I have dreamed of hunting an elephant for as long as I've thought about hunting in Africa, even bought a .416 Rigby (Named him "Fluffy")a couple of years ago just in case I ever got rich. The closest I realistically thought I was going to get was to live vicariously through my friend @Edge 's report, and youtube videos. But Wayne's ( @Nyamazana Safaris )offer and a very wonderful wife that knows how much it means to me pushed me to realize that I only live once. So finances be damned- @Just Gina and I went elephant hunting!
Since I met Michael, I knew of his dream of an elephant hunt. I also knew that he had always said that he would probably never get to go because they are a bit pricey. A small tidbit about Michael: he has always lived well below his means and each time a package from Dillards or Amazon came in from me shopping (which really is not that often), Michael would say, “Save the box because we will need something to live in.” So, when this opportunity presented itself, he was giving me all these reasons why he could not go. I knew if *I* asked to go, he would not tell me no because...well...Michael does not say no to me. So I asked if we could go and now, here we are with what is going to be a lengthy hunting and observer report.
As before, sorry (not sorry) for the lengthy report. The days are labeled if you want to skip through. We decided to put it all into one; a his take/her take report. Grab some coffee or your favorite drink and get comfy because here we go!
Saturday, February 8, 2020:
We booked our travel arrangements with @Travel Express for flights from Omaha, to Atlanta, to Johannesburg. Africa Sky took care of the gun permit and was a very welcome rest in Joburg. It was the third trip I have used Travel Express and Africa Sky, and can't recommend them highly enough! We used Delta's Comfort Select Plus and although it was still a long, uncomfortable flight, it was far better for this 6'3" fat man than the economy class used on previous trips- well worth the money. I did learn a valuable travel lesson-double check the baggage claim tickets before leaving the check in at the airport. The lady at the Delta desk in Omaha said she would check everything through to Bulawayo. I said no, we need to collect our bags in Johannesburg and will re-check them in Bulawayo. The lady threw away the original tags, typed some stuff on our computer and then said ok, you're all set. We waited a bit and sure enough, TSA wanted to inspect my gun case. I opened the 4 locks and stood by politely while they did their swabs and checks. The said I could go as soon as I opened the case, but I politely said "No, I need to wait until the case is locked back up, as you don't have the combinations for the locks." Once done with the rifle and through security it was time to relax, with the aid of Bloody Marys at the airport bar. The flight to Atlanta was uneventful and we had a nice layover, giving us time to eat, drink and relax a bit before the dreaded 200 flight. As we were sitting by our gate waiting, I noticed Michelle and Andy Buchanan were also waiting for our same flight-I enjoy watching their videos. The Delta 200 flight in Comfort Select Plus was actually almost pleasant. The extra seat room, a few amenities ( actual headphones versus cheap earbuds, slippers, face mask, toothbrushes and paste, socks, dedicated overhead space) the crew gave us and the genuine friendly, enthusiastic service were wonderful.
We hired a friend to baby/house sit whilst we were away. We took an uber to the airport and it was not quite 30 degrees F in the cold state of Nebraska. I was excited to be going somewhere warm where snow was not covering everything. We arrived in Atlanta and had dinner and drinks at TGI Fridays before our R E A L L Y L O N G flight to Joburg. @TravelExpress handled all of our travel arrangements this trip as they did the last as well and once again we were so pleased with the wonderful service! We had reclining seats with the elevated leg/foot option. This made sleeping on the plane marginally easier. Upon boarding, our slippers, pillows, blankets, noise cancelling headphones, sleep masks, toiletries, etc were waiting in our seats for us. I slept a total of 2 hours on the flight. Meh...
Arrival at Joburg!
Sunday, February 9, 2020
We landed in Johannesburg and proceeded to collect our luggage when I finally looked at the baggage tickets given to me in Omaha- Our bags were still checked through to Bulawayo! No matter- we had all necessary items and a couple changes of clothes in our carry-ons. Willard from Africa Sky met us as we were leaving the secured area and led us to SAPS to collect my rifle. My rifle, "Fluffy" was missing! Years of loud music, shooting guns and working construction have led to hearing difficulties for me, especially in conversational range. This combined with the discussions Willard, the SAPS officers, and baggage handlers were having in either their own language, or what Americans consider to be accented English, meant I had no idea what was happening, but I feel I was remarkably composed and relaxed. At this point, there was little I could do, and getting excited or upset would not improve the situation. After the first hour or so of searching, I sent Wayne and Travel Express messages just to let them know what was going on. After 3.5 hours and filing a missing luggage report with delta, we were literally getting in the van to go to Africa Sky when I got a call, my rifle had been found! Back to SAPS and finally to Africa Sky for a few drinks and a very nice steak dinner.
