“I slipped the rifle off my shoulder and slowly approached the towering matriarch, my head bowed. Dropping to my knees, I addressed her in humble tones: ‘Your Majesty’ I said. ‘I beg you to let us go in peace’.
In South Africa’s Kruger Park, Frank, our gnarled ranger, dressed from head to toe in khaki, was quick to assure my spellbound niece and nephew that this particular elephant encounter was many years ago and that a stroll through the park would , far from being scary, be the best way to spot the small wonders of Africa.
In the seventeen years Frank had lived and worked in the park, he had only ever found himself out of his depth once. He continued with his story.
“It was late afternoon and I was returning to the truck with my group along a winding river bed, when I heard the warning trumpet of an angry elephant.”
“I looked up at the sound of heavy feet on gravel, and saw a huge matriarch, ears flapping and trunk held aloft, her herd-members flanking her, calves tucked in behind, and all of them coming towards us at a stiff-legged run. We were backed up against a rock face, too steep to climb, so there was no escape.”
I glanced across at the twins, Ben and Emma, aged 14, imagining the customary teenager contempt for adult emotion. Instead, their eyes were wide-open, their Ipod headphones unplugged and hanging loose.
“Wow! What happened?” they asked.
Frank continued. “She seemed to weigh us up and decide that we meant no harm, and as suddenly as she’d arrived, she ambled away, followed by the rest of the herd. Most times the animals hear us coming, and are more nervous of us than we are of them”.
For our trip, we were determined that nothing would stop us missing out on the experience of being on foot, deep in the 7,580 square miles of untamed African bush that make up the Kruger. If you visit in your hire-car, as more than a million visitors do each year, under no circumstances can you leave the road, let alone get out of your vehicle for closer inspection. Instead we had chosen to do a four-day guided Kruger Park camping safari in the national park, so that we would get as close to the real bush as possible.
At our three-course Beef Wellington dinner in the mess tent later that evening, we were happy to report our only close encounter had been with an impressive golden orb spider, about the size of Frank’s fist, blocking our pathway through shoulder-high straw-coloured grasses with her sticky web.
No royal matriarchs this time, but Frank promised tomorrow’s morning game drive would be sure to encounter lone bachelor elephants, preferring to live a solitary life without the demands of the herd. All would be observed from the safety of the safari truck. Tucked up in their cosy dome tent on comfortable stretcher beds, miles from civilization, Ben and Emma were as excited about the following morning as they had been when camping in the back garden as kids.
Merry from the plentiful South African wine consumed earlier at dinner, my sister and I zipped up our own tent, and dozed off to the gentle rustling of the Acacia leaves and distant roar of lions, marking out their territory. We slept soundly in the knowledge that our little encampment, deep in the bush, was surrounded by a discreet electric fence that would protect us from all creatures on four legs, especially those with trunks.
Any ideas where to take two teenagers on a South Africa holiday this year?