Africa’s blazing sun began to set and as the shadows grew longer and disappeared into the night, we all looked at each other excitedly, but along with the dark, an obvious hint of trepidation, by the Trainees, lingered in the cool air.
Lucky for us, Dinner, was a Braai – the traditional South African method of cooking over a fire and a favourite past time of many of this great rainbow nation. We pushed some hot coals aside, got a few rocks to balance the grid on and began to braai our meat. We had chops and steak, but lacked a nutritious serving of salad, that would have been customary should we been at home. Our Mom’s would have made sure that the boys had an accompaniment with dinner and if Mom was not around, many a braai, was meat only and the term, “carnivore” thrown around loosely!
After Dinner we tidied up, washed our plates by using water from a jerry can and all sat around the fire, now full and content, but still fully naïve and soaking wet behind the ears. Our Trainers asked us each to share a humorous story about our families which was really awesome and then without warning, stood up and said Goodnight and Goodbye.
We were literally shocked and sat quietly staring at each other blankly for a few moments. I asked what was going on and was told that they were off and would see us in the morning, just before sunrise and to be careful and ready in the morning to pack up and go.
So, picture the scene; There we were, surrounded by donga banks, thick bush and the possibility of any animal wandering by, especially the carnivorous nocturnal ones; a makeshift bush camp, the aroma of smoky meat wafting in the night air, a dark new moon night and ten frightened but capable of being “sort of brave”, wannabe Trainee Rangers
The quite night was suddenly broken by the hysterical call of a hyena that sounded as if he or she was really close to our camp, probably coming to investigate the smell from the braai and the sounds of idle banter interrupting the usual deafening silence that owned the night . We stoked the fire, threw more logs on and waited patiently to see what would happen next. Suddenly, as if popping in for a coffee, a hyena appeared just a few meters away. It was a large female, maybe a matriarch of a nearby clan, that had come to investigate the presence of we humans, who had arrived unannounced in her closely guarded territory. She stood there, inquisitive, yet cautious and it was quite evident that she appeared casually intrigued by the smell and noise of our little camp. One of the trainee rangers stood up to get more wood and immediately we soon found out that a hyena is actually all thunder and no lightning, whilst we watch it rapidly turn around and run away, reaffirming first hand of what we had read about. Although a formidable force to be reckoned with, the hyena is, by nature, a cowardly creature, when by itself and most often choosing rather to run away from confrontation than stick around and bear the potential wrath of its opponent. This character changes significantly when in a group, where they become potent and powerful adversaries and even the King of the jungle, the mighty Lion becomes intimidated by their daunting presence.
After this untimely visit, we listened to the occasional unknown eerie bush sounds, the comforting familiar ones and took turns being on the lookout for any potentially dangerous animals that may come and visit. We heard the night piercing roar of a Lion in the distance, had a few more informal visits from the hyena and enjoyed the cacophony of cicadas, crickets and beetles that filled the air that night, adding to the incredible experience. We were eventually relieved to see the break of dawn, whilst the darkness began turning to light, which was our queue to pack up quickly, leave the camp as if nobody had ever been there and be waiting in anticipation of what was in store for day 2.