By Haddon Davies and Anna Pearson
I stir just as dawn is breaking – the dense Kenyan night will soon melt away. Silence- I can no longer hear the rhythmic sound of grazing that punctured the darkness. Three lean horses found their way to the camp and have been free to roam.
Anna is already awake, propped up on one elbow, peering intently through the mess window by her bed.
‘Quiet, something’s out there,’ she whispers. I strain to hear faint snap of twigs in the undergrowth, and again, the crunch of dry leaves. Anna is off the bed now and gazing into the gloom through the window in the door flap, as desperate for the loo as for a better sighting of the zebra, first glimpsed some mornings earlier.
‘There’s a blurry shape down the hill – probably one of the horses – or just a bush. Still too dark to see.’ She bends to open the zip. I’m behind her now, staring at the shape in the half-light. Anna stretches a leg out of the tent, just as the ‘horse’ moves, raises its head and proudly displays a magnificent pair of horns – a silhouette that is unmistakeably buffalo!
All body parts nimbly retracted, but tent left boldly unzipped, we peer out awe-struck as the cow and calf also emerge from the thicket to join the bull. Unaware of their audience, the family move slowly to the right until hidden from view. We stay rooted to the spot as the bull reappears to the right of our terrace, moving back up the hill towards us and closer than before. We watch him approach through the gap in the tent flaps. Although grazing, the bull is on full alert to the slightest noise. At every sound, he freezes, staring in the direction of the threat. I move a cramped foot, the ground sheet crackles and we are suddenly the focus of a full-on suspicious glare. Time stands still as the two beady eyes stare deep into our souls. The blood pounds in my ears
as finally, the head lowers to continue grazing, we move to watch trough the mess window. Direct eye-contact with such a huge wild animal, free in its native habitat is too intimidating. The bull continues to advance, so close now I feel a sense of mounting terror. Calf and cow are also in the clearing behind the bull, but he has our individual attention. Halting at the very edge of our terrace, he lifts his massive head and delicately whips off the tips of the tall saplings growing by the steps. Close enough now to count the huge folds of hide at his neck, hear the tongue rasping away the leaves, we fully appreciate a sweep of horns that can toss a lion twenty feet with ease.
Suddenly something spooks the calf and cow, sending them back down the hill and into the bush. Our bull is unmoved and munches on. Decades pass before his head lowers and turn, he noiselessly directs his bulk down the hill, into the daylight and out of sight.
We have been imprisoned for almost an hour. Cautiously, I pace the distance from the buffalo’s hoof-prints – a mere twenty-five feet! With danger now at a distance, we rejoice in the thrill of such a close and personal encounter – more especially that we live to tell the tale!
Warmest gratitude to Andre and his wonderful team, who succeeded, in only ten days, to converting two ‘rookies’ from the UK into mini-adventurers, able to apply the first principles of self-preservation: To be invisible, stand still, shut up and don’t point!