Imfolozi National Park: Wilderness Trekking With the Big Five
We aren't in Kansas anymore: Weary, ready, and willing travelers
set out across the Imfolozi thorn bushveld (Nathan Borchelt)
Before I opened my eyes, I could hear the sounds of South Africa, the low roar of lions in the distance and the insistent, braying laughter of hyenas lurking on the dark edges of our camp. A nightmare inspired by my anti-malaria medication had forced me into a murky half-conscious nearly an hour before I had to get up, which made the surroundings all the more otherworldly. When I opened my eyes, a star-scattered sky stretched out above me. I'd curled up on my sleeping pad a few hours prior, I was certain the calls of the wild would keep me awake, but after following two Zulu guides on the game paths of Imfolozi National Park for three rigorous hours, I had passed out as soon as I went horizontal. Two hours later, I awoke.
Our fire cast elongated shadows on the nearby acacia trees. It would soon be my turn to hold watch over the camp, a heretofore unheard of task that made complete sense given the countless wildlife that could be (that was) lurking on the dark side of the glowing radius of our campfire where the Zulus and three other backpackersÂ—two fellow journalists and Elbar Neethling, a guide from Durban-based Gibela SafarisÂ—slept soundly. I stared up at the night skyÂ—a black canvas dotted with pinpricks of lightÂ—let the fog lift from my surreal half-sleep, and waited.
Instructions were simple: Keep the animals at bay by tending the fire, scan the surrounding darkness with a high-powered flashlight for pairs of eyes glinting back, and sound the alarm if those eyes started to multiply and close in.
My 90-minute stint passed in an adrenaline-fueled flashÂ—I drank cup after cup of very strong coffee, fed the fire with the wood weÂ’d collected at dusk, penetrated the ink-black night with the flashlightÂ’s powerful beam, and wrote letters by headlamp. I'd been in Imfolozi for less than 12 hours, but felt as if I'd traveled back to the park's origins in the late 1800sÂ—the scars of civilization on the African bush were nonexistent and we were the only humans within 24,000 animal-dense hectares.
And I wouldn't have had it any other way.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication