I squatted as close to the ground as possible. Tiny rocks dug into my palms. I hardly breathed.
The rhinos — first I thought there was only one, but then I saw two, three, and four — walked closer. Not running, but walking steadily. Closer. Close enough for a child to throw a stone at. The rhinos’ horns looked huge and very pointy.
I heard a loud click. That was Mike loading a bullet into his rifle.
“Hi there, rhinos,” said Mike congenially. “We see you. We’re not here to hurt you.”
Ray crouched in front of me, just behind Mike. I briefly thought that if this was my last moment on earth, at least I would die with someone I love.
The rhinos stopped moving, but continued to stare at us with mild curiosity. We stayed there — six of us, including Mike — for what felt like several minutes. The soles of my feet ached but I didn’t dare shift them. The rhinos probably heard my heart pounding.
Mike turned his head slightly, a huge grin on his face. “You can take photos, if you want,” he whispered.
The rhinos fanned out on the road in front of us. The idea of spending the last moment of my life shooting pictures of rhinos seemed a bit silly. But I trusted Mike. Slowly, I lifted my camera and shot a few frames.
No really. SH*T.
Okay. Maybe we’ll live.
We saw many more interesting things during the remainder of our walk — animal tracks, birds, plants. Mike explained them all in great detail. I watched his lips moving but I heard only one word: RhinoRhinoRhinoRhino.
[Mike later told us that he loaded the round only as an ultra-preventative measure, just to be sure he was ready. But due to the rhinos’ behavior he was virtually certain all along that they posed no threat.]
Animals look different from the ground than they do from a jeep — I learned that several years ago when I participated in a walking safari in the Pafuri wilderness. So I was thrilled last month when Ray and I were invited to visit Africa on Foot, a lodge in the Klaserie Game Reserve (just outside the Kruger National Park) that specializes in bush walks. Africa on Foot totally fulfilled our expectations.
The lodge itself was perfect — simple, comfortable, and right in the middle of the bush.
Our chalet at Africa on Foot. There was also a central lodge building where drinks and meals were served, as well as a gift shop and a small swimming pool.
In addition to the normal chalets, Africa on Foot has a “treehouse” where guests can choose to sleep for a night or two. As you can tell from this photo, Ray was a bit skeptical of the idea. He did say he was willing to try, but we didn’t manage it during our two-night stay. Maybe next time.
Our Africa on Foot guides, Mike and Enoch, were knowledgeable, professional, and friendly. I learned a lot from them and I definitely trusted them with my life.
Enoch (left) and Mike (right). Enoch was quiet at first but turned out to be quite a comedian.
Mike points out a hippo track.
The skies were beautiful.
Sunrise on the morning of our first walk. Do you know what that tree is called? It’s a Dead Dog Tree. Do you know why? Because it lost its bark. Get it? (Joke courtesy of Enoch.)
An African sky at Africa on Foot.
After our morning walks, we rested for several hours and then went out on traditional game drives in the evenings. The game drives were great too.
A young elephant crosses behind our safari vehicle during a game drive.
A lilac-breasted roller, the most photographed bird in South Africa.
One of hundreds of buffalo that we saw on our game drives.
A chameleon that Enoch spotted near the end of an evening game drive.
For me though, the walking is where it’s at.
Walking in single file, just after sunrise.
Bush walk selfie. (Photo: Ray)
A golden orb spider. We saw literally hundreds of these while walking.
We encountered a herd of more than a hundred buffalo on our second morning. Not quite as terrifying as the rhino encounter but still a big adrenaline rush.
The real highlight of the trip came at the end of our second bush walk. We came upon a large pile of impala dung and engaged in a dung-spitting contest.
That’s right: impala-poop-spitting. It’s not as gross as it sounds.
Look carefully and you’ll see the poop flying. Florant, the guy on the left, turned out to be a fantastic poop-spitter.
I’ve been on a quite a few safari trips over the years and I know a good lodge when I see one. Africa on Foot is a good lodge, and perfect for people looking for something different from the usual twice-daily-game-drive experience.
Spotted from the jeep as we left Africa on Foot. See the baby laying down in the mud?
Our trip to Africa on Foot was provided courtesy of Sun Destinations, Nicky Arthur PR, and Ashton’s Tours. The opinions expressed in this post are solely my own.
loved your post, Heather! took me back to last August, when we also took Ashton’s shuttle and also got within 11 metres of rhinos in the Matopos in Zim, I also thought I was not going to survive….one never forgets those scary but utterly magical moments.
Haha, glad you can relate. It was an insane experience.
wow wow wow, I LOVE all your pictures! And I love the start of the story especially, sounds like a gripping travelogue. And I think, even though it’s the most photographed bird as you mentioned, your picture of the lilac breasted roller is one of the best I’ve seen. And, of course, the rhino (second SH*T one:-) is superb too!
Thanks Sine. Maybe second rhino shot is my favorite too.
Nice experience. I always find it unnerving to see these guys leaning on the barrels of their guns. But they’re always sure they are unloaded – right?
What an exciting time! It has been a couple years since I have done any walking safaris but I loved doing them, need to go back soon! All of your photos are lovely but I especially like the angle of your rhino shots, amazing !
Thanks Kelly. Yes you must do another walking safari – right up your alley.
First question: When you say “we” engaged in a dung-spitting contest, does that include you and Ray?
Second question: What did you use to take the animal shots? The detail is always so clear and DOF so great [except the one with the chameleon which is understandable]. People ask me what camera you used, and I hesitate to say they are Instagram photos on an Ipad — they wouldn’t believe the pics could be that good!
Hahaha. Yes Ray and I did take turns at poop spitting. But we didn’t make it to the final competition.
I used two different cameras on this trip – my old Canon 60D with a very old telephoto lens, and my new Canon 6D with a closer-range 24-70mm lens. I’m using my iPhone camera much less lately because my new camera has wifi capability and I can upload DSLR shots directly to my phone 🙂