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Day One



All things are difficult until they are easy    

--Thomas Fuller


After unpacking and getting organized, I made my way to the “Activity Center” where dinner was served. I’d later find out that Na’ankuse not only has a sanctuary, but they also have a reserve where game drives are possible. People often came to The Activity Center to book game drives if they were visiting for the day. The dining area, where we would eat, was also a restaurant open to the public on the weekends.


Several picnic tables sat on a large deck that overlooked the bush. A large watering hole sat about 50 feet from the deck, and I was thrilled to see a bunch of wild horses and a few warthogs stop by during dinner for a drink of water.

I liked the Activity Center immediately. Maybe because it had a proper bar and a much nicer pool than the one I’d seen earlier. It also felt a bit more upscale versus camp-like. It felt what I'd imagined safari to be like.


Dinner was buffet style, and I dined with a nice, older couple from Belgium. I don’t remember much about my first meal. I was nervous, and trying hard not to try too hard, so I kept my focus on my Belgian dining companions. They liked to talk, which was fine by me, and I listened to all the things they’d experienced to date. Hedda and Eeva joined us as well, and it turned out to be a nice evening.

After the first of many incredible sunsets, we were all ready to retire for the evening. Hedda, Eeva and I walked back to our tents – in the dark. Each of us had small torchlights, but it was odd to walk through completely open space, while pitch black, unsure of the level of danger in which we were putting ourselves.


As we reached their tent, I realized I’d have to walk to mine solo, and that scared the crap out of me. I’m one of those typical idiots who hates to ask for help, remember? If I’d learned anything from my prideful misstep in Johannesburg, it was to get over myself and ask for assistance.


“Uh, do you think you guys could walk me to my tent? I’m not sure I have the courage to go at it alone.”


I felt vulnerable and humbled – two things I normally try to avoid at all costs. But it was Africa, and I was in the middle of the wilderness. Hedda and Eeva quickly agreed to honor my request. As we walked toward my tent, we had a laugh over how none of us would want to walk alone at night. I was so grateful to them for that small act of kindness, it was the first of many times I would put myself out there and in the hands of strangers.


Back in my tent, I prepared for bed and read the pamphlet. That we’d be tested on its contents made me hate the pamphlet. And Cornè. Despite that, I learned when meals were served; that Sundays were free days except for feeding the animals; and the canned horn in my tent was meant for fires. I hadn’t thought about fires and didn’t really want to right before climbing into bed, so I pushed it out of my mind, popped an ambien and went to sleep.

I had to pee in the middle of the night, which meant venturing outside. I got up, grabbed my torchlight and made my way to the bathroom door. Grabbing a roll of toilet paper on the shelf next to the door, I flicked on the outside light and headed to the toilet. I sat there, marveling at the weirdness of it all – surrounded by nylon walls, with the stars above me. The stillness was palpable and the odd sounds of who knows what were everywhere.


And then I heard it. The buzzing. Faint, at first, and then louder. What the? Were there drones here? And then…WHAP! Something flew into my head. WHAP! WHAP! Things were hitting me like Ping-Pong balls. Leaping from the toilet, I ran for cover as whatever was assaulting me grew in numbers.


Safely inside, I was freaked out and hell-bent on making sure none of my assailants had followed me. They didn’t, but they wanted in as they threw themselves against the soft walls of my tent with a fury that made me think of a locust attack. Let’s just say going back to sleep wasn’t easy.


Later I would learn the “drones” were Beetle Bugs -- nasty little, hairy, hard-shelled insects that seem to enjoy pelting you every chance they get.

I'd made the mistake of turning on the outside light. Total rookie move! Of course they came for me. Luckily, I’m a fast-learner, because after that, I had a system: No lights inside or out, except for my torchlight. I’d get outside and check for snakes inside the toilet (more on this later). Once the bowl was clear, I’d set the light down away from the toilet, pee as quickly as possible before those damn bugs noticed the light, and run back inside. I didn’t flush or dry my hands. This was the true “business” part of doing my business.


When I decided to take this trip, I’d made a couple of promises to myself. The first was to always keep my sense of humor. My first night at Na’ankuse immediately put that to the test. The second was to be bold. Any by bold I meant saying yes to anything and everything – even if it scared me.


As I walked to breakfast the next morning, I was eager to finally get started and wondered exactly what lie ahead. So much so, I’d forgotten to put on sunscreen. That meant I had to run back to my tent and miss walking down to the main camp with the others.


I’d heard there was a shortcut but had no idea where it was. So in the spirit of being bold, I asked someone to point me in the right direction.


The woman I asked wasn’t particularly friendly or helpful.


“I think you can just go through those bushes and keep straight. But I haven’t been here that long, so I’m not 100% sure.”


Awesome.

More worried about being late to the big 8am meeting than getting lost, I thanked her and was on my way. I hated not knowing things and was quickly losing patience with myself for being so uncomfortable with asking for help. It was already hot, and the walk down wasn’t particularly difficult, but I was frustrated. This would be the first of so many moments where I had to remind myself to toughen up and keep it moving.


The small victory I felt when I spied the others up ahead on the dirt road leading to the main camp was gratifying for sure. I’d conquered a fear. While it was small, it was still something to celebrate inside. I would hold these victories close, no matter how large or small, as they would drive me through the things to come.

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