by “Safari Mike” Appelbaum
Oh no…not my adventure, not even close. I’m talking about the stuff you just can’t believe! However, every bit of this is 100% true. I’ve been very fortunate to have had some wonderful experiences on safari. Every member of my groups has returned home in one piece and somehow, strangely enough, so have I. That’s not always the situation with some of the incredible people I’ve met and befriended who live out in the bush 24/7.
With that said, now you need to meet Chris.
Chris Bakkes was born in South Africa in 1965, the year many of us graduated high school. By the time I met him he had already been a game ranger and guide and had been involved in anti-poaching efforts in and around Kruger National Park, S.A. Locals would say he’s “a sizable bloke” and I would say he looks like he’d be totally at home in a California biker bar. It was 2001 and I was staying at the safari camp he was managing on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast.
The days were incredible (see my previous Breakfast Serials if interested) and at night, following dinner, we would swap stories around the campfire. While everyone at our small camp was quite experienced and had been on numerous safaris, it was Chris who had us captivated. In spite of the obvious, Chris was the most capable outdoorsman/guide/ranger I’ve ever met. Hell, he could completely change a flat tire on a Land Rover or set up a tent faster with one hand than any two men. While his insatiable appetite for adventure was ever present, it was during February 1994 while he was a ranger in Kruger that a bit of recklessness tested his luck.
His base of operations at that time was near a dam that created the only place in the area where one could cool off. On a particularly sweltering day, at over 90 degrees, the water was looking too good for him to pass-up. You should know that this wasn’t the first time Chris swam here. Since there was ONLY ONE resident crocodile in the area, as long as Chris knew where it was, he felt confident about a brief swim. However, unbeknownst to him a second croc, never before seen, had somehow managed to sneak into the dam.
Without warning…Chris never saw it coming! He was attacked just moments after getting in the water. Suddenly, his left hand and arm were in the mouth of a huge Nile crocodile and it was shaking him and going into a “death roll.” At this point his odds on survival were down to single digits and it appeared the situation couldn’t possibly be worse…(but it ain’t over till it’s over). And No…it didn’t get better.
In fact, now even the resident croc swam in for a piece of the action or in reality a piece of Chris. Chris is fighting for his life and now we have Nile crocodile#1and #2 competing for the prize. Oh, did I happen to mention the bite force of the crocodile is the strongest of just about any animal on the planet at upwards of 4,500 psi (definitely not good news right now if your name is Chris).
Oh,but, back to Chris…who is now in somewhat shallow water and has several other rangers trying to get to him. This is one very frightening scene! All this is happening rather quickly…the two crocs are now fighting over who gets the rest of Chris. They already took his left forearm and hand, but somehow their competition with each other is just distracting enough to give the rescuers time to get to Chris. He is still alive and fighting and kicking and obviously in great pain. Somehow, with help, he miraculously makes it out of the water and the staff attempts to stop the bleeding. Still conscious and in shock he now waits for the emergency Medevac chopper. If you think it’s time for a sigh of relief you’d better wait a little longer. Remember what I said about it not being over till it’s over, because once the helicopter arrives and Chris is boarded and safely in the air there’s still one more OMG.
The chopper hasn’t even gotten out of the park when it has a mechanical failure and has to make an emergency landing. Once again back on land… and waiting, now for the second helicopter! I can’t imagine what he’s going through as chopper #2 is called in to finally get Chris to a hospital.
Following surgery and the loss of his left forearm and hand Chris spent the next two years recovering and getting rehab so he could go back to his guiding and ranger work. He then returned to action and traveled all over Africa and settled in Namibia, where I met up with him managing the Skeleton Coast camp for Wilderness Safaris. Spending the week getting to really know Chris personally and sharing a few (much milder) adventures with him was truly one of my all-time safari highlights.
Flash forward now, 20 years later. Today he is an accomplished writer and author of at least 10 books on his adventures and other stories (most written in Africaans). Even his dog had a story. A one eyed Jack Russel named Tier (Africaans for Tiger) who obviously belongs in Chris’ life since it lost its eye when it attacked a hyena. (I swear I’m not making any of this up) Not “quite” as reckless anymore, Chris has been involved in every aspect of wildlife conservation in Namibia and he still occasionally guides groups and has recently been voted one of the top 25 guides in all of Africa by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine. Amazing! His incredible story is totally documented and is now almost legendary.
So, why am I so obsessed with Africa…its wildlife, its beauty, its people….because it’s so very REAL!
I never have to make anything up because the reality of every incident and adventure is so much better than the fiction. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and spend time with the most amazing people. While I may be disappointed in some of my own photography, I’m never disappointed in my experiences and my adventures, even the little bitty ones. If you’re still reading this I thank you for coming along on my perpetual safari and I hope your life rewards you with your own great memories.