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Just For Fun Personal Travel

Meeting Charlie: an awkward encounter in South Africa

Do not run, do not run; the words echo around my head, words spoken a few moments earlier in a rushed hiss by our ranger. Easier said than done when a fully-grown bull elephant with pointy looking tusks is, for lack of a better term, starting on you. Honeymooning amongst South Africa’s glorious nature, we had arrived at our spectacular safari lodge in a haze; partially excitement, partially the welcome glass of wine. This moment was supposed to be the crowning glory of my first ever safari: sundowner drinks as Charlie, said bull elephant, meandered past at a comfortable distance. I now see that I was a little too eager, perhaps another side-effect of that welcome glass of wine, to step away from the safety of the jeep, as nature, in her wily way, gave things an unpredictable twist. So here I am, huddled penguin-esque with four other people, three of them new acquaintances and one a new husband, marooned 30 metres from any form of shelter. Heart pounding, my panicked litany screams through my head. Do not run, do not run! Five tonnes of Charlie advances slowly, pausing often to glare at us. It turns out that most animals can sense your fear, and elephants are particularly sensitive, so you have to do your best to appear confident and fearless…fat chance of that, Charlie is big and unimpressed by our, somewhat quaking, presence. Our ranger, cool, calm and collected takes charge, stamping a foot towards the bewildered elephant and opening his arms wide. “Back away slowly” he commands, almost dancing in his intimidation tactics. Inch by inch, step by step, as one we claw our way back to the jeep, heave ourselves in and release a collective breath that’s been held for who knows how long. Held at bay, Charlie watches warily, only starting forward after our ranger has swung himself back into the driver’s seat. Cautiously, curiously Charlie saunters around us, trunk reaching and waving as he inhales unfamiliar scents, investigating what he finds before him. Satisfied, or unimpressed, he loses interest, turns his back and plods back into the grasslands. Over our much-needed sundowners, we could only assume that he was having a bad day.

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