Sometime back in the fifties uncle and family lawyer Bunty Bland needed to go up to Rhodesia – ‘up north’ – to sort out the sale of his sister’s property. His Rhodesian brother-in-law drove down to Harrismith to fetch him. As ever, the finer details of my story should be checked out . . . pinch of salt. The car is probably right, the country – now Zimbabwe – is almost certainly right, and two of the people – Dad and Bunty – are right, that’s all I know. At first Dad said they drove up in Bunty’s Rover, but I couldn’t find a Rover station wagon. Seems they left ‘that sort of thing’ to Land Rover. I found this Vauxhall Victor station wagon and then Dad remembered it was the bro-in-law’s car and yes, it was a Vauxhall! Memories! Dodgy things.
The reason they took young Pieter Swanepoel, husband of favourite niece Mary, along was to share the driving. He says he ended up driving all the way there and back.
With him he had his new Eumig 8mm cine camera! He took footage of the ruins of the magnificent Great Zimbabwe. Bunty features in his trademark ‘fairisle’ sleeveless jersey . .
Other footage featured the Vauxhall, Bunty again and some fountains . .
Great friend Larry Wingert is out from the USA and we hop on a flight to Maun in Botswana. It’s 1985 and we’re bachelors on the loose with time and money!
From Maun we fly into the Delta (Tjou Island camp) in a Cessna 206. After many beers and wines a resident auntie starts looking enticing at around midnight but the moment passes.
The next morning a pair of tropical boubou fly into the open-air pub under a tree right above where we’re sitting and belt out a startling loud duet. Stunning! That’s a lifer!
After a short mokoro ride it’s back to the plane and a short flip back to Maun where we all squeeze into an old Land Rover, fill up at Riley’s Garage . .
. . and head off for Moremi, stopping just outside Maun to buy some meat hanging from a thorn tree. Goat? Supper. Our outfit is called – I think – Afro Ventures.
We’re a Motley Crew from all over. We get to know two Aussie ladies, a Kiwi lady, a Pom fella – 6 foot 7 inches of Ralph; AND the gorgeous Zimbabwean Angel Breasts (Engelbrecht her actual surname)! Unfortunately, she’s the Long Pom’s girlfriend (sigh). Weird how the only first name I can think of now is Ralph, the undeserving Pom.
Our long-haired laid-back hippy Saffer – no, he was probably a Zim, see his letter – safari guide Steve at the wheel is super-cool, a great guide. So off we go, heading north-east, eight people in a Series 2 Landie – “The Tightest-Squeeze-Four-By-Four-By-Far”.
Long Legs in a Landie to the rescue!
Anyone who has driven in a Landie will know there’s lots of room inside – except for your shoulders and your knees. Besides that – roomy. Land Rover’s theory is that three people can fit on the front seat, three on the middle seat and two on those postage stamp seats in back. Right! See that metal bar that your knees keep bumping against? That’s what Land Rover used as their prototype airbag. It didn’t work so they only kept it for the next fifty years, then changed it. By using milder steel?
Previously a critic of Landrover design, in a flash I’m a keen supporter! Unable to endure the cramped space on the middle seat, the lengthy Pom gets out at the very first stop and sits on the spare wheel on the roofrack. I sit with my thigh firmly against Angel Breasts’ thigh (sigh).
More clever Landrover design features:
He stays up there for the rest of the week – whenever we’re driving, he sits on the roofrack! When we stop he has to pick the insects out of his teeth, like a radiator. I’m in seventh heaven. Mine and Angel Breasts’ thighs were made for each other.
Birding: Problem Solved!
I’m mad keen on birding but I don’t know how these guys feel about it. What if they get pissed off? What if they only want to stop for large furry creatures? After all, five of the seven of us are fureigners. But the problem gets solved like this: The first time we get stuck in the deep sand, a little white-browed scrub robin comes to the rescue! He hops out onto the road in full view, cocks his tail and charms them. From then on I have six spotters who don’t let anything feathered flit past without demanding,“What’s that, Pete? What’s that? And that one?” I become the birding guide! Steve is happy – it’s not his forte, but he’s keen to learn.
Moremi – and True Love
At Khwai River camp a splendid, enchanted evening vision befalls me – my best wild life sighting of the whole trip: I’m walking in the early evening to supper and bump into Angel Breasts outside her bungalow – she’s in her bra n panties in the moonlight. Bachelor dreams. Oops, she says and runs inside. Don’t worry, I’ve averted my eyes, I lie (*sigh*). That’s another lifer!
At Savuti camp the eles have wrecked the water tank.
At Nogatsaa camp a truck stops outside the ranger’s hut, a dead buffalo on the back. The ranger’s wife comes to the truck and is given a hindquarter. Meat rations. They also drop the skin there and advise us to carry a torch if we shower at night as lions are sure to come when they smell the skin.
Another Lifer! Later I head for the tiny little shower building – a single shower – to shower while it’s still light. Discretion being the better part of valour! A sudden cacophony makes me look out of the broken shower window: The lady-in-residence is chasing an ele away from her hut by banging her pots & pans together! We travel thousands of k’s to see elephant and she says Footsack Wena! Tsamaya! The ele duly footsacks away from that awful noise. While looking out, I spot what I think could be a honeyguide in a tree, so I have to rush back to our puptent wrapped in a towel with one eye on the ele to fetch my binocs. It is a Greater Honeyguide, the one with the lovely Latin name Indicator indicator, and that’s another lifer for me! Moral of the story: Always carry your binocs no matter where you go!
That night the elephants graze and browse quietly right next to the tent, tummies rumbling. Peeping out of the puptent door I look at their tree stump legs, can’t even see up high enough to see their heads. Gentle giants.
As we approached the Chobe river the landscape looked like Hiroshima! Elephant damage of the trees was quite unbelievable. That did NOT look like good reserve management! Botswana doesn’t believe in culling, but it sure looks like they should!
The Chobe river, however, was unbelievable despite the devastation on its banks – especially after the dry country we’d been in. What a river! What wildlife sightings!
On to Zimbabwe, the mighty Zambesi river and Victoria Falls. We stayed at AZambezi Lodge. Here we bid a sad goodbye to our perfect safari companions. Me still deeply in love. Angel Breasts holding the Long Pom’s hand, totally unaware of my devotion (*sigh*).
At the end, our new friend and safari guide Steve gave me and Larry a letter. We read it on the flight out of Vic Falls.
Hopeful note: Larry had a camera on the trip, I didn’t, so I have asked him (hello Larry) to scratch around for his colour slides in his attic or his secret wall storage space in Akron Ohio. He will one day. As a dedicated procrastinator he is bent on never putting off till tomorrow what he can put off till the next day. Meantime, thanks to Rob & Jane Wilkinson of wilkinsonsworld.com, xeno-canto.org and others on the interwebs for these borrowed pics and sounds!
Edit: There’s hope! Larry wrote 16 December 2017: P.S. I will renew my efforts to locate some photos of our Botswana trip. If you saw the interior of my house, you’d understand the challenge. . . . OK, but if you saw the exterior of his old house you’d fall in love with it:
Terrible note: Update November 2019: Larry has since had a bad fire in the basement of his lovely home. Much of his stuff is ruined by the fire, the smoke and then the firemen’s water! He may not repair his home! This is so sad! Dammit! Pictures suddenly aren’t important any more.
Saffer – Suffefrickin; South African
Zim – a Zimbabwean
lifer – first time you’ve seen that bird ever – or anyway in lingerie
Footsack Wena!Tsamaya! – Go away! Be off with you! Eff Oh!
pamberi ‘n chimurenga – forward the liberation struggle! in Shona