We landed in Joburg at 4:30 p.m. After the Fluffy fiasco of 2020 was resolved (around 8 p.m.), we were on our way with Willard to Africa Sky. We checked in and ordered dinner and then went to freshen up a bit. Before being escorted to our room, we were talking about how we had stayed there this past May. Africa Sky asked, “Do you remember where everything is?” We said yes and she then said, “You are family and our doors are always open to you.” That really warmed my heart!! We had a delicious steak dinner and afterwards, we went and walked around the pool. It was 76 degrees F and it was starting to rain lightly. It was like a late spring rainy day and it felt so nice! We headed to our room for showers and what would hopefully be a good night's sleep because it had been a long day and we still had a bit to go! Our room was perfect and inviting as usual!
Monday, February 10, 2020
Departure from Joburg and Arriving at Bulawayo!!
I have to say that Willard and Gilbert from Africa Sky are amazing ! The morning Gilbert took us back to the airport, whisked us through the process seamlessly and we were off to Zimbabwe. Another lesson learned at Bulawayo airport- download and pre-fill out any forms you can, in multiple copies, beforehand. At the very least, bring your own pen. There was literally only one pen available for each of us to use to fill out paperwork, thank God no one pocketed it! I hadn't known what to expect-never having been to Zimbabwe before, but other than everything being entered manually (pen, paper, and even using carbon paper between sheets when multiple copies are needed,) it was really not bad at all. (Although Gina seemed a little salty) The people all seemed more friendly and helpful than anyone I have seen in my 4 trips through OR Tambo. Matthew, our PH was waiting for us at the airport so we loaded the cruiser as the rains started pouring and drove to our camp near Limpane.
At 1:50 a.m. Michael woke up, and as a result, I woke up as well. After each of us had a quick trip to the bathroom we got back in bed and Michael fell back to sleep immediately. Must be nice! Once I get woke up, I am awake. There is no going back to sleep unless it is HOURS later. This time was no different. I tried to go back to sleep, but to my brain and body, it was 6 p.m. on Sunday afternoon and I had just had a Sunday nap. I decided I would try to “stare” Michael awake so, as he was sleeping I began staring at him. That did not wake him. I stared harder and still nothing. Once more and I stared with all my might. Nothing. By this time I was bored. REALLY BORED! I also wanted coffee. I looked at Michael sleeping so peacefully. Then, I stuck my finger in his right nostril. He opened his eyes and looked at me. The look on his face said, “seriously??” I smiled with my finger still in his nostril and said, “It is waking up time.” He said it was sleeping time whilst removing my finger from his right nostril. He closed his eyes and I lied there staring at him. It then occurred to me that his left nostril was probably jealous, and well, we could not have that. So, I proceeded to stick my finger in his left nostril. My finger was nearly there when he latched onto my finger with his teeth. Now we are staring at each other except this time, my index finger is between his teeth instead of in his nose. I told him once more that it was waking up time and I think he realized he could either wake up and keep me company or...be pestered whilst trying to sleep. So, he let my finger go and woke up. After drinking every drop of coffee in the room and journaling, we had a nice breakfast before having to leave for the airport. Gilbert was the one to take us to the airport! I was hoping we would see Gilbert! Even though it was a short drive to the airport, we were able to catch up and tell him about how our trip went the previous May. Everyone at the airport knows Gilbert. He had us through everything at the airport in no time and then it was hugs and goodbye to Gilbert until we saw him next trip! The plane to Bulawayo was quite small. There was a traffic jam on the runway and we were 10th in line to take off. The flight was wonderful!! I slept the whole time which was just over an hour.
When we arrived at Bulawayo, we had to go through a screening process because of the Coronavirus scare. We were told to fill out a form and go get in line. I asked for a pen. They should have formed a line for use of the ink pen as well because there was ONE ink pen in the entire airport and a plane FULL of people needing it. Nothing was computerized. Everything was done with pen and paper. Need a second copy? No worries! They had carbon paper too. (must save ink of the one pen) Once it was my turn to use the pen, I began to fill out my coronavirus paper. Just in case I was not irritated enough, I got to fill out Michael’s coronavirus paper also. There were questions on both papers that I had absolutely no clue about. Such as, what is the address you will be staying the duration of your visit? blah, blah….I asked Michael because I did not think writing in “whatever Wayne’s camp is called” would suffice, and what was he doing? LOOKING AT HIS PHONE. This was not the first time I needed answers to questions (whilst filling out HIS paperwork) and his face was stuck in his phone. He got all crabby and rude at me when I asked him if he knew the address so I could fill out HIS paper and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was trying to sort out in my head if they would throw me in Zimbabwe jail for stabbing my husband with the one and only ink pen at the airport. If so, would I be charged with the stabbing or, ruining the one and only ink pen at Bulawayo airport, or perhaps both? To stab or not to stab….this was the burning question. I refrained. Just barely.
After that, we then got to go stand in ANOTHER line for immigration. I had 5 total hours of sleep since leaving Nebraska and I was tired and irritated. Add in not having nicotine or caffeine for HOURS and well, I am sure that is self-explanatory. BUT! Never fear!!! There was a couple with 2 loud obnoxious children right behind me and the kids were dancing around like a couple of squirrels on crack and they kept bumping into me and the parents were all thinking they were cute.I assure you, they were NOT cute. I really wanted that pen back! Just. For. A. Minute.
