Amy Hallissey receives a fond farewell from the African bush… The South African bush offered many unique experiences during my month spent there as a volunteer on a game reserve, yet still, my last night turned out to be more eventful than I had anticipated. I thought I had seen all that I was meant to see and the only thing left to do was to stock up on sleep for the long journey back to England. It seems that the bush didn’t want me to leave disappointed; it presented me with a few experiences that night that left me even more in awe of the special place that I had grown to love.
August is a dry season in South Africa; the trees are bare, the water holes have mostly dried up, and rain is a very infrequent visitor. So infrequent, that I hadn’t seen a drop of it during my stay. I’d seen African thunderstorms on the television and although I knew they only occurred in the African summertime, I was disappointed that I hadn’t timed my visit around such a spectacle. I had returned to my rondavel for the night, when without build-up, heavy raindrops began to batter the roof, soon accompanied by immensely strong winds. They blew the wooden rondavel so hard, I worried it would be carried away. I wondered how the monkeys nesting in the trees in our camp didn’t start to fly past our windows, how those trees stayed rooted in the ground and how the delicate impalas managed to stand upright in such a current. Eventually, the wind stopped completely and the rain was subdued. I opened the door to one of the greatest smells in nature, seemingly enhanced in the herbaceous bush: freshly fallen rain. Lightening was then added to the mix, slicing through the air, hitting the horizon. I rushed up to the lookout tower with the rest of the volunteers and from there, with the safety of a lightening conductor poised high above, we watched the stunning light show, illuminating the night sky for brief seconds at a time.
After returning to my rondavel to sleep, I was awoken by the call of nature. No, not that type of call – I had to go to the bathroom. Usually, the night time trip to the bathroom was unnerving: I’d get my torch, put on my flip-flops and fleece and walk the short distance to the bathroom, not knowing whose eyes could be watching. During the day, the thin wire fence that kept larger animals out of camp made me feel secure, but the pitch darkness of night eliminated that security. Tonight was worse – the pride of 11 lions that had made a kill by our camp earlier in the day were uncomfortably close to my rondavel. I could hear their soft grunts to each other and the heavy sound of them moving through the grass as if they were next to me. This would have been a fantastic opportunity earlier in the day, with the safety blanket of sunlight all around, but in the pitch darkness the last thing I wanted to do was dart past them on my way to the toilet. Still, I had to go, so I readied myself for the short walk and grabbing my torch, I took a deep breath but hesitated before the door. What if they saw me? What if there was a gap in the fence? What if they broke through the fence or even jumped over it? Nonsense, I thought and as quickly as possible, trying to keep my torch pointed firmly away from the bush, so as not to catch the reflected glare of a lion, I made it safely to the bathroom.
It was easy to smile at my cowardice once I’d turned on the light. I opened the door to one of the cubicles, unaware of the altogether more silent and deadly creature that was slowly making its way up the leg of my pyjama bottoms. A scorpion! I did a mad dance and flung the creature off my leg, trampling it in the process. I stood staring at the poor creature, a victim of my fearfulness, and thought how lucky I’d been not to have gained a sting on the foot, my flimsy flip-flops not much insurance against its powerful venom.
I had a restless night after that, wondering how the scorpion had made its way onto my pyjama bottoms, fretting that there may be a nest of them in my sleeping bag. When daylight eventually came I said my goodbyes to Africa, and all the wonderful animals that had enchanted me, fascinated me and sometimes frightened me for the past month. Amy Hallissey