When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to. And never mind the elephants, hyenas or hippos, says John. And speaking of go-go-go, there’s his new Disco 4
Hyenas (no laughing matter) and speedy D4
Afew columns ago I wrote about the night when about 30 elephants passed through where my partner Pat and I were wild-camping in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. That was an exhilarating, memorable experience – but it wasn’t as scary as another close encounter of the wild animal kind we experienced earlier on that adventure.
It was our first night in the Serengeti. We found our campsite after diverting the Safari Drive 300Tdi Defender 110 off the main track and driving a mile or so to our own exclusively private piece of Africa. Once there, we set up the roof tent and got a campfire going to prepare our evening meal.
Darkness had descended by 8pm and we sat by the crackling wood fire, enjoying steaks and a cool beer while chatting about the wildlife we’d seen earlier in the day. Then Pat started to feel uneasy. She’s not easily scared and I trust her instincts – which are generally more perceptive than my own – so I grabbed a powerful torch from inside the Defender and did a 360º sweep around the camp.
I was looking for tell-tale eyes, which would alert us to the fact there was wildlife around. I couldn’t see any, other than those of a small creature that was hopping around in the branches of nearby trees. But Pat’s unease didn’t go away, so we washed up, packed away our table and chairs and turned in for the night in the relative haven of the roof tent, two metres off the ground. Just a few minutes after climbing into the tent, we lay there reading by the light of our headtorches when there was the unmistakable call of hyenas in the camp – presumably checking whether we’d left any food lying around. We hadn’t – experience has taught us to keep anything edible inside the vehicle – and eventually we heard them moving away into the bush.
Pat’s instinct had been proved right; I may not have spotted any eyes, but the hyenas had definitely been out there waiting. I’m not saying we were in any danger, but they do have sharp teeth and exceptionally strong jaws – so you wouldn’t want to corner one.
Anyway, excitement over, we carried on reading for a while when we heard the rustling of something big approaching the camp, accompanied by deep grunting sounds. ‘I don’t want to worry you,’ I said to Pat, ‘but that definitely sounds like hippos.’ I’d thought we were a long way from any water, but apparently hippos will travel some distance at night searching for food. They also have the reputation for being quite bad tempered creatures and are responsible for more deaths of humans in Africa than lions. They’re also big – weighing up to 1800kg – and can inflict serious damage on a vehicle.
They soon moved on and all was quiet again. I’m not normally scared of animals or the dark, but I have to confess I was rather reluctant to get out of the tent when I needed to relieve myself later in the night. I tried to get back to sleep, but the pressure on my bladder meant that eventually I had to go. I had a good look around before descending the ladder, coughed a few times and then hummed to myself while going about my business. Yes, I was a bit on edge. And since then I’ve always taken with me a receptacle for peeing in during the night, so I don’t have to leave the tent. Pat’s bladder is stronger. Glad you asked.
After driving around in a heavy Defender 110 and not-particularly-rapid Discovery 2 over the years, I have to admit I’ve become a fairly slow driver, by the nature of my Land Rovers. I’ve always stuck rigidly to speed limits in built-up areas, and neither of my vehicles feels particularly comfortable at speeds over the 70mph limit on motorways and dual carriageways. But getting my Discovery 4 has turned me into a law-breaker.
The trouble is, it’s so refined and smooth, and its engine is really low-revving, even at speed, so it’s all too easy to let it drift over the legal limit. Which is what happened when I was driving home on a local ring road.
The sun was shining, the radio was pounding out some decent music and everything was good. Well, it was until I overtook a convoy of trucks, only to spot one of those pesky police camera vans at the side of the road.
I checked my speed, thinking it was about 70mph, but got a shock when I saw it was over 75mph. I slowed, but they would have clocked me as quickly as I saw them. My mind went through the various scenarios of being fined and getting points on my clean licence. Then I remembered offenders can be offered a speed awareness course instead, and I thought I would take that option if possible.
I waited for the official letter to arrive in the post, but it never came, and that was more than three months ago. Even so, I may not have been on a speed awareness course, but being ‘caught’ by that police van has had a similar effect. I am now more aware when driving the D4 – and not just of cameras. I won’t be letting my speed creep up again.
‘I’m not normally scared of animals or the dark, but I was reluctant to get out of the tent to relieve myself that night’