From the chitenge, the path leads across a small gully towards the chalets, before edging back towards the river and on to the open fire pit. Actually, it is not so much a pit as a platform upon which the mopani logs are placed to smolder. The mopani being a tree that thrives in shallow poorly drained soil, spends most of its life in desiccated conditions. The same layer of clay that prevents the rainwater from draining away, also prevents the roots from reaching deeper into the soil to seek water once the shallow surface water dries up, which it does quite quickly under the glare of the tropical sun.
It is these harsh desiccated conditions which make the plentiful mopani wood ideal. Dense and slow burning, it can smolder for hours. It smolders on after the guests have finished their evening sundowner drinks. It smolders all night, until just before dawn when Grace or Nora can easily stoke it back to life before daybreak, in time for the guests to once again gather for coffee and rusks as they watch the sun rise, and they listen to the snorts of the hippos as they splash back into the river after a night of grazing.
What a day I thought to myself. It seemed like a lifetime ago that I had heard the shout of “Iwe”, coming from the portly gate guard.
Now, with the sun sliding slightly westward from its zenith high overhead, I walked past the smoldering logs of mopani on the fire-pit platform. Their thin wisps of pale grey smoke twisted upwards, like my thoughts, to be slowly split and scattered into the hot sky.
Walking back to wait for Melody, instead of heading to my campsite along the road which wends its way upriver on the “bush side”, I chose to pick my way under the branches of the narrow tree line that separates the open grass of the dambo from the river.
Pausing my steps, I reached down and snapped a stalk of elephant grass. Placing its end in my mouth, like a contemplative ox, I began to chew on its cud.
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