hwange buffalo

Hwange’s buffalo grazing at dusk

I have posted here an excerpt of an incident that occurred in the Robins area, per kind favour of Vic Cockroft, which is uplifting from the negative press currently associated with Parks. It proves the quality that we have available here in the field, as I have stated all along.
Vic had checked into Robins in mid December for a couple of nights. The rainy season was in full swing, and Robins had had good rain, rendering the roads rather muddy! Vic picks up the story:
“Up, coffee, unpack as much as we won’t need and out the gate at 6am. The roads are wet, the rain overnight has certainly slushed in. I decide to head down Big Toms loop, it’s relatively short, we should be back by 9am, to enjoy an early brunch. Big Toms seems fine, although there are no fresh car tracks and there are quite a few soggy patches. After about 6km we come upon a soggy patch about 30m long. I stop, engage 4×4 and pick up a bit of speed, approaching the mud puddle at about 20km / h. Thwack, I hit a submerged log. My left front wheel goes over the log, but as it goes over, it tilts the log, such that it jams into my left back wheel, lifts the whole left side of the bakkie up, the tyre smoking. And then down with a thud and a dead stop! I get out of the bakkie, with some trepidation, this is a National Park and a pride of 8 lions was seen not far from here! I look around the vehicle, not knowing quite what happened. I find the log wedged into the rear wheel arch, we’re almost up to the chassis in mud. There’s no room to fit a spare wheel and a jack underneath the vehicle! There’s nowhere to anchor my winch onto, despite it being 6000kg. In about half an hour I manage to remove the offending log. It’s about calf thick and the length of a 12 year old. I throw it as far as I can, which is not that far, but further than I’d want it to be in about an hour. So I dig mud. I find sticks and logs and stones and I dig mud. Eventually about 10am I admit defeat “J, I think we’re stuck, I can’t get us out of here, we need help”.
I’m splattered and caked in mud, my clothes are like cardboard. What little protruding fingernails I had are gone, leaving splits and cracks. I have scabs under both feet, where I’ve trodden on sharp sticks, or rocks. My guess is I look pretty wild and scary! It’s been a long morning. The storm clouds are building, in my mind also. What do I do? Do I walk, the GPS says we’re only 7.8km from Robins by road. Luckily we have water, about 5 litres and about 1 litre of some homemade ginger beer. We have food too, so we’re not in any immediate trouble. Probably a good idea to wait. The hours pass, we can hear the jets going into and out of Vic Falls, but no other sounds. It’s mid-day, the right time to walk, if I walk. I discuss this with J, a mistake. She’s a child and becomes upset, she doesn’t want me to walk, she’s afraid of what will happen if I do. She’s right of course! I can’t walk with her, that’s putting all our eggs into one basket. If I walk alone, good chance I’ll be fine and nothing will happen. But, if there’s a problem, J will be on her own. Will she be ok? Will someone find her? So, the answer is to wait, obviously!. Just amazingly frustrating, boring, sitting here. Other than the odd bathroom call, it’s sitting in the cab, or the camper back. I left the camp chairs in camp, so even sitting in the camper back is uncomfortable. I start hooting an S.O.S call, short, long, short, you never know, someone might hear. But nothing, not even any game!
Evening comes, as does the thunder, lightning and rain. The puddle gets deeper. We adjourn to the back, create some food from tinned baked beans, smoked mussels and whatever, and as the sun sets, we get ready for bed. Darkness comes about 19h00. I wait for full darkness, when anyone in camp shouldbe sitting around the braai and the night chorus has not yet reached its full orchestra. Into the front, start the engine and turn on the lights and spot lights. Hoot an S.O.S. and flash bright lights and spotsfor 10 minutes. It’s an almost desperate hope, but I have to do it. But with the lightning and the thunder all around, there’s very little chance that anyone will hear or see us. The night is very disturbed. Neither of us sleeps well. It’s not only the situation, but the singing frogs!
It’s hard to believe that flipping frog s can raise such a cacophony. Listening from 2 metres above the puddle, I think I can make out around 50 different frog locations and at least 3 species, but who knows, could be ten species, I just wish they would shut up! But, no other sounds during the night, no lions,
