The Primitive Trail – Close encounters of the feline kind

The night seemed to be an endless succession of tossing and turning. No matter how comfortable my sleeping position seemed, that comfort would only last a short time before the rocky ground began to dig into my back or my hips. So it came as quite a surprise to find that I was actually asleep when I got woken for my watch.
Sitting in the near darkness beside a flickering fire was absolutely fantastic; listening to the noises of the bush – and the 8 blokes snoring all around me.

Breakfast was, for me at least, a non event. I like a piece of toast to get my day started and all we had was muesli. The cup of tea was welcome though.
I took the opportunity to go down to our waterholes and refill my water bottle in anticipation of the day ahead.

After a night to settle, the water we were now getting from the waterholes was nice and clear; unlike the ginger beer coloured liquid from yesterday afternoon.

Digging for Water

As I already mentioned, our only water supply came from the river itself and Sebelo had a well practised technique.
He’d take one of our tin plates and scoop out a wide shallow well in the sand, about a metre from the water’s edge.

Digging for water
Digging for water

No sooner had the hole been dug than it began to fill with water that seeped in through the sand until it was at approximately the same level as the water in the river.

Digging for water
Digging for water

At first the water would be cloudy with a lot of silt but after a while and with a bit of care it was possible to get cups full of clear clean water.

And Hey Presto! Filtered water
And Hey Presto! Filtered water
Ready to drink
Ready to drink

I’m still alive, so it must work.

As we ate breakfast, Sebelo took mercy on us and told us we’d be staying in the same spot for a second night. This was very welcome news as it meant that our second day would be spent hiking in the park without our backpacks. Of course that made it much easier.

As with the previous day, we were all pleasantly surprised at the number of rhinoceros we were seeing. I think we saw more of them than any other species in the course of our 5 days.

Rhino and calf
Rhino and calf

And where there are rhinos there is rhino poo, and where there is rhino poo there are dung beetles

Dung Beetles exploring the rhino midden
Dung Beetles exploring the rhino midden

As the heat started building up Sebelo pointed to a rocky outcrop and told us that was where we’d be having lunch.

A Close Encounter

To reach it meant crossing the river again and as we got closer we heard an ominous noise in the bushes ahead of us. Before we’d even had time to identify the noise two lionesses surged towards us, growling.
We immediately gathered into a huddle between Sebelo and Magnificent; they had guns after all.
Sebelo started shouting and making a noise.

One of the lionesses had circled to our right and disappeared from sight. The other was almost directly in front of us and made a mock charge; rushing forward then stopping suddenly, bouncing on her front paws.
There was a brief moment – perhaps 2 or 3 seconds – when she stood and glared at us through the bushes from a distance of about 5 metres, (there is some debate about the exact distance; some claim it was as close as 3 metres, others say it was as far as 10 metres, so I settled for 5 as a compromise. Whichever it was, it was close enough) then she turned and disappeared into the foliage.
We stood for a moment, listening to try and determine exactly where they had gone, but they remained silent.

I was cursing because I’d turned my camera off just moments before we encountered the lionesses and I although I’d managed to get it turned on again, the lioness had disappeared before my zoom had fully extended; highlighting a definite disadvantage of a compact camera when compared to a DSLR. Peter, with a fixed lens on his Nikon had managed to get the shot I missed. A seriously grumpy lioness staring right at us.

With Sebelo leading the way, we cautiously retraced our steps away from the river and then looped around to find another crossing point. This time we didn’t stop to take off our shoes and socks. None of us were too keen to sit down on the riverbank and fiddle around with 2 lionesses close by.

A Rocky Perch

Once we’d reached our designated lunch spot we could all take off our wet shoes and socks and lay them to dry in the sun.

Our lunchtime perch
Our lunchtime perch

From our vantage point we had a magnificent view of the river and the park stretching out below us.

What a view
What a view
What a view
What a view
Dagga Boys
Dagga Boys

Because our lunchtime perch was quite high we enjoyed a welcome cooling breeze as we relaxed for an hour or so. Distubed by our chatter, the buffaloes below us got up and looked around, trying to work out where the noise was coming from. Eventually they wandered off into the reeds, none the wiser.

With shoes & socks dry again and all the food eaten it was time to start walking again.
We were lulled into a false sense of well-being when Sebelo said that we’d head ‘straight back to camp’. It was the most circuitous ‘straight’ route I’ve ever been on.

Eventually though we emerged from the bush on the river back opposite our campsite and waded across.
It wasn’t long before we had stripped off and flopped down in the river.

Just on sunset we spotted a lone rhino ambling across the river.

Rhino crossing the river
Rhino crossing the river
Rhino crossing the river - Charcoal
Rhino crossing the river – Charcoal

Our second night was much more eventful than the first with lions roaring on both sides of the river. In the middle of the night six of them were spotted drinking on the opposite shore.
There was more commotion shortly afterwards as someone noticed that the water level in the river was rising rapidly. We’d heard thunder on the previous night and seen occasional flashes of lightening but thought little of it as the rain was not falling anywhere near us.
Although it had fallen on hills some distance away, that rain had found its way into the river and now it was flowing much more vigorously than before.
Sebelo scrambled down the rocks to rescue our meat which was buried in the sand before it was lost in the flood.

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