Too Close to a Rhinoceros
Copyright 2018 by Josephine Jones
Georgina had asked me, while we were
sunbathing on the beach, if I would make
a foursome, with Bob a friend of Frank's and herself for a weekend in
a game park. It was soon after Frank and Georgina had met, at a hotel
dance. He joked that he had picked her up. Then he
her out for a day trip. As a good friend, she replied that she had
arranged to meet me, he suggested I went along and he would bring his
friend. He and Frank were working as electricians in the Matchbox
Company. The outing had gone very well. Frank was tall, dark and good
looking but Bob was shorter than Georgina who was shorter than me.
I was five foot five and a half.
looked at blood slides in work I kept having to keep thoughts of our
impending trip out of my head. It was a losing battle. I had the
opportunity to do what I was looking forward to doing. That was to
visit an African game park and have the experience of seeing the
exotic animals in the wild. I had already bought myself a small
book, with the pictures and names of the animals in English and
Afrikaans. Once 5 o'clock came I was ready to leave.
hurried home along the beach promenade weaving my way through
Africans. They walked merrily along, the men playing guitars and
the women knitting. Midday they would sit or lie on the grass of
the gardens and sleep. One girl in work said, The Africans
like to sleep stretched out on the pavements in the sun."
piped up, I have not seen a single bench for blacks they are
all marked blankes, Afrikaans for whites, other races were
quickly bathed, after cleaning the communal bath with my own Vim.
As you never knew who had used the bath before you. I changed into a
blouse and jeans, grabbed my over- night bag; ate dinner in the
dining room. Then I was ready in the Hotel foyer to meet Georgina and
get into Frank's awaiting car. Bob was already there.
was flat and smooth and we glided along. There were luxuriant,
green sugar cane fields on either side. Then the sun set of yellow
to orange to red filled the wide, open sky. Frank said, "African
sunsets are the best in the whole wide world. None, that I saw when
I travelled in Europe could rival this."
sitting next to me on the back seat, replied, "Well I've downed
plenty of sundowners but I never see the sun set because I'm in some
grotty bar. I'm really looking forward to this weekend. And to be in
it's good to have nice female company, makes a change from all those
drunken slobs we usually hang out with. There is so much to see in
my wonderful country. It's a shame to spend it in a pub," said
right I only know the dock area of Durban and all the seedy joints,"
replied Bob in his melodious, Scottish voice.
We arrived at Empageni in the dark about
9.30 pm. It was approximately
100 miles North of Durban. Frank had reserved two rooms in the
Imperial Hotel, one of two in the town. Georgie and I shared a
comfortable room. After inspecting our room and emptying our bags we
met up with the lads in the hotel bar. Frank and Bob's capacity for
drink amazed me. As well as drinking vodka, made from Natal cane, at
the bar, Bob had unloaded a crate, of beer bottles from the car, to
take into their room. He was a little man but a big drinker. They
never appeared drunk. In those days Georgina and I only drank soft
and I said our goodnights and headed off upstairs to bed.
We had all intended to get up early and
miss breakfast but in the end decided
to think of our stomachs first. The drive to the Game Reserve was
through green, undulating ground with a few Marula trees not tall but
their leafy branches form a wide umbrella giving shade to the
animals. We passed native huts with straw roofs and mud walls. One
barefooted African, riding a bicycle, stopped us for a match to
light his cigarette, so Frank gave him a whole box. I imagine he got
them free as he was working for the Match Box company. The poor man was
as thin as a matchstick. He wore a faded red threadbare shirt.
expected the entrance to the reserve to be impressive but it was just
a flimsy, wooden archway. Once inside we saw three donkeys, they
just would not move off the road, until Bob got out and shooed them
away. We called into the reception and paid 5 shillings a car for all
of us to enter, even then it was cheap.We arrived at 11am, a little
late for viewing, as it was hot, and animals like humans try and rest
out of the sun. On the green lawn, at the camp reception, there was a
tame Eland, a big, dark brown, buck that we stroked. The ranger told
us that it was a spiral horned antelope had been bottle fed as he
had been found as a kid, alone in the bush. Poachers must have shot
for ages on rough, dirt road hot dry air came through the open car
windows. It was the scent of Africa a mixture of plants and animals.
Then we saw a herd of wart hogs, funny, dark, little animals that
dash along with their tails held high some were babies.
look," I shouted, " that looks like the neck of a giraffe,
oh no, it's just a small trunk of a tree." Then luck was with us
when we saw an actual giraffe as it lazily lifted up its long neck,
with a small head with tiny horns, to feed from leaves on a young
tree. It gave the impression of being a laid back gentle animal with
a lazy movement in its fawn hide, with a pattern of dark splodges.
afternoon we hired a native guide for 5 shillings for 2 hours.