hyenas, nothing, frogs and insects only. Even after the sun rises, the frogs keep up their 100 tenors rendition, trouble is, there’s no harmony. The sky is clear, though we know that the clouds are going to build again once the heat of the day starts. We‘ve seen nothing of anyone for 24 hours. I remind her that we are safe, we won’t starve or die of thirst. In fact, we can survive at least a week, we’ll be bored shirtless but we’ll be OK. The main thing is for someone to notice that we are missing, not in camp, then I’m sure we’ll be found. Family are expecting us in the Falls on the 24th (today’s the 23rd), so if we don’t show up, they’ll set the clockwork running. At absolute worst, we’ll get to spend Xmas day in the bush! Imust admit to wondering whether the camp staff had noticed that we were not there, that the tent, camp chairs and braai were standing alone, forlorn in their unused state. In other words, I was sort of steeling myself to being stuck for a few days The time passes geologically slowly, I watch the storm clouds as they turn and change, but continuously develop. I shift in the seat, once, twice and again, over and over, swatting flies and shooshing wasps and hornets. I hear something, faintly!
Get out of the cab and, yes, definitely a feint sound, getting louder. It’s a helicopter. I run round to the back, to the camper, get the torch, find strobe and jump onto the tailgate. The sound is getting louder, from the west. A small cream and green chopper appears, flying west to east. I jump up and down, flash my strobe, the chopper turns towards us, I shout to J “they’ve found us “ and they have. The pilot flies over us, I signal that we’re stuck (swipe my finger across my throat), he waves, circles and comes over again. I hold my arms wide, then give the thumbs up, which he returns, before he flies off. I can feel myself get lighter, as the weight slides off my shoulders. My mood lifts immediately and J is smiling. The chopper lands on the road, about 250 metres behind us and I tell J to stay in the car as I walk towards the aircraft. I walk about 150 metres and a chap in khaki and green walks out of the bush to greet me (I find out later this is the Area Manager for Robins, Mr. Midwel Kapesa). Mr Kapesa shakes my hand and says that when we didn’t return to camp by 19h00 last night, they became worried andstarted the process of searching for us. He explains that they were very concerned that we had water, food and that we were safe. He apologetically says that they were unable to do much at night, with rain and mud, but that he had contacted Head Office in Harare this morning and been given permission to
call in the chopper from Vic Falls to search for us. He says that as their Land Rover is out of action he’ll have to send the tractor to pull us out. But, he says, the tractor tyres aren’t great, so maybe! I said I was happy to wait, I was happy that at least they knew where we were. Mr Kapesa says he’ll send the
tractor as soon as possible. Just after 14h00 I hear a strange sort of thunder, that becames louder. Within a few minutes a tractor comes around the bend at speed, with a driver and 2 rangers, one ranger balancing on each side. Within a couple of minutes I’ve packed up the floor mats I tried under the wheels, the muddy shoes, the caked clothes and sealed up the camper roof. By this time the rangers have boots off and trousers rolled up and immersed knee deep mud rope to my tow bar and to the tractor. The tractor hardly puffs and we were out!
Back at camp we find the tent, gas stove and chairs are as we left them, but everything else has been put away in safe storage. The camp attendants bring everything down to our site, explaining that our goods were stored away for safety. Our dirty washing has been washed and everything is tidy. J and I go to
shower in refreshingly warm water. I have to take a scrubbing brush to get rid of the mud under nails,in crevices I didn’t know existed. While we’re in the shower the camp attendants wash the car and fold the washing. After showering, we pack up camp, to leave for the Falls. I tip the attendants . Mr. Kapesa
comes walking down to the camp, I have a horrible feeling he’s going to ask me for several hundred dollars, to pay for the rescue. But he does not, he wishes us well, reiterates again that we were wise to stay with the vehicle and though he regrets our leaving early, hopes we come back to Hwange in future.
I give Mr Kapesa my remaining $ to share amongst the rescue team. It’s not much, but it’s all I had on me.
I thank you for your efficiency, your dedication and for the team you lead. I am a Zimbo by birth, schooling and wonderful years as a child, adolescent and young adult. I have grown a little sour and negative with age, especially living and working in Africa. When it comes to Zimbabwe I expect very little, simply because of the bad press and general deterioration (by my = western opinion) in the country as a whole. So the efforts of Zim Parks and Mr Kapesa and his staff in particular, are a ‘wake up’ call for me. I must stop being a sour, dour old fart and expect more. Maybe if I expect more, I’ll get more.
Thank you Mr. Kapesa, and your staff, and to Zim Parks, you not only saved us from the bush, but you renewed some lost faith in the humanity of humans. I’m glad that Mr Kapesa, his staff and Zim parks showed me that I, the tourist, am still important.”

Source : Bhejani Trust, by Trevor Lane

10 February 2015