I feel slightly ridiculous at the front of this little conga formation but the elephant does seem to be moving nonchalantly along on his way now. And of one thing I’m certain: Nic van Rensburg’s judgment on matters of bush-survival should be accepted without question. After all, it’s possible that he’s already saved my life once today.
We were trekking through the spectacular region of savanna, riverine forest and inselberg (island mountain) outcrops that make up Niassa National Reserve. I wanted to take a short detour off the track to photograph one of the eye-catching rock formations that are a feature of Mozambique’s biggest park.
“Just keep an eye out for leopards and snakes,” Nic called.
I’d been scanning unsuccessfully for leopard spoor since we’d set out that morning: “Chance would be a fine thing,” I thought.
I’d also noticed that this was ideal snake country, but if Nic hadn’t put the idea to the front of my mind, I probably wouldn’t have seen the 9ft black mamba that lay across my path. Nic had already told me about a poacher he’d been tracking who died within hours of being bitten by the world’s most unpredictably aggressive snake.
We move quickly away — and move quicker still when we hear the irritated grunt of a lioness from just the other side of a little hillock. The grunt is not yet an outright roar but the lioness probably has her cubs in a den there and she’s giving us fair warning that this is not a good place for trekkers to stick around.
There’s something particularly thrilling about trekking in Niassa’s untamed wilderness and — after dodging the snake, the lion and the elephant — I’m particularly wary as we approach the foot of another inselberg. I notice that Nic’s tracker, Feliciano, has fallen well behind our little marching column.
“The local people believe that the rock paintings are bad muti [magic],” Nic explains, as we scale the rock face to see the mysterious ochre-coloured etchings. “The official story is that they were done by pigmies about 4,000 years ago — which I reckon is pretty magical in itself.”
Nic has spent the past five years in this area, guiding international tourists from the beautiful Lugenda Wilderness Camp, but he still occasionally lapses into an amusing Afrikaans turn of phrase.
“Now be careful about how you climb back down,” he warns. “Turn around and come down on all sixes: use hands, feet and both butts…”