There is one thing that makes me long time and time again for the bush. It is not the wildlife, the chance to escape, the wide open spaces or the glittering night sky as all these things can inevitably be found elsewhere. But there is this one thing, one thing that no matter where else I search I cannot find it, and that is the sound of the bush.
It is utterly indescribable no matter how hard I try and it is the missing story that a photo cannot begin to express, even a video doesn’t do it any justice as YouTube simply can’t envelop you into the world of the wild like seeing, smelling and, above all, hearing can when you are face to face with Africa.
The first thing that struck me as I settled down in my safari tent in the middle of the bush at Tanda Tula Field Camp was the silence. It was there that it dawned on me that silence at home is indeed not silence at all, here in the Timbavati there was no drone of vehicles in the background, no flattering of curtains blown by the Cape Town wind, no dogs barking in the distance, no occasional hooting of a passing train, no hum of my refrigerator or a faulty light-bulb – nothing, but silence.
And when the silence was broken, as it is made to be, it wasn’t by the hooting of an impatient taxi or someone’s car alarm but by the distant call of the lion. A low melodic moan of a muscly beast that seemed to come straight from the earth before the return growl of his hunting partner shattered back across the silence as if to confirm their nightly mission.
A lions roar is a sound that hits you straight in the soul, it cuts through the silent African night to the heart – alerting all senses in a second.
As the night wore on the low calls of the lions seesawed back and forth until they where joined by a sound with a life of its own. There is something about the low whooping of a hyena as it builds itself up to a ghostly wail that can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and salute.
However it was in broad daylight the following day that the crazed snigger of the hyena took me to a place where witches cackled over cauldrons. Alerting our walking safari group to a kill deep within the bush, the hyenas were joined by another noise that was unmistakably familiar. Dogs, definitely dogs, but no barking. These dogs were emitting a falsetto bleating, a nails-on-a-chalkboard squeal that would have you running to your puppy at home to see what was wrong, but this is merely the noise that accompanies a group of 15 wild dogs when they battle it out for a kill against hyenas that seemingly laugh in their face.
But above it all this, there is one noise that reigns supreme in the African bush. A breeding herd of elephants with a female in estrous is indefinitely followed by a few rough and ready bulls in musth.
The elephant bulls themselves trudge through the bush on a mission like someone hammering away at wood while they snap, shake and crack everything that gets in their way. And then comes a sound that I will never forget – it’s a noise like someone learning to play the trumpet or blow a vuvuzela might make. It’s ear-drum smattering loud, hurried and frenzied and it bounces off any surface creating a bush amphitheater that resonates straight back at you. It clears your head the way a good sneeze clears your sinuses and you hear your own heart beating in the space before the trumpets sound again.