Crocodile Attack

Location

Destination: 

Pongola river

Country: 

South Africa
Trip Participants

Participants: 

Paul Marais
Andrew Luke
Sharron Reynolds
Jono Heher
Sanjay Bhowandas
Lewis Coosner

 … 2008/12/14, Sunday … I said my prayers early this morning but with added concentration and request for protection of the rafting group. I’ve already been on one E.S.S.A. expedition that, though it turned out exciting and memorable, could have been disastrous. I wasn’t going to see Stray for a few days. Although I was running a bit late I took her out for a stroll before heading for Melville to meet with Mr Luke. I was a minute away from his place when he called to check on my progress. We parked my car in his driveway and than left for what was expected to be a relaxed paddle down the Pongola River …

 

… ‘Would you like a Hunter’s Gold?’ I considerately asked Mr Luke as we approached the traffic light in Westcliff. By no means was I promoting drinking and driving, but the morning was already warming up and I didn’t think one chilled drink would affect Mr Luke’s driving.

 

 

Our first nights camp

 

 

‘Once we’re on the open road. Thank you Sanjay.’ he replied as he answered a call on his mobile. I concealed my bottle of alcohol but Mr Luke wasn’t too bothered as the police van drove past whilst the officer waved a cautionary finger at him.

Mr Luke had convinced me to join him on a rafting trip down a stretch of the Pongola River, on the border of the Ithala Game Reserve. Mr Luke hadn’t rafted this river before but he said it should be easy going and we may even get to see game along the river edge. December is generally an expensive month but I thought it would be nice to end the year on a recreational note, meandering down a lazy river …

… our breakfast stop was at a Wimpy in Volksrust, where we met Paul, Jono, Sharron and Lewis, the remainder of the rafting group. Whilst waiting for breakfast to be served, Jono made a list of I.C.E. (In Case of Emergency) contact names and numbers of everyone and SMS’ed it to Marna. After breakfast we consulted maps to ensure we were on the correct roads to Ithala. As we passed certain landmarks, Andrew explained to me the history of those places, as he had heard it from Paul who gave tours to historians interested in Anglo-Boer battlefields. We arrived at the Ithala entrance gate just after midday. We saw some game as we crawled down the gravel roads to the Pongola picnic area. When we stepped out of the cars we were smothered by the heat emanating from the scorched earth ...

… most people dabbed on another layer of sunscreen and than we offloaded the rafting gear from the trailer and cars. We moved the gear across a timber suspension bridge to a shaded spot closer to the river. Paul and Jono had a look at the water level in the river. They felt the amount of water flowing was low but raftable. Andrew and Lewis had to drop off Lewis’s car at a take-out point on a farm some 25km down the river. Paul quickly got the cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, butter and rye bread out so that they could have lunch and get going. In between snacks we all wrapped our valuables in bin bags to protect them from getting wet on the river …

… Paul had said the drive to and back from the farm should take just over two hours. While Andrew and Lewis took the cars over the remainder of us pumped up the two crocs, made up food parcels for the various meals, packed the wet bags and two kayaks and then relaxed. Paul and Jono both got into their kayaks to check and adjust straps and other thingamajigs. I must confess, I was surprised that Paul fit into his wetsuit, let alone the kayak. It was a snug fit but he squeezed in I regardless. Once they wriggled their way out the kayaks, they gave Sharron and I a demonstration of the various rafting signals.

‘ … and whatever you do, don’t lose your rafting paddle …’ was a point both of them stressed upon. Otherwise you get your partners and have to row for two …

… Paul raised the minor issue of crocodiles on this river. I thought he was attempting to scare Sharron and I a bit. Jono got out his new serrated flick knife. Paul also got out his dagger. I was bewildered and I’m sure Sharron must have been too. Earlier in the week I received an e-mail of a crocodile that had been captured and cut open to reveal the remains of a human body. No one had mentioned anything about crocodiles on this river before. Jono and Paul explained what signs to look out for in the murky water and what to do when we spotted crocodiles.

‘Do not go to the river edge unaccompanied and without a paddle to thwart the crocodile.’

‘When in the water and we come across crocs, everyone is meant to stick close together.’

And my favourite, ‘If anyone is attacked by a crocodile while we are on the river, everyone should hastily get to that person and assist them in any way possible.’

