Sometimes it feels like traveling the world for a year was the craziest thing I have ever done. It was a singular task, to be sure, to leave home and witness the world’s beauty for 365 days. Now, almost six months after returning, I sit down and try to describe what I saw, to make my words a cupped hand around the precious flame of that experience.
Some mornings memories flood me. There was so much that moved me. Today, I remember this:
Our land rover rocked from mud encrusted tire tracks to squishy, loamy marsh land. I peered out my window seat, soaking in the green grassed water ways of the Okavango Delta in Northern Botswana, when I noticed something in a clearing. A glint of sun on a shiny, curved shape. I looked harder.
“Is that a tortoise?” I asked our guide, a young resident of the capitol city and an expert naturalist.
He turned and squinted. “No,” he said, his tone serious. “Not a tortoise. Pangolin. This is very lucky.
The land rover picked up speed as we jostled over to the clearing.
We arrived and circled around the creature, careful not to disrupt it. Prehistoric and reminiscent of an armadillo, it had rows of dusty scales, thick as slate roof tiles, some cracked and chipped. We stared down at the silent being. Out of its small head, two round eyes, black and unblinking, watched us. One man said he had waited his whole life to see one.
Those scales are what causes the pangolin to be hunted almost to extinction. Over 600 pangolins were recently discovered in a warehouse in Africa, all dead, all on their way to having their craggy scales ground into powder and sold as medicine. Our guide said spotting a pangolin brings luck and that he has gone years without seeing any.
I consider myself lucky to have come across one – not in a zoo – but in life, on a grassy rise in a country I may never see again, on a day that is gone. I hope that it is not gone, that instead it is curled inside its underground burrow, safe from the black market trade, dreaming its primordial dreams.