After that line was the line to get Fluffy. I decided it would be best for all parties involved that I just stay out of earshot of everyone. Because if ANYONE got crabby or rude with me again, I would have a small melt down.
After that line was the line to go get the ammo checked. Words have not yet been invented to describe the feelings I felt to get to stand in another line in an airport with no air conditioning and one ink pen. The clerks in this section were apparently not in the best mood and they were not pleased his ammo was in a hard plastic case with 3 or 4 locks on it either. After sorting the ammo out, the one ‘less than friendly fellow’ told Michael he was ok to close the ammo case. So Michael proceeded to close the case except it would not close. Michael mashed down even harder. The case was not this hard to close at home. I figured it got banged around too much on the flight. Just as he tried even harder, there was a very LOUD unnatural sort of moan/wailing noise. It was the digit(s) of the one unfriendly fellow Michael was smashing which was to blame for the closing difficulty of the case. I felt sort of warm and fuzzy inside. It took everything in me not to burst out laughing, especially the way the clerk was flailing and dancing around holding his smashed finger. Move along, move along I kept telling myself!
We were greeted by Matthew. He gave us a warm introduction and friendly smile and it was nice to know we had finally made it and we were one step closer to Michael’s dream hunt (and being out of the airport). I asked Matthew where I could smoke. He immediately took me outside so I could partake of my bad habit. I felt better. We were now ready for the 3.5 hour drive to camp.
ARRIVAL AT CAMP:
I went into this hunt completely open minded. I knew that I could not bring any part of the elephant back to the U.S. (although I really wanted an elephant hair bracelet), and knew that there was a good chance we would hunt at night, which I was completely fine with. Camp was nice, it consisted of permanent wall tents with cots, DC powered LED lights, with a toilet, sink and shower room attached to each tent. A main eating/meeting/relaxing building, and a nice fire ring we enjoyed when it wasn’t raining.
We got settled in, had a shower and a nice meal, a drink or two, discussed what to expect for the hunt and shot placement and had a good night’s sleep.
We unloaded our things at camp and met the staff.I asked Matthew where I could smoke. Matthew said, “This is Zimbabwe. You can smoke where you like.” This answer pleased me. We had a nice dinner and got to talk with Matthew a bit. I did not have drinks and neither did Matthew. Michael was the only one hitting the hard stuff. I mean, it must have been rough on him watching me do all that paperwork whilst playing on his phone! We took our showers and went to bed. It had been a long day!
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Day 1 Hunting!
Day 1 of the hunt started with coffee/ breakfast and then off to check the zero on Fluffy. For those that want to know, Fluffy is a CZ550 chambered in .416 Rigby. @Just Gina and I spent our honeymoon last May hunting with Marius @KMG Safaris, and during one of our conversations then, Marius suggested a red dot rather than a scope for this upcoming hunt. I just so happened to have a Vortex red dot on another rifle that I rarely used, so I mounted it onto Fluffy and spent some time zeroing it at 50 yards and practicing on sticks before we came. Ammo was Federal Cape shok, 400 gr Woodleigh Hydro Solids. Shot number one was high and left- nerves? Shot #2 was dead center. Shot # 3 was also dead center, so I felt much better. As we were finishing up, Mattew received a call of an elephant bull messing up a farmers field. This is what we were after and why Wayne could offer such affordable prices, elephants would come in, usually at night, destroy a field (which is often the only food source for these locals for the year) and then move out. We drove to the location and found a set of large tracks. Unfortunately the tracks were from the night before, so we spent the day looping ahead of the direction of travel to try and get ahead of the bull. When an elephant wants to go somewhere, he will put on some miles! We never were able to get ahead of him, but Matthew assured us he, and others, would be back.
Sometimes it was sunny and warm, sometimes raining. As we were heading back to camp, I saw clouds ahead and we handed Fluffy up into the cab. A few minutes later it started to sprinkle, “OK I thought whats a little water?” Seconds later it started to rain. I asked Gina, who was riding in the cab with Matthew, to hand me back my raincoat. My second request was slightly more urgent as I was certain I would start seeing animals walking two by two at any moment, the clouds had really opened up! There I was riding on the back of a land cruiser with three trackers and a game scout, in the jess of Zimbabwe, in the middle of a thunderstorm- I was laughing like an idiot, having a grand time!
