This is an excerpt from “Chasing Elephants and Decoding Dung: On Safari in Kruger National Park”, which was originally published at BootsnAll.com on September 30, 2010. To read this piece in its entirety, head on over to BootsnAll.
In the waning pre-dawn blackness of the South African bush, Pat Masabo slides three long, golden bullets into the rifle chamber and locks the bolt handle shut. He clips his ammunition belt around his waist, hands me his backpack, and tells us that during the next three hours we are to walk in a single file line, and that under no circumstances could there be any talking unless he gives the okay.
We were about to leave the safety of our open-air jeep and venture on foot into the unpredictability of Kruger National Park, where hungry lions could attack, elephants could charge, and leopards could pounce. Pat and his trusty rifle were our only protection; the chilly morning air did little to cool my nerves.
That morning we left Pretoriuskop camp, located in the southwestern corner of the park, at around 5:30am, and soon the sun began to rise behind rows of scraggly acacia, painting the sky in streaks of oranges and yellows and blues. Then, with a wave of Pat’s rifle, we took our first steps into the wild unknown of one of the biggest game reserves on the continent. If one of us were to become injured, maimed, or otherwise devoured, the indemnity form in our pockets released South African National Parks from any liability; each of us had, indeed, agreed to put our lives in our own hands after signing on the dotted line:
“I understand that I will occasionally travel on foot or be outside in the veld where dangerous animals will be a risk and SANParks will take steps to ensure the safety of all participants, but will not be responsible for any injuries/loss/death or illness.”
Photo Credit and Copyright Vanessa Diaz