Year End Camp
22 Dec 2012 - 2 Jan 2013
We climbed over the fence, despite the well signposted dire warnings of wild animals on the other side. After all, why direct a marked trail straight to a stile over a game fence if it was not intended that the hikers should follow it? “Is it safe, Deon?” asked someone.
“Sure, Jock walked this path yesterday all by himself,” I replied confidently. Ahead was a two hundred metre stretch of open grassland, with a solitary clump of haak-en-steek, the ziziphus thorny acacia so beloved of the Zulu, located about halfway. A fine tree but not one that can be climbed, to be sure. Beyond that was the start of the mangrove swamp, right at the edge of the St. Lucia Estuary.
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So we set off, about twenty of us in a string, with Allen, as usual, pulling from the front whilst the more cautious rolled in from the rear. The path was clear and well used, we were certainly not ‘bundu-bashing.’ As Allen and I reached the clump of acacia, we spied the buffalo. He was moving along sedately, and would cross our intended path in a minute or two. I held up my hand for silence and to stop the group. We were, by then, a little spread out. I waited, with the idea of letting the lone buffalo cross the path and move on before we did. But, no! Some of the party decided that we could go off-path and behind him. I called them back.
Then I noticed, exactly in a line between the buffalo and the mangroves was a second one, grazing in one spot. Our intended crossing would have been between the two buffalo. Not, I thought, a good idea. I called everyone back, and tried to get them behind the bush, as buffalo number one had sensed or heard us and was starting to gaze in our direction.
Of course, the usual advance party led by Allen was not to be deterred. They moved around the far side of the little piece of bush, still looking to cross the open space between where we stood and the mangroves. A space currently occupied by two buffalo, one of whom had started showing some signs of mild agitation. I guessed he saw us not as a single entity or small group, but a very spread out, large group, a possible threat. Certainly, we were invading his territory.
Then the buffalo started edging towards us, to get a better look, perhaps. He did not like what he what he saw, and turned back the way he came, towards the second buffalo, who now also started paying attention. And, I suddenly noticed, the third and the fourth. Four buffalo. Wisdom prevailed. By then, the rearguard had wisely got back to the fence. The more perverse were on top of the stile with their cameras, hoping perhaps to take pictures of the charge and the carnage for the record.
As we made our way to safety, I heard the discussion start. Two buffalo, no, there were four. Maybe more. Perhaps they were in the forest of bush willow to our right, maybe even a dozen or so? But they were quite far away, easy a hundred meters. A hundred buffalo? No, a hundred meters. No chance, more like fifty meters, said another. Especially when he ran towards us, could have been twenty meters.
Actually, I remembered him running away, not towards us, but it did not matter. My group was safe and sound and I had played my role as leader. I headed off in another direction and got the group stuck in a marshland instead. Well, doubtless the story was told and retold of the encounter with the buffalo. In fact, in this day and age of instant communication, it was already being texted, tweeted, face-booked and fast tracked before we even got back to camp.
About a week later, sitting in a restaurant in St. Lucia, I heard someone on the table next door talking about a full-on buffalo charge. Apparently a group of walkers had been charged by a herd of buffalo in the iSimangaliso Park, and had only just managed to scrape to safety. Phew! I thought, at least we escaped that drama! Naturally I enquired for more detail, and realisation dawned. They were talking about OUR group, OUR buffalo, OUR incident. It had just grown wings and flown beyond what it originally was. I did not bother to correct them. After all, why let the truth get in the way of a good story?
Deon van Rensburg
Additional photos - By Alan Chater