Sharron wasn’t too afraid so long as we didn’t come across any arachnids. Paul distracted me and got me to help him take some of the equipment down to the river edge. I scanned the banks to ensure there were no reptiles lurking in the area. A troop of monkeys distracted me further as they leaped from tree to tree. We rushed back to the top because we still had some equipment lying about and didn’t want to become victims of these rural pilferers …

… Andrew and Lewis were gone a long time. Sharron, Jono and Paul were having a discussion while I laid on a bench and watched as a troop of monkeys frolicked in the tangle of branches above. It took Andrew and Lewis almost double the time Paul had anticipated. As soon as they returned we all went down to the riverbank and prepared to get onto the water. Lewis and Andrew had bought some Coke for us which was a welcome sugar boost. Paul was in Kayak 007, Jono was in Kayak Fluid, Sharron and Lewis in Croc 8 and Andrew and I in Croc 9. Andrew and I were the last to push off the riverbank as Andrew still had to adjust his life preserver straps. I forgot to ask if he had his bush knife on him ...

… Once in the water it didn’t take long before we approached our first minor rapid. I kept my eyes open for any sign of crocodiles. I should have paid attention to the rocks as well because we drifted sideways into some boulders and I got tossed out the raft. Due to the water level being so low I managed to get to my feet and back into the raft quickly. Andrew also took bit of a spill. In the process of tumbling through the water my left foot sandal slipped off. I had forgotten to tighten the straps before getting into the raft. I wasn’t too concerned. Something told me I would get that sandal back further down the river. The experience reminded me to take my spectacles off when we approached other rapids to come. Once we were on stagnant water again my senses were peaked for signs of crocodiles.

… the towering cliffs and steep mountains we passed were awesome. Without doubt, the best way to see and appreciate them was from the river. More impressive was the dense vegetation grappling with the rocks and earth. As strong and hard as we believe rocks to be, flora have a delicate yet destructive way of making them crumble into stones and pebbles. Stones we could use to project at opportune crocodiles. Soon enough we paddled up to a clearing on the riverbank and pulled out the rafts and kayaks, always keeping a look out for crocodiles. It was difficult though since the water was so muddy, perfect cover for a hungry crocodile. We could have paddled further but Paul said crocodiles were most likely to attack at sunrise and sunset. And we required some light to set up camp and ensure we were not encroaching on any crocodiles’ habitat …

… as we got everyone out the river I noticed a familiar looking object floating down the river. It was my sandal. Fortunately it followed us down the river. Andrew and I got back into Croc 9 and retrieved it. Little did I know how beneficial that sandal would turn out to be. When we got back to the riverbank most of the group had disappeared for an appointment with Mother Nature. Sharron wanted to go to the river to wash her hands but Paul was adamant no one was to go unaccompanied. Paul got a fire going while Jono experimented with his water purification kit. Later Paul and Lewis went down to the river edge, paddle in hand, to get some water for supper, for Sharron to wash her hands and for drinking. Sharron, Andrew and I pitched the tents and than hung our wet clothing out to dry. A herd of cattle moseyed by to see what we were doing in their rest camp …

… on the menu tonight, Paul prepared spaghetti and a fusion of vegetables and spicy tomato and herb sauce. Everybody was pleased with the supper. Than it was drinks time. I had forgotten to bring along a cup so I fashioned one out of an empty Coke plastic bottle and used that for the remainder of the trip. Sharron had brought along some beers, JW Black Label whiskey and biltong. Everyone except Paul and I had some. Lewis and I kept the fire going while stories of past trips and events were recalled. Paul even shared his vast knowledge of Hindu culture, tradition and head nodding with me. Were it not for his Caucasian skin he would fit right in with the *bhais. In the distance lightening could be seen striking out in the clouds above. Unfortunately the clouds also obscured a view of any stars. After a few drinks everyone headed for the comfort of their sleeping bags. Sharron, Andrew and Paul slept outside with the herd of cows beneath the clouds while everyone else slept inside the tents. One of the members sleeping outside ensured that though we couldn’t see any stars, a full moon would still make it’s debut  …

… early next morning Paul had the fire going and some water on the boil. I said a prayer whilst dosing in and out of slumber. It was still overcast and looked like we may receive some blessings later in the day. Jono purified some of the water from the river so that we could drink it along the way. We had some breakfast, took down the tents, dabbed on some sunscreen and repacked the rafts. We inflated Croc 8, Sharron & Lewis’s croc a bit more and went paddling down the river once again. I ensured that my sandals were tightly strapped this time. It wasn’t long before we could hear the babbling of the first rapid of the day. I tucked my spectacles away before we got onto it and we went bouncing along, trying to avoid protruding and marginally submerged boulders that may slow, stop or overturn our croc ... * bhai - brother

