“There are massive crocs around these islands,” Wourter (pronounced: ‘Vorter’) said as he showed me on Google Earth the croc snout-shaped island of Maaze.
“What do I do if I come across elephants?” I ask.
“I’m not quite sure,” he says. “I think stand your ground.” It sounds more like a question. “Best to ask Sean.”
Sean, Chenney’s brother (the general manager of the croc farm) had offered me to do a week of anti-poaching, clean ups and game counts for the week on Maaze and Mashape Islands, two islands the farm owns out on Lake Kariba. It has a camp with six safari tents and plenty of game such as kudu, puku, impala, elands, bush buck and water bucks.
“There are some massive crocs about so be careful,” Sean heeded on top of Wourter’s advise as he guides the speed boat over choppy waters. “Just keep your eyes open all the time.”
“What do I do if I come across elephants?” I ask as we land on the beach.
“Run,” he looks at me deadpan. “Run faster than the other guy.”
Landing on the island I’m introduced to Brian. “He lives here permanently as the caretaker,” Sean explains. He grabs Brian’s arm and points to two large scars. “A baboon attacked him so watch yourself.”
Great. Crocs, elephants, baboons. What else?
Sean and Wourter wish me luck as they chug off back to the mainland. I had three days to spend here with Brian and two game scouts, Ed and Kennedy, who would be by later. I had stocked up on eggs, vegetables, rice, pasta and a whole chicken to sustain me.
“We should put them in the pots,” Brian suggested. “To keep them from the baboons.”
Baboons. The one animal I truly despised. Evil in appearance and evil in nature. Get enough of them together and they’ll take down a lone lion.
“In the afternoon we will go looking for game,” Brian said.
I set up my gear in the tent overlooking the bay, a small herd of impala grazing in the thorny grass by the water.
At 15:00 I headed out with Kennedy and Brian to trek around the north-western side of the island, spotting all the game I was told would be there. Including a large male croc that shot to the water on our approach.
“It’s breeding season now,” Brian said, pointing to a sandy bank where the grass ended and the dryness of the island began. “Crocodiles will lay eggs here.”
Crocs are much more aggressive in the breeding season.
Brian pointed to uprooted trees, lying like overturned cars in disaster movies.
“Elephants,” he said calmly.
As we trekked through following game tracks, we picked up rubbish that poachers had left behind. We came across a couple of deserted camps, fishermen fishing illegally. That night I ate a hearty cold chicken and pasta salad I had cooked. I sat with Brian and the two scouts by the fire, enjoying the calls of animals as the flames crackled, reaching up towards the Milky Way that was making its appearance.
The next morning I awoke early to the sunrise and after standard morning procedures, made my way to the kitchen to cook up some breakfast. Moonandi had shown up.
“Brian has Chicken Pox,” he said. “I must take him to the mainland.” The two scouts had already chugged out earlier that morning. “You will be OK by yourself until they come back?” Moonandi asked.
“Sure,” I said. “Think it’s possible for me to paddle out in the canoe?”
“Yes,” he said. “Just be careful. Very big crocodiles here.”
Everyone keeps saying that.
He left with Brian and I was suddenly surrounded by an eerie silence. I made some eggs as fish eagles called out. After washing up I headed over to the canoe. The paddle was broken but still usable. The only issue was that my hands and arms, two features I quite like about my form, would be uncomfortably close to croc infested waters.
Massive crocs here, Sean’s voice echoed in my head.
Along with Wourter’s.
I looked over the water, my sixth sense of something large watching me climbing my spine, making me shiver despite the hot sun baking the day. There are also hippos to consider. They could easily turn over a canoe and play tug-o-war with me against a croc.
I turned back to my camp figuring reading Joseph Boyden’s Through Black Spruce might be a safer option. As I sat quietly in the shade of my tent a couple of horse-sized Kudus trotted passed, pausing to nibble at some leaves. Impala were grazing by the river and fish eagles called from above.
So peaceful, I thought as I watched. Lizards had been scrambling all over my tent and now one had fearlessly jumped on my book, followed the lines of prose to my hand and jumped on my arm. I allowed it to run up to my shoulder before I nudged it off.
