Three o’clock in the morning. Dark. Eerily quiet. No amount of wriggling, desperate commands to my bladder failing dismally to produce the desired result, and I have no choice but to make my way to the loo on the opposite side of the camp.
Determinedly ignoring the harrowing silence, I am startled into immobility by a shuffling sound coming from the direction of the camp fire. My son had been woken by a hyena outside his tent in Skukuza the previous night, but this “hyena”, materialising from the gloom was suspiciously pale and upright – one of the two guys in the group!
When I related this story later in the day, Peter confessed to being the human hyena.
“Peter! It couldn’t have been! Were you up in the night?” exclaimed his wife, Rozz. “You didn’t have a stitch of clothing on!”
Our five o’clock call came as promised, accompanied by wonderful basins of warm water, “to wipe the windscreens” as Aron called it. The kettle was singing on its ashes, and slowly we straggled from our huts for a much-needed caffeine fix. Before six we were loaded into the vehicle and on our way as the sky lightened. The air of expectancy was tangible.
We arrived at a point, overlooking the Oliphants River, a young baby Baobab tree. Aron called us all together, once again to discuss “politics”, this time of the bush.
“We are going to walk behind that ridge, and down to the confluence of the two rivers. We will walk back along the river bed. Absolom and I will be in front. You are to walk, quietly, in single file behind us. I suggest that you change places often so each person gets a turn at the front.”
He look searchingly at our early morning faces for comprehension.
During his talk, Beryl seemed to be refining dance moves, stepping purposefully with one foot and then the other, making imprints in the sand.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m making sure I know what my print looks like so I’ll know if I’m walking in circles.”
A few last minute shufflings, a couple of darts behind bushes to ensure maximum comfort and we were ready. It was an overcast day, much to our collective relief, but the rumble of thunder and the flash of lightning was unexpected. The sky was black in the direction we were headed.
One look, and Aron confirmed we would not be walking to the confluence. Back in the vehicle.
It wasn’t long before we turned off onto an indiscernible track, and pulled up near an interesting looking kopje, where our first walk, and our first lesson in the ways of the wild, began.
We were fascinated when Aron showed us the “sights” of kudu horns. Did you know that there is a direct line through the curves to their eyes, allowing them to home in on leaves atop thorn bushes without damaging their sight?
We then walked down to a dry riverbed, and shivered with excitement at the spoor, especially that of a leopard. Out of the river bed, and along a hippo path. We were enthralled with our guides’ knowledge as they pointed out signs that heralded the news of the bush, largely contained in the excreta of various animals. It was a baobab morning, significant in a way as the trip was organised by Els Hooft of Baobab Boutique fame, so when we arrived at one of these giants, it seemed a good spot for breakfast, especially as a soft rain was falling.
It was simple fare, made delicious by the vague sense of danger, the fresh air and exercise we had had, and made special by the gaily coloured cloth Annemieke provided.
By now an easy camaraderie had evolved, and, well refreshed we set off again. A lone giraffe, fascinated by the caravan of “two-legs” watched us from a distance, impala and gnu were not willing to take a chance on getting too close and scarpered before we really got a good look at them. But we were rewarded with a beautiful display by a brown-headed parrot, who danced happily in response to Aron’s call to it – he is able to mimic many, many bird and animal calls.
We arrived back at camp ready for the scrumptious brunch Shadrack had prepared, followed by a siesta and the injunction to meet at the boma at 3pm for part two of day one.