Before setting out on the trails each morning during our 6-day safari, Vuyani and Zondi (our amazing guides) reminded us of the Golden Rules:
- Walk in single file, staying an arm’s length away from the person in front of us at all times
- Remain silent
- Make a clicking noise with our tongue if we needed to get the guides’ attention
- Do exactly what the guides say without question (so we were to stop and freeze when given the appropriate hand signals or take cover behind a large rock or tree when they yell, “Cover!”)
One afternoon, when the sun was high in the sky, I saw Vuyani make the hand gesture signifying us to retreat. My heart started thumping as I stopped in my tracks. Was Vuyani going to yell to us in the next second to take cover? I quickly scanned the terrain behind me… would that thorn bush make adequate cover from a charging rhino or elephant?
Zondi went on ahead as Vuyani quickly circled around behind our queue and lead us down a short hill through the thorny bushes. What animal had they seen? I wondered. And just how close was it?
After a few minutes Vuyani came to a stop. He turned to us and whispered, ‘It’s a mama rhino with her baby.’ We moved out of our single file line to gather around him. A shiver of awe ran through me. I knew that we didn’t ever want to get too close to a rhino, let alone a mama and her baby.
Then Vuyani surprised me as he leaned closer to us and asked, ‘Do you want to see them?’ Hell yeah was the emphatic unspoken response, communicated with strong head nods. He led us up another small hill and stopped us right before the edge so we could see them at eye level.
We stood in silence, soaking in the beautiful site of this protective, curious mama and her little one, who ended up being the one to take cover. While we had passed the invisible boundary of the mama’s comfort zone, we weren’t about to get any closer or overstay our welcome. Vuyani turned and led us back down the hill, carrying us forward through the bush while giving the mama rhino a wide berth.
I offered a silent ‘thank you’ to the mama rhino. Seeing this formidable creature so close left an imprint on my being: I felt humbled and grateful to have been in her presence.
Photo Credit: Dr. Saida Desilets. Taken while on the Wild Women In The Wilderness Retreat in South Africa.