South Africa: Barefoot hero saves me from the hippos – and cleans my car

So here we are, stuck in the mud, front wheels of our small car spinning pointlessly as a fine drizzle fell from a grey sky. We'd crossed the river bed earlier that morning, but as we were slipping and sliding along the road we'd decided to head back. The return journey over the sludge proved less successful.

We've got to stay in the car, apparently. Well, that's what it says on the cover of the Kruger National Park map book. Apparently there are lions in this park, as well as leopards, elephants, black rhinoceroses, not to mention hippos.

Correction: we know there are because we've seen most of the above in the last couple of days. A male lion padding along the dust on the roadside in the soft dawn light, and around a dozen elephants crossing the dirt track. These magical images are gently singed in our memories for all time.

While Kruger is isolated – and in parts almost empty – thankfully it's not completely deserted. We sit tight for an hour to see if any vehicles pass. Just as we start to rethink our strategy, a flatbed truck passes. Three burly chaps jump out to help but soon leave, defeated, pride dented, with a message to seek help at the nearest camp.

In another 30 minutes our hero arrives, emerging barefoot from his vehicle to pick up a thick wire cable and connect it to our towing hook. With impressive ease, our car emerges out of the quagmire. We try a different route through the mud under our rescuer's guidance, and make it across.

Following him back to the nearest camp, he washes down our mud-caked vehicle and his feet. From being stuck to being washed down and ready for our next adventure a little over three hours have passed. And the charge for saving us? A little over £30. Don't tell the park authorities, but they could multiplied it by 10 and it would still be a bargain.

Footprint's South Africa Handbook is available now (£16.99)

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