Lindon is about to start an elephant hunt out of Chocomela and as such asked me to assist him in ensuring camp was stocked and ready to go for when his clients arrived. Me, in my naivety thought that this is an excellent opportunity to get away for a bit and relax – after all how hard could it be… stock list, inventory and arranging menus I could do that in my sleep.
Arriving at camp in the late afternoon, there was only enough time to catch a quick beer ( or my case a hunters dry) and sit and relax on the outside decking area and watch the sun set over the edge of a watering pan just infront of the camp. Yes this is definitely the life in Africa, I mused to myself, watching the red, orange dusky hues of the setting sun and catching glimpses of the occasional bushbuck that come to drink. As the sunset and the evening stars twinkled out, Lindon noticed to the right hand side of the pan some sudden movement. We watched in awe as 5 remarkable buffalo bulls wandered in to come and drink. We sat and watched them for nearly half an hour, hardly daring to speak - we were after all amongst dugga boys!
Thirst quenched, they wandered off into the night and we wandered off to sleep…
So day one was spent wandering around the camp, stocking fridges, pantries, cold rooms. Taking pictures of the camp and generally catching up on my candy crush whilst sitting on the deck as previously mentioned. My candy crush antics were often interrupted by the odd bush buck that would come down to drink, the occasional baboon who would interrupt that daft wanderings a the resident flock of guinea fowl and then the occasional clumsy Kudu who would stumble in and quench his thirst.
The second day, Lindon decided that he needed to do a reccie mission of the area and see the movement of elephant that was about. Early in the morning we set off, truck loaded with the 4 trackers and cooler box stocked with ice cold beverages. How hard could this be I thought to myself… And to start off it really wasn’t that hard, we took a slow drive to an area known as Sidinda to check of the elephants there and spotted 2 bulls just off the road as we headed into the fishing camp there. Then Lindon decided to go and check the Matetsi River and that’s when our day truly started.
At half past 9 we had taken a turn down some remote dusty road that was hopefully going to lead us to the Matetsi River and a plethora of elephants. Travelling just 5 km down the road, it became rather apparent that this wasn’t going to be as easy as I had hoped. We were going to have to open out and at some places cut the road. Out jumped Lindon and the trackers with their trusty axes, I took over the driving of the cruiser behind them and off we went. Our morning was spent, moving trees, chopping branches, at times the trackers scaled the smallest of trees with the ease of bobjaan and chopped away offending branches. Inch by inch we crawled down our remote track… I must at this point mention the heat... for those of you who have ever hunted in the Matetsi in September or ever experienced the blistering, torrent of sweat inducing heat that the Hwange area has to offer then you’ll empathize when I say after an hour of merely driving a km or two down the road, I was fantasing about how I could possibly build a splash pool back at camp. After 3 hours I was seriously wondering if I could fit my 5 foot frame into Lindon’s cooler box and wallow in it like a baby hippo … Yet in all this time not once did Lindon nor the trackers complain about the heat.
As I watched them work, it was like I was watching a documentary in some foreign language that I did not understand. There were no subtitles to explain to me the look that was shared between the trackers and lindon when they wander off to follow some tracks of what was later explained to me to be a kudu bull. The grunts at elephant tracks were about a decipherable as interpreting Braille. I was fascinated.. what is it about this bush that pulls at the heart strings of so many.
Lunch was spent sitting in a shady spot of a dry river bed, swatting mopane flies out off my sweat coated brow. Lindon, like a small child in a candy store enthusiastically suggested to me to go for a walk to see how much further the Matetsi was… off we went. No sooner had we gotten about a 1km from where we had left the cruiser, Lindon crouched down and motioned for me to walk slowly and quietly towards him. I turned to see what he was looking at and there she was, no more than 20 meters away from us was an elephant cow. We watched her for a bit, but she got nervous of our presence so we backed off and walked up a small hill adjacent to where see was. From our vantage point we could see that there was another smaller calf with her, which probably explained the grumpiness.
We carried on down our remote road. In the distance we could hear that there was something upsetting a troupe of baboons. I decide to try my hand at doing the tracking thing and asked Lindon if there were lion in the area. He explained to me that there were lion but they wouldn’t be this far down… So on we walked…. In the heat…. I comforted myself with the thought that this is the equivalent of doing a workout at the gym and the added bonus was the views were much better.
It wasn’t till we had walked about 2.5km from the truck when Lindon let out an expletive that normally ends with me at the end. He gestured me to come and look at what has made him jump around like an excited puppy…. Low and behold there in plain dust was the paw print of a large male lion. I concluded that when a PH usually swears and uses his palm as the measurement and the paw print is roughly the same size, we are not talking about an ordinary Labrador sized kitty. Now two thoughts ran through my head at this time, 1) how many bullets are in Lin’s rifle and 2) did he have to actually say it was that big… I now had visions of a horse sized descendent of Cecil roaming the elephant paths of Matetsi. Great!
We carried on for about another 1km when Lindon decided that we needed to radio the cruiser as the Matetsi looked like it was more elusive than a unicorn. As we waited under the shade of a tree, I contemplated just what this hunting story is all about. I do work for 4 Ph’s and I have often heard them talk of tracking elephant for 5 hours and walking 6 hours following buffalo and I watch the ‘look’ that passes between them when they say this. I never really paid attention to it till now. If you want to hunt from a vehicle then the Matetsi is not the place for you. If you walk for kilometers along some of the most desolate, remote parts of the bush in the heat that is almost crippling as it is oppressive and still be standing after that – then your trophy is truly earned. Hunting is definitely not for the faint hearted.
The cruiser came and we lumbered on with our road clearing for a few more hours…. 10 kilometers later, Lindon called it a day and we headed back to camp. We cut open 10km of dirt track in almost 6 hours - one hell of day. As we drove along the road, Lindon pointed out the destruction and devastation that the elephants have caused in the area – its simply extraordinary.
As I sit back in camp, my legs looking like a map of Hwange elephant paths, sipping my hunters dry looking out at the little watering pan, I reflect on my day. I have learnt that the 4 PH’s I work for are probably borderline mental - they voluntarily walk hours and hours on end in the dusty, humid heat to look for animals and still maintain a cheerful and upbeat attitude while they do it, at times I am dubious that they even sweat!
Yet joking aside, I have also learnt that they have a passion for the bush, wildlife and their career that no one can refute. I have spent one day in their footsteps - and I am humbled. Being born in Africa and lived abroad for a period of time, you never really forget the pull the African bush has – the dry, scratchy grass, the dust that rises when you walk, the silence, the quickening of the heart beat when you are mere meters away from some of the wildest animals on earth - and I have just had a glimpse of what the clients and my PH’s feel. I am envious of the clients that arrive tomorrow… they will truly have a story to tell.