It was about lunchtime anyway and I decided to head over to the self-catering kitchen to make some grub. When I saw the mother baboon with her young clinging to her back jump from the barred window of the kitchen I had a bad feeling. She scampered off, barking out a warning to her troop. The outside bin had been tipped over, its lid lying like a passed out drunk beside the can. I ran up to the kitchen.
I saw smashed egg shells strewn across the floor. Two apples and an orange helpless by the now de-lidded pots they had been hidden in. I was about to charge in when I noticed the long tail almost touching the floor. I followed it to the owner, a male primate the size of a German Shepard, sitting on the cross beam, munching on an orange.
“Sonofa…,” I stared at it as it ignored my presence.
Then it pooped, the feces landing in four loud splats on the concrete floor.
“Not in my fucking kitchen, ya bastard!” I Gordon Ramsey-ed, startling the beast to jump to the thatched roof.
I made my way to the door when a flash of Brian’s scarred arm and Sean’s voice echoing, ‘A baboon attacked him so watch yourself here,’ stopped me mid-storm.
I looked around for a weapon. I wasn’t going to attack a baboon. I’m crazy but not that crazy but I’d need something for self-defense just in case. As humans, evolving into trimming nails and having canines that can only tear flesh off a cooked meat, we’re just not that well equipped to handle Gaya’s other inhabitants.
I grabbed the axe leaning against the outside wall and slowly opened the door. The baboon had already moved onto an onion and was biting into it. It didn’t seem like it wanted a fight. It just wanted a way out. It was too big to fit between the space of the thatched roof and mud brick wall.
Must ‘ave opened the door, the cheeky fucker.
I left the entrance open and moved away from it as it hopped between the cross beams and scampered out. I slammed it shut and looked around at the mess of broken egg shells. I salvaged the apples and the last orange. I hid the bag of tomatoes and the onions it didn’t get to in a sealed box of towels. I locked the kitchen door and walked back to my camp with the axe, cursing all the way.
“Tomorrow we go to see elephants on Mashape Island,” Ed suggested when the guides came back. “You can walk with elephants?”
“Mate,” I said, “I can walk with lions.” Just not baboons.
The next morning I lazed in bed past sunrise. The scouts had gone to the mainland leaving me alone again. I headed over to the kitchen with the axe in tow. As soon as I saw the overturned bins and the metal sheet that was supposedly placed on the barred window to keep out the monkeys I knew that it would not be a pretty sight.
Cursing in every language I knew how to curse in (turns out, I know quite a few) I cautiously approached as a baboon barked a warning for the troop to retreat. I peered into the kitchen. It looked like a tornado had passed through. Everything was overturned. They had gotten into the scouts supplies and had even tipped over the small couch. My left over rice in the pot were no longer left. The kettle was spilled of its contents and the salt was cut up as though they were doing lines of coke. Feces splatted everywhere.
Too angry to cook (never cook when angry) I resorted to a packet of vanilla biscuits for lunch. At 15:00 the guides returned.
“The kitchen’s been renovated,” I said grimly.
They looked in, tsk-tsking. “We are very sorry,” they said.
“It’s cool,” I grinned. “Part of the African adventure.” Fucking baboons.
Kennedy took me out to Mashape Island to scout for elephants. As we approached the beach a herd of wilderbeest and zebra scattered. We scared off elands, waterbucks, bushbucks, impala and in the distant, “Elephant,” Kennedy pointed out.
He then pointed to the tracks on the ground. “Crocodile nest for eggs.” He began to dig in the sand. I kept an eye out on the water. I had spotted the mother just before and put myself in a position to run, outlining a possible track towards the safety of the bush.
“No eggs,” Kennedy said, scratching his head.
“It’s cool,” I said. “Let’s keep moving.”
Kennedy saw that the elephant was making its way towards us. All alone it was most likely a bull. “We should go inland,” he suggested. “The elephant is coming because we are disturbing it.”
“Yeah, good idea,” I seconded his suggestion and we headed in to scurry away elands, kudu, zebra and a warthog.
Friday morning I was glad to be back on the mainland, bidding farewell to Ed and Kennedy as I needed to make שמ outline to head to Lusaka after the weekend.