An unexpected journey, an unplanned journey, the road is rough and the map is vague, the visibility poor with foggy patches. The weather forecast predicts strong winds and an icy wind. I'm going along, because you see, I have no choice. Yet, I have faith that the sunrise will be brilliant in the morning.
“Adventure isn’t hanging on a rope off the side of a mountain. Adventure is an attitude that we must apply to the day to day obstacles of life – facing new challenges, seizing new opportunities, testing our resources against the unknown and in the process, discovering our own unique potential.” Johan Amatt
Saturday, September 17, 2011
ENCOUNTERS WITH LIONS
This week my creative and inspiring friend, Karin, produced this beautiful blog for us to tell our story as our journey with MSA progresses. On the home page you will see that she has also come up with a nickname for MSA, MufaSA, after the Great King in The Lion King. I’m not sure that this analogy with the friendly and wise old lion of this tale best describes the ugly beast of MSA, but the letters fit nicely! She also mentioned, jokingly, that lions no longer roam the streets of my hometown. But all this talk on lions reminded me that I have indeed had an encounter with lions...
It was 2008 and my new year’s resolution was to realise my long-time dream of doing a hiking trip in the KrugerNational Park. After having convinced a couple of friends to join us, I excitedly started to plan this trip for eight hikers, to take place in April. But by March I was worried enough by my loss of balance to warrant a visit to the neurologist. He sent me for MRI scans as well as virtually every blood test in the book, and I started doubting my ability to go on this hike. By the time the neurologist phoned with the news that the MRI’s and test results were clear, but that “there is a very slight chance that it might be something like Parkinson’s”, I had even more doubts. Then the news that the other six hikers had cancelled left me very discouraged.
Johnny and I discussed this for a couple days, and with his encouragement, we decided that we would go ahead and allow Sanparks to add whomever they could find to make up a group of eight (hiking camps accommodates eight people). Once again excited, I went ahead with the travel plans and making my customary packing lists. Needing a book to take along for siesta time, I found Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom and happily ticked that off the list.
On our first overnight stop en route to KNP I started reading Morrie’s story, only to be overwhelmed by fear because of the similarities with whatever was happening to me. But I immediately told myself not to let my imagination get ahead of me.
On our arrival at KNP we were informed that nobody else had booked for the trip and that we now had the exclusive use of the camp, cook, tracker and guide. We left our car at the main camp and loaded all our gear into their trailer, filled to the brim with provisions for the three days, and we drove off into the bush for our adventure in their ‘’gameviewer’’ vehicle.
The first evening we spent sitting under the boma, the awestruck audience of a spectacular thunderstorm, wondering whether the weather would permit us to hike the next morning. But early the next morning the cook woke us up with a bowl of hot water for washing and an invitation to have a quick cup of the coffee already brewing on the fire, before we set off for a walk in the bush. Having expected the tracker, Opa, to walk in front and the guide, Kennit, to cover our back, we were somewhat surprised that both guys, armed with guns, walked in front, which left Johnny at the back, glancing nervously over his shoulder!
The grass was still high after the summer rains and we hadn’t gone far before Opa jumped sideways out of the game path and the procession jolted to a stop. Only when our not-bushed-trained eyes came into focus we saw the huge puff adder. Opa, with bush-trained ears, was alerted by the “puffing’’ sound it made. Now Johnny had his eyes glued to the ground with occasional glances over his shoulder! The call of an oxpecker (these birds feed on the ticks on animals) alerted Opa of the near presence of a rhinoceros sleeping behind a bush. So we grew to trust him, enjoyed the hike, the elephants and other animals we saw, and the wealth of information bestowed on us by Kennit.
Life in the camp was no hardship either! Snacks were packed for a picnic on the hike, and brunch and a hot shower awaited us upon our return. The first day ended with a late afternoon game drive and a superb meal under the boma, rather than another hike, because of rain.
Soon after having left camp on the second morning, we came across fresh lion spoor left in the soil softened by the previous night’s rain. We then began to ascend into a range of hills in the shape of a horseshoe, with a lush valley filling the space between the outcrops. The four of us walked quietly and on the alert for any movement. As we came around a bend Kennit held his hand up to stop us and we saw his and Opa’s eyes fixed on something. He then signalled us to proceed cautiously and as I came past the bush that was blocking our view, my jaw dropped and my eyes popped. There was a lioness standing on a rock ten metres from us, staring into the valley below, and totally unaware of us! It was only when Kennit signalled us to get back behind the bush that she picked up on our movement. That split-second look at us revealed the fear in her eyes before she ran off and disappeared into the bush. Our tracker and guide then agreed that they had heard more than one lion running off and became even more alert, due the possibility that we might be amidst a pride of lions.
We continued our walk, only to be stopped by Opa soon afterwards, signalling us to be very quiet, as he stood there listening attentively. He nodded his confirmation that he was hearing lion cubs. Their agreement to abandon this hike, now threatened by the legendary fierceness with which a lioness will protect her young, was confirmed by Kennit’s words, “we’re out of here!” We had hardly walked ten steps, when a lion jumped into the path ahead of us, confirming the fact that we were indeed amidst a pride and that were now flanking us on both sides! We fled up a rock providing a good lookout point, Opa and Kennit excitedly reverting to their native tongue, Shangaan, and telling us to please stay calm, whilst scanning the area with binoculars.
Opa was then left there at the lookout and Kennit escorted us to the top of the hill, the precipice in front of us and the high rocks behind us, affording us some shelter from attacks (hopefully). He then dug a satellite phone out of his backpack, handed his gun to Johnny, and left us in this eagle’s nest with a panoramic view, assuring us that he’ll be back soon (HOPEFULLY!). Now anyone who knows Johnny well will tell you that I have a devoted, loyal and compassionate husband, but his one week of training in Dad’s army (folly of our previous government), left him ill- equipped for killing lions and that, true to his loving nature, he was more likely to try and befriend lions with offerings of boerewors (S.A.’s favourite sausage) from our snack pack!
Johnny, Kennit and Opa
Thankfully Kennit returned and he and Opa then proceeded to lead us to safety, pointing out the lions, now sunning themselves, above the path that we had walked earlier.
Back at the camp, our evening around the campfire was filled with many stories of such adventures.
It is in retrospect that I now realise that this other lion, MufaSA has been stalking me since 2007. MufaSA, you have been feeding on me and have claimed huge parts of my body and although I might not be able to outrun you physically, I will not allow you to feed on my spirit and my soul!
PS; we walked the Wolhuter trail in the southern part of the Kruger National Park(the park is nearly two million hectares), South Africa and can highly recommend the total experience.