The windows were open. The early morning freshness was still in the air, the bush around us basked in golden light. We had parked the camper-van slightly to the left in the small dirt road. The only sounds inside the van were the bubbly voices of the kids playing on the bed close to the back window – we were just relaxing, drinking in the tranquil atmosphere.
There was a rustling sound of mopani leaves caused by oversized bodies moving around. We could not see them, but we could hear them to our left. The occasional branch snapping. Loud deep rumbles every now and again.
She suddenly appeared from the dense bush. She was like a mountain, a giant, an elephant. Her body language said: ‘I see you and I do not approve.’ She started crossing the road, right in front of us. All shapes and sizes followed: teenagers, adolescents and protective mothers with tiny babies. Too close for comfort – thankfully the whole herd was in front of us, a quick retreat in reverse gear was an option if necessary.
Movement in the mirror! A bull elephant was approaching from the back, his large trunk slightly swaying as he walked. He was in no hurry. He seemed completely relaxed. As he placed one massive foot in front of the other he became bigger…and bigger…and bigger. He seemed to tower over us, his shape filling the whole back window. He tilted his head slightly, one large eye looking through the window.
“It will be fine, just keep nice and still, he is just looking” I heard myself say. The kids were amazing. Like little statues. Not a blink. He moved on – he had lost interest.
He appeared in my side mirror. He was slowly moving along my side of the vehicle. He went past my open window. He was less than an arm’s length away. Lots of wrinkles, his thick skin still covered by patches of dirt from an earlier mud-bath.
He disappeared behind the mopani trees. The herd was gone too. Only us again.
Wow! What an amazing way to start the day…
Through squinting eyes I saw one of them low down on the rugged tree trunk close to my head. I could almost touch it – intelligent shiny eyes looked back at me, the thick bushy tail flicking. Since I made myself comfortable in the dappled spots of sunlight under the big Leadwood tree, the bush squirrels had been busy as usual. Up and down, up and down they went.
The sand was extra thick in this area and felt soft against my back. I wriggled my toes. I enjoyed the little streams of sand running between them. Shells of giant African snails from long ago were scattered around me. They were white from exposure to the elements. A pair of Namaqua doves were drinking water. They were close, I could clearly see the bright bill of the male framed by his black face.
I closed my eyes again. It was the perfect day to take it easy. In the distance the Emerald-spotted wood dove was singing the saddest of songs: “My mum is dead, my dad is dead and all my brothers and sisters, boo-boo-boo…
My eyes opened with a start at the loud kok-kok-kok-kok of a Yellow-billed hornbill in the canopy above. It was much later. The bright afternoon sun had been replaced by long shadows.
Then I saw them. Warthogs. A whole family drinking water – a mother with a row of little ones. Suddenly the adult stopped drinking. She looked up. I had been spotted. They started running, podgy with short little legs, kicking up small clouds of dust. I could see their tails erect like antennas before they disappeared into the dense vegetation.
I had to get going too, it was still a long walk home for a nine year old…
I opened my eyes. I had gone from a deep sleep to being wide awake in an instant. No traffic, no city lights … the silence was deafening. I was wide eyed, listening. Then I heard it – the huff huff huff of a jackal. His mate answered in the distance. Suddenly the night was filled with their loud mournful wails. I was spellbound.
I threw off the thin sheet covering me. It was a warm African night. I sat on the side of my bed, my feet not touching the floor – I was six years old. Bright moonlight was flooding through the window. The deafening silence was back. The floorboards creaked with every step as I approached the window. I went onto the small balcony overlooking the stretched out African landscape.
The red sand was a dark grey colour. The Acacia trees were painted silver. Dark shadows gathered under the trees – the moon almost blindingly bright. The scene was surreal. Sounds started to register. The occasional metallic ping of a bat. The African nightjar far away, calling “Good Lord deliver us”. The rustling of leaves in the gentle breeze – I could feel the welcome coolness on my skin.
The jackals started calling again. They were very close now. I strained my eyes for any movement – they were playing tricks on me. I thought that I could see fleeting movements in the shadows but when I looked intently they were gone again. The only real movement was a glimpse of a barn owl silently flying past.
Back to bed, at sunrise I will be out there…