Sands Of Silence

On Safari In Namibia

Peter H. Capstick

St. Martin's Press

Sands Of Silence
The dead dog hung transfixed by a moonbeam. Below it, the knuckles of an elephant loomed in the same yellow light as a full moon eased to its zenith, bathing the scene in golden rays almost as bright as daylight. I tapped Volker lightly for the owl-eye, and pointed it over the top of the black .375 Magnum rifle. It rasped slightly against the dry salt on my cheeks as I focused the device and looked through the lenses. Edged in green, the light it drew was astonishing, each blade of the Kalahari-withered grass as sharp as a sword and each jagged stick of bush plated with the same winter-weary edging. In a silent click, I turned off the battery element and quietly handed it back to Volker. He took it with exaggerated slowness and carefully placed it on his lap without turning his head in the least.
Far, far away, I could hear a bushbaby crying on the hot, dry night air, and once there was the closer yap of a black-backed jackal, slicing the cooler wind like a serrated bread knife. From almost a mile away came a quiet cough from the Bushman encampment at Naneh, where perhaps fifty souls lay sleeping by the fires in a swelter of sweat and heat. Certainly they were no hotter than we were, I thought as I eased my bum slightly on the canvas seat of a camp chair inside the blind and collected a black glance from Volker. Above, a satellite drifted as silently as the stars across the gem-filled sky, coming from our left and dying out of sight to our right. I wondered whose it was. Could it really see a golf ball at two hundred miles? Who would want to see a golf ball so far away, anyway? My brain scrambled and I furtively fished out my watch from the little pocket I had always questioned the use of. Ten past one. Good. Another fifty minutes before it was my turn to stare at that fool tree thatmight sprout a monster dog-and-cow-killing leopard. I closed my eyes after a glance at Volker, who was hunkered like a huge heap on the edge of his chair, and was figuring out how to spend all that money from the Pulitzer Prize when I felt it ... .
It spoke for itself, a thick, strong grip that actually hurt my upper arm. I knew better than to react, just sliding my eyes open an almond sliver and staring straight ahead. I started to shift forward, but the grip increased along with several damned painful tightenings from the huge hand that had grabbed me. Slowly I went over our signals. One nudge or grip meant that the watcher had seen the leopard on the ground, but there was no change in the sere, sandy northern Kalahari that separated us from the tree. Two squeezes or pulses mean that the leopard was in the tree. No, again. But what in hell did a very solid and sustained grip mean? Oh, my! Maybe snake?
We had seen several mambas and caught two puff adders already, but as far as I could see there were none on the floor of the blind, which vastly decreased my sense of immediate foreboding. But what the hell was it? I eased my eyes to Volker's furry face, the moon catching in the silver whiskers of his full beard. He sensed my movement, slight though it was, and tightened with the definite message that I was not to move again. Kee-rist, maybe it was a snake!
Oh, unspeakables! What do I do now? I looked again out the small gun port where the custom .375 H&H by Musgrave was supported by twin V-sticks, but saw nothing. The moon streamed down as if it were melting, but I could see nothing. The dog was intact. The elephant meat had not been touched. There was nothing between us and the tree. So what? Quietly, I eased my glance toward Volker. He was staring straight out of my porthole of the tent and bush blind. But at what? I looked again. Dammit, when they built this mother they should have left a clear view instead of letting that blob of branches or whatsis partially obscure my seeing hole! Damn! But then it hit me. The blob had not been there before. What the hell was it? Without looking again, I knew ... .
I sat in frozen shock for perhaps a second, at which pointit was time to consider my options. I could see the home papers now: IDIOT HUNTER KILLED IN LEOPARD BLIND! Or maybe BUNGLING BWANA BASHED? Perhaps an upper-class, more niggardly headline would shout, NITWIT AUTHOR INGESTED. Yet, as I stared at the blob about three feet from my nose, I started to get the idea that perhaps Volker and I could bring a weapon to bear before what was obviously a lioness could tear apart the outer tent and kill us. For once I was beginning to agree with Volker that the idea of using tents as blind foundation wasn't so crazy after all.
She was no more than a yard away, now that I focused on her. Motionless, she stared in as hard as we stared out. As I am sure Grellmann's brain had done, I went over our arsenal mentally. Let's see ... . There was the .375, but we could never get it off the V-posts in time to get a shot from inside a zipped tent. There was the .470 Nitro Express elephant gun, a side-by-side double out of Famars by Champlin, which was loaded with solid bullets and which would sure do the trick, but it would make too much noise to ease it from its propped-up position in my corner of the canvas. There was always the shotgun, stoked with No. 1 buck, but it was behind me, and the lioness was looking at me from a yard away. Volker had his old .458 Winchester as well as a shotgun, but what he didn't tell me at the time--perhaps he himself had forgotten--was that he had a .44 Magnum revolver that I had never seen, possibly kept in case I didn't pay my bill. I didn't know about the revolver, and all of the other arms were too noisy to move, so I figured we could do little else but look back at what I was sure was an astonished lioness.
