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  • Megan Zavaglia

What not to do when bush pigs and water buffalo swing by your tent (in the middle of the night)

So now that you know how I ended up camping in the Serengeti as a group of one, let me start you out with a travel tip on surviving an assault on your tent in the middle of the night.

Travel tip: Bring a back-up flashlight.

I had stayed in my tent a couple of nights before I realized that my tent had power. It wasn’t related to me at the start of the trip (an error that I believe that Pius was taken to task for) so I depended on my flashlight for all lighting needs. In the bathroom I would stand it on end so that I could use the bucket shower, the toilet or to brush my teeth. I’d apply a little makeup and then shine the light on me to see if I’d achieved the fresh look I wanted or if I now resembled something more tribal.

I learned that I had power in the tent, and that Pius was also to have given me a whistle, after a night of significant animal activity.

The campsite was always set up so that my tent was placed a little bit away from the staff tents, typically with the dinning tent in between us and the staff area around some grass or a corner. It kept down the noise from the day to day operational activities and provided a more secluded feel.

The tent was approximately 200 square feet. The bed was queen sized and had the headboard up against the canvas with a table beside it. There was a luggage rack to hold my things and rugs and carpets on the floor. In an area separated by some canvas and a hanging sheet was the sink, bucket shower, and pit toilet. Additionally, there was a washstand outside of the tent with a chair for any morning relaxation and refreshment.

On the night I discovered power was available, and the whistle was needed, we were camped above an area called Ngorongoro. This is deep crater in the ground created when Mt. Kilimanjaro erupted some time in the ancient past. Ngorongoro is an animal sanctuary that has a large biodiversity due to the steep sides of the crater. It provides for amazing animal viewing.

That night while at the campfire we had heard lions sounding off in the crater, off to what was the right of our site, and then behind us. You can imagine that the hairs on my arms stood up. And yes, I grinned like a mad man. My happy place….

We had left Tarangire, an elephant refuge, and visited Maasai before heading to the Ngorongoro camp. I’d taken my shower, relaxed by the fire, had dinner and was off to bed.

I’d used my flashlight to get ready, had read my book and turned off the light. I snuggled in with the sounds of lion roars echoing in my ears.

At this location my tent was set up a short distance from some tall grass. The view I had was of the dinning tent and then the edge of Ngorongoro behind. The staff tents were off to the right behind some more tall grass.

Not long after I’d fallen asleep I was awoken by a noise. Something was walking past my tent. Something large. In the dark. There was a “tsk, tsk” noise. It wasn’t something large, it was multiple somethings large. I froze in my bed, my eyes trained on the front entrance of the tent. My flashlight was clutched in my hand – it was my only defense. Focused on the zipper, I wasn’t sure what to do. I decided that if I saw that zipper move, I was going to fly out of bed and hit whatever it was with my flashlight until it fled or I had taken it down. Of course I’d holler for help, but what are the chances of anyone getting there in time?

After about 5 minutes the noises stopped and the sense of a presence moved on. After a sufficient amount of listening I decided the risk had passed. I relaxed. No ninja moves needed.

After a while I managed to fall back asleep. Do you know how much energy it takes to be that alert and freaked out for that long?

That is until I was awoken a short time later by something brushing my tent. That’s right – BRUSHING my tent. Again, something large. But this time, the noise was more of a “mmpyuch”. Sort of a wet smacking noise. “Tsk tsk” isn’t a bad sound when the next noise you hear is “mmpyuch”. That flashlight and I were becoming good friends. I hadn’t hugged something that closely or ferociously before.

There were a lot of the animals moving past, the canvas walls tent were shifting almost like being blown by the wind. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get, lying in bed, watching the canvas flow by your head with the bodies of the animals walking by…. I’ll admit, I loved it a little bit, but only after I stopped the shear panic feeling and the animals had moved on.

Amazingly, I managed to fall asleep again but woke early, eager to tell my story to someone. I unzipped the tent and peeked out to ensure there weren’t any animals. Nope, but my washstand had been knocked over. I quickly dressed and when I left the tent, the washstand was up with warm water ready to go. I hastened to the dinning tent where Muridy joined me shortly. I related my tale feeling very brave that I hadn’t bolted from the tent or yelled for help. Muridy looked at me a bid incredulously and asked, “Why didn’t you blow the whistle?”

Yes, I paused for a moment. A whistle?

“What whistle?”, I asked.

Muridy sat back in his chair and told me that I was to be given a flashlight and whistle when I was shown the tent on the first night out camping. The whistle was for when I was scared, there was an emergency or needed assistance. I blow the whistle, Muridy and the guys come to help.

Want to feel a little dumb? Think about going to Africa and then DON’T consider how you’re going to stay safe from the animals while you sleep in something as light as a canvas tent. Most people would have thought about this part of the adventure from the start. Not me, I just bumble along and manage to stay alive out of shear luck most of the time.

I politely let Muridy know that I didn’t have a whistle. Hadn’t had one from the start. But boy did I have a flashlight, it was my very best friend.

At some point in this conversation we discovered that I also wasn’t aware that my tent had power. So my awkward shuffling around with the flashlight was not necessary. I was excited for the power, but I was even more excited about the idea of a whistle.

It turns out that at this camping site my tent had been set up on a game trail. What I’d heard were water buffalo and bush pigs. I’m sure you can imagine the size of the water buffalo that had casually strolled past my tent. Imagine a skinny bison with more pointed horns. Intimidating, yes, but let me tell you about the bush pigs. They can stand over 3 feet at their shoulder and have tusks, not unlike the feral boars that we have here in the US. The “mmpyuch” sounds were the pigs searching for food as they wandered by. I couldn’t help but imagine the tusks coming in through the tent wall at some point in the previous night.

Another African moment – who gets water buffalo and bush pigs in the middle of the night? My adventure was moving right along.

After our day out in Ngorongoro (yet another blog topic – humping rhinoceroses) we returned to camp and Muridy let me know that the whistle had been left in Arusha. (The starting point of my trip and where the headquarters were based.) Due to the amount of animal activity the previous night the group had hired a park ranger to sit and watch our site.

When we got to our next location, guess who had a whistle?

I’ll map out the trip itinerary and walk you through hunting with the Hadzabe in the Rift Valley and mountains around Lake Eyasi in the next post. I’m sure you’re going to want to hear about bow and arrow hunting with a pack of dogs and four teenager who only speak “click”. I’ll introduce you to a man named Bama Banga and I’ll tell you how I came to be chasing a mongoose through a tree trunk in order to secure lunch.

Travel Tip: What not to do when bush pigs and water buffalo swing by your tent (in the middle of the night)

Answer: Don’t drop your flashlight and make sure you add this to your journal entry – you’re going to want to tell this story when you get home.

Next up: What not to do when your song bird lunch still has its feathers

Language: Swahili

Bush Pig = Nguruwe wa msituni

Water Buffalo = Nyati maji

Tent = Hema

Flashlight = Kurunzi

Whistle = Filimbi

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