All about Snoring and a Big Lion
The last episode was about the lion at Harties. While I was writing that, I also remembered another event where a lion took centre stage. It took place at a time when we were working at Arusha, in Tanzania. Steve was flying our King Air E-90 and I was in the right-hand seat. After we took off and set course for Hemingways at Watamu, Kenya, I could relax and check my telex messages. (No e-mail in those days). The reason why we flew via Hemingways, is another very interesting story, we can discuss that at another time! Among my messages was one from an old army pal, Hendrik. He wanted me to join him and Isaak Benadé, the renowned Bushman expert and safari tour guide, for a special trip to Botswana.
The group setting up tents before they wind down for the evening.
A few years ago, Hendrik and I helped Isaak with the planning and guiding of a British TV crew, which filmed a series of 6 programs of the Kua Bushmen in Botswana for their TV network. Apparently, the TV series was very popular and especially after the book, Testament to the Bushman, was released, the plan to produce a full-length film quickly began to take shape.
He also explained that this time Isaak will guide a locality exploration team, for the potential movie, to the Makgadikgadi pans area and that the team would also like me to do some of the still photography. According to his message, site exploration involves a very important process in the pre-production stage of a film and that we will once again be collaborating with some of the same people who did the TV program.
This reminded me of all the planning for such a venture; The preparation of the International Harvester four-wheel drive safari vehicles, the purchase of satellite phones, the calculation of how much fuel and water we will have to take with, the investigation into the spare parts that could possibly be needed for the vehicles.
Generators, enough food for the group for the period we will be away, first aid kit with a fairly advanced contents because we were days away from any medical help. Snake bite and scorpion antidotes, batteries and flashlights, tents, camping equipment and of course space on the vehicles and support for the camera equipment. I also remember that last time we made arrangements for a helicopter rescue team in case someone was seriously injured by a wild animal or in an accident.
I would have to check the Arusha project schedule to see if I could slip away for a few days.
A few kilometers past the sun-bleached sign announcing the small town of Kanye we pull over and park the vehicles in a U-shape so that we can set up camp for the first night. Everyone disembarks and Isaac starts indicating where to place the tables and kitchen equipment.
Hendrik wanders into the veld to look for firewood and Willem, the other assistant guide, starts to show the guests how to pitch their tents. One can quickly see that this group is used to just sitting around while others do the work.
Setting up a tent for some of them appears to be something strange and seemingly extremely difficult. We just have to stop ourselves from laughing as some of them fumble inside the tarpaulins like the dancers under the paper dragons at a Chinese New Year parade.
Finally, with the big orange sun enjoying a break on the horizon, we have a small tent town ready and Agnetta, the chef, has something simmering over Hendrik’s crackling fire that is starting to smell very alluring.
With another cold beer in the hand and a full stomach with the first day behind them, everyone is now a bit more relaxed, and Isaak entertains the team with a few bushveld stories in his broken English. They laugh obligingly and I wonder if it’s for the funny story, or his English?
He also indicates that there are hungry animals living here and that it is not a good idea to stray too far from the tents. The arrangement is also that the ladies use the field to the right of the tents as toilet facilities and the men to the left. Everyone thanks Agnetta for the festive meal and disappear in the direction of the tents to get some sleep.
I am up before dawn for a few photos while the light is forgiving. The day already warming up as I get closer to our campsite, where I am greeted by the smell of fried eggs and bacon crackling in the large pan above our campfire’s glowing coals. The coffee pot balanced between the embers starts to simmer and brown coffee foam effervesces from the spout.
The film crew is almost unrecognizable without makeup and with hair that stubbornly points in all directions after a night’s sleep without a soft pillow. From experience I remember that it usually only takes a few days before they start adjusting to the ‘uncivilized’ way of life.
The last time we were here, one of the famous TV people even stopped wearing his toupee after a few days. Every time I see him on British TV, neatly dressed in his fashionable suit with a bow tie and shiny hair, I laugh and know that no one from his current audience would have recognized him in the Kalahari.
Judging from the general conversation I was happy to learn that I was lucky to be rested, since most of the people had very little sleep. Those who were closest to Josh and Hannah’s tent complained the most. Apparently, he snored so loudly that no one nearby slept a wink, and everyone wonders how Hannah can stand it.