On second thought, perhaps she had not been able to make out what we were. I certainly hoped so. She was far too close for comfort. But she was close enough to study. She had a strange head, less linear and more blocky than that of the usual lioness, and she had some odd markings on what I could see of her neck, sort of darker splotches in the moonlight. I wondered if she had brought along the family to the festivities, and hoped that she was a lone Jezebel out for an evening on her own. Actually, measuring the predicament, I figured that we could get one oranother of the guns free before she ripped off the tent face. But, then, maybe we couldn't. If she attacked the front of the tent, maybe all the weapons would end up under folds of canvas and we would be left to show and tell.
A brace of eternities drifted by without a move from either party when, in an instant, she doubled like a horizontal, greased Indian Rope Trick and faded away to the rear of the tent/blind. Unfortunately, a soft sound of a heavy body in dry leaves whispered like a cobra, and if you strained, you could hear her harsh breathing on the hot night air. Volker took his hand away, and the blood started to circulate in my arm again.
There were things over the next two hours I did think of, but sleep wasn't one of them. When we were sure--or at least when I was sure--that the lioness wouldn't come back, I leaned over to Volker and whispered that there was sure no hope of the village-raiding leopard coming that night, what with that lioness around. He looked at me kind of queerly, but obviously had decided to pack it in anyway. After all, we had been hunting elephant all day in what were at least 115-degree temperatures, and to have lasted until 4:00 A.M. was a pretty good showing. That was twenty-three hours of various hunting, after all.
He picked up his shotgun, and I heard the nasty metal sound as the safety was disengaged under his finger, and he eased out the side of the tent flap. He had a broad look around while I gathered up more weapons than the D-Day invasion toted and squeezed out beside him. He loomed over me like a strange, golden ostrich over a plover. "Now," he said in his kindliest tone, the one he used with imbeciles, "What's this about lionesses?"
"But surely you saw her?" I asked incredulously. "Christ, she was practically a boarder! You mean you didn't see her?"
"I saw the biggest leopard I ever saw in my life, but I didn't see any lionesses. Did you think ..."
"Naw," I said, mentally scrambling for some arguing space. "I was just asking what you saw. Big one, wasn't she? Uh, I mean him?"
"By the spoor alone, he's got to go over eight feet, maybecloser to nine. Ach! The biggest goddam leopard I ever saw ... ."
He took the checkered black five-cell torch from my hand and swept it around the perimeter of the opening and then to the ground near the front of the blind. For a couple of seconds it stayed on the dead dog and flickered down to the elephant foot. Then he swept the sandy earth with the beam and gave a low whistle.
"Never saw prints like these. He's as big as a lioness, I'll give you that. But look here. No question it was a male leopard." I looked. And blinked. They were leopard pugs, okay. Imagine that the sonofabitch had been too close to shoot! "Maybe from my angle I had a better look at him than you did out of your corner," said Volker, striding off in his usual giant-killing steps to the bush track that led back to the car. "But I'll tell you this--he won't be back again. He's had a good whiff of us. No way he'll come back."
It was a long ride home, perhaps an hour, as false dawn gave an odd, ethereal edge to the outlines of the fluttering nightjars, sooty wraiths that flushed from just ahead of the tires. Owls flickered alongside the hunting car, picking up startled mice. We saw the tiny, bloodshot eyes of the main camp at Klein Dobe just as dawn really started trying. Already the camp staff were up in the growing light, starting cooking fires and brewing coffee for them that takes it. Personally, an icy beer would have fulfilled my wildest dreams. And so it did.
I creaked from the freezer--which doesn't really freeze anything in the Eastern Bushmanland heat--to our tent, where I gave a rousing Fiona a somewhat-less-than-Hollywood kiss. "Did you get him?" she asked. A single look told her that her boy needed a little bit of head-patting.
"Not exactly," I said mysteriously. "I could have taken one hell of a lioness, but she was too close." When the shower water had turned from roan to semi-clear and I had blown the roosting detritus out of my mustache, I wandered down to a nauseatingly jolly breakfast. Even Volker was there, placing a flanking movement on enough eggs and sausage to keep a Bushman clan solvent. Guinea fowl were churring down by the water point, anda lovesick shrike was competing with the weaver birds for notice in an unnoticing world. I felt like something you kick sand over and quietly walk away from.
