I had seen the odd celebrity on TV given the chance to spend a night alone in some remote bush or jungle location. Ray Mears, an expert at it, is famous for his ‘all alone’ TV survival guides. So when I was asked “main camp or bush camp” at the Ithala reception desk I answered “bush camp please.” An answer given without hesitation or any thought.
It was as I walked from reception that the thought process kicked in. My first thought being, “what have I done?” Back to reception. I put my case to Chris that I did not have the right ‘equipment’ with me for a night alone, and he reassured me that I had everything needed. “Wood, for a fire?” I asked. My last effort to avoid a night alone. “Available from the curio shop, next door” Chris replied.
With the wood packed in the boot next to my cool box I headed off on the Ngubhu Loop road towards Thalu bush camp. I had four hours before a ranger would meet me for an afternoon walk so I took a leisurely drive stopping to view white rhino and giraffe on route.
Arriving at Thalu I was presented with my first ‘all alone’ dilemma. The gate across the entrance road needed holding open whilst the driver drove the car through it. Even without a qualification in rocket science a large rock was sufficient to hold the gate open for me. I had overcome my first obstacle.
It did feel strange to be unloading the car by myself, and although I was nervous and apprehensive, I was also excited by the opportunity I had been handed.
With everything packed away I flicked through the guest book and read the comments. A year ago today a couple from Northamptonshire, my home county, had stayed here! Then I read the welcoming letter that sat next to the guest book. In bold letters there was a warning that a black mamba had been seen in camp and that guests should be vigilant. I had nearly stepped on a puff adder and had been spat at by a cobra on previous trips but this was a snake I did not want to see.
As I sat, weighing up my options, in the dappled shade of the camps trees I knew this is where I wanted to be. It was an unexpected opportunity for one night only that I must take. Looking down towards the river, beyond the overhanging cliffs, towards thick bush, I was not at one with nature but I felt comfortable. The only noises were that of flowing water, birdcalls and the occasional buzzing insect. I even had an urge to get naked but it passed quickly and I settled for topless.
The afternoon was spent with Simon, my ranger, who I had previously walked with at Ithala. We trekked for over three hours and being just the two us added to the occasion. We talked about everything from rare animal sightings to our childhood’s. We got as close as I have been on foot to a family of white rhino, mum, dad and a young calf. Herds of wildebeest, zebra and eland were larger than I had previously encountered anywhere in the province. Our closest encounter was with a black back jackal that we nearly stood on as he slept in tall grass just off our chosen path.
It was approaching six-o’clock as I said my farewells and thanks to Simon and headed back into Thalu. Darkness descends rapidly here so my thoughts were to Ray Mears, what would he do first? I had my shelter so next was a fire. I decided not to cook on the fire, this was merely for ‘protection’. I would use the charcoal braai (barbecue) provided to cook my meat on and keep the flames of the open fire quite high. By seven thirty it is not dark it is pitch black and I am thankful for the fire and gaslight. I did have one regret, opting for a pocket torch over my large one.
As I stood by the braai watching over my borewors I had that feeling of being watched. Then from the corner of my eye, in the light of the flames, I saw a branch sway. It is fair to say that I was nervous and every noise and movement attracted my attention. I aimed the torch up to the branch that was still swaying, nothing. Another movement from the left of the tree got my heart racing. Could it be a Leopard or the camps resident Black Mamba? Then from the trunk of the tree a pair of eyes reflected back at me. These were not the eyes of a man-eater just a large inquisitive Bush Baby!
At night the bush is a dark and noisy place where the warm summer air is filled with a chorus of frogs and insects. I sat by the fire and I listened and again felt comfortable with my surroundings. To be ‘alone’ in such a place was magical.
I woke just before sunrise and with tea in hand I just sat watched and listened. I felt as if I had truly experienced the bush at its best. I had walked under the hot sun, watched it set, sat in darkness under the stars, and then watched the light return.