Over the past several years when I traveled to Africa with students from McGill university, they were always briefed repeatedly prior to their safari about risk aversion. There was an acronym that was drummed into their heads – SSRAB. Never one for learning things this way I could never remember what SSRAB stood for. I did know that the general idea was that while traveling in Africa ( when traveling anywhere unfamiliar, in fact) one needs to be more cautious than usual to avoid putting yourself and your travel companions at risk.
This week I am traveling with a friend in Uganda. One of our stops was at a rhino sanctuary a large park where several rhinos live free in the bush. The hope is that after several years their numbers will increase enough to release some back in to the Uganda parks. Rhinoceroses used to be found in Uganda but over years poaching for their horns reduced their number … to zero,
Part of the experience was to hike with a ranger into the bush to find the rhinos. We were warned that they were wild animals and that sometimes they would charge without much warning. Before we went out to the bush we signed a release which clearly stated that the sanctuary will not be responsible if you are injured or killed. Very reassuring. Adult rhinos weigh three tons and can run 35 km per hour. They have that big horn. Our escape, we were told was to climb a tree.
Those of you who know me can imagine me running through the bush being chased by a rhino and looking for a tree to climb. I am more likely to trip on my shoelaces and get trampled. So I was a bit anxious about meeting the animals in the bush.
The night before this we had a bit of a rehearsal. We encountered a hippo in the compound where we were staying. My friend, Dave, who is somewhat less risk averse than I am, found himself a bit too close for comfort as the hippo changed direction and he had to scramble up an acacia tree. Acacias have thorns. Dave spent the next morning picking thorns out of his hands.
Yesterday, we walked into the bush and ten minutes from the guest house where we were staying, we suddenly came across four huge rhinos chewing grass in the bushes about 30 metres from us. We followed them for a bit and then they turned toward us in the grass and started coming our way. It didn’t take long for me to scoot back to a place of relative safety near a clear path out of the brush but Dave stayed in place, at least for a while. I think he was actually hoping to climb a tree and watch the rhinos pass below him.
All ended well. We survived. The rhinos took a right turn into the brush and meandered in, chomping on grass as the went.
As this was happening, I was blessing my camera zoom which let me get some photos from a safe distance.
The events in Nairobi this past weekend at the Westgate mall bring risk aversion for foreign travel to another level and make the rhino trekking trivial. For months, Western travelers to Kenya and Nairobi in particular have been advised to avoid places like malls and large international hotels or public gatherings because of the risk of terrorist activities.
SSRAB (Street Smart Risk Averse Behaviour is the translation I have dragged up from the depths) is always a good strategy.