photo: Herman Nel (fellow hiker) 1987

Imagine this. You and a few friends are taking a leisurely stroll in the bush when a lioness suddenly charges at you. What do you think you would do? What would you actually do? What should you have done?

The experienced bush walker (by bush, I do not mean your common or garden variety) will have one answer for all three questions. The inexperienced bush walker will also have one answer for all three questions, namely “Run!” which is the exact opposite of the answer the experienced bush walker will give. This is why the inexperienced bush walker is unlikely to become an experienced bush walker. It also explains why there are so few experienced bush walkers. (If you run, the cat will chase. It is simply the nature of a cat. And a complete-cat on four legs is much faster than a scaredy-cat on two legs.)

When we came across a pile of dried-out giraffe bones and bits of hide, we felt even more unwelcome and so we kept our eyes wide open. But not wide enough. When the lioness charged, we put into action what we had already been taught that day. We shouted, “Shhhh!” and when that didn’t work, we did not move. We froze.

Apparently, this was what the ranger feared we would do, that we would freeze with fear. So he shouted, “Move!” But his second fear was that we would turn around and run. That would be fatal, because like any cat, she would do what comes naturally to cats of all sizes. And so he shouted, “Walk! Don’t run!”

But it got worse. He also feared that we would turn our back on her. Not a good idea, because then she would become even braver. And so the ranger shouted, “Backwards!” Then he shouted the last rule, “Don’t get hooked on the thorns!” (I forgot to mention that many bushes in the African bush have very long, very strong thorns.)

By then we were so confused with all these rules we did not know where the big cat was . . . until she growled again. That’s when I saw the only girl in our group disappear down the slope into the distance.

You know how people say, after moments of shock and awe, “I saw my whole life pass before my eyes!” Well, that did not happen to me. The only thing that passed was a warm flow down my leg. (Maybe I’m joking, but maybe I’m not.) Actually, the first thing we all did after we got away from that little kitty was to re-tie our bootlaces. It seems as if we had almost jumped out of our shoes with fright.

(Please note: This is a short extract. For complete story, read it here by becoming a patron. Please.)