Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mists of the Ituri Forests.

We were lifting Potatoes when he came walking up to me as I was busy weighing the filled pockets. He was shorter than short; a shock of tight wooly curls on his head and his skin was so black that it had a purplish shine to it. He was stockily built with well muscled arms and legs. His most striking feature, though, was his smile. It was a smile full of pointed teeth as if they had all been filed to sharp points, and it gave his face the effect of a Halloween pumpkin.

Planting himself squarely before me he smiled his wide Halloween smile and said. “Jambo Bwana, My name is Jam, and I am looking for work. I may be smaller than other men, but I can work much harder than them.”

Lifting potatoes requires labor, so I engaged him immediately, and told him to fall into the line of pickers. He worked like a dynamo. Soon there was a stack of filled bags at his station, and he would move up to help the next person in line ahead of him.

My stepfather was driving the tractor powered potato lifter, and when he came level with Jam I could see him reel at Jam’s toothy smile. He said nothing, and kept on with the lifting. Jam worked and sang a song which only he could understand. He had spoken to me in Fanagalo, the lingua franca of black Africa, a language which had no defined origins, but believed by some to have sourced in the mines of South Africa, and spread all through southern Africa. When the vernacular was not understood by the Europeans, Fanagalo was spoken and the parties could communicate. His greeting of “Jambo Bwana,” was Swahili, the language of East and Central Equatorial Africa.

Jam worked like a demon, and throughout the two weeks we spent lifting the crop he was handy at every aspect of the job. I liked his friendly banter and his cheerful disposition. My stepfather did not. To him Jam looked like a cannibal, and he treated him with utmost suspicion. I had a room vacant in my backyard, and I allowed Jam to move in there. All he had in the way of belongings were a bedroll composed of three really threadbare blankets and an old feather pillow. He also had a cheap cardboard suitcase with a change of clothing and a wet bag which contained a piece of soap and a face cloth. A duiker skin bag which contained some bones and other paraphernalia of the witch doctor completed his outfit.

I needed a house boy, and when Jam told me that he had worked as a cook for a Safari company in Kenya, I immediately employed him to work in the house. We had cement floors, and they needed to be polished once every week. Jam would be on his hands and knees waxing and polishing the floors till you could see your reflection in them. He worked out a rhythm with the polish brush and the soft cloth as he progressed over the floor. My daughter was two years old, and would ride on his back while he polished, screeching with mirth. Jam would smile his toothy grin, and seemed to enjoy the game as much as she did. He spoiled her terribly, and as far as he was concerned Michelle could do no wrong. My parents were concerned that he was a cannibal, and unsafe with my young family, so one day I asked him, “Jam have you ever eaten human flesh?” “Ndio Bwana,“ was his affirmative reply, “I have, but that was when I was very young, and now the government has stopped that practice, and I have become a Christian so that it is no longer something I would want to do.” When I enquired as to which part of the human body was the tastiest he slapped the palms of his hands and said, “Here,” and taking me by the under part of the upper arm grinned his evil grin and stated, “This is the softest part.”

One day after Jam had been with me for about a year He came to me and asked me for leave of absence to go home to his village in the Congo. I enquired where his home was, and he said it was in the Ituri forests near the shore of Lake Tanganyika. He said that his mother was a Babenzela pygmy of the Mbuti peoples, but his father was a Bantu who lived at the edge of the Ituri forest. I asked him if there were Gorillas near his home, and he replied that they were his neighbors. This prickled my interest, and soon I was making plans to accompany him in my Land Rover. I had not had a break from the farm for about three years, and decided that a trip of this nature would be very therapeutic. The first thing I loaded was a forty four gallon drum of fuel for the Landy, and then two bags of maize meal and about fifty pounds of coarse salt. I had a wooden crate which housed my tinned food as well as my eating utensils. A sturdy suitcase held a few changes of clothes, a pair of extra velschoens and my toiletries. My rubber mattress was wrapped together with my two blankets and a sleeping bag into a small tarpaulin. This would serve as a ground sheet for my bed. A ten gallon cream can was filled with clean borehole water for drinking and cooking.

I purchased a range of gifts such as hand mirrors, combs, face cream, hair oil, glass beads, assorted cheap knives, four axes, a few hoes and two bow saws, and a few lengths of cloth for wrap around dresses. Then also some assorted pieces of clothing like shorts and shirts, Head scarves, belts and socks. Tobacco, sugar, matches, hard candy, snuff, Wilson’s toffees, and gob stoppers (Known colloquially as “Nigger balls”) completed the gifts.

I had a sizeable medical kit with bandages, gauze, iodine, aspirin, Quinine, burn ointment, zinc ointment and a large tin of zambuck herbal salve, including a big jar of petroleum jelly, a large bottle of castor oil, some Epsom salts and boracic crystals. A Fitzsimmons snake bite kit made up the complement of medicines. A case of forty eight quarter bottles of cheap brandy was loaded with four half bottles of gin. I also included two bottles of better brandy and a bottle of good scotch in case we had some discerning visitors.

After some contemplation I decided to take my Brno .22 hornet centre fire rifle, mainly because it had good hitting power, and the ammunition was easy to carry. I could bring down a kudu with it, and it was adequate for smaller game for the pot. It was put into a padded bag and sequestered behind the seat rests. A hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition seemed enough for the trip. I did not contemplate hunting earnestly.

We set off at four a.m. on Sunday. I had serviced the Land Rover which ran like a Swiss watch. The two tanks located beneath the seats, each holding ten gallons of fuel were full, and with a forty four gallon drum extra I reckoned we should go far before filling up again. Driving through the farmlands I skirted Lusaka and met the Great North Road at Mkushi, heading for Mpika and ultimately Abercorn at the tip of Lake Tanyanika. It was a three day trip to get there, and we passed through some really desolate countryside. The villages along the road were so poor that they did not even have fowls, and I spied one emaciated dog scavenging for scraps near our one camp. It seemed the villagers survived on porridge cooked from the cassava root, which was a glutinous mess that was most unappetizing. Fortunately we had enough food so that we could eat without having to barter for some of their Cassava.

Travelling along the Great North Road the country was devoid of all animal life. The forest along the sides of the road was composed mostly of tall miombo trees and dense scratchy undergrowth. Where the forest opened up the grass was tall and coarse. At dusk we selected a camp site and Jam soon gathered up a pile of firewood for the night while I broke out some provisions for supper. I placed my bedroll next to the back wheel of the Landy while jam nestled down close to the fire. With the dawn we would pack up and be on our way. The road was corrugated and dusty, and I tried everything to alleviate the dust barreling into the canvas tent of the vehicle and covering everything with affine layer layer. The best solution was to roll up all the sides of the canopy, but the dust still permeated everything and by the day’s end we were still covered in the stuff.

Late on the fourth day we came over a rise and there lay Abercorn ahead of us. We found a shady spot just outside of the town and made camp. I splashed some of our precious water into a basin and washed off as much dust as I could, and when the sun set we went to sleep. I was utterly exhausted and slept like the dead. When we awoke we made a leisurely breakfast and cleaned out and repacked the Land Rover, and headed out for the town. The first stop was at the filling station where we refilled the fuel containers and the water can. Then I went shopping to replenish some groceries before setting off for Lake Tanganyika.

The night was spent at the tip of the lake where the Northern Rhodesian authorities had a fishing camp at Kasaba Bay. It was a beautifully clear day that we awakened to, and the Lake sparkled in the early morning sun as we drove off around its tip heading north with the lake on our right hand side. We hugged the shoreline, sometimes using motor tracks, and at times single footpaths. There were many small settlements along the shore where fishermen launched their dugout canoes to go fishing using gill nets which they set at night and emptied in the morning. They would be back at about ten in the morning, and it was a chance to buy some delicious tilapia fish. This fish, gutted and cleaned and basted on the coals using some butter, which I carried in tins, was the most delicious I had ever tasted. The fishermen were friendly and cheerful, and sometimes would not even accept payment for a fish or two, so I traded them for tobacco and sugar.

I did not have a passport, so I stayed out of the towns and travelled on the minor paths. Jam knew the countryside, and spoke the language, so I had a ready interpreter, as well as a shrewd trader. The people were friendly and always smiling, and gave Jam all the relevant information as to the movements of officialdom. I had found a John Bull Printing kit which consisted of rubber letters and grooved wooden blocks and by inserting the letters any form of rubber stamp could be made. With three stamp pads in green, black and purple a letter could be filled with a variety of stamps making the document look very official. I also had a few letterheads with some very smart looking symbols, and with the use of my portable typewriter I had written a few letters asking the assistance of any officials to which they were presented. I had discovered that all Africans are suitably impressed by rubber stamps, and the more a letter carries the more impressed they are by it. I therefore carried a number in my bag, and had never found them not to work.

Our progress north up the lakeside was good, and each evening we made camp in a scenic spot. I enjoyed the lake scenery, putting out a fold up chair next to the fire, sipping a scotch while contemplating the waters of one of the great lakes of Africa. When Jam declared that we had reached the turnoff point I was very reluctant to leave the lake. How he knew where exactly we needed to turn away I cannot tell because all the tracks turning away from the lakeshore looked alike to me. But I bowed to his superior knowledge and followed his directions.

As we drew further away from the lake the road began to deteriorate, and soon the tracks became two ruts with massive potholes and the going slowed to a crawl. The track we were following ran in a north westerly direction, and we soon found ourselves in a vast grassy area. The grass was often as thick as my forefinger with creepers entwined around the stems. The grass had fallen over the road and the going was slowed even more.

“Bwana now is the time to take out the rifle, as there is much game here, and some fresh meat will be welcome. Also we are near to my father’s village, and if we can bring them some nyama (meat) they will be very pleased.” Jam rolled back the canvas from the windshield and stood on the seat with his head and shoulders above the screen while he surveyed the plain. I had clipped the rifle into the holding brackets against the dashboard, and soon he bobbed down and touched my shoulder. I stopped and climbed onto my seat and looked in the direction he was pointing and saw a small group of Topi not thirty yards off. Sighting over the screen I gave a fat cow a neck shot, and it collapsed in its tracks. Jam was off like a hare and ran straight to where the animal lay. He could not even see over the grass but he ran absolutely true.

We gutted the Topi, and loaded the carcass to be skinned out at our next campsite. The weather was hot, and I was afraid that it may spoil before we could cut biltong strips and cure the meat. Jam was not worried however, and when we reached an isolated patch of bush I insisted on putting up camp and cutting up the carcass. That night I hung out the strips of meat so that they could dry in the wind and form a hard film on their surface. The bony cuts Lam smoked over a slow fire. I hoped that we did not have too far to go, because that smoked meat was not very well done and I feared the stench it would create as the day became hotter.

Around mid morning I saw a flash of sun on a corrugated iron roof, and Jam announced that it was his father’s house. In The distance I also spied a line of dark green, and he said that it was the start of the Ituri Forests. I could scarcely contain my excitement. We rolled into the swept yard of the small group of buildings, some thatched rondavels (round buildings), with a brick built iron roofed house dominating. I could not help feeling that an iron roof was impractical in such pressing heat and the thatch so much cooler, but it was also the prestige that counted. Parking in the shade of a spreading hook thorn tree I got out stretching my legs, and Jam approached the house.

A tall spare man came to the door, and when he saw Jam he smiled broadly and held out his arms to welcome him. Jam clapped his hands respectfully and knelt on one knee. The man pulled him up by the elbow and pounded his back. His name was Mlambo, and he was Jam’s father. When he grinned at me I saw his rows of pointed teeth.

We made camp just outside the village under a few Camel Thorn trees, a nice shady spot, and while Jam cleared and swept the ground I stretched some wire and hung out the biltong. The meat Jam had smoked was carried into his father’s house. That evening the old man and his wives came and sat at our fire, bringing with them a large pot of Pombe, the local brew made from millet. I took a courteous sip, and passed on the pot. Afterwards I poured a shot of scotch and sat listening to their chatter. Now and again Jam translated for my sake, and I gathered the old man was asking if my rifle was strong enough to down a warthog. Jam gesticulated the slaying of the Topi, and assured the old man that in the morning we would find him a warthog and bring it home.

We set out at the crack of dawn, and about two miles from the village I saw a massive warthog boar standing watching us with tusks raised I aimed for the base of the neck and when the shot sounded the boar went down kicking up a cloud of dust and immediately got to its feet and ran off at top speed. Jam grabbed his spear and set off after it running like the wind. I followed in the Land Rover, and soon came up to where the pig had gone down. Jam was standing a few yards away and I could see that the pig was not quite dead yet, but was lying on his chest grunting furiously. I stopped and gave it another round high up on the head and it rolled over on its side. Jam ran up to the pig and slashed the neck just below the jaw severing the jugular vein and the pig bled out profusely.

We loaded the pig and headed back to camp using a circuitous route along a crystal clear fast running stream. We encountered a large Reedbuck ram, and it succumbed to a neck shot. This was a welcome find as I am very partial to Reedbuck meat. Back at camp I skinned the buck myself, and carefully cut a saddle for pot roasting. The rest was cut into biltong strips, and the bone cuts again went to the village. The warthog was presented to Mlambo, and he showed his pleasure by displaying his set of pointed teeth. I supposed pork tastes almost like human flesh, so that the pig was a good substitute, and must have reminded the old rascal of days gone by.

We stayed three more days at the village, and every night the feasting and dancing lasted well into the small hours of the morning. By the third day I had had enough of all the nightly racket and I told Jam the time had come for me to move on. We packed up the camp late the third day, and slept on the ground next to the Landy. With the dawn we were off heading for that unbroken line of green, the track becoming worse with the Land Rover swaying and crashing through the deep ruts. I was afraid of breaking a spring, so I took great care to negotiate the best path. Late that day we entered the forest and it was like going back in time to primeval days. Massive trees reached for the heavens with the canopy closing in over our heads. Dense undergrowth hemmed us in from both sides. The track became ill defined and the vehicle could scarcely proceed without being stopped by undergrowth and trees in its path. In places Jam needed to walk ahead to find a suitable route. We crossed a myriad of small streams where only a few logs served as a bridge.

Abruptly we came to a clearing next to a giant of the forest and I could see a number of crude huts dotted around. They were constructed of bent saplings and covered with broad leaves. There was no one to be seen, and Jam got down and started to call. Soon the Pygmies came back by ones and twos as they regained courage and curiosity. We had arrived in the Ituri Forests. It felt as if we had gone back in time to the dawn of creation. The forest was overwhelmingly big in every way with tall trees of huge girth sporting vines as thick as my arm, and the undergrowth was thick and almost impenetrable. Jam cleared a spot for us not far from the Pygmy village, and we set up camp. I sat on the campstool and waited, and soon some pygmies came shyly towards us. They were a bit smaller than Jam, but not as small as I had pictured them to be. The children came up to me when I offered them some sweets, and could not resist feeling my hair and touching my white skin. I noticed that their teeth were not cut into points and their smiles were sunny and cheerful. I instructed Jam to dole out some maize meal and coarse salt to them and hand them a pile of dried biltong.

The men had been told to look for signs of the gorillas as they hunted in the rainforest, and about nine the next morning a small cluster of them came to our camp and told us that a family group had been seen not far from where we were. We set off immediately, as the ground mist had started to lift, and I had to crouch and duck through all the undergrowth fairly running to keep pace with the Pygmies. Suddenly the leader stopped dead in his tracks and pointed forward with his spear. Crouching I moved forward and looked in the direction in which he was pointing. I could see nothing, just vegetation and the bole of a huge tree. He stood stock still pointing, and I sighted down the length of his spear. As my eyes focused I suddenly made out the bulk of a massive ape. He was sitting on his haunches eating the pith of what looked like a banana tree. He sat serenely like an elder at a meeting, while gazing fixedly at us. I had not seen him because I was intent on looking at least twenty yards further than where he actually was. The ape stood up on bent hind legs yawned wide, showing a dangerous set of teeth, and beat on his chest with cupped hands. Then he turned and sauntered off into the undergrowth turning his back on us. I could see the silver hair on his lower back, and his shoulders gave the impression of immense power. Carefully we stalked forward, and soon we spotted the rest of his family. They were in a shady glade sitting and grooming each other. We stopped just inside the dense bush and the pygmy leader motioned for us to sit down. Maintaining silence we watched the family sitting in the shade, and I marveled at their beauty. To me they were an attestation to the brilliance of our Creator’s ability. After about an hour the Patriarch got tired of our presence stood up on all fours, gazing at us he lifted his brow a few times as if to say, “Follow us if you dare,” grunted and led the group of into the jungle. I had seen a sight which very few people are privileged to behold.

Over the next few days we saw the group four more times, and then they disappeared further into the rainforest and we did not see them again. I was satisfied, the sightings I had enjoyed were sufficient. The old silverback was etched into my memory, and I will always cherish the encounter as one of the natural wonders I have had the fortune to experience.

On our way back to camp we also spotted an Okapi female standing broadside on before melting away into the forest. Jam had urged me to shoot it for meat but I refused feeling that it would be sacrilege to kill such a perfect animal. But later that day we drove back to the plain and I shot another warthog, and on the way back a big bushbuck ram.

The following day we broke camp, and after handing out some gifts, Knives for the men and cloth and beads for the women and sweets for the children, we headed back to Mlambo’s village where we spent a few hours. Jam presented him with a bag full of maize meal and I gave him some tinned meat and two packets of biscuits; then taking our leave we went off the way we had come. Before leaving the plain we saw a herd of about fifty Eland standing well within rifle range, but I refused to shoot at them with the low caliber rifle I had with us. I explained to Jam that we had achieved our objectives for this trip, and next time I may again come back to view the Virunga range of volcanoes and to see the Ruwenzori; the Mountains of the moon.

This time we travelled through the pedicle (that strip of the Congo which almost dissects Zambia) after crossing the Luapula River by ferry, and showing the guard at the barrier my “travel document,” he raised the boom and we were off to Mufulira and back home again. The road this time was tarred and we made quick time to the farm. I was just in time to start plowing for the coming maize crop. The trip into those dark damp forests will live in my memory forever. Jam stayed with us for another year, and then the restlessness overtook him and he left for fresher pastures. We never saw him again, and years later I heard that a skeleton had been found in the long grass next to the road leading from our farm into the native reserve, and the skull had pointed teeth. Jam had come to a tragic end. He was a good friend, but did not fit in with the local population. I will however remember him with fondness. His killer was never found.

Monday, February 23, 2009

An Unsung Hero

Johnny Deintje was my father in law. At five foot eight inches he was
not a large man, but he was wiry with a pair of thick hairy arms and
well developed shoulders of a boxer, with thinner legs and a firm
muscled chest. I know that he considered me a softie when I started to
court his daughter. During World War two he had served in the navy on
a minesweeper, and I am sure he did not rise above able seaman,
because he took nonsense from no one. He was also the all services
middleweight boxing champ. I know because I saw his trophies; a whole
row of polished silver cups stretching the length of the mantelpiece.
His role model was Jack Dempsey, and he worked hard at emulating him.

