16 Sep 175 Leopard Street | Episode 5
Last time I told you about hairy experiences that I like to call ‘Hairy Scary’s’. Let me tell you about another ‘hairy scary’ evening during my guiding days. The good ol’ days, my skinny days, before I started indulging in brunch leftovers and the delectable high tea selection…
We had an Australian group who booked out Rhino Post Safari Lodge. They were a bunch of friends and family and had reserved the whole lodge to themselves for 4 days. It was like a home away from home. Australians are very similar to South Africans, they love to sit around fires, stay up late, drink a lot and tell stories. On their 3rd night, it was at the social gathering around the fire that I decided to start telling them the story about the two maneless, man-eating Lions of Tsavo whose names were ‘The Ghost’ and ‘The Darkness’. These lions were allegedly responsible for 135 deaths over 9 months, whilst railway workers were building and laying down the train tracks in the Tsavo region of Kenya in the 1800s. There is a fictionalised movie about it with really great actors. Follow this link if you are intrigued to read up about it.
The first time I watched the movie was in my room in the staff village, all alone, it was not the smartest idea because for days afterwards walking to work in the mornings felt like these man-eating lions were hiding in the tall grass, watching my every move. So you can imagine how intense my storytelling was, they were hanging onto every word.
About halfway through the story, Vincent, my fellow guide clicked his fingers at me and put on the spotlight. A whole pride of lions were making their way to the waterhole. All the guests got up and moved towards the railing to have a look. Something caught my attention out the corner of my eye… as I shone my spotlight to the right, on the walkway from the bar leading to the dining room, sat the biggest lioness I had ever seen, quietly sitting in the dark just watching us. I started frantically, but also very stealthily, clicking my fingers at Vincent and as he came to stand next to me and shine the spotlight on the lioness, she decided to jump over the railing and move into the riverbed to join her pride. Shoo… that was a little too close for comfort!
Now earlier in the day, during our morning game drive, we found this very pride. There were 11 in total, but when we counted them around the waterhole this evening, we only counted 9… two lions were missing and all of us immediately remembered the story of the two man-eating lions, ‘The Ghost’ and ‘The Darkness’ and we all wondered if the story was about to be relived in the Kruger National Park.
The guests very quickly decided it was time to go back to the safety of their rooms, and it was up to Vincent and me to make sure the guests got there safely. A quick round of rock, paper, scissors decided who would get the ‘most dangerous’ route (the rooms closest to the waterhole) and low and behold, winner winner chicken dinner – It was me. Oh goodie!
Armed with my 10 million candlepower super spotlight the size of a Bazooka (my Dad’s gift to keep me safe) off I went… into the darkness with the guests tightly bunched up behind me. Our first stop was at room 6 – I was all brave with 4 people still behind me and headed off to room 7 to drop off another 2 guests. I now only had 2 guests behind me on the way to room 8 right at the end of the walkway. We got to the room safely and I then spent about 5 minutes convincing my guests that I will survive the walk back to the bar and that I do not need to spend the night in their room (so sweet of them to offer though). It was time for the long walk down the walkway back to the bar.
Most of you will probably think that what I’m about to tell you is not true, you know for the sake of a good story, but I promise you this, every word of all my stories is 100% true.
About halfway between room 8 and 7, my spotlight starts to flicker and at this stage, I was already looking back over my shoulder. Every bone in my body was telling me that I was being followed, I could feel eyes on me, I could feel them watching me. I began praying for a little miracle and poof my spotlight goes out completely. I am now in pitch darkness with only the walkway lighting at my feet. I put one foot in front of the other and kept hitting the spotlight a couple of times, it would give me a couple of flickers and flashes of light and then promptly die again. My mind was running wild and I remembered that somewhere in some book it said that a moving light might attract the attention of cats. Oh no! Here I am trying to avoid the cats and I could be drawing more attention to myself. Heart palpitations and shortness of breath set in, I was on the verge of panic. It was by far the most daunting, haunting, adrenaline-fuelled, most scared I have ever been in my life. I don’t think I can ever explain that feeling…
Luckily I got myself to the bar and saw Vincent’s light shining from the front heading towards me. Such relief, for a second, because now we had to switch off all the lights and kill the fire and make our way back up to the guest’s parking lot, where our game drive vehicles were parked. We did another count of the lions who had by now moved up onto the river bank and were lying underneath the trees. Still, only 9, where oh where could number 10 and 11 be? Perhaps waiting in the car park for us? Lying right next to our vehicles. There was a serious discussion and some serious decisions needed to be made. Do we sleep in the bar (mainly my idea) or do we pull up our ranger pants and go out there like men (mainly Vincent’s idea). ALL righty then, off we go, so we put our backs together and facing outwards walked sideways up the pathway towards the parking area (the crab-like shimmy walk turns out to be a regular thing). We could not make too much noise, or appear scared or go too fast else we might stumble and look weak and then get eaten!
We had about 10 meters to go before we reached the vehicles, only then trying to come up with an alternative escape route, but we had nothing. It was now or never. Thank the Lord (again) there weren’t 2 lions waiting for us and we decided to just both get into one vehicle through the same door. I think my fellow ranger had some explaining to do to the wife when he got home about the shoe print on the back of his shirt. Who knows where the other 2 lions were, I don’t even want to think of where they might have been… maybe lurking in a dark corner of the parking lot…Should have just slept in the bar.