Sometimes to learn the lesson you have to begin at the end.
My healing from what has been a traumatic time started in the most unlikely of places for me... me who is known not to stray far from the "Urban Jungle". Camping, and in particular ‘roughing it’ doesn't exactly float my boat... creature comforts and all that!!!
But there I was booked onto a 3 day 2 night trail in the middle of October. Not just camping, but truly roughing it! No cellphones. No internet. No stilettos. No makeup. No toilet... of everything that probably freaked me out the most!
That and the spiders... but that deserves a blog all on its own.
I fell in love with the wilderness (and that still surprises me!). Even the rough bits. It wasn’t even about the photographic aspects of the trail that captured me... it was simply being out there. Part of something bigger then my small insignificant corner of the world. I came home with tick bite fever but even that will not deter me from going back at least twice a year.
An unbelievable experience, mentally, emotionally and physically.
When you sit on the cliff top looking over the river, or you see a rhino up ahead, or you walk into a male lion lazing in the sun, you truly appreciate you very frail and insignificant presence on this earth.
While out there something in me shifted. I came out richer for the experience. I had done something out of my comfort zone and I had survived. I found a sense of peace which has carried me through the last 7 weeks (which have proved tough for other reasons) and I will be able to draw on that sense of accomplishment and peace for my entire lifetime.
Below is an account of my time there.
The day before the trail I arrived at the Reserve shortly before 6pm in the evening. Probably the most nerve wracking part of the trip was the drive to the actual camp and getting myself sorted and in my safari tent. I was fully aware that the local wildlife was coming out and roaming around!! I spent a quiet night listening to the hyena on my deck and the night sounds.
The following morning was spent driving around the reserve snapping some shots. By 11.30am the group was to meet back at the Mpila Camp and head out to the Base Camp from where we would start walking... When I got out my car at the base camp the temperature was 40 degrees... and it was only just past noon!!!!!
We were briefed on the rules - single file, no cellphones allowed, conserve your water, be quiet.
We set out on the trail and of course this isn’t going to be easy and 2 minutes into the walk we are climbing UPHILL in scorching temperatures and I was wondering just what the hell was I thinking signing up for this!!!! Not only was I facing the possibility of dying of heat stroke, but there was also the off chance of an encounter with the local wildlife going bad very quickly... and horror of all horrors.... I was not allowed to have my cellphone with me!!!!!! Me - who has not been without a cellphone in the last 10 years. And of course in our age of smart phones not only was I disconnected telephonically but also electronically from all social media outlets... pffft... this was not going to be a walk in the park clearly!
So off we set. Up hills... along open plains until eventually we had to rest. The heat was unbelievable, the sun blinding, the pace steady. We had to reach the camp before dark.
We rested for about half an hour and my fellow hikers were just as tired. The group consisted of a family of 4 from Germany and a couple from Denmark, rounded off by a Conservation student, myself and the 2 guides, Head Guide Sinothi and Richard following behind.
After a rest we got and moved on and about 2.5 hours after setting from base we reached our camp. Weary walkers collapsed in heaps around the outskirts of the camp and I actually think I passed out for a while from that heat. Everything felt 100 degrees – even the drinking water!
Around 5pm we took a short walk down towards the river where Sinothi had us sit quietly and just appreciate the beauty of where we were with no conversation... a unique and wonderful experience. You sit and just listen. You will hear the odd call of a bird, maybe a rustle in the bush or the call of some unidentified animal. And you will hear the whispers of your soul. Speaking quietly and gently to you.
We moved back to camp, collecting firewood on the way. Then it was rustic showers, followed by much needed nourishment of spaghetti bolognaise and time to relax.
Most of us then sat around the fire unable to rustle up the energy to move before eventually we found our weary ways into the tents and bed by 9pm... pure exhaustion taking over.
Day 2 dawned early for me. I was the first up in the camp. Sitting around the fire at 6am having a cup of tea and writing in my journal. Slowly everyone came to life. Morning rituals were performed, breakfast eaten, lunch divided between all of us and off we set by 8am to walk... and walk we did...
It promised to be another blistering hot day so we weren't going to push the pace but there was a lot to be seen.