… Once we got through the rapids and onto the slower sections of the river we all kept an eye out for signs of crocodiles. Paul was usually ahead of the group, setting the pace and assessing the way forward. Jono ensured everything was fine in the back and the two crocs stayed in between. Paul was the first to spot a crocodile. None of us saw it though. Paul was also the first to take a tumble into the river today. It was good practice for him to work on his kayak rolls, though he said because the river was so shallow in the rapids it wasn’t very safe doing so …

… as we paddled through one of the slower sections of the river I noticed a ripple being created ahead of us, much like a boat creates in the front of it’s bow, except there was nothing on the surface and no wind. Than the snout emerged followed by the eyes of the crocodile. It looked at us and submerged within less than three seconds. Probably much like the crocodile Paul saw. As expected no one believed that I saw a croc either, but we stayed close together just in case. Further down the river Andrew and Jono saw crocs too and Paul spotted them more frequently. We also came across many shallow rapids that led us to get out of the crocs and drag them along. I was grateful for having both sandals now because the rocks we stumbled upon were very slippery. Fortunately they were rounded and not sharp as to pierce the flesh. The landscape was also ever changing and inspiring. The indigenous vegetation got denser and we only came across a handful of drinking areas for game. We saw some Waterbuck, a Fish Eagle and Kingfisher along the way. We also saw a pair of ducks and their ducklings. The parent ducks lured us away from the ducklings by pretending to be injured in the water. Once we were a safe distance away from the ducklings the ducks comfortably took off from the water and flew back to them …

… I’m not sure but I think it was Sharron that got Andrew to sing a song for us. And which song does Mr Luke choose? ‘Don’t smile at a crocodile …’. We laughed but Jono thought Andrew was tempting fate. Soon we came across a rapid that looked ominous. It picked up pace and we couldn’t see the end. All of us except Jono climbed out onto the riverbank to scout it out. Jono decided to continue down the rapid. We didn’t see him for a considerable amount of time and got worried. Fortunately he emerged standing atop one of the rocks and directed us to come down the rapid. The guys all took the opportunity to relieve themselves than we boldly paddled into the most exciting rapid for the day thus far. There were lots of sharp turns, little eddy’s and powerful paddling required. Everyone emerged unscathed. After that burst of energy we all pulled into an eddy and dragged our crocs and kayaks out for a well-deserved break. We replenished our body with liquids, had some energy snacks, some of us posed for scenic photo shots and than we got our aching muscles massaged by the rounded boulders while we lay upon them …

… Paul, Jono and Andrew checked the maps to determine where we were on the river before we pushed off again. It was about an hour before we expected to pull out again for lunch. There were many lengthy stretches of slow moving and shallow rapids along this section. We also came across crocodiles more frequently. At one point we saw two juvenile crocodiles race into the river. I found it unbelievable how fast they hopped across the pebble covered riverbank. Usually you only see them tanning in the sun. This occurrence made us all weary again and we stayed close to one another. When we passed the area where the crocodiles entered the muddy waters there was no sign indicating where they may be beneath us …

… you couldn’t see more than a few centimeters below the waters surface. We all briskly paddled to get away from the area. After a few shallow rapids we drifted into a gloomy looking section of the river. Paul was a few meters ahead of Andrew and I. He casually rotated his kayak to the right to see how everyone else was coming along …

… we saw his kayak strangely lift off the water. Paul warned us of a crocodile ahead. His kayak lifted again, this time much higher. Andrew and I paddled towards Paul. Paul quickly paddled upstream, away from us towards the riverbank. I thought we were meant to stay close together. I hoped Andrew had a Rambo survival knife out and was ready to use it. To my right I could see the others had already got to the riverbank and someone was yelling for us to do likewise. Sharron said she was trying to paddle towards us but Lewis kept her back with good intention. Croc 9 was perpendicular to the flow of water, slowly dragging the rear where Andrew was seated, ahead. I felt something moving on the plastic bottom of Croc 9 and got my paddle out the water. I looked around the nose of the Croc 9. A few feet to the left I saw the eyes and snout of the crocodile that had lifted Paul’s kayak. Andrew recalls seeing the tail at the same time so we later estimated it to be 2,5 to 3,0m long. Not a little fella. It looked directly back at me. It was only a second or two and the crocodile disappeared beneath the surface again. I felt something tug downwards on the left side of Croc 9 and noticed that I was sinking. My thoughts were racing as the nose of Croc 9 sunk lower with each passing moment.

‘Just don’t slip into the water!’ I thought.

My trustee sandals gripped the wet plastic floor well and fortunately Andrew was already back paddling. We quickly got to the vegetation-covered riverbank. Survival instinct took over. I left my paddle in Croc 9, hopped over the gear between Andrew and I and onto the riverbank, thankfully without slipping. I expected to see Andrew on the riverbank already but he wasn’t there. I looked into the muddy water and saw him struggling to get onto the elevated riverbank. Immediately I thought the worst had happened & the crocodile had got a vice-grip his legs ...

… my view of the others was obscured by the thick vegetation but I could hear them shouting for us to get out of the water. I didn’t waste any time in getting down to Andrew. I grabbed him by his life preserver and pulled with all my might, knocking the back of my head on an overhanging branch in the process. Once both of us were out the water I retreated to higher ground. Andrew was still wrestling with the overhanging branch but eventually got to higher ground. Both of us were nervously pleased to be out of the water and away from the edge. I don’t compliment mans’ legs but I was happy to see Andrew had both of his even though he had a nasty bleeding gash on his left knee. After a few breaths of relief I heard the others yelling at us to get the paddle. I was skeptical about getting close to the river edge again, especially since I had to lean over and in towards the water. But I managed to get to the paddle. Andrew suggested we get the raft out of the river as well before it drifted away or before the crocodile ripped into it again. It was very difficult with the vegetation in the way. It also felt like Croc 9 was being held back. Eventually when we got it out we found that the nose of the deflated croc had filled with water from a huge rip in the front left side. The rip was so big Croc 9 could not be repaired with the kit we had brought along and was no longer of use to us ...

… Andrew gazed back into the river and saw his bottle of Bon Aqua floating away. He politely asked if I wouldn’t mind retrieving it for him. It crossed my mind that the crocodile was still somewhere in the water below and since the others were still out of sight they wouldn’t know should he accidentally slip back into the river …

… the others rushed over to us and checked if we were physically okay. Mentally we were all a bit shaken up by what had transpired in the spate of a few seconds. This is merely my recollection of what happened. It is difficult to say precisely what occurred in such a short and adrenalin filled period. Jono, Lewis and Sharron probably have a better perspective of what happened ahead of them. We took some time to ponder what action to take in light of the situation we now found ourselves in. We were on the wrong side of a crocodile infested river and any thoughts of rafting further down the river would be tempting fate. While the other scouted upstream for a way across the river, Sharron and I saw signs that the crocodile was still waiting in the river. Rafting was thus out of the question for anyone. Besides which, Andrew and Lewis said that the farmer they had left Lewis’s car with had warned them that the crocodiles in the river were growing both plentiful & larger the closer we got to the weir, which was our pull-out point …

… hence it was decided that we would cross upriver over two sections of river and get back into the Ithala Game Reserve. Once across two members of the group would try to get in contact with civilization and hopefully get assistance for the remainder of the group. Slowly we transported the gear and Croc 9 from where we had dragged it out to further up the river where we thought it would be safer to cross over. Sharron stood with a paddle in hand. I stood with some rocks to throw while Jono and Andrew let out a rope as Paul and Lewis quickly paddled across the river with the rope in tow. Once across they tied a rope to the other end and we pulled Croc 8 back to our side. Sharron and I were the next to go across with some of the gear. Sharron sat in front and was a bit slow to get out on the other end. I bounced out like a croc was after my behind. We unloaded Croc 8 and Jono and Andrew pulled it back to their side. There was bit of a discrepancy whether or not to retrieve Croc 9. Paul was not willing to abandon it just yet. Jono and Andrew loaded Croc 9 and the remainder of the gear into Croc 8. They tied their end of the rope to the kayaks and we pulled them across. We lugged everything to the other section of river and repeated the process till we got back into Ithala Game Reserve …