The plan was to leave camp by 5:45 a.m. We had discussed with Matthew the previous night about only wanting coffee for breakfast. Michael set an alarm. Why? I do not know because I wake up before the alarm every day. Why should this be any different? The both of us woke at 2am. Luckily, we were able to get back to sleep fairly quickly. I woke up the 2nd time at 4am. I knew no one else would be awake until around 5. So, I had an hour to pester Michael. And I did. It passed the time and finally it was time for coffee!! After coffee we drove out to shoot the once lost but now found, Fluffy. Michael’s 1st shot was high and left and I am not quite sure why. (I know I taught him better than that *giggle*) 2nd shot-- bullseye. 3rd shot--same. This pleased me. We headed out to where Matthew heard there was a bull all by his lonesome that had been causing mischief. It had rained all night and began misting rain again. There was only room for two people in the front of the cruiser so, Matthew and I were in the front. Mike was in the back with the trackers and the scout. We drove looking for tracks and found them and continued to drive to get ahead before it crossed onto a different property. Drive, stop, drive stop, rinse and repeat. About mid-day we decided to head back to camp for lunch and then go to the other side after. On our way, it began raining. We thought we heard tapping on the truck but it was probably just the rain. Or not. An undeniable tapping was heard this time. Matthew stopped. It seems as though Michael wanted his raincoat. Matthew told me. I said, “Ok”. He was still looking at me. OH! I didn’t realize his raincoat was in the backpack that was by my feet. I began digging out the raincoat. They asked again, and Matthew told them I was getting it. “What a baby” I told Matthew. I was only joking but we still got a good chuckle out of it. When we got back to camp, a very soaked Michael opened my door for me. He was laughing so hard and I wanted to take a picture of my drowned-rat looking husband but it was pouring rain so we hurried to the tent. Michael then felt the need to change clothes. Haha! We all gathered for lunch and then a nap which was much needed. It seemed as though napping was all I did since we left home. I had yet to get real sleep. A couple hours of sleep at best here and there was all I had been getting. We headed back out. The evening was uneventful for elephants. It was raining constantly as well. We headed back to camp for supper and showers. Everyone was tired and we all headed to bed.
Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Day 2 Hunting!
We spent the next couple of days searching for fresh, huntable spoor. We saw plenty of tracks and beautiful country, but it was usually the same story-we should have been there last night (or the night before).
We tried sitting at one of the known elephant crossings one evening, but around 10:30pm having seen nothing, went back to camp for supper and bed. Of course the next morning we did see where two bulls had crossed at our spot the night before-we gave up too soon. New plan- we had a few trackers watch two crossings for us overnight, and they would notify us if anything passed so we could try and get ahead of them.
We woke at 1am. Of course, Michael was able to go back to sleep. I was not so fortunate. I was quite bored. I decided to pester Michael for a while and see if it would make me sleepy. It did not make me sleepy. It made Michael a little grumpy, but it’s ok. I did not mind. I mean, he could sleep at home. We were in Zimbabwe. How many people are lucky enough to be pestered in Zimbabwe at 1am by their wives? This was a once in a lifetime experience! I know *I* thoroughly enjoyed it! Michael decided to stop feigning sleep around 4am. Everyone else was up around 5. I knew it was going to be a long day. We had coffee and headed out.
We were not having any luck at all with elephant. With the constant rain, most of the roads were awful messes with a lot of deep standing water to try to navigate through. It was clear that Matthew was no stranger to the driving conditions! It slowed us down, but there was not a place Matthew could not navigate through. We headed back to camp for an early lunch and to devise a new plan. After Michael and Matthew talked and discussed hunting stuffs, we were able to have a nap before heading back out. I think Matthew was a bit frustrated with the rain as it was interfering with our hunting efforts.
We stayed out for a while in spite of the rain. We were not having any luck and all the rain was covering any tracks that may have been visible otherwise. After getting back to camp that night, we had supper and everyone was ready for bed as it had been a long day with a lot of driving and a lot of rain. It was still raining when we went to bed.
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Day 3 Hunting!
I finally slept all night!!!! It was very nice and MUCH needed!! The plan was to go back to a previous area. It had been raining non-stop but it did not rain all night long as previous nights. Matthew thought the road would be better and we would be able to see more. We were going to check a few areas and then head back to camp because we were going to be hunting at night. Since it was not pouring, we saw more people walking as well as people driving donkey carts around. There were a few donkeys just hanging out in the middle of the road. We were trying to navigate past a couple of them. There was also a huge portion of standing water on this road. Apparently one particular donkey did not care for Matthew driving the cruiser down his road. When we drove past, the donkey kicked at the cruiser with both back feet and nearly landed the blow! I started laughing and Matthew said, “Cheeky thing” about the donkey. We were both laughing. This was a really wide road. The donkey could have just moved a few steps. But, it would have preferred Matthew drive around it. We were driving down some roads (paths?) that were quite narrow. Matthew and I had to lean in toward the center of the cruiser and even then, we would get smacked in the face by branches and thorns because the windows were down. Being that nature kept being forced through the open windows, sometimes something like a bug makes it in. Other times, a spider happens to land IN YOUR LAP. Now, I am not a little townie or city girl. I was raised on a farm and the great outdoors and nature does not bother me. Except for when it crawls, flies, or stings. But...it was MY lap the ugly black spider landed in. I was petrified in horror. I did not know what to do really. I smacked my leg as hard as I could. Matthew looked over at me. I said, “SPIDER”. I then said, “I cannot find it now.” Matthew laughed. He