Sunday, September 9, 2012

Local Knowledge

I was chilling at the Fish Eagle Bar (voted top ten most romantic places on the planet to have a drink by the New York Times in 2007, a fact the camp managers go on and on about) when one of the guests asked me why they weren’t allowed to go to their tents unescorted after dark. “After all the pathway is lit and what’s the guide gonna do, sacrifice himself?”

I could tell she was a New Yorker so I took a guess. “Well these guys weren’t born in Brooklyn,” pause for laughter, “So they have a better idea of how things work here. It’s more about avoidance but if need be, they will tell you to stay while they run so the animal chases them instead of you.” We talked about how to tell if the elephant is bluff charging (if it’s ears are out, head up and trumpeting, it’s trying to make itself look big), why you face the cats (they prefer to attack from behind) and the best way to outrun a hippo (you can’t, they can reach speeds of 35km/hour. Mr. Bolt does something like 40). You turn lots of corners and head for the roughest terrain possible cuz their stubby little legs aren’t as agile as ours.

At Chief’s Camp, even the guides travel in pairs after dark cuz there are lots of lions. That’s the place where the zebra was killed right by our heli. But here at Eagle Island, the workers are allowed to travel by themselves. There aren’t any lions here, just elephants, hippos, and leopards.

I scanned the bush on either side of the path (elephants or hippos) and the trees overhead (leopards) with my headlamp on the way back to my tent. I thought I heard a man coming my way. Probably one of the guides, on his way to fetch his guests from their post-dinner drinks round the fire. Weird, that I couldn’t see his light.

I had been concentrating on the sides of the trail but I brought my light to the center of the path ready to say, “Geez Tsile, you scared me.” I wish I could say my senses were keen enough that I saw the glint of the tusk at the edge of my headlamp’s beam, but he was less than ten meters away. I could see both tusks, both eyes, and both ears (folding back.)

Adrenaline surged and I took three quick steps to my right, which put me 30 meters into the brush and toward the light of the guest tents. I guess that satisfied him because he didn’t follow me. Feels great to get that first elephant scare out of the way.

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