It was December of 2008. I was visiting Kruger alone and had spent the hottest part of the day before at a pool in the camp I was staying in. There happen to be another girl at the pool who was also alone and we chatted. She told me she was doing ant research in the park which I found fascinating. She also told me the harrowing story of hearing a leopard bark while checking her traps that morning. “A leopard bark?” I asked her. I never knew that a leopard barked. My new friend made the noise best she could and we discussed it for a while and the dangers a leopard posed.
The evening before....
My hut that night was on the perimeter of Mopani camp and that evening I saw elephants, kudu and more from my balcony while sipping on delicious South African wine. I thought about the ant researcher and how amazing her job was and jotted her description of a leopard bark in my journal.
The next morning I awoke at 3:30, made coffee and packed up to move on to my next camp. It was still dark outside at 4:15 when I was ready to go, wanting to be the first out of the gate to see what was awaiting. I came out of the hut and locked the door behind me with one of those keys I always have a hard time figuring out which way to put into the lock and which way it is supposed to turn. After successfully locking the hut, I preceded on to the car park, which was a good distance away. I was rolling one bag and had a tote loaded with maps and books tossed on one shoulder; the other shoulder my camera bag was slung from. In my free hand, I held car keys and a thermos of coffee which had a flip top lid that was open at the time.
Sunset view in Mopani!
I was exactly half way between the hut and my car when I heard the very same bark that was described to me just the day before. I froze on the trail then heard it again. A leopard! My heart and breathing stopped as I tried to figure out where the predator was; in camp or outside of camp. I didn’t ponder that long knowing I had to make a quick decision to save my life. I was either going to make a mad dash back to the hut or for my car. I remember thinking it would take me longer to figure out how to unlock the hut than to unlock the car so I ran for the car; my luggage flying in my breeze; camera bag flapping onto my back and coffee spilling everywhere from the open lid. When I got to the car, I opened the door and literally dove into the front seat pulling all of my bags in on top of me and shutting the door in a flurry, my heart visibly beating out of my chest.
A great Mopani Hut!
There I sat in the passenger seat of the car (because in my hurry I forgot which side of the car the steering wheel was on) peering over my rolling bag, tote and camera bag that were piled on my lap, the thermos still in my hand but with little coffee left in it since the coffee was all over me including dripping from my hair.
Once I regained my composure I laughed until I cried.
It took me a bit of time to gather myself and get cleaned up from the situation. I was not the first out of the camp that morning but the point seemed moot…, I had already had quite enough excitement for one day!