Short Stories

Deep Down
(3351 words)
Flight
(708 words)
The Fellowship of Butterflies
(2650 words)
OPUS CHRISTI
(1521 words)
Unusual Safari Sightings
(1171 words)

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Unusual Safari Sightings


Recently I went to visit Niokola Koba National Park, in the eastern part of Senegal, an eight hours hot and dusty drive from Dakar. At the end of this long journey, my friend and I arrived at the park entrance. This consisted of a small number of huts and, an officious looking brick building, the Europeanised version of an African hut. As usual, it was adorned with an official Senegalese flag. Getting the inevitable entrance tickets lead to a long palaver between the men, As a female counted as nothing more than mere chattel. After interminable discussions, we had spent $200, in return for several slips of grubby paper, which gave us the right of passage into the interior of the park. A sort of guide hitched a lift with us to the campsite. As it turned out, he was a poor relative of the camp cook.

While driving on the washed out park trail, in a tiny Peugeot not exactly suited for the task of Bush exploration, my friend asked our hitchhiking guest how far we were from the camp. He wanted to know how long it would take to get there. He assured us it was only a matter of minutes. After thirty minutes, the Bush only got thicker and the trail more desolate and the potholes deeper. We cautiously inquired how much further it was to the camp. The stoic and reassuring reply was: "A few more minutes!". Another thirty minutes went by, and we had meanwhile clocked up more than thirty kilometers and still there was no camp in site. My head felt sore from the many times it hit the roof as my friend tried to avoid the worst of the potholes. An eerie silence continued for another forty-five minutes with night falling fast. Finally, we turned a corner and there it was a site to behold, our camp.

It was not exactly what I had expected. I dreamt of the sleek safari lodges of Kenya and South Africa. But what slowly came into my view was half a dozen round, African thatched roof huts with a larger communal hut to one side of the compound. It stood on the bank overlooking the Gambia River, and some green looking freshwater pond, which turned out to be the swimming pool. It was home, at least for the next few days. We checked in and were allocated one of the thatched hovels. These turned out to be quite comfortable. Of course, one had to disregard the columns of ants migrating across the concrete floor and the three or four geckos, the small African lizards that shared our room. The dinner that night was uneventful but surprisingly good. An exotic touch added by the snorting of a group of hippopotamuses wallowing in the river water a few yards from the dinner table. By ten o’clock the joy suddenly ended when the only generator stopped supplying electricity and inevitably we had to call it a night.

The following morning, we rose prior to daybreak to ride off into the animal kingdom. We rode on the back of an old French world war two Army vehicle. It was still dark when we left the camp and except for the driver and local tracker, my friend and I were alone on the truck. Apparently, the few other guests in the camp had left the night before. The big attraction in the park was Lions, who might have been around had it not been the end of the dry season. They preferred to hunt along the river banks, and we saw some at a great distance, straining our eyes, even with powerful binoculars. The guide reassured us that we could see them quite close-up, at night, if we dared, since they had a habit of wandering through the camp. I began to wonder if the local food supply was so scarce that even a skinny female tourist like myself could provide an appetising meal. Our flimsy hut door did not look as if it would provide much protection from a large, hungry, determined cat. What I first thought to be a tall tale by the guide was confirmed quite vividly by the big paw print we discovered not too far from our hut the next morning.

Again, we were up before dawn to spend another day roaming by truck and on foot around the bush in search of the ever elusive game. Warthogs, baboons, gazelles, antelopes, hippos and crocodiles were around us in abundance. Looking at some many animals in heat and humidity exhausted me. A few hours later we returned to the camp. We noticed a large number of land cruisers and military vehicles in the centre of the camp. On entering the communal hut with the restaurant, we were informed that the local governor and his large entourage was making an inspection tour. Not being too interested in local political dignitaries I returned to my quarters for a siesta. In my half-sleep, I heard a lot of noise from moving vehicles, which I assumed to be the departure of the governor and his entourage.

Some shouting woke me up an hour later, and I decided to go out and have a look around. As I came out of my hut, I noticed some more military vehicles, which, of course, I assumed to be part of the governor’s group. It was by now four or five in the afternoon and the heat had settled over the camp leaving everything covered in a thin coat of red dust. Suffering from heat and sleepiness I wandered slowly out and over the red dust that passed for the camp road to the communal compound. As I approaching the swimming pool, I crossed the campsite. I looked up, and to my great surprise there was a group of about forty attractive, short-haired, muscular and sun-tanned men standing near and around the swimming pool. They were just as surprised to see me. In fact, I noticed that everyone was staring at me and that everything had gone suddenly quite. Then I noticed that every man had on faded swimming trunks, or so I thought. Every colour of the rainbow was on display, and just like a rainbow, as pale and as faded; blue, red, yellow, green, white and yellow. Then, of course, it dawned I was staring at a group of forty French paratroops wearing nothing but their underwear. And what to do? What could one do? I tried not to appear too surprised but of course I was more than surprise. The last thing I expected to find on my safari along the Gambia river was the French army! Lions yes, men in only their underwear, never.

Later they disappeared and shortly after that reappeared on the bank of the Gambia neatly dressed in military khakis. Several officers inquired about my visit to the park, all the while I was trying to keep my mind on the topic rather than on their underwear.

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2008 scm (1171)


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