I woke up early one morning in Zambia’s North Luangwa National Park. As I crawled out of my one-man tent on the banks of the Mwlezi River, my companion, André van Vuuren, was sitting wide awake in his tent, on the top of his Navara. Without even saying good morning, he looked at me and said: “You won’t believe what I’m going to tell you…”
I met André, former owner of Explore Africa Adventures, in 2013. It had always been my dream to travel. My first trip in Africa was on my trusted Kawasaki 650 KLR, later upgraded to a 1200 BMW. That first adventure was an experience I’ll treasure as long as I live.
The trip was organised by Ray Muller, who unfortunately passed away in 2012. He taught me that “Africa will make you laugh for a good reason. It will make you will cry for some reason. You will feel depressed, and only you will know the reason.
“Respect other people, their views, habits and beliefs. That will add character and interest to the trip. Your respect will be reciprocated. Africa is all about attitude – Africa is attitude.” This is a truth I will always remember, and one that revealed itself as I travelled with Andre in 2014.
After 35 years in the corporate world, I bought Explore Africa Adventures from André. Part of the agreement was that I would drive with him in 2014, to learn all the tricks of the trade. Now it is 2015, and I am on my own.
The year travelling with Andre confirmed that I had made the right decision.
There were no chalets available for us at the Buffalo Camp in North Luangwa when we arrived, so we pitched camp just outside the chalet area, underneath a sausage tree.
The deep red flowers of this tree are a favourite of many animals. As I was looking for shade, I decided – without thinking about animals – to put my sausage-shaped one-man tent right under the tree. The previous night I had not enjoyed a good night’s sleep, so I was looking forward to a good night’s rest. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
While I was dozing off I heard the continuous crackling of leaves. It was elephants, wanting to try the sweet taste of the flowers. I ended up sitting for hours next to my tent watching the elephants, which nearly stepped on the tent. A huge bull came out of the bushes, looked at the tree and the little tent on the ground, and changed direction, taking the herd with him.
Eventually all the elephants left, and I managed to get some sleep. But, at around three in the morning, four lionesses surrounded my tent – I was told by Andre later – trying to figure out whether the snoring was by any chance a warthog or some animal in distress.
André woke up because of the noise being made by the lions – and probably by me as well. He sat in his roof-top tent, trying everything possible to chase them away, but every time another snore rose from the tent, the lions took a step closer to investigate.
Andre did not know what to do. On one hand, he wanted to take a photograph to show me in the morning how close they had come. On the other hand, he did not want to provoke them, so he just slapped his hands on the canopy door and shouted “Voertsek”, hoping they would get the message.
But the lions were in no hurry. The snoring “wors” on the ground intrigued them. All Andre could do was pray that I would not get a “call of nature” and crawl out of the tent. What would he tell my wife? That I had been devoured by lions? Eventually, after about 15 minutes, the lions left.
Later, when I told my wife the story, she said she would have been proud to tell everybody that her adventurous husband had been attacked by lions. That would have been so much more impressive than being attacked by hyenas!
André and I had wonderful times last year. A new phase in his life is waiting for him, and I have taken a bold step in leaving the corporate world as a middle-aged white male, using all my savings to buy into this dream.
I know I will not be disappointed as Africa is full of stories – stories I want to tell, and places I want to show to other dreamers like me.
“I was born under a wondering star…”
About the author
Martin Slabbert, at the age of 50, decided to follow his passion for travelling in Africa by becoming a full-time safari guide. The corporate world had shown him that money can buy a lot of things, but not happiness. He hopes to remedy that in his new profession.