The nights are filled with the loudest of crickets, caterwauling jackals, distant roars from unseen beasts. In the darkness, distance perception is lost and roars, croaks, grunts reverberate from seemingly anywhere around our tent. It is a first to be woken in the night by an echoing barrage of roars and trumpeting between hidden elephant and lion. Or should that be LionS? The canvas of our safari tent suddenly seems incredibly flimsy. Wild flashes illuminate the tent, the night guards’ hushed voices betray an urgency as they frantically try to discern the source of a new mammalian sound. Are we in danger?
It is of course in this moment of fear when your body, well, MY body decides this would be the perfect time for a wee – damn you weak bladder. I lie awake delaying the inevitable, until I can’t think about anything else. I open the tent door quietly, call to the watchmen and slip out into the night where unseen animals roam, to be accompanied to the toilet block by a stranger and his torch now responsible for my life.
A wake up call – human this time – stirs us from sleep at 5am. An orangey sunrise is streaming through our tent. Sipping sugary tea, we watch mesmerised as the sun – now a deep red orb – rises briskly, its red rays seeping into the landscape. I break the silence, joking, “if only yesterday’s elephants would walk re-cross the river now…”. Moments later, as if on cue, shadows appear near the edge of the forest. It’s the elephant family of four, about to pick their way across the river, casting an epic silhouette with their majestic bodies as they do so. It’s the quintessential African scene, a deeply special moment.
After breakfast under canvas, our ride awaits: an open-top, open-sided, old-fashioned land cruiser. In the warm morning sunlight, a dash of breeze strokes our faces. In this tinny, robust car we are both vulnerable and safe at the same time. I feel a bubbling excitement in anticipation of seeing the animals in their natural habitat. Safari was one of the main reasons I’d chosen Africa as our ‘Wandermoon’ destination because, as life experiences go, it’s pretty extraordinary – like having a glimpse into life on Earth without human interference. Minutes into the park we have racked up an impressive wildlife checklist: a raft of hippos, inquisitive hyena cubs, a dazzle of zebras, dainty impalas, a tower of meandering giraffes, abstaining buffaloes, an array of Kaleidoscopic-coloured birds – including a Zazu (it’s amazing what you learn from The Lion King). A massive terrapin, many kudu, more monkeys, a lounge of monitor lizards, herds of water buck, snaffling warthogs, wily squirrels, and the lesser-spotted bunny wabbit!
Back at camp, Moses, our chucklesome and highly knowledgeable guide from Kiboko Safaris sits us under shady canvas by the riverbank and goes through a few camp rules. Sipping ice-cold filtered water, hippos loll in the river behind us, belting their Frank Bruno-esque laughs. Sneaky crocodiles poke their spiny heads out of the water, barely indistinguishable from floating logs. As he talks, monkeys career around our tents, dropping from trees and playfully scrapping with each other. A hippo emerges from the shallow waters and dumps its way heavily along the riverbank whilst a fearless fisherman expertly steers his dugout canoe past the crocodiles and umpteen bobbing hippo heads. A brave man!
It his wise words that I wish to impart to you. As rules go in life, these ones are well worthing heeding!
1. ALWAYS KEEP YOUR TENT DOOR SHUT: the camp is riddled with gangster monkeys and prancing baboons waiting for the perfect opportunity to sneak into your tent and launch a crafty attack on your belongings.
2. KEEP YOUR DISTANCE: Should a wayward hippo or lofty elephant cross your path in the camp. There are no barriers or towering fences so these gigantic creatures roam at will. As they should, we are guests in their home.
3. CALL A GUARD TO ESCORT YOU AT NIGHT: Should you need to spend a penny in the night, harken a night watchman to lead the way by torchlight. They are accustomed to nightly mammalian visits and are more experienced at reacting than you. Make sure you call loudly. Should you fail to summon the necessary person you may find yourself staring out a hippo as you tinkle outside your tent (according to one of our group members).
4. DONT KEEP FOOD IN YOUR TENT: It attracts elephants who will do anything they can to find the source of the delicious smell. Not being the daintiest of creatures, this is to be avoided if possible. Heed this advice and avoid any middle-of-the-night panicking realisations that those lychees you bought en route are still at the bottom of your bag…
5. BRING CASH: If you’ve pre-paid for the 4-day safari, alcoholic beverages are not included and you may find yourself desiring an ice cold gin to sip whilst watching animal river life go by…Ok I added that one in, but it’s still a handy tip!
*This safari was organised for us by the amazing Responsible Safari Company