We woke early, and took in the mysterious misty scene. After breakfast, Nunu called us together for the last time.
“Thank you again to all of you for coming on trail. Thank you again to our brothers and sisters the animals for letting us pass through their home. Today we go back to our home…or at least, we think it’s our home. But do we really belong there….or do we belong here, among the animals?”
We started walking back to where we started our trail several days before. I felt sad that the trail was coming to an end. I didn’t really want to go back to ‘normal’ life. I told Niki, and she said she felt the same way. Others in the group were quiet too. The wilderness had stamped its eternal mark on our souls.
Along the way, we had to cross the river one last time. As we got to the water, Nunu pointed to two lionesses up on the sandy banks. Immediately, they scampered away, running from us. Too quick for a photograph! In the distance, we saw them meet up with two of their cubs, and they all ran off into the bush.
I was struck by the lions’ fear of us. Even though these imperious predators can pull down adult buffalo, they see us as a dangerous threat, as something to be avoided at all costs. Lions have developed an inherent avoidance of us, instilled in their genes after centuries of hunting and harassment by humans. We’re still the most dangerous animal on the planet. I hope that one day the lion will once again be the most feared animal in the bushveld.
As we unpacked our backpacks, and said our goodbyes, I felt like I was floating. And I realized how strong and alive I felt. I looked at the others in the group, and everyone was glowing.
Niki and I drove off, and it felt strange to be in a car. Images flooded my head and heart: the pride of lions, the buffalo we saw in the river, the rhino which came to drink at our camp, the elephant which crossed the river, the stars which turned in the sky, the moon which told me the time of night, the glistening of an impala’s horn in the early morning light…and my favourite, the rasping call of the leopard in the night.
Ian Player deserves the last words of this blog, and I quote from his book Zululand Wilderness. This passage describes the true essence of what the wilderness trail is all about. He writes of his mentor and friend Magqubu Ntombela:
“Magqubu was always involved in the natural world. He had really known no other and so had become part of it and in constant harmony with the ebb and flow of the days and the seasons. When the hyena called beyond the fire, Magqubu would answer, so too with the lion, the rhino, the zebra, and wildebeest.
It was the same with the trees: each one was different and alive, and for him an extension of ourselves. He talked with the waving themeda grass or the bateleur eagle, the vulture, or the Natal robin singing from a quiet kloof. There was constant dialogue with the wild world about him, as well as with cattle, sheep, and goats.
This unashamed and natural reaction to all that he saw and heard had over the years made a deep, if not the deepest, impression upon me. It made me realize how with our ubiquitous technology we had become separated from the world, forgetting, as Hermann Hesse so beautifully put it, that “a thousand forgotten years ago, the bird and the blowing wind were like me, and were my brothers.”
It is only the poets now and the natural people like Magqubu who see and hear the world as it really is. For most of us the world is a place to be used, and everything other than human life has no value beyond its material use.”
For more, go to www.yearinthewild.com and www.facebook.com/yearinthewild. Thanks again to my sponsors for making it all possible. CapeNature, South African National Parks, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Eastern Cape Parks, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Ford, Total, Evosat, Conqueror Trailers, Vodacom, Digicape, Lacie, Frontrunner, Safari Centre Cape Town, K-Way, EeziAwn, National Luna, Nokia , Garmin, Goodyear, Global Fleet Sales, Hetzner, Clearstream Consulting, Escape Gear and Trailcam Adventures.