… once across Lewis found a tree we could relax under. Again we hauled everything across. It was draining but it had to be done. Paul, Lewis and I returned to the river edge to fill bottles with water. Than we had some lunch to replenish our strength while recollecting what took place less than an hour ago. Everyone was calmer, even though we now found ourselves in the bundu’s with unknown wild animals and reptiles lurking in the thick bushes. While having lunch Jono got out his water purification kit and worked his magic on the river water. Paul and Andrew perused through the maps again while Lewis tried repairing his decrepit sandals. I got out my shoes and offered him the use of my sandals but they wouldn’t fit. Once the water bottles were ready Paul and Andrew took a tent, some food and clothing and Lewis’s car keys and headed for the hills in search of the gravel road. Jono followed them briefly with his kayak upon his shoulder. We agreed to head in their direction and move all the gear 200m at a time ...

… having put down his kayak, Jono followed in Paul and Andrew’s general direction into the bushes. He discovered that the route they were taking grew steeper, denser and more perilous. So we took the gear we had already moved back to the tree. Jono and I ventured into the thick bush and looked for anything that resembled a human path. There were many animal paths, but no definite human path. So Sharron lazed on Croc 9, Jono and Lewis sat under the shade of the tree and I made myself comfortable upon Croc 8. It was no use wasting energy running about aimlessly …

… as the sun began setting we heard Paul and Andrew returning. They appeared out of the bushes like a mirage. Fortunately they managed to find the gravel road, but it was a long way off and there was no clear path to it. They also told us of all the crocodiles they could see in and along the river from the top of the hill. It was a good thing we got out when we did. Paul looked strong as a rhino but Andrew looked like he had multiple shaving accidents on his legs. Paul suggested we move all the gear 200m at a time as originally suggested, towards a clearing closer to the gravel road. We wasted no time and everybody lugged as much as they could carry in the direction Paul suggested. It was tough work but everybody put their shoulder to the boulder and moved the gear, crocs and kayaks. We made a few trips before we eventually got to a clearing Paul suggested we could camp at. Our rafting expedition had suddenly become a hiking expedition. We needed water for cooking and drinking so Paul, Jono and I headed to the river with a pot, empty water bottles and two paddles in hand. Sharron followed us shortly to get water to wash her hands. We walked a long way upriver to get to some rapids where there was less likelihood of crocodiles waiting to ambush us. The rounded rocks we hopped upon were not comfortable and Sharron had enough. While we weren’t looking she opted to take a chance with the crocodiles and filled up her bag of water. We continued further up where we thought it safe and filled up …

… back at camp the tents had been put up and firewood was being gathered. Paul got out his benzene canister and got a fire going for the cooking. Sharron also got out her hip flask of JW Black Label whiskey and Lewis got out his bottle of Glenfiddich. After all we’d been through I didn’t say no to either. In fact the whiskey was most welcome by all except Paul. He preferred trying to figure out how I ‘levitated’ off the water and got onto the bank before Andrew did. The group couldn’t understand why I didn’t whack the crocodile when it raised its head. I amicably explained to them, Paul especially, that as a practicing Hindu I attempt to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s practice of Satyagraha – non-violence. I do struggle with it though and if the crocodile did get a hold of me well, *‘Jho hano tha, hooega!’. Either I would become crocodile meat or, you could call me ‘Crocodile Gandhi’ from than on. Everybody cracked jokes about how I was going to explain to my family, friends, passengers and directors why I was late in getting back, again. Andrew was just glad he didn’t have to drive to Lenz this time to give an explanation. We didn’t want to have to lie so somebody suggested we say that we had an irreparable puncture and as a result had to get off the river earlier than expected and hike. It was the truth, just not the entire truth …

* ‘Jho hona tha, hooega!’ – Kē cera cera – What must be, will be.

… on the menu tonight, Paul & Sharron prepared humus and an ensemble of vegetables and tasty tomato and herb sauce. Everybody was content with the supper though Jono found it a bit too spicy for his palate. With my exception, all the others would have preferred dining on a thick, juicy crocodile steak. There was even talk of having a re-union dinner at Carnivores. We were all very tired. Before heading off to sleep Paul and Andrew warned us about the illusive ‘Lead Piper’. In the morning we would know whom they were referring to. Unfortunately tonight was cloudy again and we couldn’t see the stars. It looked like it would rain so everybody crawled into one of the two tents. That night we all slept like logs …