One Saturday afternoon I pulled in to his home in the mining camp at Luanshya on the Copperbelt of Northern Rhodesia, and as I stepped out of the car he was coming out of the house on his way to the pub.
"Coming with to the pub for a few beers?"
He did not ask, rather it was a summons, so how could I refuse?
Opening the passenger side door he climbed into my Zephyr Zodiac and waved me to carry on to
the mine club bar. We arrived and I parked right in front of the bar entrance, got out from the car and walked through the door which sported a set
of batwings as if it was prepared for a cowboy movie. The interior was
dingy with a long wooden topped bar running the length of the room. At
one end there was a full size snooker table where some men were
playing a game of snooker, and at the other end was a dart board with
a game in progress. Low chairs and tables were lined up along the wall
in such a position that the occupants could watch both the snooker and
the dart games.
There was one spot open at the bar, and Johnny headed
straight for it and perched on the stool. I moved in next to him and
stood with one foot resting on the copper foot rail at the bar. Johnny
turned to the dude sitting on his right and whispered something in his
ear. He was a big miner with a square unshaven chin and a pair of
hands so large and rough that he could have used them to rip the rocks
from the tunnel face in the mine shaft. The miner leant forward over
the bar and glared at me as if I had some contagious disease. Johnny
turned to me and said, "I told him that if he did not pick up his ass
and move over to the tables by the dart board you would rip off his
leg and beat him over the head with it."
I had just opened my mouth to say something to Johnny
when the miner picked up his glass and walked round to confront me.
Somehow I knew I was in trouble, and I would have to fight my way out
of this one. I was not exactly ignorant of barroom brawls, having been
in a few of them myself; I was very fit as I worked on the farm and it
was all manual labor. I knew that I dare not let the miner take the
initiative as then I would be lost, and would sustain some real
damage. As he came level with me I swiveled on my heel and fetched him
a hard uppercut right to the point of the chin. It felt as though I
struck a piece of granite, and the man backpedalled and went down on
the seat of his pants. Before he could gather his wits I picked up his
wooden stool and swung it at his head. It glanced off his shoulder and
caught him right on the ear, and he fell flat on his back. When he
regained his composure he put his hands in the air and gestured at the
empty stool and got up walking to the empty table at the dartboard and
sat down nursing his bruised ear. Johnny looked at me under those
shaggy eyebrows. "What are you drinking?" he asked casually as if
nothing had happened.
We finished a few beers, and Johnny left the bar and headed
for the door. The miner got up from his seat and walked over to me.
"Sorry for the misunderstanding. I just wanted to tell you that you
were welcome to my seat. I know what Johnny is like, but I should have
known that anyone going for his daughter would be worse." With that he
took my hand and shook it in a farewell. "See you around." He said and
returned to his place at the bar.

Some months later I married his daughter, and he did not
object, but I really cannot say that I managed to become one of his
bosom buddies. He sort of just tolerated me, and about a year later
when I invited him for a visit to the farm near Lusaka I was quite
surprised when he accepted the invitation.

By that time he had moved south to South Africa and flew to Lusaka. I met him at the airport and after checking in his rifle we set off for the farm. I still had some work to complete before we left for the Luano Valley, and we had to spend two more days on the farm while I completed the planting of a potato crop. The afternoons were free, and we would set off into the bush just to get oriented and to see if we could find a Kudu or two. I did not like to shoot the kudu on the farm, and knew that there would be plenty game in the Luano and Luangwa hunting areas, but it was an opportunity for him to get some walking done in the bush in
preparation for the later trips. I was very fit, and I walked him till I could see that he was ready to drop. He did not complain, and doggedly matched me step for step and although he sacrificed stealth for speed we did not get a shot at the kudu we encountered. A large
bushpig boar was not so lucky, and fell to a shot from Johnny's 7x57Walther
Two days later we set off to pick up my neighbor Dirk Ferreira who would accompany us into the Luano Valley with his Wartime Willys Jeep. When we arrived he stated that the Jeep had broken down and that we would have to make the trip in one vehicle. I knew that we would be a bit of a crush in the short wheelbase Land Rover, and that we would not be able to shoot much game as we were almost overloaded as it was, and there would be little room for meat.

The trip down the mountain into the valley was rough and steep, in fact so steep that we could not take a trailer down with us as it would be impossible to bring it back up again. We came down that precipice and into the flat valley, and had not gone two miles when we
spotted a massive Kudu Bull standing about fifty yards to our left. Dirk had his rifle ready and jumped off the vehicle and stalked the animal. We heard his shot and the Kudu rose into the air and fell down stone dead.

We loaded the bull and set off for our campsite next to the Mwapula River, and on arriving and having set up our camp we skinned the buck and hung the quarters on the slaughter pole while we got the camp ready for about five days stay. Here I must tell you how the camp was organized.

It consisted of an open area beneath some large leafy trees with a tarpaulin stretched across two horizontal saplings tied fairly high up against two big tree trunks. At the back the tarpaulin was stretched to the ground with another sapling placed on the tarpaulin on the inside, and then it was taken forward to form a groundsheet. Our bedding was placed with the pillow up against the sapling so that our heads were up against the vertical part of the tarp with our feet
towards the fire burning just outside the groundsheet. The fire was built inside a ring of large flattish boulders with a fold out table next to it and three fold out chairs positioned around the fire. We had two cast iron three legged pots, one for porridge, stiff maize meal, and one for the hunter's stew which would consist of all thesucculent pieces cut from the carcasses of whatever we bagged. We had brought along some luxuries such as tinned peaches and tinned cream,
as well as condensed milk and a cooler box with some lamb chops and a string of Boerewors; that sausage sold by the yard. In this case it was made by Dirk who was an expert at its formula. Our drink in the bush was instant coffee as it was the most convenient, and for this
purpose we had a big enameled kettle which we filled with water and
set next to the fire to boil. If the Land Rover ran on gasoline, we ran on instant coffee, the horrible cheap variety. A sack of rusks completed the pantry so that we could dunk them in our early morning coffee in lieu of breakfast. I was designated as camp cook, and that first evening I
grilled the lamb chops and made up a tasty pot bread which I baked in the one cast iron pot. The method was to bake the bread on the coals, with some coals on the lid to give it an all over brown crust. The logs we used were Mopani, and they made the best red coals in the fire, so the pot bread came out beautifully. All three of us ate a full meal and we went to bed and slept like the dead. As the dawn broke the next morning we were up and Dirk and Johnny stripped all the parts that could rattle off the Land Rover. These included the doors, the windshield and the tailgate chains. I made a Thermos flask of coffee, and loaded a packet of rusks which we could dunk along the way. We set off as the eastern sky started to turn pink, and followed the river, going in a westerly direction. This would put the sun at our backs and we would be able to see better without being blinded. Sunrise is spectacularly beautiful in Africa and startlingly rapid so that soon the sun was blazing down with all its power.

Near the camp there was a resident herd of Roan Antelope
about sixteen strong. We were used to seeing them grazing at the edge
of a long dambo, and they were very tame, and as we neared them the
bull picked up his head and stared at us with his long ears cocked.
The face markings and the enormous ears reminded one of a clown in the
circus. We loved that herd and it would never have entered our minds
to shoot at them. At that time very few people knew about the valley,
but after a few years when others came into the valley the herd
disappeared altogether. A great pity! There were some people who could
just not pass any game without killing as many as possible.
There was a small herd of elephant in amongst some reeds,
and we gave them a wide berth, not wanting to disturb them, and
continued in a north westerly direction. In a stand of Miombo forest
on the side of a hill I noticed a big Kudu Bull browsing on some
bushes. Getting off the land Rover I stalked him behind a massive
Marula tree. A shot to the neck laid it low, and as I got up to it I
noticed it had only one horn. The other was broken off clean at the
base. We loaded the bull, and proceeded along the same path when we
came across the rest of the herd about a mile away. Johnny got out and
stalked the herd while we sat in the Landy waiting to hear his shot.
After what seemed an age a shot reverberated and we heard Johnny call.
I started the Landy and drove closer. Johnny was standing next to the
carcass of a big cow. He had given it a head shot. It was risky,
because the animal just has to turn its head for the bullet to miss
completely. When I mentioned it to him he just said that he did not
want the Kudu to suffer.
Moving back towards camp, Dirk shot a large common Reedbuck
ram, and then again two guinea fowl, which made welcome additions to
the Hunter's pot. On that first day of hunting we had as much as we
could carry home, and we spent the rest of that hunt just driving
around the valley and viewing the game. A small herd of buffalo about
sixteen animals strong grazed without even lifting their heads, and we
drove past without them taking fright. We had cut up the biltong
strips and had hung them out to dry and cure, and two leisurely days
in camp watching the birds and listening to the sounds gave us a good
rest before we needed to tackle the steep and rocky road out of the
Arriving back at the farm after we had dropped off Dirk we
started to get ready for the main event; the trip to Luangwa. Johnny
had fifteen days left before he had to get back, and Luangwa was the
final destination.
The valley through which the Luangwa River meanders runs
roughly in a north to south direction and is an extension of the Great
Rift Valley which runs down the backbone of Africa. On the west it is
bordered by the Machinga escarpment and the river forms a tributary of
the mighty Zambezi. The Luangwa is one of the four major rivers of
Zambia. Its two major tributaries are the Lukashashi and the Lunsemfwa
rivers. The Lunsemfwa is the river running through the Luano valley
into the Luangwa.
During the dry season when food in the escarpments becomes
scarce the game congregates in large numbers near the river where lush
grasslands supply fodder and cover for the vast herds. Most of the
bigger antelope species abound, but the Luangwa is known for its many
Elephant and Buffalo. Because the river meanders, and when the rains
arrive it is subjected to mighty floods. New channels are cut leaving
many oxbow lakes, the joy of Hippos and crocodiles and diverse species
of water birds.
On the banks of the river and of the oxbows tall leafy
trees grow supplying many shady spots where it is a delight to camp.
Lions are an everyday spectacle, and the other predators such as
leopard and hyena are seen and heard almost daily. The Valley is
filled with birdlife and some exotic species abound in vast numbers.
Thousands of Carmine Beeaters make their nests in the high clay banks
of the river, creating a dazzling sight all along its length. Egyptian
Geese fly overhead in groups emitting their hissing call, and big
Spurwing Geese strut around the sandbanks in pairs keeping a watchful
eye on hunters passing by.

