The African Tree
by Kay Quijada
On a recent trip to southern Africa, Joe and I visited Namibia's Impalila Island. The island is reached only by boat from Kasane, Botswana, and is the only place in the world where 4 countries - Namibia, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe - meet. The Island is located near the meeting place of two large rivers, the Chobe and the mighty Zambezi. The watery wonderland of Impalila, (also spelled Mpalila,) is surrounded by beautiful river channels lined with reed and papyrus marshes, and is rich with wildlife. Our lovely lodge was built around 2 remarkable baobab trees, Adansonia digitata.
We were told there was a very grand baobab tree growing on the island accessible only by foot through the island's woodlands. Early the next morning, properly armed with water canteens by our guide, we started our hike to the tree. It was very warm, and we were only too happy to stop now and then to enjoy the rich birdlife flitting about us.
We saw dozens of interesting birds, including the beautiful Lilac-breasted Roller, Namibia's national bird. More than 2 hours later, we had the old baobab tree within sight. The hike had been worth every sweaty step to see this magnificent tree. Enormous it was; we could only guess the diameter of the tree. The large roots that showed above ground ran over 120 feet from the base of the tree as they disappeared into the woods.
Our guide told us the tree was estimated to be over 2,000 years old. We watched as our young guide climbed up the tree and out of sight. The baobab was used many years ago by an invading South African Army as a lookout post. Steel rods were imbedded as climbing aids up the trunk of the tree, and there were scars of old bullet holes and machete marks on its wrinkled bark. We were told elephants eat the bark, and fruitbats pollinate the big white 24-hour blooming flowers. People manufacture paper products from its spongy wood. Animals and people compete for the protein-rich fruit and seed pods, and the leaves are cooked and eaten like spinach. We took too many photos and happily walked away, amazed at what we'd seen.