I remember it well. A few years ago, I was invited to go on my first African safari. I’m a lady, and a non-hunter, so I was happy to go on vacation and take some photos as an observer on a hunting safari.
This safari was to be in the wilderness of Zimbabwe in the Dande concession next to the Zambezi River. I had no idea what to expect except I was told it would be “life-changing.” In my ignorance, I thought, “How life-changing can it be? I’ve seen Discovery channel. I’ve seen Animal Planet. This is just going to be a really cool experience riding around in the jeepy-type safari truck and I’ll have a fun time, so I’m in!”
Looking back, boy, was I delusional. . . about everything. Those thoughts from a grown woman who found herself extremely and surprisingly naïve. And, it was not just “any” safari. There were many incredible experiences before and after my safari, one can only pick a handful of them to share. The other’s you get to safely tuck away in your mind to reflect.
This particular memory began with the usual early morning which was yet barely light in the sky. A chill in the air as we mounted the “bakkie” bench seat that rose above the truck cab and set forth for one of many memories that day.
It was Fall. The ground laden with dried autumn leaves you could hear crunching as we walked through the forest. As usual in this part of Africa, the terrain quickly changes from grassy plains, groves, hillsides, mountains, rocky sides, etc. We hiked for a couple miles and came upon a narrow ridge flanked by steep hillsides on either side; on one side it would have been a long tumble down, on the other a steep 50 feet to the top of the hill.
I was the last in line as we walked single-file around the hillside. Heading the line were the PH, hunter, game warden, trackers, then there was yours truly bringing up the back. We rounded the ridge stepping briskly while re-tracing the steps of the person you were trailing, this was to avoid making unnecessary noise by stepping on the pre-crunched leaves left behind. Focused on keeping up and not making too much noise, I nearly ran into the person I was following when everyone came to a sudden stop. Something was ahead, but being the smallest, and in the back, I couldn’t see what all the commotion was about at the time.
The trackers and PH were giving me very subtle hints to look ahead. They tried to part the line as best they could on the narrow path so I could get a peek, I just couldn’t see what the excitement was about.
I struggled to see what they were looking at but finally got the sight. I thought this is silly, you’re all excited about the fact the ridge finally widened into a forest floor with some large rocks? Sure it’s an amazing forest! Not sure I want to take a picture of this. I’m very appreciative, but I’m okay if we keep moving. But they didn’t keep moving, and I realized it had to be something more.
We all stood still for what seemed like an eternity, which in reality probably equivocated to seconds. When all of a sudden the earth moved. Being quite bewildered, my brain was trying to comprehend what was going on. When all of a sudden the earth moved again, only this time, I saw something more. I thought to myself, I think that boulder just moved. No, seriously! I saw it again, and I “know” that giant boulder just moved! An outline began to take shape as my eyes focused on the movement, and I finally realized the 3D form . . and it was NOT a rock! There he stood as the most magnificent creature I’d ever seen. As my eyes traced the outline of a still object, a very massive, side-facing, bull-elephant standing not 30 yards away. How could this be standing right in front of me, and I couldn’t see it! I felt a mixture of emotions of sheer awe and fear. Not to mention, I was shaking so badly I forgot all about my camera even though I was holding it!
We weren’t looking for elephants that day, and knowing we all could easily be trampled accidentally (or on purpose) we just wanted to safely back away. Being as absolutely quiet as possible, we slowly backed up hoping to not be noticed. We had backed up several feet, just when the elephant sensed something to his left . . . us! My heart felt as if it would pound out of my chest, as his massive head slowly turned left towards us. Ears up and slightly flapping, the massive ivory tusks protruding from his car-sized head now faced us.
Was he going to charge? Was he going to come after us and ground us into a bloody pulp? Was he going to take his trunk and bash us against the nearest tree? Was he going to impale us with those mighty tusks? This is reality. They don’t call this dangerous game for nothing, as I’ve come to understand.
We backed up fast as possible without falling over each other, showing him the utmost respect he deserved. But at the same time, we wanted to see more. That ridiculous curiosity that has made many of dead men. Since we were back on the ridge, out of site of the “ellie” all we had to do was sneak the 50 feet up the hillside to be able to watch him from a safer distance; so we scurried up the rest of the steep hill slipping on the leaves beneath us, we rested on the best possible vantage point on the top of the hillside. Out of breath and full of adrenaline, I was finally camera aware and ready so I looked down to take my pictures. Oh boy, this will be one for my albums!! But, where was he? Surely he just blended into the forest again as I’d seen earlier, so I kept looking for that subtle outline, but this time he was truly gone! Poof! He disappeared!! Just a few minutes before, only yards away . . . I was dumbfounded. He just slid gracefully away into the morning sun. In an instance, with no sound…out of site.
Although I had a failed photo opportunity on my first African safari, I found it remarkable how the largest creature on the planet can be so amazingly fast and astonishingly silent. So beautiful and magnificent, and dangerous. Although he disappeared without a trace, he left one of the biggest imprints . . . forever in my memory. Are you ready to “Step up your game,” with JD African Safaris? Contact us for more information!