We are sitting on the stoep of my friends' lovely home, with the broad sweep of the Chobe River visible through a window in the evergreen forest. It has been a stinking hot day, and the pool sparkles invitingly. Two bull terriers bark at a partially submerged pool brush – their water sport; one of them dives in to retrieve and emerges sleek as a seal pup.
We are all old friends. We have spent so much time together over the years in this part of the world. We start to reminisce – like real old people. Do you remember when….
Sounds of construction, traffic, heavy transport vehicles, rumble back from the main road. A river of sound and chaos passing by unseen in the heat zone. We are caught in an island of serenity between the Chobe and the river of sound.
Somehow the conversation turns to crocodiles. Long ago we used to jump off the jetty and swim in the cool brown river. No-one would really think seriously of doing that today. The crocodile population has increased enormously, and they are not shy.
Some attribute this to escapees from the nearby crocodile farm. Apparently these penned crocodiles are in the habit of climbing out of their pens at night and into the river – returning home at dawn to lie around and wait for feeding time. I can't say whether this is true or an urban legend. What is real though is that there seem to be many more crocodiles, and they don't move away too easily from the boats.
Fishermen have been grabbed and pulled into the water. There are signs warning people to stay away from the banks. Ignore these at your peril. In a campsite, a young German couple put their tent on the wrong side of the warning sign. That night a crocodile crawled out of the river and grabbed the girl through the tent. Luckily her screams awoke the other campers and a young guide leaped onto the back of the crocodile and managed to free the girl. She escaped with some bite marks and scars to tell the tale.
Another man, persuaded by his son to go 'skinny dipping' in the river after a few drinks – watched as a crocodile grabbed his son and swam away with him into the swirling depths.
That night the Defense Force and local residents of the town searched and searched the river and banks but found nothing.
At the rapids, a local man was fishing when a crocodile leaped up and grabbed his dog. Crocodiles love to eat dogs. It wasn't such a big crocodile so the man managed to fight it off, but his hands and arms were badly mauled in the process. He crawled to the roadside to get help. Someone stopped and he was rushed to the nearest emergency ward in Francis town – 5 hours away. He was kept there for a few weeks for treatment and recovery. In the meantime his faithful dog sat by the roadside, where he had left his bloodied shirt, and refused to be moved. He waited and waited. Soon people started to bring him food. He stayed right there until his master returned!
Each story told evokes another tale – some are legends and some are all too current. Children stolen by crocodiles; crocodiles hunted – wanted for murder - the evidence held in their stomachs. Sometimes many crocodiles are shot before the guilty party is discovered. Sometimes the culprit is never found.
Despite the technology of town, building sites, traffic jams and road rage, the river continues steadily, and the crocodiles – unchanged for millennia – continue their reptilian ways. We grab another cold beer from the fridge and reminisce some more.