"Let's saddle up," said Phil, obstreperous as ever. "Want to catch these few minutes of proper light."
"Yeah," agreed Robert Olkowski. "Let's push off."
"Look, why don't you guys go to the game reserve or someplace today? I don't feel photogenic. Run along and play with your lenses, humm?" An egg I had chosen from the fried pile was looking at me quite unkindly.
"Hey," said Phil, bright-eyed from a decent night's sleep without my snoring to keep the lions away, "I thought we were here to take pictures of you, Bwana."
"Yeah," Roger chimed in. "Do you wanna make this video or not?"
I considered the blissful alternative, then thought of Ken Wilson and all his hungry brood. "You mean you want to keep after that elephant we tracked yesterday? Talk some sense into these neophytes, Volker." I put the egg's eye out with a single slash of my fork. It flowed down the white perimeter, orange and injured.
"Not for me to decide if you shirk your duty or not," said Volker helpfully. "If you don't want to go out, despite the bucks you are paying, I would be happier in my bed." Nice guy, Volker. What I need is another Volker.
"Of course," he said around several bushels of bacon, "maybe this is a hundred-pounder. Who knows until we have caught up with him?"
Well, that settled it. I strapped on the ammo belt, snugged down my hat, and went for my rifles. I beat everybody to the hunting vehicle, but it was not discovered until I was a couple of miles out of camp that I was still barefoot.
It was a great year for safari, 1989, considering that I was not a professional hunter anymore. In June, I had gone with old pal Mick Arsenault of Dallas--at the time--and frozen my nevermindoff for two weeks in a steel rondaval on a Namibian ranch while Mick collected two excellent gemsbuck, the giant southern oryx, as well as taking a left and a right on bull kudu. Now, what do you say to a guy who has doubled on two excellent kudu? Right. Nothing. Not hunting big game, I was loath to climb the junior Himalayas on the Gobabis ranch, but had a wonderful time with a tame Bushman named Fritz hunting dassies, rock rabbits, or hyrax, whatever you want to call the woodchuck-sized critters that seethe through the most inhospitable cliffs of south-central Namibia.
I also had some of the finest birdshooting of my life in company with Mick and Gary Haselau, another old friend, shooting (at) the very fast and very thirsty Namaqua sand grouse that are in the millions in the area. I developed a recoil scar on my right shoulder that will follow me to the crematorium, and I will show it to anyone who asks how the birdshooting is in Namibia. We shot at a couple of the few water holes where the sand grouse drink, and there were so many birds that we didn't beat them up very badly at all. Of course, there are bag limits, but they are generous. After a while, we only shot at birds that would fall into a specific circle of twenty-five yards, if that gives you some idea of the shooting quality.
After my trip with Mick--garnished with the beauty of Cape Town and its seafood--I had a twenty-one-day trip called the Dunn's Celebrity Safari, which took place in Botswana with Gordon Cundill's firm, Hunters Africa. The idea was that I would host the clients from their arrival in Johannesburg until their departure, which worked out very well.
Among the hunters were Dr. Bruce Melrose, who mostly hunted with my old buddy George Hoffman, John and Mary Dicken of Tennessee, who have become old pals, and Frank Stallone, brother of Sylvester. John Northcote, who arguably holds the greatest tenure of all practicing professional hunters in Africa, hunted John and Mary Dicken to a terrific collection of trophies, whereas Gordon Cundill Hisself floated through the safari going out, as I did, with Frank Stallone, Bruce Melrose, and the Dickens. Actually, it was a bang-up trip, and everybodytook lion--or could have--Frank Stallone deciding that he really shouldn't kill his birth sign despite long tracking of three superb, platinum-maned males, which were finally caught up with. Peter Hepburn, one of the best professional hunters I have ever seen, took Frank under his wing with Tony Colagreco, a Californian restaurant entrepreneur who was along to observe.
The problem was that the Celebrity Safari finished up on September 23, and I was to go to Windhoek and Bushmanland in the very early hours of the twenty-fifth of the same month. Yet, thanks to Fifi, all clients--now friends--were properly accommodated in the Sandton Sun Hotel and seen off. Incidentally, if you ever come to South Africa, I recommend you choose a "fringe" hotel, as the downtown area of Johannesburg has become positively dangerous with street crime.
Dr. Phil Kahl had arrived, or pitched up as we would say in Africa, on the twenty-third to get his skull screwed down again from jet lag, and we picked him up at Jan Smuts, the international airport. Of course, he had "Baby," the 600-mm lens with which he does a great deal of his work, cradled in loving arms. As far as I know, he slept with it, although it is anybody's guess whether it joined him in the shower. Phil immediately went to bed despite the washing-machine noises as Fifi redid my bush clothes, which were still desiring something, if only in her gaze.
