Day Three, Setting off
Hyenas were in our camp all night, we could hear them scratching around behind our tent. At one stage our guide Innocent had to chase them off as they became too brazen for his liking.
We got up at 0530hrs as we wanted to start walking at first light (around 0615hrs). To our astonishment it appeared that the hyena had attempted to get into our tent during the night as there was a scratch mark right near where my head had been. They had also taken a liking to one of Rich’s shirts, scratching holes in the back of it, the distinctive claw marks were unmistakeable and made it look like the costume from a horror movie set.
As we searched the camp by head torch for any more damage to our kit, we could hear the clan screeching in the distance, accompanied by a deeper, more anguished moan. Innocent confirmed what we all suspected, somewhere close by a Wildebeest was sadly meeting its demise.
With that cheery image in our minds, we packed up camp, ate a quick breakfast of nShima and set off as soon as the light was bright enough for us to (hopefully) spot any snakes underfoot.
After two days of being cramped up in an overfull car, the sensation of walking with all our kit on, accompanied by the knowledge that we would not have to get back in a vehicle for days was glorious. The elation rose further still as the sun burst above the eastern horizon, making the distinctive African Savannah glow with golden brilliance. There is no place like Africa.
We set a steady pace in the cool morning air, estimating that we were covering between 5 and 6 km per hour. Walking conditions were perfect, and the first 3 hours absolutely flew by. As the hours passed and the sun rose higher, the temperature began to pass the mid thirties. Initially we were undeterred, maintaining and even increasing slightly our speed. But as Noon came and went the temperature rose higher still, and with the days ahead in mind, we stopped in a shaded patch of Mabola plum trees to avoid dehydration and exhausting ourselves on day 1.
Out of the sun and with a gentle breeze swirling through the trees, we got out our roll mats and made ourselves comfortable, had some lunch (nShima again) and quietly reflected on how lucky we are to be doing this.
After around 3 hours in this serene setting, we kitted back up and pushed on, the aim being to cover around another 10km before making camp for the night.
The going was again fairly easy, and at around 1740 we found a patch of trees overlooking a vast plain and decided that we had covered enough ground today. The GPS is all over the place, probably due to how remote we are, but 40km covered would not be a ridiculous estimate for todays effort.
We pitched our tent, did our admin, ate yet more nShima (this time with baked beans) and settled down for the night. Secretly I hope for more visitors to camp tonight, just maybe slightly less inquisitive ones.
As I write, the Hyenas begin to call in the distance.
The Hyenas were conspicuous in their absence last night; we heard them come into camp just after retiring to our tents, but all went quiet soon after and we were undisturbed all night. In the early hours of the morning it became more apparent why they had vacated the area, as the roar of a female Lion pierced the stillness. We estimated her to be within about 800m from our camp, so we would have to be careful when getting up, particularly while as it was still dark.
At around 0530 we tentatively emerged from our tents, scanning the surroundings with our torches, looking for the telltale green reflection of a cat’s eyes. When we were satisfied that we were off the Menu, we relaxed and continued with breakfast, packing down Camp etc. As daylight broke, we hoisted our packs onto our backs and set off again for the South.
The morning’s walking was, like yesterday, fantastic. The stillness of mind you experience after only a few days removed from the rush of society is like pushing a reset button in your brain. No social media, news, sports, nothing to clog the senses, your focus narrows to putting one foot in front of the other and your mind all of a sudden feels refreshed and organised.
We made great progress again, but the heat seemed a notch up from yesterday, so we decided to rest earlier, stopping walking at around 1130hrs to get comfortable in another patch of trees.
Once the heat of midday had subsided at around 1530hrs, we left our little oasis and continued south. We were walking along at a decent clip for probably an hour, until Limo, our Ranger, suddenly stopped dead still as we rounded one of the sporadic thickets on the plains. Buffalo. We had seen various Buffalo tracks during the hike, but nothing fresher than a few days, so we had been more preoccupied with stealthy big cats or ever prominent Hyenas. But Buffalo are one of the most dangerous animals in the world to encounter on foot, their place in Africa’s big 5 is well deserved. Only last night, Innocent was describing his encounters with Buffalo as the scariest moments in his long and distinguished Guiding career.
For safety reasons and for the first time on the expedition, we called in the support vehicle and waited for it to arrive to accompany us closely.
The herd was more than 100 strong, including calves, which heightened the danger, and it was sitting smack in the middle of our way. After a quick chat, Limo and innocent decided that we could safely hug the tree line and circumvent them, and any outlying Buffalo would most likely join the herd in the open plain as we approached.
This tactic started well, our presence persuaded the few Buffalo scattered along our direct path to move on and rejoin the herd, and our confidence grew. About half way around however, we began to sense that the herd was becoming more aware of, and less happy with the intrusion. They began to approach, slowly at first, but with increasing numbers and pace. With our backs to the thicket we froze, Richard and I scanned the bush looking for big trees to dart behind, but Innocent and Limo remained calm. Just as the front row of Buffalo began to run towards us, the safety car burst from its position behind us, revving its engine and the herd scattered.
Innocent and Limo were giggling, ‘it would have been fine’ said Innocent.
Yeah?! well I am quite glad we didn’t need to find out.