I borrowed another Land Rover from a friend. It was almost
identical with mine, but ran on diesel and we found it to be much
slower, making only about 45 miles per hour at top speed. It was also
very underpowered and I had to hitch the trailer to my Landy. Tuesday
we packed early and set off along the Great East Road for Petauke the
jumping off spot for the Luangwa. It was a full day's drive, and when
we arrived at about nine in the evening the guest house was full and
we had to sleep in the bush. After making a temporary camp we had some
food which had been precooked, and fell into an exhausted sleep.

Before dawn broke we were on our way along the track
leading to our controlled hunting area at Kaoma. The motor track wound
along the base of the escarpment through stands of Miombo forest, and
when we started to notice the Mopani bush we knew we were in the
valley Mid morning brought us to within a few miles of the river, and
as if to tell us we were nearing our destination a big Roan Antelope
bull stood watching us as we drove past. Suddenly the river was before
us, and we knew we were in our hunting grounds. There was a nice stand
of riverine forest nearby, and we decided to pull in and make camp.
The river was about three hundred yards off and from our camp spot we
had a nice view of it. We had passed a village of about ten thatched
huts some distance before the river, and had picked up a tracker and a
guide there. Between the four of us we set up the camp and unpacked
the vehicles. I had seen some sign of Impalas in the Mopani, so Johnny
and I left the two helpers to collect firewood while we went off in
search of a nice Impala for the pot.
Johnny had his 7x57 Walther while I had taken my .222 Sako.
Johnny's rifle was a real beauty with a clip on Zeiss scope. He had
carried it in a walnut case that was polished to a high shine and
itself cased in a padded canvas sleeve. My rifle had seen better days,
but the Nicol scope was set in at one hundred yards and was deadly

Ten minutes out of camp we spied a small herd of Impala,
but they were running when we saw them, and it seemed that they would
never stop. Johnny stepped off the Land Rover and started to follow
their spoor. I sat waiting for twenty minutes that seemed like ten
hours when I heard a shot off to my left, and almost immediately
another. Starting the vehicle I drove slowly in the direction of where
I reckoned the shot to have been, and soon I heard a shrill whistle. I
stopped and Johnny came sauntering out of the bush. He had shot a
lovely big Impala ram. Again he had gone for a head shot, and had
missed when the ram turned its head. Then he had taken it with a shot
high up on the shoulder, and the ram had dropped where it stood.
We had a late breakfast of Impala liver and kidneys with
scrambled eggs and toast, washing it down with strong hot coffee.
Johnny as always was not very conversant, and I had to stimulate the
conversation while he answered in monosyllables punctuated by the
occasional grunt. Then in the afternoon we each took a local man with
us and moved off in different directions with me driving along the
river upstream from the camp and Johnny going in the direction of the
Impala kill.

I drove along slowly, keeping the river to my right and
negotiating a number of gulleys and dongas. The floodplain was wide at
some places and there were many Puku grazing on the short grass. They
stood around singly or in small groups, and stared at us
inquisitively, reminding me of Reedbuck but with black tails, while
the reedbuck had a white powder puff tails. At one wide open space we
could see where the game descended to the river to drink, and when we
walked over to the place we could see fresh Buffalo spoor. They had
been at the river, a big herd, not two hours ago. The tracker said
that that were already on their way to where the lie up during the
heat of the day, but if we came back with a circuitous route the next
day we would be sure to encounter them. I wanted Johnny to be with
when we confronted the herd, as I would like him to shoot a nice bull.

Back at camp we found that Johnny had another kudu, and we
decided to call it a day and get an early night so as to be fresh for
the Buff hunt the next day. Johnny pulled out a bottle of Vat69 Scotch
whiskey, rough stuff but his favorite, and we each had a few pegs. I
grilled two beefsteaks and some lamb chops which we ate with baked
beans and tomato salad. Later we turned into our bedrolls and to the
serenade of a woodland owl I drifted off to sleep.

As dawn broke we were up and ate some rusks with coffee,
and I took up the .500 nitro express by Army and Navy which I had
borrowed from my friend Dick. It was a lovely weapon and had a kick
like a mule, but I knew that whatever I aimed at would go down. Johnny
only had his Walther which was a bit light for Buff, so I gave him my
9.3x62 Brno open sight rifle which I knew was as accurate as one could
want, and packed a good punch to boot. Within half an hour we were off
towards the drinking place, and soon arrived where the pathway to the
river started. When we arrived within sight of the river we could see
that the place was empty, and we walked down to the water's edge. The
ground was still wet where the herd had dripped water onto the loose
earth. We backtracked and found that they had turned off the path
parallel to the river. We mounted up again and drove on. Hardly two
miles farther and I sighted some white egrets diving towards the
ground, a sure indication of a buffalo herd. Johnny took up the 500,
and I took the Brno and we advanced on foot all along the edge of the
river. I could see egrets wheeling near the ground, and as we came
over a rise there was the herd not a hundred paces away. There were
about fifty animals with a number of cows with small calves.

Four old dagga boys grazed in a tight group nearer us,
about sixty paces away. There was no ground cover between us and the
four, and we decided that we should take a shot from where we were.
One of the four was a young bull in his prime with a fair spread of
horns, and I gestured for Johnny to take him, tapping my hand on my
shoulder to indicate where he should aim. Johnny sat down and resting
his elbow on his knee he sighted the rifle at the young bull while I
knelt with the Brno at the ready behind him. His shot took the young
bull on the shoulder and we could see the mud blow off him where the
bullet struck. He rolled right over and lay with his legs in the air
for a few moments then he rolled over and let out a mournful bellow.
The rest of the group ran for cover of the bush which was about two
hundred paces to our left, and they came past us at about fifteen
paces. As they passed, a young cow was broadside on and I shot her
just behind the shoulder. She staggered and ran on for about fifty
paces when she went down onto her chest and remained still. The others
carried on running and gained cover in the tree line.

The cow was very fat, and made the best biltong one could
wish to make. Because the bull was young, his meat would also be most
palatable. We spent the next two days cutting up the carcasses and
salting and hanging the biltong strips. The two helpers received all
the bony cuts, and busied themselves cutting and smoking the meat over
slow fires. Two Buffalo and a kudu was an awful lot of meat, and we
were exhausted by the time the last bit was hung out to dry. I had
purchased an elephant as well, and we started to prepare to take a
nice bull if we should come across one.

In the meantime we enjoyed the camp near the river. Johnny would go down for a swim and a bath on a
shallow sand bank in the river every afternoon while I stood guard
with the Brno. The Luangwa has more crocodiles per mile than any other
Zambian river including the Zambezi, and I preferred to take my bath
in a basin, but Johnny came through it unscathed. Maybe the crocs were
afraid to take a bite at him, I really cannot say.

We drove upstream next to the river, and as luck would have
it we spied a lone Elephant bull browsing on some trees across a deep
donga. Stopping the Land Rover I took up the .500 and Johnny the Brno,
and we stalked towards the donga. The donga was deep opposite the
place where the bull was standing, but it broadened out towards the
river. The bull was leisurely plucking branches and moving slowly
towards the river, and I surmised that he wanted to cross the stream
over to the other side The wind was in our favor, and we moved towards
the river to intercept him when he came into the flood plain. He was
totally unaware of our presence, and came onto the plain next to the
river not twenty paces from where we were concealed. I moved forward
with the double .500 at the ready. Johnny stayed about half a yard
behind me, ant stepped right into my footprints. Something alerted the
bull and he swung round presenting a broadside view. I would have
preferred to get a little closer, but being afraid that the wind had
shifted and within a second the bull would turn and run, I lifted the
heavy rifle and sighted right into his ear hole and pulled off the
shot. The bull's hind legs collapsed and he sat down hard and then
rolled over. I dropped the barrel, opened the breach, the spent
cartridge popped out over my left shoulder and I reloaded with a fresh
round. The bull gave a feeble kick and lay still. Johnny had not
moved, and stood with the Brno rifle at the ready. I walked over to
the elephant, and taking out my pocket knife I cut off the tail. The
heavy .500 bullet had entered the brain and the bull was dead.

Johnny drove the tracker back to the village to collect
some men to butcher the elephant carcass, and after cutting out the
tusks they commenced the job of cutting up the meat and carrying it
all back to the village. The job took them two full days. In the
meantime we packed up and left early for the long drive home.