said, “Well you got a good smack anyway. Don’t worry, it’s dead.” Well, I could not find a corpse and kept thinking it was under my leg and I would be bit at any moment so, I jumped up in my seat and twisted around and was hanging partially out the window. Matthew was entertained by the whole ordeal. I turned back around and sat down and I just KNEW this spider was now on its way into my clothing to bite me or even worse...its massive fangs would just penetrate through my clothing and it would be effortless for it to bite me through my clothes! The cruiser stopped for a split second and I jumped out. Everyone was staring at me. Michael already knew what the problem was. I was checking myself for this massive black spider. Turns out the corpse was on the floor of the cruiser. But, it was still kicking a little so, I smashed it extra hard with my boot and then climbed back into the cruiser. It was a close, near death moment, but I struggled through! I am not quite sure why Matthew was laughing. Not quite sure what Michael and the trackers were laughing about either. Surely not me and my brush with death though! I am sure everyone would fill me in on the joke I missed later. We were out all day until lunch time and then back to camp and try to sleep as much as possible and go back out and stay out. We had coffee and left around 5pm. We would not be having supper until we got back to camp. We drove and checked a couple of paths that the elephants use. We decided on the best place to sit and wait and by 7pm we were sitting and waiting. And doing nothing. The thought of sitting made me cringe. I had been sitting since we left home 5 days ago. I hate sitting for long periods at a time and I absolutely hate it more when I have to be quiet and still whilst sitting. I am a nurse. I run around non stop for 13 hours a day. I do not sit. It makes me achy. But, sit we did. Michael and Matthew sat there so still. Michael was like a human statue. I do not think he blinked. I had to stand intermittently and I know it made Michael irritated when I did stand in front of my chair. We sat there all night. Matthew and Michael may say we only sat out till 11pm or so, but I am here to tell you it was all night. Whatever time the hostage situation was over, I was excited when we got to go back to camp and eat and take a shower. And not be quiet. And NOT sit. I mean...I am just saying in case anyone is interested.
Friday, February 14, 2020-Happy Valentine’s Day! Topped with near death.
Day 4 Hunting!
It is Valentine’s Day. I slept until just after 5am. Remember...I was sitting out all night the night before. We are out sitting by the fire having morning coffee waiting for the sun to come up. Michael has not remembered yet that it is Valentine’s Day. After a few cups of coffee and cigarettes, I told Michael Happy Valentine’s Day. He was a bit surprised I think. He had not really been keeping track of the days of the week or dates since we had been here. He told me Happy Valentine’s Day back and gave me kisses too! We headed out around today around 7am. We found 2 sets of elephant tracks but at first, it was thought that it was 3 sets of tracks. Being the rain had let up, we could see something other than standing water everywhere. I was also glad the rain had let up because Michael and I were getting very low on clothes. Clothes had been washed but not dried because of the rain. There was no way to hang them to dry.
We had to drive around to another area. It was determined that it was 2 sets of tracks for sure, and not 3. Where they had crossed was very close to camp. We were walking/driving until after lunch time. While driving, there was a snake in the road. Matthew ran over it and it flew up in the air and Matthew leaned in towards the middle of the cruiser. It was a cobra. No one thought THAT was funny, like they did my spider! I am quite glad that the cobra did not make it into the cruiser. Had it made it inside the cruiser, it would have been very unfortunate for Michael and everyone in the back when Matthew and I bailed out. We were close to camp so we went and had a late lunch. We pulled into camp and the first thing I noticed was that clothes were hanging on the line drying. Very nice! The second thing I noticed was there was this little section of lacy Victoria’s Secret bras and panties hanging out in front of God and everyone! MY bras and panties! I was horrified. Michael and Matthew laughed and said they were used to it and not to worry about it. Victoria’s Secret was no longer a secret! Michael said if I had not brought along bras and panties like he suggested I not do, it would not have been an issue. Men…always thinking of their wives, aren’t they?
Anyhoot... At lunch, plans were discussed and there were going to be trackers sitting at 2 different locations and they would be calling if any elephants crossed and we were going to be ready to go if they called. We had been just missing them the past few days and they move so quickly! After lunch, I tried to take a nap. It was hard to sleep being so hot and humid. After a short rest, we were going to go out and scout more and drop trackers off. I decided to stay at camp whilst they went and did these things. I wanted a break from sitting. I had ran out of cigarettes. Matthew said not to worry, he had plenty until we made it to a store. He said he would bring some out before they left. He forgot.
So, I brought along this blanket I was working on. I wanted to have something to do on the plane. I decided I would stand and crochet a bit while they guys were gone. I was in the dining lodge. I was standing at the table (not smoking because I was out of cigarettes), crocheting, listening to nature, and just minding my own business when this wasp decides to start flying around me. I am allergic to everything. Mike had been carrying my epi pens in his pocket and I figured they may still be in his pocket. I moved politely to the other end of the table. So did the wasp. In less than a minute’s time, the wasp was chasing me. CHASING ME! I was running from one end of the lodge to the other in my slippers and this wasp is being nasty and relentless! I was so scared that I did not even put my yarn and hook down. There was a huge spider web of yarn all over the lodge laying out nicely the paths in which the wasp was chasing me. After the wasp tiring itself out chasing me, my heart was racing. I looked at all the yarn everywhere. I then looked to see if anyone else saw the whole ordeal and I became more and more embarrassed at the thought that these guys were going to think I was nuts. I began winding up my spider web of yarn with my face burning from embarrassment and decided to move outside to sit by the firepit where it was more open.
