Stories dads tell

man being charged by rhino

Stories dads tell

Who goes there? Part 1

We all have unbelievable dad stories to tell, but I’m betting very few of you have dined out on a “remember when dad was chased by two rhino?” tale. By goodness. It is the stuff of legends!

There he is…intrepid Irishman now living in a small Zululand town, with my adventurous Irish mother. The ‘wilds of Africa’ are literally across the fence and life could not be more different. He’s no longer gliding about fancy hotels in Switzerland ensuring guests have enough caviar and champagne. Instead, in 1977, he’s the new Food and Beverage manager at the Holiday Inn in Hluhluwe. He’s surrounded by new friends, eccentric locals, and making sure that there’s enough meat on the braai to meet the average South African’s carnivorous needs.

On one nearly fatal day, my dad joined some guests for a game drive at a private game reserve. The game vehicles are full of happy tourists, some of whom will see their first wild African animal! And what a sight they come across, a couple of white rhino, mating. This really is a special sight. So special, that when the rhino decide that an audience is not required, the game ranger suggests they track the behemoths on foot. Dad and the others cautiously follow their ranger and head off into the bush.

But disaster lies ahead! Unbeknown to them, three game vehicles have pulled in, cutting the rhino off from their intended destination. The two animals do an about turn and thunder off in the direction from which they’ve come. Suddenly dad is no longer looking at the tail end of his quarry but is faced with two sets of very large horns coming his way.

The guests scatter, but none are in harm’s way, only dad who forgets all about the many trees he is meant to climb. He simply runs as fast as his legs will carry him and hopes like hell he will reach the vehicle. A shoe flies and a scream rents the air! Has someone been gored? No! he realises it is apparently the sound he makes when death is imminent. Thankfully, dad did make it back to that game vehicle in one piece.

But that left the story open for query. Did it really happen? Because frankly, this was the man who swore he towed ships across Durban harbour with his teeth! Evidence was required by scoffing daughters, and to our amazement, evidence was on hand.

One of the American tourists, who clearly had nerves of steel, managed to take a photo of dad with one angry rhino hot on his heels. He even caught dad’s shoe flying off into the undergrowth, and the second rhino fleeing the scene.

rhino chasing manWho goes there? Part 2

Fast forward 40-odd years and dad is back in the bush, driving his three daughters and friends around his own little game reserve. He knows the land well, but a few terrifying experiences with a group of very badly behaved elephants has him sticking to the roads he can do a quick u-turn on.

As we come to our favourite waterhole, dad begins to cross the dam wall. This is the best place to view the gaseous pod of hippo, the dainty impala, or the naughty elephants having a last drink of water. It’s normally a safe place. But not today.

Suddenly, our eyes are drawn to the road in front of us. Out of nowhere, a black rhino has appeared. He stands like a sentry, guarding the exit. This is not just any black rhino. It is a rhino with a serious attitude problem. He is cantankerous and mean. And none of us want to go past him. However, we can’t reverse. We have no choice but to carry on. Dad edges the vehicle slowly forward. So slowly that we all lose our fear and demand he puts foot. As we draw nearer, the rhino thankfully makes his way down the bank. Hallelujah! We all breathe deeply. We are safe.

Until we are not!

The black rhino changes his mind and hurtles back up the slope and chases after our vehicle. Dad is no longer on the dirt road. He is suddenly a rally driver, careening over bushes, barrelling into and out of dongas at breakneck speed. He’s trying to look ahead and behind at the same time, and six screaming females shouting instructions is not helping matters at all!

Finally, after what seems like kilometres, the rhino loses interest and with a snort, turns tail and trots down the hill. We all sit, shaken. Our hearts, which had shot out of mouths on the drive, roll around the dirty floor of the game vehicle gathering dust and grass. Finally, we all let out a wobbly breath, regain a sense of humour, and continue the drive.

We make for another small dam. It’s a beautiful quiet place, where birds skim the still waters, and terrapins catch a ride on the backs of hippo. The cry of a fish eagle fills us all with a sense of deep gratitude. How lucky we are to experience these wild spaces.

We make our way over the dam wall and out into the veld where the magic light has started to fall. Just ahead of us in an enormous white rhino. A small frisson of worry runs through the group, but we remind each other that white rhino are such docile creatures. Positively bovine, in fact. This one is no different.

Until it is not!

She lets us pass but then something undams her inner reservoir of rage. She begins to trot behind the vehicle with a gleam in her eyes. We shout for dad to go a little faster, but she keeps pace. For such an enormous creature, she is light on her feet. Then, she begins to run so fast that all four of those feet are either touching the ground or airborne. She’s no longer simply running after us but pursuing us with intent. While we stick to the road, she careens through the vegetation trying to intercept us as we come around the curves. She’s a slalom champion as she veers quickly from left to right with ease. The sounds emanating from the truck are akin to the prehistoric caws associated with a flock of hadeda flying overhead. This is no longer funny. The terror is real.

We come to a dip in the road, a dip deep enough for us to have to slow down: we are done for!

But as quickly as the tap was turned on, she turns it off. She skids to a stop. Gives us the beady eye, snorts, and trots off from whence she’d come. No doubt she returned to the dam for a long drink of water to ease her parched throat. And her quarry decided to follow suit, heading back to the house for a few stiff drinks to reset body and mind.