When we got home I saw that Johnny had cut a cluster of
buffalo beans which he had put into a peanut butter bottle and placed
into his case. Later he told me that they had been confiscated at Jan
Smuts airport in South Africa. He had warned the officials not to open
the bottle, but I am sure their curiosity must have got the better of
them. It boggles the mind!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

.An Emerald In The Desert

From the air the Okavango Delta comes as a sudden surprise. The flight from Gaborone, capital city of Botswana, to Maun at the edge of the Okavango Delta is drab and monotonous being mostly Kalahari type countryside; dry and uninteresting with scattered native Kraals, the grass roofed huts surrounded by log palisades to keep out wild animals. The ground is crossed by myriads of footpaths made by people, cattle and wild game animals. Ripples of wind blown sand covered with sparse brown grass and the occasional stunted tree can be seen to go on for miles as the Piper Cherokee wings its way towards Maun, the launch point of our safari into the Okavango Delta.

I had met Paul in the hotel he owned in Lichtenburg in the far western Transvaal. I was in the area engaged in selling huge one way disc plows to the local farmers in the Western Transvaal which is one of the maize growing areas of South Africa. Paul also owned a company which sold tractors and implements, and I had done some demonstrations to the farmers using his tractors which were well suited to the plows I sold. The result was that we sold a number of units, and the week had been most successful. The manager of the tractor company and I were celebrating our success in the bar when Paul walked in and joined our conversation.

The discussion soon drifted to Paul's passion, hunting, and he was impressed by the fact that I had had extensive hunting experience in Central Africa. We talked about the various game animals, guns, calibers and hunting vehicles. The best hunting areas were debated and he asked me if I had ever hunted in Botswana. I told him that I had never hunted in Botswana, but I believed that it was as pristine as can be encountered anywhere in Africa. With that the gathering broke up and I went off to bed. The next day I departed for my base in Johannesburg.

It was a few days later that my boss called me into his office and told me that he had had a call from Paul who demanded that I accompany him on a two weeks trip into Botswana where he had certain business contacts, and that he required my presence at a few of his meetings. My boss told me that he had consented to the request, and that I should get ready to leave for Lichtenburg the next morning. A three hour drive brought me into Lichtenburg, and I went up the stairs to Paul's office. He ushered me into his office which was large and sumptuously furnished with many trophies adorning the walls.

"Do you see what is missing here?" Paul asked, waving at all the stuffed heads. I shook my head. "A massive buffalo bull!" He transfixed me with a glare as if it was my fault that he did not have a stuffed buffalo head amongst the rest. "I have arranged for us to go hunting one in the Okavango Delta. We fly to Gaborone at four this afternoon, and tomorrow we will land at Maun. I have arranged licenses for you from a buddy who cannot make the trip. If there is anything you need for the trip I suggest that you go out now and purchase it as we will take off at four sharp."

We took off at four as promised, and after two hours landed at Gaborone where we cleared customs and immigration and then booked in to the Holiday Inn. I settled in to my room, and at seven went down to the bar to see what had happened to Paul. The barman informed me that he was in the gambling hall, and there I found him playing blackjack. I am not much of a gambler, and by eight I went off to have supper and go off to bed. Paul continued to play, and as I walked into the dining room the next morning for breakfast he came out of the gambling hall, and joined me for breakfast. He had not slept all night, and informed me that he had lost a king's ransom; his mood was not good.

Taking off from Gaborone airport he set the autopilot and said to me. "I am going to take a nap, but if we stray from the road, just wake me, and when you see the Okavango Delta on the horizon wake me so that we can land."

Mile after mile of Kalahari countryside sped beneath the Cherokee while I sweated watching in case we strayed from the main road to Maun, and Paul snored softly while he slept. Suddenly there it was on the horizon! A green contrast to the monotonous drab Kalahari stood out like a mirage ahead of us with a burst of color. I leaned across and shook Paul awake. He sat up wide awake and took over the controls.

Paul put the Cherokee into a wide turn and I gazed out over the massive delta. Green papyrus with channels of clear water interspersed with stands of riverine forest, dark leafy trees clustered among wide patches of Mopani woodland. From the air I could see that the campsites would be as good if not better than anywhere in Africa, together with the crystal clear water it was a veritable paradise. A thrill of anticipation coursed through me; it was one of the greatest sights of the bewitching continent.

We approached the airstrip and Paul put the Cherokee down like a butterfly alighting on a flower. His driver was waiting with his Land Rover, having been sent on ahead.

Our first stop was at the Crocodile camp, a delightful lodge just outside of Maun. We broke out the camping gear and set up sleeping facilities in a reed enclosure on the banks of the river. The night was clear with stars sharply visible and after climbing under our mosquito netting we fell instantly asleep. Paul's driver had already presented our licenses to the authorities at Maun, and collected the tracker and guide who were to accompany us, so that an early start was in order.

We awoke before the dawn, packed up the camp, and took off for Toteng, a village on the shores of Lake Ngami. The lake is more like a pan with water knee deep in most places after a season of rains. When we arrived the lake was dry as a bone, and the naked children running around the village were covered in a layer of grey dust that disguised their natural color completely. Washing was a luxury they could only afford when the lake was full. The rest of the year dust baths are in order. If the elephants can do it, so could they, and one could see that they enjoyed it immensely. I never saw one with body sores, or rashes of any sort although I will add that I never got too close to them.

Leaving Toteng behind us we travelled in a North Westerly direction deeper into the delta. The waters had started to recede and many of the channels were dry with only the deepest streams holding water. The grass was lush however, and the trees were full of green leaves. The bush was full of spoor, and it was not long before we encountered a small herd of Impala. A beautiful big ram stood looking at us about thirty yards off with long lyre shaped horns held aloft. He snorted at us and stamped his front feet in indignation at the intrusion of his territory. Paul took up his rifle, a magnificent 6.5 Manlicher full stock, fitted with a Pecar Berlin scope, and I surmised that the Impala had breathed his last. Paul stood two paces from the vehicle and took aim through the telescope. The ram kept standing and after what to me seemed an age the shot went off and the dust flew about five yards behind the buck. With a leap the Impala was off, and Paul let off another two rapid shots at him which both missed by a mile. "Just hunting jitters," I thought to myself. "He will come right after a few shots." The next animal we encountered was a large Warthog. Paul leapt out of the Landie and let fly at the hog. The bullet kicked up dust under the hog's belly, and the animal took off tail in the air and kept running. Again Paul sent two shots after it, but they were so far missed that we could not even see a strike. He took the rifle and threw it to the ground. Fortunately there was thick grass and the rifle did not strike the ground directly. I went and retrieved it, and wiping the dust off with a cloth, I stowed it behind the seat.

We arrived at the camp spot at about midday, and set up camp. Paul had brought a massive tent which his driver pitched for him under a large leafy tree. I had to take my bedroll and stow it near the fire in the open. We set up a large fold out table and some camp chairs, and Paul brought out his rifles. He had a beautiful .416 Rigby, a .378 Weatherby Magnum, and the 6.5mm Maanlicher.

"Sorry," He said, "We could not organize any hunting licenses for you, so you will have to only be an observer. However you can back me up when we shoot the Buffalo, and then you can carry the 378."

"You mean to tell me that I have come all this way and now I cannot hunt?" I was livid. "Now I must sit here for ten days just watching you do all the hunting. Why could you not convert the licenses which your pal could not use?" I knew that the Game department would not have had any objection to that.

"Well my pal said that he would use them for another occasion, and therefore he would not release them to me."

"You mean to tell me that when we left Lichtenburg you knew that there would be no hunting licenses for me, and yet you let me get on board your plane without telling me?"

Suddenly I was totally irritated, and my attitude showed it. Paul however was quite nonchalant, and let my mood run off him like water off a duck's back.

"Look at it this way," Paul said, "You are in the bush with all the animals around you, and not trying to chat up some stingy farmers to buy your implements. You can get rid of some frustrations and absorb some tranquility; in the meantime I will get that Buffalo head for my collection."

He was quite right. I was not paying for the trip, and even though there would be no hunting for me this time I was in one of the gem areas of Africa, and I would have the opportunity of observing and relishing the unspoilt wilderness and the freshness of the environment with its many animal, bird and plant species. My mood lifted, and I resolved to make the best of the observer status which had been assigned to me. I had brought a notebook, and using it as a journal I started to record every interesting aspect of the trip as it happened.

As soon as the camp was set up and enough firewood gathered and deposited at the fire pit, we had some lunch consisting of corned beef sandwiches and a mug of coffee. I helped Paul to load his rifles, and took the Manlicher to the edge of the camp, and setting up a target at one hundred and fifty yards took a shot. I hit the target dead centre, and then took two more shots to make sure that the scope was set properly, and had not sustained any damage when Paul discarded the rifle. My conclusion was that Paul still suffered from the jitters, and he should take the shots comfortably and relax when taking aim. I mentioned it to him, but he pooh poohed the idea.

When the afternoon started to cool off we took the Land Rover and drove along the track deeper into the Delta. Skirting a channel which was drying fast we came to a wide vlei. The ground was damp, and we could see that towards the centre where the Papyrus stood high and luxurious there must be a pan of water. Avoiding the wet ground we drove along the edge of the vlei, and as we came to the opposite edge we spotted a group of about twelve Blue Wildebeests and four Tsessabys grazing at the far edge. Paul and the tracker alighted from the Land Rover and stalked the group through the Nile grass and Papyrus while I stayed at the vehicle and observed their progress through the binoculars. Paul had taken the 378 Weatherby, a fine weapon, and soon I saw him sink down to a kneeling position taking aim. There was a fine bull which stood broadside on and I surmised that Paul was aiming at him. When the shot sounded I saw a Tsessaby calf behind the Wildebeest fall. And the herd was off at a gallop. They were not wild so that it was plain that they had not been shot at often, and about two hundred paces away they stopped and stood watching Paul who was running towards them He again sank to his knees and took aim. The shot echoed and a wildebeest went down, got up and ran about fifty paces before collapsing and started to kick with all four legs in the air.

We drove the Land Rover around the vlei and up to the Wildebeest. I could see that it had taken the shot in the belly the heavy bullet striking it down. It had then angled forward and exited just behind the shoulder blade. The meat was a mess, and had the rifle been a smaller caliber the poor animal would have suffered dreadfully.

Returning to camp I assisted in dressing the meat that could be used, and cutting up the biltong while Paul's driver prepared supper. After a tasty meal of tsessaby liver and kidneys with stiff maize meal porridge we called it a day and I turned into my bedroll next to the campfire. The far off roar of a lion made me pull the blanket tighter around my shoulders as if that could protect me from an assault by that king of all predators. With the call of a pearl spotted owl sounding softly from the trees nearby, I eventually fell asleep and dreamt of great big buffalo bulls all gut shot and charging down on me while I battled to run away on rubber legs.

As the dawn broke, a Copper Tail Coucal called nearby with deep dooo, dooo, dooo, tones sounding like water being poured from a bottle. I lay in the warmth of my blanket listening to the calls, identifying the new sounds as the delta became alive with a myriad of birds.

Paul came from his tent as I was busy washing my face and informed me that he was going to Maun and would be back only the next day, and I should amuse myself while he and the driver were away. Without even waiting for breakfast he got into the Land Rover and sped of in a cloud of dust. I must say that I was not very sorry to see him go. The Copper tail Coucal had inspired me to spend some time observing the birdlife in the delta, and after a breakfast of hard rusks and coffee I took up the 6.5 Manlicher and a pair of binoculars, and the tracker and I strolled off into the forest chasing the various bird calls. The tracker, who's name was Watson, knew many of the species we encountered. There were shrikes, both the red breasted and the long tailed, tiny flycatchers all sitting in a row on a reed hanging over the channel, flocks of green pigeons in the wild fig trees and Meyer's Parrots clowning about in the branches of a dead Mopani tree. Near the water I spied a big Marabou Stork standing like an undertaker at a funeral. Iridescent sunbirds flitted about among the flowers of a lucky bean tree. We could hear the trumpeting calls of a group of Crowned Cranes not very far ahead of us signifying the proximity of a vlei not far off, and we walked towards the sound.

A deep gulley crossed our path, and as we entered it I saw that there was coarse washed sand in its bottom. There in the sand lay the impressions of a massive lion that had passed not one hour ago. The prints in the soft sand were shiny with newness, the edges crisp and defined. No sand had been blown onto them although there was a fair breeze blowing. Watson followed the spoor for a few paces and whistled softly to me. He was looking at a jumble of tracks overlaying the male's spoor.

"These are the tracks of a whole pride of lions see here the many juvenile spoor. It shows that there are cubs of varying ages with at least five lionesses in attendance. I am sure they are up ahead probably drinking at the pan in the vlei." He looked up at me as if to indicate that we should clear out sharp shoot.

I had the rifle with me and there were five rounds in the magazine with an extra five rounds in the breast pocket of my bush jacket. I certainly did not relish an encounter with a whole pride, so we retraced our steps back to camp. The vlei was about half a mile away and even that was too close for comfort. The trees were tall with thick smooth trunks, and would be impossible for me to climb even in the direst panic. I did the best I could and broke out the 378 Weatherby and twenty rounds of solid tipped ammunition and put it ready on the table while I sat in the camp chair nearby reading a book. We had plenty firewood, and the two black men stoked the fire while they put on a three legged pot of water for the day's porridge. That night we sat up at the fire till the early hours listening to the roars sounding as if they were at the very edge of our camp. I sat with my back against a tree trunk and eventually drifted off to sleep while the other two continued to sit at the fire putting logs on to keep the flames high.

Paul arrived back at camp about eleven the next morning, and I could smell on his breath that he had enjoyed a good night of partying. After eating a good lunch he retired to his tent and slept till early afternoon. At about two in the afternoon he emerged and called for the Land Rover, and after putting the two heavy rifles in their carry racks we made of into the bush. We skirted the dry gully and emerged into the vlei. The crested cranes were still there, and sure enough there was a large pan of clear water with a small beach of washed rough sand where the gully entered the pan. The lion spoor was plentiful and the tracker announced that it was a favorite drinking spot. Buffalo tracks were all over the lion spoor showing that they too favored the pan. The pan was empty of wild life, and we slowly drove around the edge and headed for a stand of forest on the other side. There we encountered a path which we followed. There was a big termite mound covered in dense shrubbery and two tall trees, and as we approached it we saw a leopard raise its head and quizzically peer at us. When we came too close for his comfort he bounded out followed by his mate which had been hiding in the short grass at the base of the mound. They had been mating when we disturbed them. We took the opposite tack and left them to their courtship.

As we drove through the forest there was a stand of scrubby Mopani stretching for about a mile. The Mopani scrub was about five feet high with here and there taller bits bushing out from base trunks that had been damaged by elephants but had then grown out again forming clusters of tall shoots. The tracker hissed and pointed and I stood up to see what he was pointing at, and saw eight buffalo bulls grazing about three hundred yards away. There was a nice young bull amongst them with a fair spread of horns. They were grazing leisurely and the wind was blowing from them in our direction.

We parked the Land Rover, and Paul took up the 416 Rigby while I took the .378 Weatherby, checking that the magazine was loaded with full jacketed solid cartridges. We started to stalk the group and with all the scrub we had plenty cover so that after a slow stalk we got to within about twenty yards from the group. The young bull was slightly behind another one, but they were grazing from our left to right, and I indicated to Paul to wait till he emerged and then to give him a shoulder shot. He knelt down and sighted, and I could see the bull come out ahead of the others to present a perfect shoulder shot. Paul continued to sight for what seemed an age.

When the shot sounded the whole group took flight straight for where we were crouched They had taken fright at the sound of the shot and came past us with the speed of a freight train I could of shot the young bull point blank as it passed me. Paul took fright and started to run towards where we had left the land Rover. The group of buffalo ran for about a hundred yards and stopped in a tight knot while one split off from the rest and made for some dense bush at the edge of the Mopani scrub. I concluded that it was wounded. The afternoon had progressed to about five o'clock, and soon the sun would be gone and the darkness would come suddenly as it does in the African bush. Paul returned to where we were standing, and I said that if we wanted to get the buff then we would have to take its spoor right away and dispatch it before the sun went down. This he refused and said that we should first get the Land Rover so that we could follow the animal with the vehicle nearby as a refuge in case of a charge. By the time the vehicle arrived the sun was already sinking towards the horizon and we got to the forest too late to further take up the spoor, and had to abandon the chase till the next morning.

With sunrise we were at the spot where we had left the spoor, and with the tracker and I leading along the spoor while Paul rode the vehicle behind us refusing to take a chance of facing a charge on foot. Twice we came on places where the buffalo had gone down, and where he had regained his feet and struggled on. The tracker carefully surveyed every dark spot in the bush before moving on along the spoor. Suddenly we saw movement ahead and he froze intently staring at the source of the movement. I saw a hyena scurrying away, and knew that the buffalo was dead and the hyenas were feeding on the carcass. Sure enough there lay what was left of the beast, and as it turned out it was an old bull with one broken off horn. Paul had again shot the wrong animal. Had we followed it we would have come up to it to find it already dead as the shot had penetrated right through the right side and the bullet had lodged in the left side shoulder. The hyenas had eaten the carcass and Paul was left with the head from which even the ears had been chewed off as a trophy for his hunting collection. What an anticlimax to his buffalo hunt!

At midday we broke up camp, and returned to Maun where we slept the night and the next morning took off for the return trip home. As we gained height I asked Paul to turn over the delta for a last look, and this he did flying over the spot where we had camped before making for home. That was my last view of the Okavango Delta, and the memory is firmly entrenched in my mind. It is one of the true jewels of Africa and a wonder of the natural world. I will always remember it as such and hope to one day visit it again.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hunting Hazards.

Hunting in the African bush is fraught with hazards. Uncanny things happen, things that the hunter cannot plan for, that can seriously affect not only his hunt and the pleasure of his stay in nature, but also his very life.

If hunting were as easy as a walk in the park, many more folks would be doing it, and the bush would be full of hunters chasing after the few animals trying to escape their efforts. Many people go off to the gun dealers and buy the rifle which he recommends, and take off into the bush in their 4x4 vehicle, license in hand and with all the latest camping gear. All they need to do is come across the animals stated on his license, haul out his new rifle and let fly. They see themselves posing with one foot on the neck of their victim and holding the rifle in an appropriate pose with the camera clicking so that a framed print can hang in the den to show their friends what a Nimrod they really are, and how much testosterone flows in their system.

Of course posing like that with a lovely Impala ram does not have exactly the same impact as a buffalo or even a lion, and ultimately having the head mounted and fixed over the fireplace in the den would supply hours of conversation when the cronies come visiting. Then the host can show off the trophies, and all the photos, and he would grow in stature and be the admiration of all the beautiful damsels in his circle of acquaintances.

Two friends, one an Italian named Giovanni, the other a Jewish fellow named Maurice each acquired an elephant license and made ready to hunt their elephants in the Gwembe Valley of the Zambezi River. They came into the business premises of Boet Oberholser who repaired and sold used Land Rovers. It was a Friday afternoon, and a few of us were gathered there having some beers in anticipation of a leisurely week end.

Giovanni was tall and broad with a shock of dark curly hair. He was friendly and laughed easily, and could put away copious amounts of beer. Maurice almost had the shape of a ball, as round as he was tall, with short legs and a premature bald head. He was full of restless energy and had quick nervous movements.

"We each have an elephant license." Maurice stated while quaffing his beer and surveying the gathering.

"Oh yes." George Lyon said. "Where are you going to hunt them?" George worked for the Game department as a tsetse control officer, and knew all the hunting areas intimately.

"In the Gwembe." Maurice retorted. "Do you know the area?" He knew that George had worked in that area quite recently, and it was a stupid question.

"Do you two clowns know the elephants of the Gwembe?" George looked at Giovanni pointedly. "Even the old hunter, Selous said that the Gwembe elephants were the most vicious that he ever encountered. And I know from working there that they are even more so now than in his day, especially if you encounter cows with calves.

"We have not been hunting since yesterday only." Maurice said with disdain. "Also we each have an adequate rifle therefore I cannot see what could go wrong." George nodded his head and finished his beer. He stood up and said, "Good luck with the hunt, come and show us the tusks next Friday." He walked out the door to his Land Rover.

Monday morning Boet phoned me. "Did you hear about Giovanni and Maurice? They went hunting on Saturday, and Giovanni tells me Maurice is still in bed sick. Apparently they encountered a small herd of elephant with a good bull accompanying them. Maurice decided to take the shot, and when the bull presented a good side shot He let him have it in the ear hole, and the bull went down like a sack of potatoes. The rest of the herd, instead of running off started to mill around till they got the pair's scent and then they all charged the two hunters en masse. All they could do was to turn and run. Well, you know that a man cannot hope to outrun a charging elephant and they could see that the herd was gaining on them, and even the small calves had their trunks at full extension till the tips were sharp as needles reaching for the hated men.

Fortunately they encountered a deep donga crossing their path, and the two dived into it and ran up the other side. The herd came up to the deep ditch, and started to run up and down trying to find a way through, and that gave the two hunters enough time to get away. They had to come back the next day to cut out the tusks, and Maurice was so pale around the gills that he went straight to bed when they got back to town."

Who would have expected the whole herd to charge at once, and had that ditch not been there, the two companions would not have outrun the herd, and they would have been trampled to tiny bits and pieces.

Insects too pose a definite hazard to the hunter. I had taken the long week end of the Rhodes and Founders holiday to accompany Dick and Henry to the Zambezi Valley for a Buffalo hunt, and we were well equipped and raring to go. We entered the valley floor, and had hardly gone two miles when a massive Roan Antelope bull ran across our path. It ran for about two hundred paces and stopped, standing broadside on. Dick jumped out of the driver's side, and took a snap shot at the Roan. We could hear the thump of the bullet striking, and the Roan turned around and ran off at full speed. I saw it disappearing behind a large Baobab tree, and did not see it emerge from the other side. Taking up my 30-06 rifle I ran towards the tree, and there about twenty yards away lay the Roan, stone dead. I had run past the tree so fast that I had failed to notice a black man lying next to the massive trunk on his back. Having cut the animal's throat to bleed it out, I happened to glance at the tree and saw the man lying there. Walking over I saw that he had been robbing a bee's nest in the trunk of the Baobab tree, as he had leant a sturdy sapling diagonally against the trunk and had carefully cut steps into it. His small native axe was still embedded into the wood of the baobab, and the bees were working at the opening he had chopped in the trunk. It was obvious to us that the man had seen the hive in the trunk of the tree, possibly guided by a honey guide bird, and when he started to chop the opening to enlarge it, the bees had attacked him. Swatting the insects he had lost his footing, and fallen and broken his neck.

We all stood around the body contemplating it and discussing what we should do next. To go back to Lusaka for the police meant a drive of about one hundred miles, and then we would be obliged to bring them back to the scene. Arriving there, the cops were sure to implicate us in the poor man's demise, which meant that our weekend would be over and the hunt a wash out. And we would have to bring them to the scene at our own expense. No, that just would not do! We then decided to leave him right there and continue with the hunt. The Roan was loaded and we continued on our way.

Monday, after a good hunt we came back along the same path. Arriving near the spot where the Roan was shot we decided to leave the vehicle in the road and walk down to the Baobab. The corpse was gone. Drag marks showed where a lion had picked it up and carried it off to a dense bush where it had been devoured. Nothing was left, only a bundle of clothes, some assegais, and the axe stuck in the tree. I climbed the sapling, and shining the beam of my torch down the hole, I could see many honey combs hanging in the hollow trunk. Some were black with age, and the honey was dripping down the inside of the trunk.

I have always been good at robbing bees' nests, and after smoking the insects to make them dizzy, I continued to take out the honey. We filled two five gallon cans full of honey combs and leaving some behind to encourage them to stay at the nest we drove home. For that poor man his quest had definitely proved hazardous indeed.

During one hunt, north of the Zambezi, a place called Chakwengwa, we had set up camp in the late afternoon, and as usual had collected a huge heap of firewood, and built a merry fire. I was designated camp cook, and soon had a meal cooking. Well, I needed to put some wood on the fire, and grasping a fairly thick log I tossed it on the fire. There was a crack in the log, and my hand encircled the crack. As it left my hand I felt a painful sting on the side of my palm, and as the log hit the fire a small red scorpion scuttled out of the crack and fell into the glowing coals, sizzled, squirmed and died. My hand and arm burnt like the fire itself, and soon became numb. It was my first scorpion sting and I was soon feverish with my heart palpitating like mad. The pain shot up my right arm and into my shoulder, and I became dizzy and disorientated. I had to lie down on my bed, and the only medcine I had to take were some aspirin. I was out of action for the whole weekend and that sting put paid to my hunt. The third day I could get up and move around a bit in camp. I have been stung a number of times since, and every time the experience was less painful as if I had built up an immunity, but that first experience will always be inscribed in my memory, and I can recall it as if it happened yesterday.

Most of our hunts took place during the winter months. This made the insect problem less troublesome as the deadliest enemy, the mosquito, was less likely to bite. But there were mozzies around, and they did bite, and the chances were good that the one which bit would be the malaria carrier, the deadly Anopheles mosquito. Most hunters contracted malaria at one time, and that could be deadly serious. Many hunters have died as a result of this animal's bite, and often they only know they have the disease after having left the bush, and they do not even know where they were bitten.

Another insect pest is the Tsetse fly. A little larger than the normal house fly, and of a brown grey coloring this pest bites with grim determination. It is so fast that the natives say that when it alights on your arm and bites, when you react by striking it, it leaves your arm and bites you on the palm of the hand cocked to strike it. I cannot vouch for that one, but will say that it reacts faster than any other insect I know of. During my time in the bush these pests loved to bite me, and there was hardly a spot on my body where they had not bitten me. The bite itches and burns, and there is nothing that will stop that burn. It has to fade away normally. The down side of the tsetse bite is that the pests carry the dreaded sleeping sickness which if not treated promptly leads to a lingering death.

Another hazard a hunter faces but never thinks about is snake bite. I know of a case where a hunter was stalking some kudu, and had to pass through a stand of long grass, and as he brushed through the thick grass he was bitten on the thigh by a black mamba. The snake struck him twice almost on the same spot, and he staggered back to the edge of the grass and collapsed. Before his companions could get him back to camp he was dead. They had the anti venom in camp, but the man was already dead by the time they could get at it. He had died within twenty minutes of being bitten.

Often we would make our beds on the ground, and cutting some long grass as a mattress we would spread the blanket over it and then sleep on top with another blanket as covering. I know of a few cases where when the blankets were folded after a night's rest, a thick puff adder emerged, having spent the night in the warmth of the sleeper's body. I have never heard of one being bitten by the unwelcome bed mate, but the thought of sleeping with a deadly snake is quite enough.

On one hunt up in the north western section of Zambia where the trees are tall with leaves right at the very top, we were hunting the elusive yellow backed duiker, and moving cautiously through the forest with a thick carpet of dried leaves on the ground. Slowly stalking, carefully putting one foot forward at a time, I suddenly saw the leaves move right where I would place my foot. Something in my subconscious warned me, and I did an about turn in mid stride. There was a dreaded Gaboon Viper, wound up like a coiled spring, ready to strike.

The color pattern of that snake was so camouflaged that it was almost invisible among the browns and reds of the fallen leaves. It was a monster of about three feet long, and as thick as my calf. The head was as large as my fist, with fangs a good three inches long. Had it sunk those fangs into my leg I would have died of fright before the venom had time to take effect. In those days there was no anti venom available for this snake, and a bite would have proven fatal. I still turn cold with goose flesh when I think of that incident.

Many Native hunters go off into the bush and never return. The people in the villages do not go out to look for them as they know that a search would prove fruitless. There are just too many dangers confronting the lone hunter, and a disappearance is merely written off as being lost. Life in the village goes its normal course and the hunter is soon forgotten.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lions In The Darkness.

When an American thinks of Africa, the first thought that comes to him has to do with lions. He imagines the cities with streets where lions prowl around, and most of them man eaters at that. The perception is that everyone has to carry a rifle just to defend him against these man eating lions that will attack at sight, and that everyone becomes adept at shooting lions in their back yards.

We travelled up to Mufulira from Johannesburg in 1945.Mufulira was one of the northernmost mining camps close to the border of the Belgian Congo, and had just recently been established. The camp was very neatly laid out, with lovely cool bungalow type houses for the mine staff, well laid out roads and beautiful gardens planted and maintained by the mine management. There were a few shops, a mine club which housed a dance hall and a cinema. Every last Saturday in the month a matinee film was shown for the kids and entrance was free. At the door we each received a packet of sweets and a cool drink I never missed a Saturday movie, and particularly liked the cowboy films, and would take up position in the front row, and we would boo the baddies, and cheer the good guys. The noise was deafening. Kids would run around, screaming and fighting. Forming their own groups they would attack each other and act out the movie as if they were part of the show. I shudder to think how the theatre staff ever hoped to keep control of the mob.

When we arrived at the camp it was well into the rainy season, and by four in the afternoon the rain would start to fall and continue well into the night. I can remember hearing the cries of wild dogs and the mournful howls of hyenas amid the flashing lightning and the pouring rain. Often we would hear of lion sightings by the truck drivers along the road to Ndola where all our provisions were obtained, and then some of the miners who knew all about hunting would be out after the prides. I never saw any shot, but heard the grown ups speaking about all the close encounters

Our next door neighbor was a tall blonde dashing man named Steve Barry. He was every ladies idea of the perfect heartthrob, tanned and muscular with a no nonsense attitude. He had two sons, Alfred and Ivan, both dark complexioned and slight of build with impeccable manners. In their back garden was a massive termite mound on which grew a few large trees, and one morning when Steve came out to drive to work at about four thirty, he found a big male leopard sitting on the mound, and contemplating the neighborhood dogs. Steve went back inside, collected his rifle and dispatched the cheeky leopard. I can remember viewing the carcass and thinking to myself what a beautiful soft animal the leopard was. When I lifted its lip however I could see a set of very formidable fangs. Those big round soft pussycat paws also concealed a set of powerful claws.

After three years in Mufulira we moved to Lusaka, the capital of Northern Rhodesia, and the main agricultural centre of the territory. My stepfather took up farming, and there I became exposed to the hunting fraternity, and all of the farmers had encountered lions. They were cattle raiders of note, and as our farm was near the Zambezi Valley, which was full of lions, we often heard of them in our vicinity. I had heard them roar in the early hours of the morning, and travelers on our farm road had chanced across one or two.

Our farm was located to the East of Lusaka along the Great East Road, which ran from Lusaka to Fort Jameson. It was a dirt road in those days, and ran through dense bush. One could almost say that the countryside was jungle, but it was not so in the real sense of the word, but tall trees and thick scrub lined both sides of the road and there were no fences at all. Our district was known as Chalimbana, and a few miles further on along the road was the Rufunsa district. Rufunsa was a small administrative centre set just off the main road at the start of a range of steep hills. The main road ran over the hills and there were a number of very long steep inclines to be negotiated. In the late forties and early fifties there was a main contractor with the government plying the road to Fort Jameson transporting all the provisions from the railway line at Lusaka across some three hundred miles of dirt road; the carrier was named Thatcher and Hobson, and they used huge Leyland Diesel trucks carrying some thirty tons each, and pulling a ten ton trailer along behind. The trucks would proceed to Fort Jameson carrying building materials, machinery, soft goods, and all other goods required by the community in the eastern districts, and would return with agricultural products such as maize and tobacco bound for the markets in Lusaka.

About fifty miles from Lusaka they would encounter a series of steep hills, and often the truck would break down with clutch or gearbox troubles. The driver and his assistant would then stop the truck, and after putting some large boulders behind the wheels to prevent it rolling down the hill, they would make camp next to the road while they waited for another truck to pass and they send word via him to their depot for mechanical assistance. They would then wait next to their fire until a tow truck arrived to tow them in to Lusaka.

Late one afternoon a truck broke down at the spot and the two men secured it and went of to the campsite to prepare the evening meal and get ready for the night vigil. The driver lacked a bit of courage and decided to sleep in the cab of his truck. He slept soundly, and awoke with the sunrise and sauntered over to the fire where his assistant had bedded down in order to get a warm cup of coffee. The assistant was nowhere to be seen, and soon the driver came across a boot lying some distance from the fire. When he picked up the boot he found to his horror that there was a foot in it. Lions had arrived in the night and taken the assistant without the driver even awakening, and had feasted on his carcass not twenty feet away without him even being aware of his assistant's plight.

Another time a truck broke down at the same place, and the two men also made camp around the fire, and when night fell the driver also decided to sleep in the truck, but the assistant bedded down under the trailer. They had lost the hitch pin attaching the trailer, and had substituted a long piece of steel shafting which protruded way past the bottom of the tow hitch. During the early hours of the morning a pride of lions arrived at the truck and noticed the man sleeping under the trailer. With a mighty roar the lion flew in under the trailer intent on attack. The poor man crawled from his blankets forward under the truck and took up hiding behind the rear differential and the lion dashed forward after him and struck its head a crashing blow on the protruding hitch pin which brained him. The assistant scrambled into the truck cab, and there the two waited until the sun was high before emerging. The lion was dead and already stiff by that time, and after skinning it they tied the folded hide to the bonnet of the truck, got it going and departed post haste for Lusaka. Hunters were sent out to Rufunsa to shoot the lions, but they never caught up to them, and after the road was tarred, the steep rises were eliminated so that trucks never broke down on that stretch of road again. And the lions disappeared never to be heard of again.

In the early days lions did get into the town streets however, and they were always quite a threat. Broken Hill was a small mining town some eighty miles north of Lusaka, and one day four male lions entered the town and caught a donkey in the main street. They were promptly dispatched by one of the local hunters. In Lusaka too, while they were busy constructing the railway station a pride of lions harassed the workers and had to be eliminated before work could continue.

The farm we lived on was named Rooiwal which means Red Banks because of high red clay cliff like banks on the Chalimbana River which flowed on the border of the farm. The farm workers would walk around searching for honey and wild fruits, and they often told us that they saw lions there in the thick bush, but we discounted their stories as imagination, until one day while hunting wild pigs I happened to be on the top of the banks when I saw a large lioness drinking at the river. All I had with me was a .22 rim fire rifle, and I dared not try a shot at such an animal so that I made for the house as fast as my feet could carry me.

The bush around our farm was full of lions, and it was good to be camped next to the Mwapula River and hear their roar at night around the camp fire. They were also not the fat lazy circus type of lions, rather they were lean mean and super alert, and would not hesitate to attack a person sleeping in the camp.

A neighbor of ours, Kannetjie Davel and his brother Robbie went hunting in the Southern Luangwa valley, and while they were in camp sleeping a male lion came into camp and attacked one of the workers jumping onto him while he was wrapped in his blankets. Robbie had to run up to the lion and shoot it on top of the man. They were compelled to motor miles through the bush to a mission hospital to have his wounds treated. The man was half dead from shock as well as from the mauling the lion had given him.

Another friend of ours, named Boet Greeff, had moved into his wattle and daub house on his marriage night. The house had no window glass, only openings where curtains were hung, and while the couple was sleeping a bushbuck jumped through the window pursued by a lioness and took refuge under the couple's bed. Boet always slept with a loaded rifle next to his bed, and in the moonlight he shot the lioness and cut the bushbuck's throat, so that they then had a lion skin to use as a rug next to the bed, and had plenty bushbuck meat in the meat safe.

Oom Tom Ferreira told us the story of a hunting trip he took together with his brother in law Ewart Nel into the Zambezi valley. They had travelled down with Tom's light truck, and on the way while crossing a dry stream bed they shot a young male lion. When they reached the valley they picked up some men of the Tonga tribe to accompany them to the river which was not far off, to assist with the camp chores and also to act as trackers and skinners. The usual arrangement was that they would work for a share of the meat, which they would smoke over a slow fire, and if the hunting was good each man's share would be quite substantial. These Tongas however, as told by the hunter F.C.Selous, were the dregs of humanity; dirty, sly, thieving, totally ungrateful and definitely not to be trusted. The day before Tom and Ewart were ready to leave for home the three men came to them and demanded money as payment in addition to the piles of meat they had been allocated.

Well that night Oom Tom said to Ewart that they would have to make some plan with these scallywags as they had only enough money for fuel to get them home, and if they still had to ferry the three back to the village they would be sure to make trouble for the two white men.

That night when the three were snugly rolled into their blankets Oom Tom took an empty four gallon tin can and wrapping himself in the lion skin he climbed a crooked tree which reached almost over the three sleeping wretches. Oom Tom let out a few loud roars into the tin which reverberated as if all the demons were let loose. One of the three awoke and sat up, and Oom Tom let out another roar. The man was still half asleep but he shook the other two awake. Then Oom Tom let out a mighty roar and shook the tree. The three looked up to see this apparition with the mane flying, and they took off towards the river. Next morning Oom Tom walked down to the sand bank where he saw their tracks. They had run so fast down the river bank that their footprints were nine feet apart, their courage had totally departed and they were not seen again. Oom Tom and Ewart packed up their truck and headed home laughing all the way.

Lions in the darkness have been an integral part of Africa, and have caused havoc amongst the human population on many occasions but today things are more civilized, and we need not walk around with our rifles expecting to see a lion around every corner. However there are many lions being bred on game farms, so the population is increasing, and in the future there may still be happenings which will bring to our notice that the lion is truly the king of the beasts.