle charged at towering, boney flesh, kicking dust and vultures into the air. But in the end everyone has to drink, and after the giraffes made a cautious wide circle around to the other side of the water, the rhinos had had enough excitement and trotted, with admirable speed, back to the bush.
When the giraffes had had their fill and left we decided it was time for us to leave as well, and time for me to get behind the wheel. After so many years of driving most people might forget what it was like to learn, but Catherine made a wonderful teacher, patient, calm and instructive
In Africa the driver's side is on the right, and since I had no previous bias, behind the wheel I felt confident and in control despite not exactly knowing what the hell I was doing. The clutch and gas part was the trick, of course, and trying not to stall the big engine was my first and lasting priority. Once in gear and moving forward into second the fun began, and while I never did slip into third--a little fast for a novice driver careening around a dirt track in a rhino sanctuary--I felt all the rush of what it must be like to be a rally driver. The sandy road sucked the tires around, and I let the wheel spin back to correct the overestimations I made. And all the while Catherine, laughing nervously as the thorn bushes scraped by on the passenger side, fed me instructions that I knew I should be paying more attention to.
But like my last experience with a motorized vehicle, tearing around on a scooter in Taiwan, I was trying to feel natural behind the wheel and not to think too much or be intimidated by the vehicle. Good thing Catherine was paying closer attention. We watched the passing wildebeests disappear like smoke into the bush, their mottled hides matching seamlessly with the dense brush of trees and tall grass.
Returning to the watering hole I pulled cautiously into the parking lot, where more trucks had gathered since we left
Back at the gate it was time to switch seats, but I lingered behind the wheel, eyeing the smooth tarred road of the highway ahead. Far more tedious lessons await, but I know that some day, in the near future, the road will be mine. I'll just have to learn to keep an eye on the traffic.