I was pleasantly tired, pleased that things had gone well. Anytime one makes lasting friends, it has been a good trip. I thought back on some of the episodes that were less than those I would have chosen, like the morning that Bruce, George, Gordon, and I went lion hunting ... .
Gordon and I had found a very fine bull kudu pulled down by what seemed a lone lioness. It was within fifty yards of the Chobe River, and the bush was very thick. Gordon and I went in with rifles bared. After fifty yards, according to the perched vultures, the lioness was still on the kill, but we couldn't see whether or not she had whistled up her old man for a bit of fresh victuals. On our way to the kill, we both noticed a sort of hollow windfall, almost like a Bushman shelter that had been abandoned, although it was a natural formation. What a superiorplace to leave lion cubs while the old lady fed, we both thought, and signaled by a lifting of sweat-caked eyebrows. As we approached the kill, vultures flapped off and we heard a very definite rumble of lioness. She was rather old, beyond having young, but only when confronted by us did she ease off into the riverine bush.
The next morning, when it was still as cold as a skinned pole, we were at the edge of the cover, about ten miles from camp on the Chobe River. Bruce Melrose had killed a zebra the day before, some two miles from the natural kill, and possibly there would be something chewing on the carcass. Through very hazy logic, which determined that meat used for bait might, in other circumstances, be consumed by the local indigenous human population, baiting is illegal in Botswana. This stupid law matches the statute in which the madallas or tribal elders decided that the safari season should end September 18 or 19, thus losing untold thousands if not millions of U.S. dollars on the simplistic principle that this is the time when most plains game, such as antelopes, drop their young.
Of course, being horn and not meat oriented, safari hunters did not covet either young or females as did the tribal elders themselves, who had no interest in trophies or horns, the ladies and children are fair game as opposed to regulated sport hunting for males. The season was closed during a most productive time, the visibility being better and the revenues produced more lucrative for the people in terms of hunting licenses and trophy fees.
Rural bush Africans are interested in nyama. Meat. Flesh. Age or sex of the animal doesn't matter. Thus they cheat the paying safari hunter as well as themselves. But this is Africa. In emerging--or, as is the financial case in many newly independent lands, submerging--countries, logic has little to do with game laws. Perhaps this is why it is still Africa, with all of its seemingly insurmountable problems.
These problems will continue as long as such illogical thinking persists. This is forever, if you ask me.
There was nothing on Bruce's zebra, so there was all the more reason that there should be lions on the dead bull kudu that the lioness had killed. Walking back to the track, we hadgiven the dead kudu an hour to settle down with what we hoped was a collection of lions, because the wind was now in our favor, whereas we had whisked through at dawn as it was blowing behind us.
We covered almost a mile before Gordon Cundill turned the hunting car off the dirt track and we began to walk the remaining mile to the kudu.
We took our time, Gordon going first, then George Hoffman and Bruce Melrose. Gordon had his .500 Nitro, and of course George had his namesake, the .416 Hoffman. Bruce held some sort of exotic Weatherby that we teased him about, but there was no question that he killed what he shot at. I think his was the .378 which would reduce me into recoiled pulp, and Bruce was smaller than I was.
Slowly we proceeded, parting branches that Gordon had parted and George had parted and Bruce had parted. It was the essence of hunting, each branch bringing us closer to where at least we knew there were lions, big African cats that could kill you and make all your honorary degrees posthumous. It was hunting at its best; dangerous and unknown.
Off to the right was a hollow little bower that Gordon and I had seen the day before. Gordon had already passed it by a few feet, and George was right in front of the entrance, with Bruce a couple of feet away.
It happened in a heartbeat. George immediately covered the front of the tangle a couple of feet away. I could hear his fervent "Jesus! Lion!" which isn't a prayer even to a born-again Christian like George, but it sure told us plenty. Instantly--and I do not misuse the term--the bower was covered by an initial strike capability of at least 22,000 pounds of bullet muzzle energy from four major firearms.
Thanks to Almighty that momma was eating kudu fillets and not home, or somebody would have gotten it. From a couple of feet, there is almost no way to lull an animal the size of a lioness to death with even multiple shots unless they hit the brain, a cavity even smaller than our own for having been therein the first place. Hydrostatic shock, even from some of the most highly touted rifles, does not work. Believe my scars ... .
Inside the branch shelter were four lion cubs, unharmed, as large a dose of bad news as you are likely to get no matter where you hunt in Africa. Female lions are not casual with their cubs, believe me. Momma was nearby, and the smallest whimper of the smallest of the cubs would mean a real, no-kidding, very un-Elsa charge, and somebody might get terminally hurt and a lady lion would get killed, if we were lucky.