I resumed working on my blanket waiting for Michael and Matthew to return. The sun was starting to go down and it was nice outside. I had my feet propped part way on the edge of the fire ring. I did not have socks on (or any cigarettes), only my slippers which had no back on them. I looked down to see what I thought may be a mosquito or something on the back of my foot. It was not a mosquito. It was a poisonous centipede. My first thought was “I am going to die now and no one will know what happened to me.” I ran to the tent. I may need epi pens or something and wanted to wash my foot. No epi pens! I ran into the bathroom but was stopped dead in my tracks because a giant lizard was in the bathroom. It did not care that death was looming! It was just hanging out on the bathroom floor. I tried shooing it away with Michael’s hat. It finally left and I stuck my foot in the sink to wash it. There was no water. They had not filled the bins yet. I grabbed hand sanitizer and doused my foot in it. I really do not know looking back what good this would have done but at the time, it seemed appropriate. It was DARK. I went to turn on the light so I could see my poisoned foot. My foot was burning. There were no lights. They had not hooked the batteries back up yet. So here I am dying in the dark with no cigarettes and no one will know what happened. I was standing on the porch of the tent. I looked around. No lights anywhere. I could not hear anyone anywhere. It was pitch, black, dark. It was so dark I could not find a flashlight. Michael probably had all of those in his pockets too. I am leopard bait at this point. At least my salty tears would provide more flavor as the leopards consumed me.
Hours later (or so it seemed) the guys returned. Michael asked me what was wrong and was quite concerned at the state I was in. I was literally in tears. I told him all of what happened from the wasp, the lizard, the poisonous centipede, no epi pens, no flash light, no water, no cigarettes. He held me whilst trying to laugh ever so quietly because I was upset. Turns out the poisonous centipede was not poisonous.My foot burning was psychological, as it were. It is not a centipede either. They are called shongololo. Children play with them. They are even eaten. I calmed down and Michael, Matthew, and I had some laughs over my traumatic near death filled evening. At the time it was all happening it was not even a little bit funny. After the laughter ceased and everyone (me) was calm, we headed to bed hoping to get a phone call sooner than later about an elephant sighting!
Saturday, February 15, 2020
Day 5 Hunting!
The next morning, 2/15/20, two of the trackers were back in camp, having seen nothing, so we planned to pick up the other two, get some fuel, cigarettes, and rest for the day and hunt all night. As we were getting in the cruiser to pick up the remaining two trackers, I asked Matthew “should I bother bringing the rifle?” It has been said that there is no such thing as a dumb question, but that one came pretty close. Matthew said “yes bring it just in case.” On the way, Matthew received word that elephants had in fact crossed by the trackers at 04:30 that morning, but they were having phone issues. We started checking crossings in the direction the elephants had been heading and the sign was fresh. We made a huge circle and found tracks leading in but not out, show time! We piled out of the cruiser , I loaded Fluffy, checked to make sure I had a round in the chamber, checked to make sure the safety and red dot were on, and we started tracking. Graham, Banda, Matthew, me and Just Gina bringing up the rear with the video camera. At first the tracking was pretty much a straight line, but eventually we started zig-zagging and circling around- the elephants were comfortable enough here to have stopped their march to feed. It is always interesting to me to see how much communication can happen amongst hunters without any words or signs, just through body language. We started with “Let’s go this way, but be careful and quiet,” to “ we’re slowing down, and being quieter” to the occasional “Freeze in mid stride right where you’re at.” After around 4 kilometers of tracking, I knew there was an elephant in sight just by the sudden freeze of Matthew’s backside as I was ducking under some brush. This is the part in a stalk where everyone learns to levitate really slowly. As I crept up, Matthew pointed and I could just see the back of an elephant. A slow stalk got us to around 20 yards and the sticks went up, but all we could see was the very top of a head and back. As Matthew and the trackers looked and planned, I took a few moments to kneel and catch my breath. A little more maneuvering got us to 14 yards and the sticks went up. We had previously discussed that a heart-lung shot would be best when we came across an elephant, but as I got on the sticks, Matthew whispered that it would have to be a brain shot, was I ok with that.? I said yes, but would prefer a side brain shot. The instant I got on the sticks, the shot was there, but I took an extra breath to steady. The elephant sort of swayed back a half step and its head turned quarter to us- not a shot I was comfortable with. It seemed like I was on the sticks waiting for the shot forever. I could see part of his back and the top ¾ of his head only. I could also make out just the shadow of a second elephant behind him. The mopane flies took this time to make sure that each of my ears, eyes and nostrils did not go unexplored. Finally the bull shifted forward a little and turned his head broadside. I settled the red dot just ahead of the ear hole, took a breath and Fluffy went BOOM! This is one of those times when things happen so fast that time slows down. I saw the elephant drop, cycled a second round into the chamber, saw the sticks fall away and heard two branches crack as the second elephant wheeled around and took off at a dead run. (By the way, elephants are really, really quiet, even when running away.) I held Fluffy on the form of the fallen elephant through the brush for a bit, and then Matthew and Banda motioned me to move around to the front. I put a second, but unnecessary bullet into the fallen bulls forehead. He had dropped straight to his knees right where he stood! I won’t lie, I got pretty emotional here. I thanked all the guys, Just Gina, and then took a moment to thank God before I finally went to see and touch my elephant!