… as usual, Paul was up before all of us. He went in search of a path that would get us to the gravel road. Unfortunately all the paths he came across were made by animals. When the rest of us eventually made it out of the tent we discovered what Paul and Andrew meant by the illusive ‘Lead Piper’. All of our bodies were aching from the slog we did yesterday. I even had difficulty just rolling to the side whilst sleeping. It wasn’t painful, just agonizing. When Paul returned we had breakfast and than he, Andrew, Jono and Lewis headed back into the bushes. Paul and Andrew took along sleeping gear, a tent and some food in case they had to spend another night in the wilderness. Before they left Andrew spotted people at the opposite side of the river edge. They were just local herdsmen fishing. After the four left, Sharron and I packed up bags, tidied camp and shifted most of the remaining gear to higher ground. As we did so it began lightly drizzling. The clouds slithered over the surrounding mountains and looked beautifully mystifying. I kept the fire going, primarily for the smoke so that it would be easier for Jono and Lewis to make their way towards us. With not much else to do Sharron and I lazed inside the tent. The ‘Lead Piper’ may have eluded us but he certainly left an impression upon us. So Sharron and I decided to take a stroll down to the riverbank and see if we could communicate with the herdsmen. Unfortunately the vegetation was too thick and though we could hear the herdsmen we couldn’t see them. All that was left to do was wait for the other four …

… after some time we heard Jono and Lewis returning. They gave us a brief of distance and terrain we had to traverse in order to get to the gravel road. We were told to only take essential gear and we would stash everything else. We deflated Croc 8 and rolled it up, distributed some food, water, rescue equipment and the tent amongst us and headed back into the bush. Jono and Lewis were wise enough to mark the path with little cairns, broken twigs and scrape marks in the sand. That made the return trip easier to navigate. Somewhere in the midst of the bushes we stopped so that Jono and Lewis could go down to the river and refill empty water bottles. Jono wanted us to wait for them but we found that they had marked the path well enough to continue. Once they disappeared into the bushes Sharron and I continued lifting and shifting the gear till we came to adequate clearings along the marked path. We went quite a distance before Jono and Lewis joined us again. From there it wasn’t very far to the gravel road. It took us approximately an hour, with stops, to get to the road. We decided to have a quick tea and sandwich and than head back to get some of the remainder of the gear. As we snacked on cheese, tomato and Ryvita’s we heard a Landrover making it’s way towards us. It was Paul and Andrew along with three game rangers come to our rescue …

… Paul and Andrew explained how they got to the top of one of the hills and through some intricate maneuvering managed to get a cell phone signal and send a distress call to Marna. Marna contacted the Game Reserve and explained the situation to them. They in turn arranged for three Game Rangers to help get us and the gear out. Marna also contacted the people on the I.C.E. list and explained the situation to them. Meanwhile all the men and two Game Rangers went back to retrieve the remainder of the gear. The Game Rangers took us on a slightly different path that they were familiar with. Andrew explained to me how fortunate they were in meeting with the Rangers because they were at an impasse and were about to head in what seemed like the logical path when the Rangers came along on the other one. The way back to the gear only took us approximately 40 minutes. When the Game Rangers saw the two kayaks they were hesitant to carry them but quickly hoisted them and disappeared back into the bushes. Paul and Jono were glad not to have to carry them. We distributed the remainder of the gear amongst us and headed back to the gravel road …

… the drive to the camp in the back of the Landrover was very bumpy. We were grateful to have the Game Rangers and their Landrover to get us out of the bush. If we had to retrieve the gear and ourselves with Lewis’s Subaru 4x4 and the trailer we would definitely have found it dangerous and time consuming. We were a good few kilometers away from any sign of civilization. Somewhere along the way Sharron’s mobile phone came to life and the SMS’s came flooding in, as did the phone calls of concern. Lewis wrapped himself in a sleeping bag to keep warm and I kept one of the life preservers on. Everybody else was content with being cooled by the wind. Along the way we saw many animals and the scenery was spectacular. This was definitely one of the better game parks I’ve ever been to in terms of landscape. We dropped off two of the game rangers and than continued to the main camp. Paul had made arrangements for us to stay at a chalet for that evening. At the main camp we were greeted by one of the head rangers, Pieter. He needed to know what happened on the river. Paul and some of the others explained the events as they saw it. Pieter was surprised no one got injured. Paul went with him to get the keys for the chalet while we were driven up to the chalet and offloaded everything. When the Pieter returned with Paul we showed him the teeth marks and the rip where the crocodile had got a hold of Croc 9. We re-enacted the events. He still couldn’t believe no one got injured or bitten by the crocodile. He told us of a poacher who was rumoured to have been eaten by a crocodile. And like the farmer where we had left Lewis’s car, he also said that the crocodiles close to where we were meant to pull out were a lot bigger and greater in number. The juvenile crocodiles were being forced further upriver. He could foresee more reports of crocodile attacks being made in months to come …