When I say that we backed off from that swirl of deeply shaded branches, I do not put you on. A mouse never backtracked from a big tomcat as silently. I noticed that nobody put the safety of his rifle back on.
At fifteen yards, Gordon grabbed Bruce Melrose by the collar and brought him up to the kudu kill, about twenty yards away. There were very un-kudu-like patches of, well, lion-colored hide, and the wind held. But there was no male. Perhaps he had found the favors of another female--there were two eating their bellies full--but he was not there. Becoming aware of us, the two females ran a couple of yards from the kill and stopped, facing us. We backed off, believe me. We backed off like nobody has ever backed off. When it comes to off-backing I hold the Olympic record, closely followed by Cundill, Hoffman, and Melrose. But I broke the tape first.
Bruce later killed a honey of a lion after losing a shot at one that was somewhat aquatic. Yet I suppose there is another place to tell these tales, as well as that of John Dicken, who killed his lion when out after the aquatic antelope, the sitatunga, a white one, if you can believe it--the sitatunga, not the lion.
I really only had a day before I left the Celebrity Hunt and headed for South-West Africa, as it was then called, with Phil. I took three each of bush shirts and shorts as well as a couple of long pants for the aircraft, the usual tendency being to over-pack. I also had the usual amaze-the-natives stuff such as the cold-light wands (which amaze me, never mind the natives, I love 'em), as well as my new Capstick African Damascus knifeby Rob Charlton of Damascus USA, who supplies raw Damascus billets to the trade as well as making his own fine knives.
I have always secretly hated the late Robert Ruark because he had a Spanish castle from which to plan his Rover Boys forays, and I just had to make do from a town house. Spanish castle be damned, Phil and I took off on the twenty-fifth of September, 1989, from Jan Smuts Airport after having gotten up at something like four before the cock crows. I call it the painful time. Phil was unable to speak until we were halfway to the airport.
Of course, I had to get export permits for my firearms, and this is as good a time as any to tell you about the tools of my trade ... .
My .470 Nitro Express double was stolen on Thanksgiving 1974 from my Florida town house, a fine rifle that I had used on, shall we say, imminent occasions. I had always wanted to replace it, but I might as well have wished for the holy grail until Death in the Long Grass came out. That book improved my financial outlook as it still, quite amazingly, does. The original rifle was an Evans, not a frou-frou collection of engraving but a working gun, of which it did plenty. I had used a .470 Nitro in cropping elephants, as well as the .500 Nitro 3", but I found the .470 the best of all worlds.
I was at the Safari Club International Show at Las Vegas, personalizing leatherbound books, when I bumped into George Caswell of Champlin Arms. Sure, and bumping into George Caswell is like an alcoholic bumping into a whiskey wagon. He usually has enough double rifles of fine quality to sell by the pound, but I had had a good year and liked a particular double he had on show.
It was the prototype of the Champlin-Famars deal between George and the Famars people of Italy, in my beloved .470 Nitro caliber, and it was ever so slightly shopworn. Slightly used but not abused, as the used-car people would call it. Well, I bought it. It was twelve grand, but it was a hell of a rifle, shooting ironsighted sixty-meter groups of a touch over an inch. In fact, number 763, produced by Abbiatico and Salvinelli (Famars) is as fine a double as I shall find on an Anson and Deely action box lock, which is what Rigby used all those many years ago in their bloom. It is proper weight, at about eleven pounds, has a choice of ivory or plain bead, and handles like a newborn babe when it is asleep.
I must inject that we are in fact speaking of an elephant gun. The first chance I had to fire it was with no benchrest available, so I improvised a rest out of a TV table, towels, and a motor-scooter tire. The first three groups prompted me to enshrine the target in a safe on letterhead paper, which, in fact, I did. But then I made a mistake ... .
I had fired three rounds through each barrel, right and left, and I did the unspeakable, the unthinkable. I doubled it. Whether or not it was my fault by hitting both triggers at once or whether it was jarred off by recoil, to this day I don't know. Yet I can assure you that both went off at once. Maybe there is a rib cage that can withstand 150 grains of cordite, I don't know, but for sure it isn't mine.
Just like a kid who bellyflops or is kicked from a horse, I went back to the bench. I shot eighteen more rounds of Kynoch, although it hurt, to say the least. I shouldn't have done that ... .
A few days went by, and the pain got worse. After a week I couldn't breathe properly and, in imagined extremis, asked Fifi to take me to the doctor. Somehow I managed the three stories up to his offices as the elevator was inoperable. A chest X ray showed as nice a broken rib as you could hope for, sort of a greenstick break that had somehow broken outward instead of penetrating my lung. A handful of Voltaren made me more comfortable if not wiser.
