The day had gone so quickly. I was on a self-drive solo safari staying at Mpila Camp in the Imfolozi section of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. The whole day had provided some fabulous sightings & encounters of all shapes & sizes. From the largest of all, elephants, to some of the smallest, dung beetles. What elephants leave behind dung beetles make a beeline for. After a herd had crossed a road within minutes the beetles were in there rolling dung balls. It’s all part of the African circle of life.
As the sun began to drop quickly from the sky, I knew it was time to make my way back to camp & my chalet. In South Africa there is very little twilight and darkness comes quickly. I know my distances and timings around the park so I had a good idea of how long it would take to get back to camp from where I was. But of course, African wildlife does not work on times & distances. Around 40 minutes away from where I needed to be, I noticed a small herd of buffalo on the road in front of me. I eased down to a crawl so as not to startle them. When around 200 meters away my crawl stopped, and I sat, engine still ticking over waiting for the dozen or so buffalo to move on. I then noticed to my left more buffalo. Looking in my mirrors, yep, even more. OK, sit tight & do not panic I thought to myself. By now there were probably 150 buffalo surrounding my car. I sat watching them and watching the sun drop towards the horizon. After around 20 minutes they began to move off as a herd and I am guessing that the herd actually totalled around 200.
Arriving back at the chalet the sun had dropped behind distant Zululand rolling hills. Before doing anything, I grabbed firelighters and charcoal and got my braai started. Every chalet has its own braai area a very short walk from the chalet’s veranda. The area is surrounded by grass and looks over the reserve, it is a great spot to be. The grass provides grazing for antelope, including nyala & impala, plus warthogs. There were probably 30 impala laying only meters from me as I started my fire.
Since my early days of solo exploring, I have learnt a lot. I now have a choice of ‘lights’. With a headlamp strapped to my forehead and a torch in hand I could now see around 10 meters in front of me, rather than 1 meter with my old torch. So, there I am multi-tasking, beer, torch, tongs, turning my steak & lamb chops over the hot coals. I noticed looking up that there was no eye shine reflecting at me, the impala had gone. I then have a memory flash before me, a photo from social media, of a lioness standing not far from where the impala had been. Now I do not have enough light. I am also a little nervous and my khaki shirt gets itchy and my joggers nipples are back. Will this shirt ever soften? Looking up there is eye shine. As soon as it appears it disappears. A noise from behind me and again eyeshine. Oh bugger. The plan: calmly finish beer, but cooked meat onto plate and walk, do not run, back to the safety of the veranda. That very short work now feels like a marathon. My head looks left, right, in front, behind, so quickly its creating a strobe like effect.
Once on the veranda I lock the gate behind me, relax, & sit down to eat. The wonderful smell of the cooked meat has drawn in other interested parties. Looking down at the braai there are 3 hyenas sniffing around. If you have never seen a hyena in the wild, they are big, and to me, intimidating. They also have some of the most powerful jaws in the animal kingdom. I lose sight of them in the darkness. Maybe they have gone? Then without warning the gate to the veranda rattles and a hyena is there, right there, looking me in the eye. I am frozen to the chair, but he has gone as quickly as he arrived. Checking myself, yep, wet shorts, great I must have lost control for a moment. Looking at the table its bad news but a relief. I have spilt my beer into my lap.
In the distance I can hear more hyena whooping above all other sounds of the African bush. Then there is another noise, one I have never heard before and it is getting closer. I sit staring from where I think the noise is coming from. It sounds like a giant asthmatic creature, breathing, sniffing, snuffling, snorting its way out of the darkness. Now I am a little scared of the unknown. Then out of the darkness and into my lights appear 5 bush pigs. Heads down they move quickly towards me and then fade into the darkness. I feel my body relax and take off my headlamp & place it on the table. A sudden buzz fills my ears then thud. I have taken a hit to the bridge of my nose. Man down, I hit the veranda hard. Heart attack, is adrenalin brown? But no blood, no wound? There is a large dung beetle laying next to me. We look each other up and down. The beetle appears to shake his head, mocking me, before taking flight back into the darkness. There comes a point when all nervous wrecks must face the challenge of a good night’s sleep.