… it was too late to pick up Lewis’s car but Andrew went down to the Pongola picnic area to pick up his car with a ranger. Meanwhile everyone else had a welcome hot shower, a hot drink and something to eat. All those who had their mobile phones began receiving SMS’s and calls of concern from friends and family. I had to wait till Andrew returned with my phone before I could call anyone. Once again I had to tell my passengers to make alternate arrangements to get to work in the morning. I also contacted my father, and told him as briefly as possible, that we would be returning a bit late due to the ‘big puncture’. Having had a quadruple bypass recently I didn’t anymore stress from me was advisable ...

… unlike the Lesotho hike at least on this occasion I could contact people and have them make alternate arrangements and not get too concerned about me. Later we all went down to the restaurant for a well-deserved buffet supper. After supper, one of the members thought since we were living Life to the fullest it would only be appropriate that we all went for a skinny dip in the pool. After such a huge supper everyone else felt lethargic and opted instead to be pampered by the warmth and tenderness of a mattress and pillow. We sat in the chalet lounge reminiscing. Paul said one of the rangers asked why I hadn’t whacked the crocodile with my paddle. Now that I have time to recollect things I still don’t have a definite answer. Things happened so fast. Numerous possible reactions have been replayed in my head. But I reacted the way I did as did everyone else. Fortunately no one got injured or harmed. We all came away with all our body parts and some measure of sanity. In days to come I discovered that I had contracted *cellulitis somehow somewhere along the trip. Andrew also developed some infections and I’m sure other members, except Paul possibly, may have developed some form of infection. Things could have turned out much worse …

… had Paul been toppled over on either occasion, he may have become the crocodiles’ lunch. As Croc 9 sank, had I slipped into the water, or had the crocodile made another lunge at Croc 9, I may have become the crocodiles’ lunch. Had Andrew spent a few seconds longer in the river, he may have become the crocodiles’ lunch. Had any of the others paddled towards us, they could have been toppled and attacked. Had the crocodile merely bitten any one of us, it may have created a much more disastrous situation. There could also have been more than just one crocodile waiting for us in ambush. We all re-acted as we did. There is no right and there is no wrong. In my naïve Hindu opinion, I believe the crocodile and our guardian angels were merely giving us a warning to get out of the river at that junction. As Paul, Andrew, Pieter and the farmer all said, further down the river there are a lot more and larger voracious crocodiles. Don’t misunderstand me. I wouldn’t be foolish enough to jump back into the water again. When Mother Nature gives me a clear warning, one is all I need. Several years ago, and thanks to E.S.S.A, twice this year, I’ve learnt that in any crisis or life threatening situation, it is best to be positive and more importantly, act positive. Panic and pandemonium only work against you, and the group …

… early Wednesday morning, Andrew and Lewis went to pick up Lewis’s car. As fate would have it, Lewis’s Subaru had a puncture and meant added delays in our return. Alas, that was our easy-going rafting trip down a lazy river. Will we ever go rafting again? I think most, if not all of us probably will. I’ve learnt to take Andrew and Jono’s description of any of their expeditions with a bit of caution though. I’ve already drawn up a list of extreme survival gear to purchase. In the future, I would book an extra day’s leave and have my passengers call home to check if I have returned safely and on schedule, just in case …

*Cellulitus - a spreading bacterial infection involving the skin's deeper layers: the dermis and subcutaneous tissue beneath the skin. Cellulitis usually begins as a small area of tenderness, swelling, and redness. As this red area begins to enlarge, the person may develop a fever—sometimes with chills and sweats—and swollen lymph nodes. The majority of cases of cellulitis are caused by either staph (Staphylococcus) or strep (Streptococcus) bacteria.http://www.medicinenet.com/cellulitis/article.htm

 

Date: 

Sunday, December 14, 2008 (All day) to Wednesday, December 17, 2008 (All day)
Activities

activity: 

Rafting
Kayaking