Sinothi is a treasure trove of information... what animal had eaten off this branch. Markings and footprints explained. Numerous bird calls... although I did eventually give up on that.. he would hear a bird, tell us what it was, explain what it looked like, make the appropriate bird noise.. but of course birds are not my friends.. I didn't see one!
We had a few stops due to the extreme heat. Along the way we saw some rhino, a monitor lizard (which I didn't spot) and the odd animal. Quite an uneventful morning...
Of course there was the obligatory hill but oh my was that hill so worth it...
At the top the view was unbelievable. The cooling breeze a welcome relief from the blistering heat. We spent quite a while at the top. Just viewing the world. The vultures swooping overhead. The hyenas in the middle of the dry river bed. The animals around the small watering hole. Again Sinothi had requested we sit in silence and just enjoy the beauty that lay before us.
Beautiful does not do it justice and it never would.
This was to have been our lunch spot but due to the heat we moved further down the hill on the hunt for somewhere cooler with shade to have lunch. In doing so we very nearly walked into a lioness enjoying her lunch! Coming down and around the corner suddenly Sinothi threw out his arm, indicating for all of us to duck down and move off towards the right towards a ravine which we had to clamber down and go up the other side....As we started to clear the top the lioness heard us and took off across the dry river bed. I was fortunate to be far enough up the opposite bank to see her clearly charging across into the reeds on the other side.
Hearts pounding we made our way down towards the river bed. There was a zebra kill. Apparently only a couple of hours old but smelling like it was days old to me... hard to process. But this is the wild and this is the cycle of life and all has to feed to survive.
We chatted around here for about 15 minutes some of us taking photos. The hyenas and vultures in the river bed keeping an eye on us, waiting for us to move off so they could move in. These had been the same ones we saw up on the ridge but the lioness and her kill had been hidden by the overhang so we didn't realise there was a kill below us.
We started to move off along the river bed. Saw some lion prints ... took some more photos... rounded a bend... and walked smack into a male lion lazing in the sun... I was fortunate to be right in front with the ranger so had the perfect opportunity for photos. I snapped off about 3 of him surveying his world through heavy lidded eyes and as I raised my camera again to recompose he turned and was looking at me... I didn't get that shot!
He stood up and took off - thankfully away from us... and closely followed by the other male who had been hidden up to this point!
To say our hearts were pounding would be an understatement.
We all settled down, the lions having vacated a perfect lunch spot for us. Out came the bread, cheese, biscuits, fruit and we sat watching the opposite bank eating our lunch.... I'm pretty sure the rest of the pride were sitting in those reeds watching us.
Due to the extreme heat by this stage all of us were running low on water and we had to replenish our bottles. Sinothi set about digging for fresh water. Fascinating to watch this being done when you normally just walk to your kitchen and open a tap.... not sure I would be able to replicate it but at least I would now know where to start...
The rest of the day passed uneventfully. We moved off from this spot. Climbing up again and crossing the river a couple of times... before finally arriving back at camp 9.5 hours after we had set out.
I managed to grab the 'shower' first again... but of course the photographer in me had to get photos this time.... so risking life and limb for a photo I quickly set about snapping some off.. while keeping a wary eye out for any passing wildlife...
A much welcome dinner and cooler temperatures we settled down for the night. All of us heading for our beds early... thankfully the temperatures were dropping and a few times in the night I woke up to hear the rain pattering gently on the tent.
Thankfully day 3 dawned much cooler after some rain the night before. Again I was up first, writing in my journal while everyone else got moving. I couldn't believe the time had gone so quickly.
We broke up camp.. the donkeys having arrived to carry our stuff back to the Base Camp and set off to walk our last hike out of camp. All of us very quiet and reflective.
Most of the final hike was done in silence. All of us just drinking in our surroundings. All too soon we were back at Base Camp where I at least managed to grab a decent shower. We then got together for our final meal before moving off to our respective vehicles. Back to the realities of our lives. Our time in the wild over but forever in our hearts.
I drove slowly out the Reserve. Noting the scenery, drinking in the sights. Knowing somewhere in that Park I had rediscovered something of myself. I had stopped and listened to my heart. Listened to my soul. I had neglected this for far to long.....
I felt invigorated. Ready to face new challenges.
While my year hadn't been an easy one and I will still face many hard challenges in the years to come I was starting to make peace with my past. I was finding the strength to let it go and move forward...