We’d zoomed and cruised and crept in safari vehicles, now we were casting that armour aside. (The animals view passengers, not as food being conveyed to them in a tray, but as part of a structure, or an animal perhaps, too large to take on.) We were to traipse through the African bush in our bodies – just our own juicy bodies.
Sure, we were flanked by two armed guides, but a lot can happen as a gun is prepared. (Shoot to kill, not tranquilize: a lion won’t fall asleep mid-pounce.) I hoped no animal would lose its life because of my gustatory allure.
Not far into our four-hour walk, we found another member of the Small Five: a rhinoceros beetle. A find in itself but also, perhaps, standing in for a Big Five rhino. We had not yet seen a wild one.
Across the wooded valley, monkeys scampered around the trunks of tall trees.
Elephant manure is full of seeds, making them both creators and destroyers of life. We came upon a huge pile of dung accompanied by a patch of urine. Elvis, the main guide, said he could tell us not only the sex of the elephant but also the direction in which it was travelling. Arcane knowledge. I felt as if I was standing on one side of a divide. Suddenly there were two worlds: the one of which I was part and the one of people who have such sight – akin to people who see the future or the invisible.
However, I pondered that dung and logic prevailed. (You can work it out too, just from the information I gave.)
And whose dung flattens and scatters as it hits the ground from a great height?
Hippopotami travel up to 35km a night. Many a person has been killed simply for getting between them and the water. Apparently they won’t detour to get you. Cape buffaloes are not similarly considerate. We gave the lone bull a wide and silent berth.
A large grasshopper travelled motionless on my hand for several minutes before launching itself into the bushes as I reached for my camera. It was angular in the way of an expensive, sporty car or modern building. The white triangular serrations down its hind legs made a striking contrast to its bright green. Communion with an insect.
Noises in the bushes. Elvis motioned the six of us to a standstill and made a reconnaissance. Elephants! Stealthily forward. Two in the bushes, unaware of, or unconcerned by, us. I wept quiet, unexpected tears of joy. We had been close to many elephants during the previous days. I had felt full of wonder and awe. This was different. It was a privilege to be on foot and so close to them (not too close as they are dangerous buggers). To truly share their space was one of the profound moments of my life.
End of walk status: close encounters with poo, insects, arachnids; more distant encounters with mammals and birds of various species; no encounters with big cats or rhinoceroses; (beginnings of) rudimentary knowledge of the African bush… A magical morning.
Vulnerable yet trusting and open to possibity, that’s the way to walk in Africa. Perhaps everywhere.
And, in this already-treasure-filled day, the afternoon/evening drive awaited.
PS The title is one for my bestie with our regards to Meryl.