I love nature and being outdoors and have had a couple of interesting experiences in South Africa. My South African friends seem to find my stories pretty interesting and even so much more the people I have met in Australia and other countries, so I thought I’d put some of my experiences to paper.
Hyenas in the Transkei
A friend and I went to the Transkei years ago with the intention of catching some fish for my marine fish tank. On arrival at the Hluleka game reserve my friend took out the beers and I went for a walk to see where I could snorkel. I found a little footpath running along side the coast and just followed it for a couple of hours. I walked past a small waterhole, but there were no animals around and I did not give it a second thought. Eventually I realized that it was getting late, so I ventured on back to the camp. By the time I got back to the water hole, it was starting to get dark and as I passed a couple of trees with the water hole behind them, I got a sudden chill. It was strange because I don’t believe I had seen anything yet, but I felt something was wrong. As I looked more closely into these trees, I noticed a blou wildebeest standing a couple of meters from me staring right at me. The only thing I could think was to continue as if nothing was wrong, so I kept on walking only to get a full view of the water hole, which was now surrounded by animals. For the most part it was a herd of blou wildebeest and a couple of buck/deer. But there were also a couple of hyenas on the hill on the other side of the water hole and they seemed to be running towards me with their heads high in the air. Every story I had heard about hyenas said that they are cowards, but I’d also heard that they have the second strongest set of jaws in the world and I was not happy with them running towards me.
Nonetheless, I knew that I was still a long way from the camp and the only thing I could do was to keep on walking, which I did with a renewed sense of urgency. Well, it only took a couple of steps before the hyenas were right behind me. I don’t think they ever came too close to me, though at the time it felt like they were on my heels, and I also think they probably turned around after a couple of meters. But this did not help me, I had heard that you should not turn your back on hyenas, so for the rest of the way back to the camp I continued turning around every few seconds to see if the hyenas were still around. I got back to the bungalow some time after 9:00pm and was truly exhausted from walking in the bush in the dark while trying to look behind me all the time. My friend, sitting in his jocks with a beer in the hand, was furious that I was away for so long and left him all alone in the bungalow. Funny thing, coz I was pretty furious that he never told the game ranger that I had been gone for more than 6 hours!! Needless to say, the rest of the weekend was spent in and around the bungalow, drinking beer and eating crayfish!!
Leopards in the dark
While living in Johannesburg I decided one Saturday morning that I needed to get away from the city and headed off to the Krugersdorp nature reserve. Arrived there and found the campsite in the middle of the reserve surrounded by a fence on every side. At reception I asked if I can set up my tent somewhere for the night and I guess I should have noticed that the receptionist was surprised about me wanting to sleep in a tent, but she didn’t say much about it. Drove around the camp and, though there were quite a few caravans and people around, I was surprised to find what I thought was the spot with the best view unoccupied. So, I set up my tent and went for a drive around the reserve. An ostrich attacked the side mirror of my car and I saw a couple of rhinos, but for the rest nothing too scary. When I got back to the camp I found a whole crowd of people standing around the fence in front of my tent, so I asked one of them what was going on. As soon as he found out it was my tent, he piped out “Hey, here’s the guy sleeping in the tent!!”. A couple of guys came up to shake my hand, showed me the leopards not too far away that everyone was looking at and also mentioned that I must have a serious set of brass hanging to be sleeping in a tent right in front of the only “spot” where the fence had been broken down. Well, pride got in the way and I decided not to pack up my tent and go home. But, I did decide that now was a good time for a couple of beers. That night I couldn’t sleep and I was convinced that every sound I heard was a leopard sniffing around my tent, but I’m brave and stupid and everything was fine until I heard a really loud shuffling in the trees close to my tent. I lay dead still for a moment and quietly grabbed my keys in one hand. Heard the shuffling a second time and my brass simply wasn’t big enough. I jumped up, completely destroyed my tent in trying open the zip and ran out shouting at the top of my voice into the bush. I’m sure I could scare away any leopard, rhino or ghost lurking around, but only long enough to open my car and jump in. As uncomfortable as it was for a somewhat large, 6″2 male to sleep in the front seat of my Opel Record, there was no way I was returning to the tent. Anyway, the next morning at the swimming pool I heard a guy asking his buddies whether they heard that scream during the night, but err, I just packed up my tent and disappeared quietly.
Having written these two stories, they now don’t seem all that interesting in print as it’s hard for reality to compete with Hollywood. However, I am just an ordinary city-dweller that happens to love the outdoors without knowing too much about animals and the wild. A blou wildebeest may not seem scary until you’re standing a couple of meters from it with nobody else around and you realize exactly how big those things really are.