There was another new gun, which I never had a chance to use on the trip, although I carried it along at all times except when actually spooring elephant. Some months before the trip, through the courtesy of Lt. Gen. Denis Earp, I had a chance to visit the gunmaking plant of Musgrave, which was some hours south of my Pretoria home. We were greeted by Abe Koch, the general manager, who so impressed me with their general and custom shops that I ordered a .375 H&H Magnum on a Mauser action.
Now, really, when it was finished, I have never seen a prettier or more functional rifle. I have owned custom guns before, but nobody ever put one together like Musgrave did. Owing to the UN sanctions against armaments, Musgrave has had its problems in exporting its wares, but this seems as if it won't go on very long, since, as of this writing, President F. W. de Klerk has just returned from Washington. Musgrave used Grade V Turkish walnut and inscribed on it my personal serial number, PHC-1, as well as inlaying my name in gold on the top of the octagonal barrel. I was quite puritan about the engraving, although Musgrave has some of the best chisel-men in the world. Just the front of the chamber, the magazine floor plate and the bolt knurl were done, but oh, so tastefully, in a soft scroll. Of course, engraving doesn't add anything to the shooting characteristics of a rifle, but coupled with a Timney adjustable trigger and the rigidity of an octagonal barrel, PHC-1 will shoot one-inch groups at one hundred meters with factory ammo all day long. Believe me, when sanctions go, and they will, possibly by the publication date of this book, the best deal in the world is with Musgrave of Bloemfontein, South Africa. The rand-dollar exchange assures that.
I cropped some thirty zebra with this rifle in Botswana in '89, and with A-Square ammunition in the .375 H&H I never had a lost animal. Those of you with some safari experience realize what this means: the zebra is possibly, pound-for-pound, the hardest animal to bring down with one shot in Africa.
Phil and I left South Africa on the twenty-fifth and arrived at Windhoek, the capital of what was then South-West Africa, at about eleven o'clock, where Volker met us. Upon departure from South Africa, Phil did his usual take-my-children-take-my-wife-but-don' t-touch-the-film bit. Finally he got his several hundred rolls hand-examined, but it was hair, teeth and eyes all the way. According to Phil, never let any of your film be exposed to the X-ray machines at airports, particularly if you have several international layovers. If you are a professional, be prepared to die for it. Sure as hell it will be fogged, maybe not noticeably from the first machine, but from an accumulation of X rays. Phil once went through a blank refusal in, I think, Zimbabwe. Hedeclared that he would take the bus home, which I am sure he would have done, but finally the security people let up, and Phil made his plane.
We had some coffee and a cold one at Volker's home, a lovely place in Windhoek where Anke had laid out refreshments of sandwiches and biltong, the shade-dried meat of southern Africa. On the way back to the airport we talked politics, something I would as soon leave alone. Yet this was part of our visit. It, of course, centered on the election that was supposed to take place chiefly beween the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), which was Marxist, and rather a conglomerate of parties under the acronym of DTA, which is the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance, a moderate group, among many other independent parties. At the time, the country was occupied by UNTAG, the United Nations Transition Assistance Group, composed of "unbiased" UN people from such places as Finland and Kenya, who hate the South Africans, who had previous mandate over the country after Germany lost it at the end of World War I. Of course, many of these volunteer troops joined the UN forces because by doing so they were able to buy an expensive automobile and then import it to their home countries tax-free. Their legacy was AIDS, which they have taken home with them, as well as unnumbered illegitimate children whom they left behind. Maybe it's worth AIDS to bring home a tax-free Maserati ... .
As you will gather, I have little personal time for the machinations of the UN. Perhaps the greatest laugh came when Australian troops made a combat landing on Windhoek Airport and then fanned out to "secure their perimeter." Typical of the UN, somebody hadn't gotten the word. A combat landing on Windhoek is about the same as doing so at Newark Airport. Still, they took their imported cars home.
Enough of politics.
Phil and I came in on SAA flight 701, having left home at 3:35 A.M., and were at Jan Smuts Airport at 5:45 for a 6:30 departure, leaving enough time for the guns and cameras to be properly inspected. Of course, somebody in the passport sectionhad overslept, and it was not until five of six that it was opened.
After leaving Anke and Volker at the airport, we took a charter plane piloted by Maurice van Zyl and finally arrived at Tsumkwe, the so-called capital of Bushmanland, an hour and a half later and three hundred kilometers away from Windhoek. Our plane was a Cessna 310, which took all of our hand luggage including Phil's cameras, not an easy feat. Of course, when we arrived we didn't know who was whom--let alone where we were--and I almost hugged a departing schoolteacher under the impression that she was Angi Stephensen, sent from camp to collect us.
