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The baobab’s secret

The baobab’s secret

The baobab standing tall
The baobab standing tall
Alison Ashby

An enormous baobab grew on the south bank of the Chobe River, witnessing glorious sunsets day after day for an estimated thousand years. It became the central feature of a brand-new lodge to which it gave its name - the Cresta Mowana, in the village of Kasane. The grand opening was set for the 1992 Christmas season - beautifully thatched throughout, the main three storey section, comprising lounge and restaurant areas, formed a semicircle behind the immense tree and shared its unchanged view. 

In late November, Kasane was still panting for summer rains and the surrounding bush was brown and tinder dry as daily build-ups of puffy white clouds gradually developed into angry anvil-heads of cumulo nimbus, heralding dramatic seasonal storms. The imposing Lodge, protected by an array of lightning conductors and a thatch drench system, sat serenely beneath its vast roofs. It was fully equipped; everything in place apart from movable furniture – a peaceful scene. But after another day of sweltering heat, the banks of cloud grew black and heavy; ominous lightning flashes with accompanying rolls of thunder homed in on Kasane - and then the unthinkable happened.

A bolt of lightning struck the thatch above the bar and it caught fire instantly. Watched incredulously by the key personnel who had conceived and built the Lodge - architect, engineers, interior decorators, general manager – the engulfing flames consumed it, all three floors ablaze, casting a glow across the evening sky. But the worst outcome was the demise of the ancient baobab, which had survived centuries of bushfires but never the searing temperatures of a conflagration three storeys high. Devastated though they were, management setup ambitious plans to restore and open the lodge four months later, but heads were scratched about the loss of the tree.

In South Africa a feat had been achieved by tree specialists who transplanted mature baobabs to create an instant forest for the Sun City fantasy. On the Mowana property a replacement baobab was found and the South African team was commissioned to remove it from the spot it had occupied for an estimated 800 years.

At 06.30one morning a transporter trundled this massive weight to its new home less than a kilometre away. Juggling the vast trunk and spreading branches through the two concrete pillars that still forlornly guarded the ruin proved the greatest difficulty, but by sunset the baobab, supported now by sturdy guy ropes, stood again in Mowana soil and provided the nucleus around which to rebuild. Tender loving care and a generous rainy season helped to establish it, and when new leaves began to shoot there was much relief and celebration.

Builders, artisans and artists returned to the site and the first guests were welcomed to the second CrestaMowana Lodge in April 1993.

Twenty years later, that huge baobab is still thriving. “It’s a great favourite with visitors and must be one of the most photographed trees in Botswana,” says John Gray, General Manager of the Lodge “but how many admirers know its extraordinary history?”

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 13, June 2013)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:

Read more about baobabs:
The Big Tree (ZT, Issue 13, June 2013)
Succulent folds of grey (ZT, Issue 13, June 2013)
The baobab’s secret (ZT, Issue 13, June 2013)
In love with baobabs (ZT, Issue 09, Sept 2012)

Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa