DH and I had been working diligently on getting in shape for this trip, but this flat land desert girl was not prepared for terrain like this:
and then you pile out and start following them and apparently buffalo favor the thick vegetation called Jess Bush in the ridges and valleys and peaks of those mountains.
We spent the first 7 days in search of the elusive Cape Buffalo and we saw a lot of them every day, but the concession, and DH, are responsible hunters. Only the old, bachelor bulls, past breeding age, are taken - they are called Dugga Boys, which translates to 'mud' in Shona . They are often off on their own or in a small group of old bulls, but we tracked big herds too. When you come upon a group, you pretty much freeze and drop in your tracks - slowly. Much time is spent crawling on your hands and knees - one limb at a time - making the least amount of noise - and movement possible.
Sometimes we would switch to scooting on our backsides. We did a lot of both.
With ground cover like this, being silent and stealthy is a challenge. There is even a specific way you place your feet with each step in order to minimize the noise
When you get as close as you can, without being spotted, you pray the wind will be favorable and you sit or crouch, and watch...and do not move a muscle. Mopani bee buzzing around your nose? Don't flinch. Stick poking your calf? Don't move. And honestly, you tend to forget those things when you are watching a herd of Cape Buffalo milling around just 10 yards away. They are one of Africa's dangerous game and definitely nothing to take lightly, but they are magnificent to watch in their native environment. They are camouflaged incredibly well in the dense Jess bush and are difficult to see. This was my first sighting:
Now and again you may hear one grunt or catch the swish of a tail.There is such an exciting feeling when you close in on them. Then... suddenly... they bolt, and the hair on your arms and the back of your neck stands up. Roy is passionate about his work as was evident by the light in his eyes when he looked over at Gary and whispered, "This NEVER gets old!"
One day, later in the hunt, we came across a small herd, the only one we ever saw in the flats, by the river:
You often circle around them, hoping to get a better look at the individual animals and if they get a burr under their saddle or the wind changes and they catch a whiff of your scent, they are off like the dickens and you can hear them crashing through the thick, dry, Jess Bush. And mountains are no obstacle for them. They fly over the rocks and terrain and we are once again running after them.
We crawled through dry river beds
(this is the tip of the walking stick that Medere had carved and presented to me on the morning of day 3. He must have taken notice of how much I struggled up those mountains. What a dear, dear man!)
and sprinted up mountains.
The first 3 days, I was pretty sure I was going to give out on the side of one of those mountains. Those men are mountain goats. DH had pulled his Achilles tendon the day before we left, but you'd never know it from the way he hit those inclines. I, on the other hand, was often panting like a dog and praying for a little flat terrain just so I could catch my breath. But thanks to the good Lord, I kept up. I was bound and determined not to make anyone have to wait on me, but it was touch and go those first 3 days. I was very surprised that my feet and legs didn't get sore - not once. I wore my favorite Kenetrek hiking boots that I wear around here a lot and they were the best things ever. Roy said that a lot of hunters have trouble with their feet and legs giving out so I was very thankful I was able to avoid that, but let me tell you that I was doing a lot of praying and recitation of scripture and song lyrics in my head!
We covered anywhere from 6 to 15 miles a day and according to my step tracker, we climbed between 146 and 429 flights of stairs each day too. Shoot - 3 more months of that and I'd be one fit 50 yr old!
I have lots of pictures like this because it was often my view:
Our tracker, Muza, often led the pack, but he and Roy switched off - Muza carried the shooting sticks
followed by our PH, Roy - armed with his rifle
DH - armed with his rifle
Me, then the National Parks Scout, Madere (on the right) - who had his trusty AK47 and the Council Scout, Shumba (on the left)- who carried a backpack filled with water bottles
every hunting party is required to have a scout from each department to make the laws and rules are adhered to and to confront any poachers we may happen upon. Poaching is a HUGE problem and the concession we were hunting with has organized the Dande Anti Poaching Unit - DAPU - but it is an uphill battle.
The last member of the team was Lennias, the driver. Roy did the driving , but he always left Lennias with the truck when we headed out on foot and would radio him to meet us in various locations when we were ready to meet up with the truck.How he managed to find his way around those roads is a mystery to me because I was completely lost the entire time. Here he is showing me some elephant dung - the villagers burn it as a mosquito and fly repellent and some use it as a treatment for asthma.
A few nights we were still walking through the bush when it was pitch black. No flashlights. Need to go to the bathroom? Forget about it! No way am I wandering off that path in the dead of night! Black Mambas - Pythons - Puff Adders. No thanks. Thankfully, I never did cross tracks with any of them, but I prayed like the dickens not to. Most days we drank so much and sweated so much that no one needed to go to the bathroom. And yes, I loved every minute and wouldn't have missed it for the world!
The kitchen packed us a picnic lunch each day and on all but 3 days, we ate out in the bush.
Roy would find us a shady spot and spread out a feast.
No paper plates in the bush - they packed us china plates.
On this particular day, we dined under a Tamarind Tree. Roy knew so much about not only the game, but about the land and all the natural resources and how they were used. It was fascinating and DH and I were eager students. The Tamarind tree produces the spice Tamarind which is often used in Middle Eastern cuisine and the fruit, when ripe, is sweet and used for jams and desserts, as well as a dye because of its deep red color. It also makes an excellent porridge.
After long days, climbing over the rocks and through the river beds, these beds were a welcome sight!