six of us silently file from the lodge to the parking lot where the
three Land Rovers are lined up, their headlights cutting through the
5:30 a.m. darkness.
morning,” Arman, our guide says. Jim and I settle into the seat
directly in back of the driver, at ground level. Up close and
personal, as the saying goes, to the landscape and its inhabitants. Is
that a good or bad thing, I wonder. Arman starts the motor and we
slowly creep across the gravel parking lot to the road.
hour later, the rays of the rising sun flick through the trees. It’s
warmer and we can see further up the road and across the short brush.
Bushbucks graze on the side of the road. They raise their heads to
look at us and then return to eating. Birds fly high and low through
the overgrowth, their voices the music of the morning.
approach the river and pause briefly before crossing the trickle of
water left over from the spring rains. The Land Rover rumbles up the
riverbed’s incline, takes a quick left and then a right. Arman adjusts
his ear piece and shakes his head as he turns the dial again
not much talk on the radio this morning. Very quiet. Very unusual,”he
we drive further into the bush, the road narrows. Sydney points to an
overhanging limb, holds unto his baseball cap and ducks his head. We
follow his example and do the same. Arman makes a sharp turn onto a
path barely the width of the vehicle. And suddenly his foot hits the
brake. There in the middle of the road are two rhinos stretched in
front of us. Lying down. Eyes closed. Asleep.
my God, “ I murmured. “I can’t believe this.”
our previous safari at Londolozi Game Reserve, I had seen four of
the Big Five- the lion, elephant, Cape buffalo and leopard. But I
had missed the safari the morning when my group found their first
rhino. So while my husband had his Big Five, I was still missing the
fifth check on my safari bucket list. And now here were two, lying
across the road, blocking our way.
well,” Arman whispered. “What do we have here? These are
BIG boys, very big boys.”
are big, gray, thick-skinned and apparently sleeping in on this early
morning .Their massive heads rest on the ground. And we are all
focused on those two horns protruding just about their toothless
square mouthes, right between their bulging eyes.
turns off the ignition. We are all silent, our eyes glued to these
snoozing mammals, second in size only to the elephant. A rustle in
the deep brush sends squaking birds into the air. The rhino on the
left opens one eye, then another. “They are known for their
poor vision, as being nearsighted beasts who can barely see beyond
90 feet,” Arman says. “But they do, however, have a
powerful sense of smell and hearing.” And we are directly in
front of them, I think out loud. The animal on the right continues to
doze, not making a sound or a movement. But the rhino on the left
slowly uses his powerful legs to push himself up onto all fours. He
turns his head toward his sleeping companion and then looks to the
left. Then his gaze returns to the center and is directly on us. Eye
contact, I think, before the charge? He takes a step forward. Then
another. Arman and Sydney exchange glances. Sydney nods his head to
the left, toward the thick brush. He seems to be saying that if we
can’t get past them, we’ll have to go around them.
starts the jeep. Up back on the third seat, David’s camera
stops clicking and his wife , Helen, stops talking. . And the young
newly-weds, directly behind me, seem to have stopped breathing.
Arman edges the vehicle several feet
backwards; he reaches for his rifle
on the dashboard and clicks off the safety. He shifts into first and
heads off road into the heavy brush. Sydney protects his face with
one arm and uses his outside arm to move branches aside. We are no
longer in front of the two rhinos; we are beside them. Arman must
think that’s an okay place to be because he stops the jeep. The
rhino’s head follows in our direction and his big thick leg
makes another step forward.
on, “ Arman says. He puts the jeep in gear and we jostle and
bump our way past the two animals. Sydney points ahead to a small
clearing. The Land Rover’s wheels are back on the dirt road and
we are in traveling mode. Arman drives with both hands on the wheel
while Sydney looks backwards. The sleeping rhino is now awake and
standing up. We are all holding our breath as the two of them lumber
across the road and disappear. Sydney raises his right arm, as if to
tell Arman that everything is okay.
travel on in silence for several minutes and then Arman stops the
vehicle. “Well, I am very glad that we got to see those big
are all nodding our heads, like safari bobbleheads that you might
find in a tourist gift shop. We all blurt out “yes” at
the same time. Arman turns and gives us a rare smile. “They are
one of the most dangerous animals that you will find anywhere.So
sometimes if they detect an unfamiliar scent or hear an odd sound,
they will charge. But do not worry. They know our vehicles, our
We all look at each other.
author's name in
of the message we
won't know where to send it.)