The single thing I have been most anticipating about my internship with Return Africa is Trails season. From April to October each year, the two tented trails camps open for business, offering back-to-basics bush living and twice-daily guided walks across the concession. I was lucky enough to be chosen to back-up the very first trail at Hutwini camp. 4 twin guest tents plus one more for the guides, shared bucket showers, a simple bush kitchen and complementary lounge and dining areas. No electricity. No Wifi.

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My first trail group

Heaven. Our first guests were a mixed bunch from Germany, Switzerland and Johannesburg, all eager to walk and experience everything they could. Perfect guests! Makuleke was obviously feeling our good vibes because she put on quite a show right from the beginning. Deciding to visit our namesake, Hutwini gorge, we hadn’t been walking 5 minutes when we saw a breeding herd of elephants moving in our direction. Playing it safe, we redirected to a nearby pan and explored the birdlife there, waiting for the herd to move on. They didn’t. In fact, there was now almost 100 of them and they were all headed in our direction. Just as we planned to make a stealthy retreat, I spotted another lone bull in our escape path, on his way to join the herd. We crouched down against a termite mound so he would pass us by but he still hadn’t seen us and was now only 20m away and closing. Calvin decided we had no option but to show ourselves before he walked right onto us so we both stood up. The bull, startled by our sudden and unexpected appearance, retaliated by puffing out his ears and shaking his head in a show of displeasure. Then, without further hesitation, he charged. Standing firm, my feet remembered their training and glued themselves hard to the ground in spite of my heart beating right out of my ribcage. 10 metres now. Everything seemed to be going lightning fast and super slow all at once. At 5 metres, finally, miraculously, he stopped. I could almost reach out and touch this incredible animal he was that close. Instead, I watched in dumbfounded awe as he gave a final head shake and sauntered off in another direction. Finding my lungs once more, I sucked in a deep breath and turned to see the guests beginning to stand with the most enormous grins on their faces, if a little wobbly-legged. Trails season has begun!

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When an elephant holds out its ears, it is trying to look big and threatening. It’s a warning to not get any closer!