Sunday 29 May 2011 Part 1
Another day broke and I was up again a bit earlier than the rest of camp seeing as today would be my first lead walk. I made sure that everything was packed and ready to go, all the vehicle checks done and all my "guests" ready we sat off towards Reedbuckvlei.
The morning air had an extra bit of chill this morning and half of us were frozen stiff by the time we got to the vlei. The road there was pretty quiet except for the odd Impala and Nyala as well as this Ellie that gave us a bit of a fright when he miraculously appeared out of nowhere.
By the time we got to a standstill and the cameras ready he was already quite far into the bush, trumpeting because he probably also got a bit of a fright.
Locked and loaded and in charge of the group felt great knowing it was my choice where we would be going and doing. A couple of minutes in I found out it wasn't as easy as it looked, you choose a heading but seeing as you follow the animal highways they don't like going in the same direction and for the first half and hour this can cause quite a lot of criss crossing until you get the hang of it. By now you also realise that you've been concentrating so hard on which path to take to maintain your heading that you've been paying far too little attention to any signs of danger nevermind what your group is up to or what you've already passed which might have been interesting to share.
I eventually started paying more attention to the aforementioned and slowly the nerves started to ease out and I was starting to enjoy the walk. Not too long after ward our "lead" guide stopped me to interpret some Ellie signs. From these we deduced that it was a single Elephant so most probably a bull, the direction he was moving suggested that he was returning from the water so he might be off feeding now since he wouldn't be too thirsty. Great, I thought so maybe we might get to see some Ellie action on the walk (how right/wrong would I be).
Then everything just happened so fast I did not even give to paces and most of the group was still looking at the tracks. . .
My eye caught movement up ahead, I froze, trying to focus and suss out what it is that I'm looking at. The head turned slightly and the memory kicked in it was horns, not those found on fluffy graceful Impala or Nyala, oh no these were BUFFALO!!! Then another head popped up and then another before long I could make out at least five. Normally not a problem seeing as they weren't too thick and lacking a prominent boss suggesting that these were females probably just waking up from where they lay concealed in the hip high bushes. The problem was that at about 20 meters we would definitely be in their comfort zone which if spooked suddenly, could turn disastrous!
Our lead quickly looked at me as if to say what now!? I then signalled to the rest of the group to get down and keep quiet. Luckily they all remembered all the pre-briefings we practised, one of the cardinal rules being "Obey all commands immediately whether you agree or not, later on you can question the decision as soon as you are out of immediate danger"
I quickly explained to my back-up and got him to start leading the group out the way we came. As soon as we were far away enough we contemplated moving around toward the east and then reapproach to try and get a better view of them without being seen. A mere 30 meters into this plan we were halted by the rest of the herd, still unaware of our presence, so we decided to do an even bigger circle.
Plan B also soon failed as this only caused us to bump into the bulls making up the rear of the group. They saw us and made an immediate retreat only to come back very cautiously to investigate what gave them the fright. This was enough and I decided to leave them be so we sat off in a westerly direction.
Just before we reached Nwambi pan and all still on an adrenalin rush a Lion roared, so we made another course change and started heading south towards the Luvuvhu river. But then bad luck struck again in the form of a roaring engine from one of the safari lodges landies. We tried to get out of sight as quick as possible but I'm sure at least the guide saw us and if the guests were paying attention then they might have seen a fleeing glimpse of a group of clothed creatures.
I then turned back towards Reedbuckvlei due to a mix of time, nerves, a herd of screaming Elephant cows (who most probably came across the Lions) and some more nerves. Eventually we made it to the vlei, we had a quick break there and then returned to the vehicle.
En route back we came across two magnificent Eland Bulls about 60 meters away we stopped for a few minutes before continuing.
As we reached the glorious sight of the landrover I was completely wasted now that all the adrenalin wore off and after being on hyper alert for the rest of the walk. We had a coffee break and some rusks before returning to camp.
Even though this is nothing compared to some of the experiences to come I was quite shook up after my first big day walking in the Kruger wilderness!