Otherwise you were not allowed out of the car. He was smartly turned
out in khaki shirt and shorts, and leather boots. We all wore
sandals, not suitable for the bush. Frank was from Zululand so was
able to speak to our guide in Zulu. He told us that this area of
Hluhluwe - Umfolozi in Kwazulu-Natal Province used to be the hunting
domain of the legendry Zulu King Shaka.
water holes and rivers had dried up .We looked into one and there was
in the murky water; lots of turtles or perhaps terrapins were
swimming towards us, some tiny, others as big as garden tortoises at
that time popular in Britain.
guide often looked down at the ground covered in dry grass looking
for foot prints and spoor of different animals. He was able to show
us a herd of grazing wildebeest. An animal, that has been around a
million years. It has a heavy, brown front half marked with darker
irregular stripes and has a horned long head. It is the size of a cow
and belongs to the antelope family. It is also known as a gnu. Only
familiar to me through one of Flanders and Swann song I'm a
There were also Zebra grazing with them.
was enjoyable but I was relieved when it was over. I did not like
being so close to nature. I preferred to be at a distance from them
preferably in a solid building or at least a vehicle. I could never
have slept out, in a tent, in a game park. I was a bit like my
sister-in-law who liked horses as long as they were the other side of
drove on a good road through undulating scenery. We stopped in
Mtubatuba in a comfortable hotel with a veranda where we enjoyed a
sundowner as we watched the setting sun in the orange sky. We had a
good steak dinner and an early night. It was tiring watching for
animals to distinguish the imaginary from the real Frank owned the
only pair of binoculars which we shared.
we arrived at the Reserve about 9.00.am. No wasting time today. At
the camp there had been a big notice. Beware of the Rhino.
We drove around gazing through the sparsely, wooded terrain. Chance
would be a fine thing; we despaired of even seeing a Rhino. The
reserve was known for its White or Square lipped Rhino, which, in
those days, were rare. Now I believe the Black rhino is rare and
there are more White Rhino thanks to the conservation work of the
State run reserve. Then the game reserve had just sold a White
Rhino to Whipsnade Zoo.
slowly on the rough, stony tracks bordered by dry grass and a few
thin trees.. Then at last we saw a rhino in front of us Georgina
said, "Turn off the car engine so that it will come nearer."
It continued towards us. Too near. We all wanted to move off; the car
starter got stuck. Frank whispered, "I'm afraid we shall have to
stay, as I dare not get out to lift the bonnet, in case the noise
disturbs the animal." Next, it was passing along side our car.
So we sat there holding our breath, still as statues. Bob at the back
sitting next to me moved in closer as the Rhino was on his side of
the car. We watched its massive, pre historic bulk move slowly
alongside the car. Its eyes were tiny slits in a huge, long face,
with two horns the lower one being the longest. I could see the
insects on its loose, corrugated, grey hide. A bird had a free ride,
as it fed on the insects, on its back. Then a cute little calf came
trotting behind Mum. "Oh look," I exclaimed. Bob looked
scared and put his finger in front of his mouth indicating for me to
shut up. Then Mum crossed the road behind us and back into the bush
and baby followed. We let out our breath.
had to worry about getting the car started. Frank got out and opened
the bonnet where the cranking handle was stored. Fortunately, he had
the magic touch as he was able to turn the engine over by cranking
it from outside the car. What a relief to move on. The small, old
car was pale blue, now covered in brown dust.
is it called a White Rhino when it is grey?" I asked.
replied, "They say it is a corruption of the Afrkaans word weit, meaning wide referring to its jaw, not its colour. It has a
jaw to enable it to pick up grass. The Black Rhino is also grey and
eats tree branches and bushes it does not graze like the white rhino
so has a smaller mouth."
saw rhinos and calves they were part of a herd that came into view
later. Like buses, once one comes several follow.There were two
zebra at the side of the road and lots of beautiful delicate looking
impalas belonging to the antelope family. They had glossy, reddish
brown coats, a paler flank, and a white underbelly that showed, as
they leapt in the air and danced through the countryside. While we
were admiring the impala a small tribe of baboons were running along
the road. One picked up a stone and threw it at the car. Fortunately,
it missed but Frank put his foot on the accelerator before the rest
Unfortunately we never saw elephants but
for a short trip we had seen
several animals including 13 White Rhinos for which Hluhluwe -
Umfolozi Game Park was famous.
intended leaving at one o'clock but stayed until 5 p.m. returning to
Durban about 9 p.m. We returned tired and filthy. Tired from sitting
in a car that vibrated as it bumped along over rough tracks. We had
strained our eyes to see animals that turned out to be tree stumps,
rocks or clods of earth. Frank possessed the only pair of
binoculars, that we all shared. We were filthy, from the dust, that
penetrated everywhere in the car. The dust then stuck to our damp
clothes that were pinned between us and the hot leather car seat.
Our sandaled feet were also a dirty reddish orange. But it was a
wonderful weekend just as I had imagined Africa.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
story list and biography
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher