A RARE ENCOUNTER
The closer he strolled, the more my universe narrowed, until I was left seeing nothing but him – his strong, slow movements – it became impossible to draw my eyes away. We stood motionless. My generally quiet heart evolved into a warm and powerful beat pounding in my chest. He paused at the last bit of bush concealing us, seemingly nonchalant, but a slight flap of massive ears suggested that he now sensed our presence. As he carefully stepped forward, the ranger calmly lifted her hat and with her "hello, boy", he trumpeted and fled.
I drew what felt like my first breath and with it the bushveld sounds rushed back. The adrenaline in my body had wakened sleeping nerves and my muscles were warm and ready to react. We stood savoring the memory of the moment for a while before falling back into single file behind the ranger, passing the tracks of the elephant bull that had just been within a few metres from us.
At the lodge my thoughts lingered on the magnificent animal that had shown mortal fear in our presence. Looking over the Luvuvhu River, I felt a deep, restless silence descend on me.
My spirit was calmed by the tangible magic of the valley. At night I was woken by the haunting calls of the elusive hyena and leopard; by day I was drawn to the salient baobab trees that have stood guard there for thousands of years.
We spent a few memorable moments at the base of one baobab. On one side the tree formed a natural cave and as we walked up to touch the century-old trunk, we noticed hundreds of small moths blending in the bark. As we stepped in to take a closer look they took flight, whirling around us and leaving us laughing in the shelter of the tree.
It's impossible to overstate the richness encountered on foot: gently run your hand across a fever tree to feel the dust of its bright green bark on your fingertips; deeply breathe the bush scents that intensify as you brush against the plants. In the soil find lines left by the belly of a monitor lizard. You’ll likely never be as alert as you are when walking freely in the wild.
Back in the outskirts of Johannesburg I realized that, between the corrugated shacks and industrial buildings, my eyes were still scanning hopefully for creatures in the bush.