Angi pitched up a couple of minutes later in a bronchial Land-Rover that dislayed all symptoms of extremis. The strip at Tsumkwe was rather short on first-class lounges--in fact, in lounges at all. So we piled in the terminal Land-Rover and had got about two hundred yards when it quit.
I have always subscribed to the thought that one should never try to repair a friend's car, on the theory that there is no way to win. If you fix it, the owner will say that the problem was the next thing he or she was going to check. If you fail, it is your fault alone since it could have been fixed if only one had left the goddam thing alone.
The sand was deep. Phil and I were thirsty. Bushman women stood by. Perhaps sharpening their knives. It was getting hotter and I was getting thirstier. So was Phil. If you want to get a Land-Rover fixed, I do not recommend Tsumkwe. It does have a gas station that fills the large, four-wheel-drive Kenyan vehicles, but I suspect they have never lifted a hood--excuse me, bonnet.
Angi, a trim and attractive German blonde, was clearly at her wits' end. By this time I had had a chance to figure out what it might be, and, supposing that we might spend a couple of weeks here, I broke my own rule.
"How many petrol tanks does this car have?" I asked.
"I don't know," said Angi.
"Well, let's take this little lever and twitch it over here." The engine boiled to life. I was at least today's hero. Nobody had mentioned that I had been a professional hunter and should know what was wrong in the first place. I always maintained that I was a lucky hunter, not a skilled one as far as mechanics were involved.
After what seemed perhaps a thousand miles, we passed Klein Dobe pan on our left and Angi reckoned that it was only a few kilometers to camp. At last it showed up, flying a most irregular flag, one that I had seen before, but couldn't place in my repertoire of star and stripes and banners. It turned out to be the Tennessee state flag, which meant that Hanley Sayers was in camp and holding court.
The first people to greet us in the twilight were Bam and Jerry Heiner. It somehow seemed odd as hell to have them out here in nowhere when where I had last seen them was Reno, Nevada. Bam was her usual pretty, vivacious self, and Jerry not a whit less charming than normal. "You wanna watch the amputation?" Jerry asked me after our usual hugs and such.
"No, Hanley Sayers is operating on Glen, who screwed up his thumb while sharpening a knife. Got a sharp thumb for his trouble."
I wondered, outside the grass thatch encampment, whether an amputation or a cold beer was precedential. I decided on the cold beer first, as did Phil, and then proceeded to the festivities.
There was little time to introduce ourselves as Hanley already had Glen's thumb across his knee. Of course, amputation had been an overstatement, but from the look of Glen's opposable digit, there was every reason for the stitches that Hanley was about to render. I introduced myself and offered to help.
"Grab his arm above the wrist," said Hanley. "This probably won't feel too good."
I did as instructed, but it was not necessary. I wondered about infection and released the video man's arm and hied offto the bar for some vodka, which I trickled over the gore-oozing wound flap.
Hanley finished his first stitch of five, and tied it off like a pro. I was impressed, knowing as I did all there was to know about stitches in safari camps. Glen never made a sound.
After the mechanics were finished, several volunteers made better use of the vodka. Phil and I retired for the moment in the half-light and dragged our stuff over to the tent that Volker usually occupied, a standard client's tent, with extra space, in green canvas with a fly sheet. Off the rear was an en suite bathroom and shower. It would do just fine.
Of course, the camp was crowded beyond its usual capacity. Jerry and Bam had agreed that we might come early and, in fact, send Roger Olkowski ahead, which made three in excess, then there were Phil and me, as well as Hanley and Glen and Doug and Angi. This certainly was not the normal state of affairs, given that the camp would usually cater to, at most, a hunter and his wife.
Phil had one of his security crises (other than removing "Baby" from his lap), his first of the trip. What should he do with three hundred rands of South African currency? Also, he had translated all his credit card numbers into a code that he had lost. All that remained was his telephone credit card. After commenting that his luggage had pulled a knife, Phil also dissolved in laughter and suggested that the only thing to do was call the operator. Of course there were as many phones as operators in Bushmanland: none.
We had a super dinner of oxtail broiled with gravy, and got to know Hanley, Glen, Roger, Doug and Angi. Replete, we went to an early bed, disturbing only Phil, who thought that my snoring was the equal of, and perhaps superior to, any he had ever heard.
The next morning dawned with what would prove to be the usual heat; it was too hot to lie in bed after five-thirty. The guinea fowl were watering with their usual ground-marbles-andModel-A-startersound. The Christmas beetles had already started with their cicada whine as the monstrous red sun ratcheted its way over the shaggy horizon, bigger than other suns and twice as bloody.
