By Peter Meyer, author of The Boy from the Wild
From tree climbing and tag to hide-and-seek and even conkers, some of the simplest pleasures of a British childhood are now off limits because of overly protective parents. Many have been replaced by ‘safe’ computer games and gadgets.
Here, the author and expert on African wildlife, Peter Meyer, talks about his own adrenaline-fuelled upbringing in the wilds of a South African game reserve and how his adventures of ‘risky’, tech-free play prepared him for adult life in the concrete jungle. Meyer’s book, The Boy from the World, is out now.
I didn’t just take a walk on the wild side; I lived on the wild side. As young as I can remember, nature was all around me and it too was growing up like I was. My first footprints were on that very nature reserve in South Africa that would later define me. It was a reserve my father brought to life from a dream he had always wanted for himself and for the world to see. To us today it is known as Karkloof Reserve but to the locals its known as The Valley of Heaven.
Every day was an adventure and coming across wild animals, snakes, scorpions and many more was what I was used to. As I mention in the book “we were living the dream without knowing it was a dream”. I assumed all kids lived like we did and that this was the norm. I was wrong; I was in a very special place with a very unique upbringing.
Before I was even eight years old I’d had many encounters that I treasured. But it was the most dangerous ones that made me feel alive and were what taught me life’s most important lesson: respect.
“Big Boy” was our male rhino. My first encounter with Big Boy was when I was playing chicken with him by throwing little stones at his bum. On one throw he charged and chased me. There were no trees and my little legs were no match for him, until I saw a drop down the slope which I jumped down knowing he wouldn’t be able to follow. Lesson learned very quickly. This was our version of PlayStation, wild style.
On another occasion me and my brother and father almost died as we went to check the rhinos out on our three-wheeler bike. For some reason, Big Boy charged with rage. The bike wouldn’t start and Big Boy got within 20 feet at full speed before dad managed to bring the bike to life. Actually, we had many near misses with Big Boy. He squashed cars and horned a few holes into game drive vehicles - with paying guests sitting inside. He even once attacked and nearly killed our elephant trainer who ended up in hospital for a long time. Even though I had my most dangerous moments with him I also had my best.
My worst encounter, which is not treasured, was my first snakebite – a life-threatening one, at that. I was seven years old and I had come off my tube in the water and flowed straight into a snake that slithered in in front of me. We collided and it bit me on my foot. I was in shock as it looked like a puff adder, which is very dangerous and deadly. Luckily, I had a dry bite with no venom but it took hours to realise that with everyone panicking. Three months later I got bitten again walking in the bush and again bitten on the same foot - luckily by only a five-foot long non-venomous grass snake. I have a huge fear of snakes and a great deal of respect. To add to that when I was a baby my mum found me sleeping with a cobra asleep at the bottom of cot.
I had beautiful encounters though like riding our elephants, living with an ostrich, warthogs and a nyala as a pet. I learned many things in the wild like respect, survival and patience, but also a huge amount of compassion and love. The wild jungle prepared me for the concrete jungle.
The Boy from the Wild by Peter Meyer is out now, priced £9.99 in paperback and £3.99 as an eBook. It is available for sale on Amazon UK or via www.petermeyer.com