On Trail: Teutonic Design

I remember one trail with German, Swiss and Austrian exchange students: they were all young adults at university who were brought out by The South Africa Foundation to spend three months in our country and see what makes us tick. In the eighties the only ticking was that of the time bomb waiting to destroy the government in power.

They were an energetic and keen group. They walked fast and asked lots of questions.  And they just wanted to see big game. The small interesting things were not that important to them. We had good views of three white rhino and a calf driving in on the Friday night and the Saturday walk was filled with all sorts of antelope, including eland, wildebeest, hartebeest and impala. It did not keep them happy, and they were looking for confrontation with the big five. In the afternoon on Bailie Loop we found a mother white rhino and calf.

From a distance I explained our policy and protocol again for viewing dangerous game on foot: they were to stay behind me, stay in single file and follow my hand instructions. Everyone was excited, because seeing a rhino on foot adds another dimension: their huge bulk and tends to make you feel small and respect nature. I also explained to them that in the open veld with no cover we would not approach the animals closer than one hundred meters. As we got close and stopped, I knelt down so the others could see over me. The rifle butt was in the dust and the barrel was cradled on the side of my neck. The next thing I saw out of the corner of my eye was a tall German walking out sideways and moving forward with his camera to get a better shot. The rhino sensed this and I hissed at him to get back in order. He did, with a long face. I lifted the rifle onto my thighs, so that I was facing the rhino, but I should have shot the German. I was so angry with his attitude.

Back at camp toward evening he tried to make amends and was over keen to assist with the meal.  He had his own ideas on how the food should be cooked, so I left him to it. Then he needed a break and went to the loo, armed with spade and toilet paper. On his return he spoke. “Why don’t we dig a trench over there” he said pointing down the valley to a clearing behind some scrub, “and then everyone can relieve themselves in the trench and will need to cover up only that section they have used.”

I went to pick up the rifle to clean it. “That’s not how we do it. This camp is used three or four times a month and the place would be filled with trenches like the First World War before we knew it. Animals will be attracted by all our waste protein and dig it up, anyway.” I raised the rifle to the dying light to check the barrel. Then I sighted a tree in the distance away from the group. I should have shot him, he was a real pain!

The dawn watch on trail: waiting for the sun.