The convoy starts rolling. The early morning sun taints the dust a reddish brown where it swirls out from under the wheels. Now we are on our way past Molepolole, home of the Bakwena, one of the eight most important tribes in Botswana. The plan is to set up camp west of Lethlakeng’s diamond mine.
The road is bad, corrugated and dusty. Everything shakes and vibrates, and I struggle to find a speed that is less painful on the derriere.
Late afternoon, with Lethlakeng just a shimmering mirage on the horizon and we start looking for a campsite. We start unpacking on a nice level piece of sand. Everyone hangs around listlessly, and someone encourages Josh and Hannah to pitch their tent. Only after they are well set up, the rest of the group start pitching their tents.
The last dusty glow of the hot day reflects off our tents’ tightly stretched canvas. Most of them are pretty much on the same spot with only one yellowish two-man tent resting awkwardly, some distance away.
Willem looks at me and shakes his head. He tamps down the loose tobacco with his black mottled thumb and quietly lights his pipe. He also keeps the same short match under the crumpled newsprint and dry twigs that he had neatly stacked. Soon the smoky flames spread to the few thicker logs we had picked up. He contentedly blows a whirling ball of blue pipe smoke into the windless evening air.
Eventually people start arriving and arrange the camp chairs in a large circle around the cozy fire. Willem helps Agnetta unpack the crockery on the long table. Isaac slices some bread with a huge knife and Hendrik opens a bottle of cold white wine. Agnetta has shiny sweat pearls on her forehead where she works with the big pots by the fire.
Isaac sits down on his small folding chair. Now we know, here comes a good bushveld story just before dinner.
The cool early morning is energetically welcomed by a loud choir of bee-eaters and larks. I can not yet hear human voices. Someone walks in the soft sand between the trailer with the food supplies and the long folding table next to the last pale smoldering ash from last night’s campfire. Agnetta, of course, gets up very early to get everything ready for breakfast.
I crawl out of the tent contentedly and first make a detour to the men’s side of the camp. The sand is terribly dry, and any water disappears very quickly, leaving only a few damp spots in the yellow sand. A meerkat stands upright on its hind legs and looks at me as if it does not approve of my actions.
The fresh coffee smells enticing, and the group gathers around the fire. Isaak arrives with a mischievous smile.
“Good morning, good morning.”
He lifts his hat, takes the steaming cup that Agnetta holds out with a nod of his head and takes a big sip.
“Come and see what I have found.”
We walk with him as he points to the ground here and there with his big, crooked index finger.
“Lion tracks, big one, here and here, even up there near the kitchen tent.”
Now everyone arrives and huddle together where he is squatting. He gestures to the group where the lion walked between the tents and how big he thinks the animal was that left the tracks here in the soft sand. The group is now excited, everyone is talking at the same time while some start looking anxiously over their shoulder.
Willem walks away and takes a good look at the ground at Josh and Hannah’s tent.
He returns with a sly smile.
“No tracks near that tent!”
Isaac laughs and explains Willem’s discovery to the group.
Breakfast is a busy affair, and the lively conversations are dominated by stories and anecdotes of lions and how close this one walked around to our tents. We start packing and Isaak tells the group that we will now stop at a small petrol station for the last time and fill all the vehicles’ tanks, as well as extra drums, with fuel. After that we will leave behind any form of road and the search for one of the nomadic Bushman groups will begin.
There was a power failure at the filling station, and it took much longer than planned, so we are now not as far into the open plains as Isaak would have liked. However, the Bushmen are nomadic anyway and we never know when they would suddenly make their appearance out of the pale, dry grass. It’s best to camp where we are before it gets dark.
We park the vehicles in a U-shape and start unpacking. Just like last night, everyone is unobtrusively waiting for Josh and Hannah to pitch a tent.
As the meerkats stand on their hind legs across from the donga next to our campsite, intrigued by the resounding clanging of hammers on iron tent pegs, I am quietly amused by the difference from last night.
Everyone now suddenly wants to camp near Josh and his snoring again!
Kobus de Villiers is a retired aeronautical engineer. He grew up in the Free State. After serving in the Bush War, he lived, worked, and studied in several countries around the world. He still does some consulting and builds contraptions in his workshop. He lives with his French wife in Vancouver, Canada. He shares his stories and photos with Howzit on this blog, aptly called “Slypsteen”
Kobus’ books can be ordered on Amazon.
In South Africa, you can find his books through Malherbe Uitgewers.