Okavango Journal Day 14

It has been brought to my attention that my journal numbering has been seriously awry. It turns out that I doubled up on day 8, and then did the same thing yesterday, so where I wrote the journal as day 11, it was in fact day 13. Being out here does strange things to your perception of time and space.

We’d planned today to take a long drift along the Boro channel, putting a 6–8 hour day in and making the run to Maun a bit easier over the next few days. Then we saw an irresistibly beautiful island 2 hours into our day, and decided to make it a rest + work day.

I’m sitting in our production tent with project engineer Shah Selbe and expedition artist Rachel Sussman. The three of us tend to spend long nights together in our field office, working at our various tasks: Shah soldering circuit boards and assembling electronics, Rachel processing images and listening to sound recordings, and me uploading the day’s data and backing up our 360º habitat shots.

Right now the campfire outside is winding down. People tend to go to sleep early, and by 9pm it’s usually the three of us plus the camp logistics crew (Kyle and Luke) cleaning up and packing lunches. By 10pm it’s almost always Shah and I in here alone, with the rest of the team sleeping away.

There are a lot of benefits about being on the night shift. While we might miss out on sleep, we get to experience all that the Okavango’s nocturnal denizens have to offer. Right now there is a Peters’s epauletted fruit bat calling, an intermittent beep that you could easily mistake for an electronic signal. Behind that a chorus of tree frogs leads the way to the water. On previous nights we’ve had an elephant walk past the opening of our tent; its quiet footsteps could be a person’s, its gigantic shadow not so much. Hyenas’ eyes glowing in the distance, the beating wings of eagle owls, the scurry of mongoose, the roar of lions just a few miles off. We hear all of it, and every night brings something new.

And then there are the stars. We had a full moon for the first days of the expedition, but for the last week or so the night has been perfectly dark. This far away from light pollution, we get quite a show, the milky way bright and clear. Every night on my way back to my tent I take a minute to look upward before I crawl into my sleeping bag and finally call it a night.

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