His tusks Hi tusks were broken, his tail worn bald, he was magnificent! I gave him Letzter Bissen and just couldn’t stop touching and admiring him. We headed back to camp for a quick lunch and by the time we returned to the elephant, guys were chopping a road so we could drive to him, a guy in a donkey cart was following us, and a local villager was already waiting for us at the elephant. We took a bunch more pictures and when we were through, the cutting began. The tusks weighed 31#s and 29#s . They went over 27” into the head and had very short nerve roots.
Our crew got the skin panels and first choice of meat cuts, and then the butchering really began. At one point, I stopped counting at 40 people cutting pieces of meat off the elephant. It was truly an experience to see that many people, most of whom do not even have enough money for shoes, working ,together, smiling , joking, and helping each other, for meat that we Americans would probably not consider fit for consumption. That night I learned that Matthew can fix a fine gin and tonic.
We did have stew made from my elephant for dinner in camp 2 days later- I thought it was fine, and I can now say I ate elephant.
I woke up bright and early again which was a bit aggravating by this point. I tried to make Michael wake up but he was not too keen on the idea. He stayed in bed and I pestered him by making conversation with him. Once he finally got up, we went and had coffee by the fire. We were to go collect the scouts, go to town for fuel and cigarettes and go hunting overnight. We left camp after the 1st set of scouts returned to camp. They had seen nothing all night. Matthew called the other scouts to tell them we were on our way but the phone service was choppy and he could not get through at first. When Matthew finally reached them by phone, they said they tried calling at half past 4 when an elephant went through but could not get the call to go through. Given their location, we went to check if they had crossed another area yet. We found elephant dung and it was still warm. I did not stick my hand in it...I took their word for it that it was still warm. We quickly headed back to where they would cross the path and upon arriving there, they had not crossed yet. Change of plans. Not going to town or to collect the other scouts yet. We parked and headed into the bush. It was Michael, Matthew, Banda, Graham, and me. This was looking promising! It was hot and we were walking through thorns and quite thick brush at times. It was supposed to rain but had held off so far. We stopped briefly a few times to check wind direction and listen.
We followed tracks for 4-5km and 2 bulls were spotted. The bull Matthew wanted Michael to shoot was not going to happen. He was behind another. We would have to try to get around them and the wind would have been wrong and we would probably have scared them off. There was a really big bull but it was difficult to see the tusks because of how thick the trees and brush were, and he was standing in the middle of a rather thick spot. Graham positioned me where I could see. He told me I could take pictures. I had the video camera out the entire time and I was filming as I could whilst walking when it was not too thick to do so and keep up. So Graham is pointing at where the elephants were. He asked me if I could see them. I was sort of grinning and nodding having no clue where these elephants are that they are all excited about. He realized this and put his head next to mine and raised his hand for me to follow and I was not looking high enough. HELLO! There they were!! Since I was filming, they wanted me to have a great view and I think they did a great job on a place to stand. We moved closer. Sticks went up. Michael only had the option of a brain shot. Michael and Matthew had already discussed shooting and Matthew knew that unless absolutely necessary, Michael wanted to be the only one to shoot the elephant. Michael was on the sticks and the elephant kept moving his head. I had both Michael and the elephant in view of the camera and the mopane flies made sure they had their few seconds of fame and were swarming all over and it was proving rather difficult to be still and not cough or sneeze with these things trying to fly in my eyes, nose, and ears. Michael took his shot. The sticks fell over and Michael had immediately reloaded. We heard the other elephant leaving which was hard to hear because they are not loud like you would think. Mike’s elephant dropped right where it was standing after the one shot but I did not realize this at first as I was seeing all of this through the small screen of the video camera and the flies swarming. We hurried forward. I asked Graham if he hit it. Graham told me he did and then, I saw it! Michael had successfully killed his first elephant with one shot to the brain! I was very excited and proud of him! Michael shot one more time for insurance but Matthew had told him later it was not necessary because the first shot had done it. Everyone was so happy for Michael. Handshakes and hugs all around! Such an exciting and proud moment and I was so pleased that I was able to capture it all on film for him!
We took some initial pictures and Michael was enjoying this moment. We were all happy for him! We left to pick up the other scouts who by this time, had been waiting a very long time. When we arrived all you could hear were whistling and cheering for Michael and everyone was shaking his hand and congratulating him! We headed back to camp because we had to pick up the skinner and some of the guys wanted to stay and start cutting a road to the elephant. When we arrived at camp, we were greeted with more whistling and cheering. It was really awesome that everyone was sharing in the excitement! By the time we got back to the elephant, I was impressed at how quickly these men had cut a road/path! They were using homemade tools. These small hatchet/axe tools did not disappoint! It was really cool because one of the guys made one for Micheal to keep! There were already people waiting at the elephant. They had cleared all around the elephant and we were ready for pictures and after the pictures, they began skinning.
