The Great Escape From Africa

Having found myself in the cliché of having it off with the tour guide, I had spent a large part of the evening flirting over the pool table. Subsequently, the importance of listening to the mid-night toilet trip rules was lost on me amidst the travellers’ carefree attitude to personal safety and copious Tusker beers.

Africa is never silent, particularly on safari. The faint click and snapping of twigs underhoof is omnipresent and, at once, both exhilarating and terrifying. At night, the soft, tide-like ‘shhh...shhh’ of leaves being compressed by creatures of varying form and girth can be heard alongside the snorts and raspy breaths of nocturnal animals examining your place of rest. The nights are dark and there is always music, somewhere.

Tonight the music was coming from the on-site ‘bar’: a wooden, shack-like structure with an old-school ALBA ghetto-blaster and the aforementioned pool table as its prize possessions. From what could be heard, the camp’s security team (I use the term loosely, of course) were making the most of the group’s relatively early retreat to their tents and appeared to have forgotten their pledge to continually roam the site in order to escort us to the bathrooms, when necessary.

As an independent (read: irresponsible) woman, with a distinct lack of patience, two minutes with my head poking out into the wilderness and a full bladder to contend with was more than enough time to remain unnoticed so, head torch in place, I un-zipped myself further from my two-man, khaki tent and walked the 150 metres to the toilet block.

Business complete, I stood now at the exit of the fine facilities whereupon my head torch revealed more than a splash of animal wee up the side of the nearest Acacia tree. A dog? Perhaps, but then who was that heavy-breathing behind, to my right? Known for its poor eyesight, notoriously bad temper and unprovoked attacks on humans, the hippo is ranked number one in the top ten most deadly animals in Africa. Having, myself grown up in the leafy, North-Western English village of Formby, my experience of hippos was slim and with only one Safari Park previously under my belt, that of Knowsley, L34, it would be fair to say I was not awash with escape ideas.

Faced with the prospect of going one on one with a creature considered more of a threat to me than the Great White shark or the Black Mamba, I desperately tried to think back to what we were and weren’t supposed to do in such situations. Was I to climb a tree or wave my arms and make myself look as big as possible? Was I to avoid eye-contact and remain completely motionless or run for my life? I was confusing my African predator survival techniques, this would not do.

The sudden realisation that my ‘friend’, the tour-guide was staying in one of the nearby cabins was a much-welcomed relief yet as I was about to take off with a view to bashing down his door, I realised there were, in fact, two hippos directly in front of it. Not an option. Back to square one and how to get from A to B with a hippo in possible pursuit and who knows how many others in the darkness between me and my tent. Every human instinct screams ‘Use your torch and run’ but I was sure the guard had something about lights enraging hippos and I did not want to anger the beast. Head down, torch off, I ran with legs like custard, scraping them against unseen bramble bushes , flicking the light on intermittently to get my bearings and ensure there were no more hippos ahead. Still, I dared not look back. The tent appeared; I jumped straight in and threw the sleeping bag over my head. And there, with my 1 tog, hooded sleeping bag and a 3 millimetre thick piece of canvas between me and the great outdoors, I was safe. Oh but then there were always the rambling crocodiles...

N Furness

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