How to Ruin One’s Reputation in One Night

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Since the first day I met the group I would be traveling with during 75 days from Kenya to South Africa in November 2012, I believed I had a good reputation as a naturalist. My guide, Ishi, was working officially as one for the first.

He had done most of the journey as a trainee, and now he was an official guide. There was a girl in the group, a less than 30 year old Irish woman, whom unfortunately wasn’t really interested in wildlife, she was even scared of birds!

When he introduced the bus we would be traveling in and basic rules, he declared that any questions regarding wildlife would be directed to me.

I was delighted. And so, during the entire journey… I spent the next 7 weeks answering questions, identifying birds, removing snakes from tents, rescuing insects and more. My friends really made fun of me, for example, they always asked me what was that bird we would encounter very often; which was the marabou stork, a large wading bird.

I always answered until I realized that they all knew the answer… they just wanted to ask me every single time and made a inside joke about it! During the safaris, I sat next to the guides, to be able to ask them questions by pointing to the small bids we had seen ask what they were.

My traveling companions were only interested in bigger and well-known animals, but they were patient and didn’t get mad much at the thousands of stops we had to make for every little birdie and plant I wanted to see.

I shared a tent with an Australian woman. Kaz, with whom I became good friends. The only problem was that she had nightmares some nights and talked or screamed during her sleep. That really scared me, to the point that I had to change tent mates for a while.

She screamed so loudly that I honestly thought that somebody was attacking her, and almost felt I would had a heart attack! We still remained friends, of course, as long as our beds were far from one another!

One night, we were camping along the shore of the lake Naivasha, in Kenya.

There were a lot of hippopotamus close, since they were considered to be dangerous, an electric fence was installed between the lake and the camp. By night, we went to see them eat by the shore without fear, since they knew the risk of being electrocuted.

We went to sleep with peace of mind.

After midnight passed, we felt something rubbing the tent and woke up. We stayed listening a little bit and them went back to sleep. After a while, we felt a big animal walking in front brushing the tent, heard steps and noises!

My friend and I started screaming, very scared… to the point where she screamed for help. We opened the door of the tent to see what was going on. The driver, Dave, who was sleeping in the truck cabin, came running and didn’t see anything, us neither. We stayed a while talking, trying to see what type of animal it was.

We heard dogs barking in the distance… and the animal had maybe headed in that direction. Dave went back to sleep and we stayed talking with the other guys of the group who came back from the bar.

I tried to explain what had happened, telling them a big animal was there, and that if we were in North America, it would have probably been a bear and I would have told not to get close.. Now they said they were afraid too and we accompanied each other to the bathroom and to our tents. Then we settled in our tents and finally spent the night.

I did think about the whole situation a lot, meaning the what animal it could have been, reviewing mentally my mammal guide, taking into consideration the area we were in… The next week, I saw domestic swine strolling around and came to the conclusion that that was the mysterious animal.

David said it was a joke orchestrated by my travel companions. Kaz and I didn’t agree, and replied that we knew animals very well and it was definitely one at that time. Kaz is a volunteer for kangaroo rescues and more Australian wildlife and she is very interested in learning about African wildlife.

We resumed our journey, everybody was asking about our midnight adventure.

The following day, on our route, one of the guys in the small group that came back from the bar that night called my name from the other side of the truck. Since the seats were all facing inward, we could all see each other. Sometimes we could play trivia games and change places. Sometimes we played music and even danced, or we even sometimes all watched from the window.

Since we were traveling more than 15 000 kilometers (9320 miles approximately), the truck was like our house.

That guy told me:

“Helena, what does this noise remind you of?”, and he started imitating the infamous animal that supposedly attacked us! My brain took a few minutes to understand what was happening, and during that time, the other guys started dying of laughter!

They had planned the whole joke while coming back from the bar, and we totally fell for it. Dave was right all along, and he reproached us that at some times during our travel. They even went as far as hide in the bathroom to laugh while we were talking with Dave.

Our guide Ishi knew everything, since the guys told him the next morning, for fear that he would go and complain to the camp’s owner for putting us in a dangerous environment.

Kaz and I couldn’t believe it and swore to take our revenge (which never happened). And there went my reputation… from that day and on, they accused me of being so naive, telling everyone I knew everything about animals and saying it was a bear!

Now the driver didn’t believe me when I told him I saw a special animal, unless I showed him a picture… and even once, someone had the nerve to leave a book in my tent opened at the page explaining what to do when attacked by a bear!

We laughed so much remembering that ridiculous story! And for me, it was the first time that I was really afraid of an animal in Africa, except that, it wasn’t really one…

Author: Helena Aroyo

Amelie Delobel

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