I had the look around that twilight had denied us yesterday evening. The grass around the camp was as dead as charity, and the horizons edged with sere, dry, thirsty bush. There were three client's tents, beautiful in their early-morning verdance of green canvas tinged with orange light, then the spacious and airy dining hut, built of thatch and mopane-wood poles. Nearby sat the kitchen with its marvels, and another hut, which nobody hadever found of any use since the icy winds of winter had snatched and bitten with long, white teeth at fatigued elephant hunters trying to have some dinner in the freezing earlier months.
All about was sand, and not mere sand, but some of the oldest sand on earth. This was eastern Bushmanland only now. For billions of years it had been what was called by geologists Gondwanaland, the Mother of All Continents. It was from here, the epicenter, that the continents had broken loose on their journey of continental drift. They all fitted in here, South America, Europe and the rest. The sand was so old that I knew it wouldn't do for cement; it was too rounded through the action of unthought-of eons. Somehow, it was dirty, yet clean, a squeaking stuff that found every line of the face, every pore of the shoe, as smooth as obsidian and as hot as fresh lava.
What more likely place to find the most ancient people than in the most ancient place? This was the home of the Bushmen, or at least of the last of them to yield to the insane pressures of the outside world.
Phil and I arrived at dinner after a day of sorting out cameras, film, rifles, ammo and the usual crap that comes on safari with me and that will never be used, except just that once. Thus I had brought it, overpacking as usual. I had had a chance to speak with Jerry and Bam and found to my disappointment that Jerry had already taken his elephant, which Roger had videoed, but not to his satisfaction. "Christ," he said in obvious irritation, "I was the odd man out! The professional hunter had nothing on his mind but killing an elephant, no matter where the camera was. You know, Peter, it's not like we shoot an elephant every day!" I listened to what had happened. Actually, it wasn't that bad a piece of video when I saw it. Jerry's elephant could have been better placed, but after all, it was elephant hunting. And it was Roger's first trip.
Jerry had been professionally hunted by a young man, Gerhard Liedtke, a German national. Gerhard was a very nice guy, but very ill at ease with the English language. He had previously hunted German clients, but this was, as far as I could determine, his first English-speaker. Having played host to Italian clientsmore times than I could remember, I recalled being given those safaris because I spoke fluent Spanish. Of course, the safari company owners figured, if he speaks Spanish he will have no trouble with Italian, since they're both Romance languages. Actually, it worked out fairly well, though I'm sure I have no idea why.
Over dinner and a couple of cool ones after, I was able to figure out what Roger's problems were. First off, he had lacked equipment, the "shoe" to his tripod being missing. This I was able to remedy for about two weeks with a Lufthansa baggage strap that affixed his camera to the tripod solidly. Second, we determined that in making a video, we would have to work around Roger and Phil, rather than have them work around us. The most important thing was how the video and the stills turned out, but I soon discovered that we had something of a conflict of interest because Phil wanted the same prime shots that Roger did, but Phil's cameras made some noise that would be picked up on the video. We were never able to solve this in the field, but Ken Wilson was able to come to grips with the dilemma in Hollywood, where he edited out all of the mechanical whirring of Phil's motor drive.
For five days or so, Roger's Betacam had broken down due to the lack of a modification that had become necessary on his model. It was set right in Windhoek at the price of two charters, one flight in either direction, which wasn't a small expenditure. The experts in Windhoek, knowing the speed necessary, had made the change with a strip of Coca-Cola tin, and it worked perfectly. For a while ...
Later that evening we tried to work out schedules of who would be with whom and when, coming up with a fairly precise timetable. I wanted to get the most possible footage of the Bushmen making snares and poisoning arrows, or whatever Bushmen do in their spare time, and I had high hopes of being able to videotape Jerry Heiner taking a leopard, if he were so lucky. Working with Arnie, we laid on a couple of Bushmen for the poisoned-arrow sequence for the morning, after we got back from checking the leopard bait that Gerhard had already hung for Jerry. Hanley had left before dawn that morning, back at fly camp totry to get a good elephant, as most activity seemed to be some four hours south of camp, past the Nai-Nai Pan and in a flowage of seasonal water that was green with elephant fodder.
Volker was still back in Windhoek since I couldn't hunt until the other clients were finished with their safaris, which was okay with me, because it gave all that much more opportunity to the video man. Finally, with everything in a pretty good state of preparedness, Phil and I sacked in at about ten that evening. Tomorrow we would start the great adventure.
Copyright © 1991 by Peter Hathaway Capstick.