The cruiser was loaded down and we made a trip to the camp and I opted to stay at camp instead of returning. There were a LOT of people there and nothing to do really except for watch or be in the way so I sent the video camera and my phone with Michael so he could take more pictures or film whatever he wanted. At supper that night, we had plenty to talk about. Michael and Matthew were looking forward to watching the video and we decided we would do that the next day because it was really late. Michael had a drink that night to celebrate and Matthew and I drank coffee and tea. It was a really great day and when we went to bed that night, Michael was still smiling!
Sunday, February 16, 2020
The Day After!
After a couple of days relaxing in camp, catching up on reading, and enjoying the lack of work, or cell service, or emails, Matthew offered to let us stay at his house with him and his lovely wife until it was time to go home. We went to Bulawayo where we had a great dinner and drinks at Wayne’s lovely home with his wonderful family, before settling in at Matthew’s house. He and Tsana were wonderful hosts, and Gina and I are eternally grateful to them for opening their home to us, introducing us to their family and showing us around Bulawayo and also Matobo Hills.
After morning coffee I got out the video camera. We had brought the small laptop incase we wanted to put the SD card in there and look at pictures or anything. Neither of us realized the laptop took only micro cards and the one in the camera was full size. No matter. We watched it on the video camera. Matthew copied it to his phone and the video was watched over and over. I would have to edit it because the entire hunt was broken up a bit because I could not film continuously whilst walking. I was really happy that Michael was very pleased with all of the footage I got. I am no video expert by any stretch. An amatuer at best, but I did my best to get everything for my Love that he could watch over and over!
Monday, February 17- Friday, February 22, 2020
We got to spend a few days relaxing at camp. No phones, no places we had to be or things we had to do and it was really great! Wayne dropped by the camp for lunch on Tuesday and watched the video and the guys all chatted for a bit before he left. Matthew had told Michael and I that he and his wife, Tsana (pronounced Shawna) had been talking and they offered for us to come and stay with them until time for us to go back home. They said they could show us around and Matthew knew of a great spot to take pictures of a proper Zimbabwe sunset which I had been trying to capture the entire time I was there. Michael and I talked and agreed that it would be fun and we would get to see some places around Bulawayo. We all had dinner at Wayne’s house that night and it was fun and we all got to visit and relax.
I really enjoyed our time at Matthew and Tsana’s house! Everyone got along great and both me and Matthew’s wife are chatty and we hit it off well! Michael and Matthew are a bit more quiet but it was really fun. Tsana and I chatted constantly! Tsana is a doll and they were such wonderful hosts! They took us around shops and we went to his great little coffee shop and then the place we went for lunch was really good too! We got to meet some of Matthew and Tsana’s family at lunch and we all had a really great time visiting! We got to experience what is called Bushmans soap. It was the coolest thing and I got that on video too! They took us to Matobo National Park and I got pictures of Rhino and Kudu and one of the best sunsets I have ever seen! While we were at camp also, Matthew was really great about letting me film and take pictures of villages and schools. He would tell me when one was coming up so I could get my camera ready. We were trying to conserve battery because we had no way to charge. He was quite helpful with this as well!!
Matthew and Tsana took us to the airport and stayed with us up until it was time to go to the boarding area where they could not go with us. Matthew was wonderful the entire hunt and his wife as well! Michael and I are so grateful for the time we got to spend there! We got to see so many things and made some new friends and we gave them an open invitation to come stay with us anytime they come to the states! I cautioned them on the months that Nebraska is covered in snow. All of us but Michael would be frozen to death. It was really an amazing trip even though I was not hunting this time. I am thankful that no one was injured and that the trip was safe and successful! Even moreso to Matthew and Tsana for making us feel so welcome and at home during our time with them at their home!!
Lesson 1: Ask if there is electricity ahead of time. If not, bring extra batteries/portable power sources for your electronics..
Lesson 2: Bring more small US bills. They come in handy for tips/bribes.
Lesson 3: Have 3-4 copies of gun paperwork filled out ahead of time.
Lesson 4: Know the name and address of where you are staying
Lesson 5: Get Zimbabwe currency in the US before leaving if possible. (Do not use US Credit cards)
Lesson 6: Bring extra pens for paperwork. Zimbabwe only has 1.
Lesson 7: Bring raincoat and pants
Lesson 8: Bring extra underwear. (laundry was washed daily but sometimes could not dry in the rain) and hunting commando is not all that comfortable.
- Put a pen in your purse/carry on. It may be the only one you see the entire trip.
- Bring lots of extra unmentionables.They do not take up much room anyway.
- Bring plenty of cigarettes if you are a smoker.
- No matter how much you beg, no one will let you scoop up a baby goat to take back to camp to bottle feed. (There were plenty of little baby goats but they said no to all of them)
- Make the arrangements yourself if you have a special diet, especially if your husband NEVER remembers to tell anyone about all the food you cannot eat.
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