ZIMBABWE: Of Cigars, Leopards & Cape Buffalo

Mort Hill

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Zim and Snakes

Thought I would add a little aside for all the reptile lovers out there. I am not one of them.

Even though it was “winter” in the Save, day time temps would be in the 70’s or low 80’s during the day, but down in the low 40’s, even 30’s on some nights. Snakes should have been dormant by now, but they were not.

My first encounter was when I was investigating a short to the solar power feeding my tent. As I was at the back of the outside of the tent looking down at the wire, I glanced up to grab the tent pole to lean over. There was a green snake head looking out from under the rain fly. I quickly adjusted my stance and squealed “uh, snake?!?” Pete came over and confirmed not a boomslang, just some garden variety tree snake. Still would rather have gone, but figured he might be eating the tree frogs that kept getting in my tent. So the snake and I agreed you stay on the outside, I will let you live and I will stay on the inside.

My second encounter was with a python. One of those holy crap, what is that moments, when you know exactly what “that” is. At least it is not poisonous.


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I should have known by the number of snake tracks across the two tracks, those smooth “S” shaped squiggles from one side to the other, that this would not be our final encounter. We saw a ton of their sign as we drove around.

The next encounter came as we tooled down one of the roads. A quick whip of the steering wheel had me going what the heck? Pete back to me. Snake.
It was the largest puff adder I have ever seen. He took both front and rear tires of the cruiser, but was still mad enough to throw some strikes at the shooting sticks as the tracker flipped him off the road. Blah! Did I say I hate snakes.
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The last encounter was the piece de resistance. This snake met with 3 loads of bird shot as we were hunting francolin for the boys on the back. This Mozambique Spitting Cobra measured over 11 ft. It was mind boggling to see the size of the head(even reconfigured by #7 shot) and the length as it stretched from one side of the track to the other.
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Just a reminder that while I do not actively think about snakes while chasing game, they are about!
 

Scott CWO

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Mort and Big Mike - loving the report and your funny comments! Great old buffalo! Congrats!
 

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Day 4 - Highs and Lows

So as I alluded before, last night was an interesting evening. With expectations high, Big Mike and Brent headed out late afternoon for their lion sit. Pete and I ate dinner, enjoyed our evening by the fire, and waited for news of the lion hunt. Since this was their first sit in the blind, we figured they would call the ball at about 9:00PM, and be back in camp by 10:00PM if nothing showed.

I can’t honestly remember if I went to bed and got the report the next morning at 5:00AM, or stayed up, but regardless, report was the same.

Guys were in the blind around 4:00PM, a couple of hours before dusk. As soon as it got good and dark, the two male lions , each on opposite sides of the blind at about 50 yards started to roar. Back and forth. Big Mike said his teeth rattled, his butt puckered, and his nerves frayed. At around 9:00, with the lions not coming to bait, Brent said we need to change up things. The PH called the truck, told them to drive up to the blind, make some noise, open close doors, then head back to wait, not picking up the hunters.

It worked. 5 minutes after they left, the lions were on bait. As the light at the bait slowly illuminates, one of the big males is standing in front of the bait broadside. Big Mike get a clear picture through the .375 sight, and squeezes off what he thinks is a good shot. The lion reacts, spins away from the shot and runs off in the dark. The truck comes, the guys mount up, and head in the direction the lion ran. Unfortunately, all during this time of looking, the female lion is harassing the truck with snarls, charges and general mayhem. They find blood about 100 yds from the bait, but with all the harassment, they back out and plan to return in the morning.

So over morning coffee, we make a plan. The beauty of having 16 days in the field is that I am in no hurry, so I am all on board for Pete to support Brent in the tracking and recovery process. At this point, it is assumed they have a wounded lion.

At the bait site, a plan is made. Big Mike and I are asked to stay at the vehicles due to the exciting circumstances of the previous evening. I am more than willing to do so. Big Mike has mixed feelings, and I get it. However, as we talk he sees the wisdom and safety in the call.

PH’s and tracker head to the last blood spoor and go to work. Mike I discuss the evening and the shot. He still feels good about the shot, but I can tell as time wears on, his confidence all but disappears. 2 hours later the guys return. The news is worrisome to say the least. The track was lost in the grass and thick stuff. By chance, they hear the lions, which ones they do not know. They get within about 40 yards. They see the female, they see a male. But is it Mikes? Only the top of the males head is visible. No shot opportunity. They are busted. The lions run, with the field of view gone in seconds. They wait. Follow up, and find two sets of tracks. A third set joins later and all three head across the boundary into the next concession.

Disappointingly, the saga ends 10 days later with no lion. The other male and female come back to the bait that night as the guys are sitting, but not Big Mikes lion. They will sit for 10 more nights, rebait closer to the boundary(even obtaining permission to follow up on the next concession, but the trail is cold). It is very disheartening indeed, but Big Mike weathers the storm to the end. Never giving up hope, continuing with the rest of his safari, and generally being in good spirits. That is why he is my hunting buddy. We both get it. Shit happens. I lost a good leopard in Tanzania due to a stupid shot. I know how Big Mike is feeling. We agree to make the best out of the rest of the safari. Nough said about that.

Once Pete returns with Brent, he and I head off to check baits. Our focus is on other things until we get to the first bait.

Something’s not right here. End’s up a common theme for the next ten days will be trying to keep trail cams in operation. The bait site is littered with broken branches and leaves, a sure sign of elephant. The trail camera is gone, the bait has not been hit. We fan out and son find parts of camera, a battery here and there, and then the tale tell is of our suspicions. Like a stomped out cigarette, we find the remains of the trail cam. Frickin’ elephant.
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In total, between elephant and curious leopard, we lose six cameras, 3 to ele, two to leopard. Their crushed and chewed bodies stack up like wrecked cars.
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We head to the next bait. Ahh, good news. The bait has been hit. Let’s check the camera. Wait, why is the camera facing backwards. We later will discover the leopard is curious, I guess of the scent, and does a little gnawing on the camera. Anyway, there are two sets of tracks, a female and a large male.
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The news of a male and female causes Pete concern. Apparently, the will couple up for 6-7 days. During this time, the male rarely will feed as he only has poo-tang on the brain. This can mean a week of frustrating sits in the blind.

We reset the camera, sweep clean under the bait, and head to check more baits. No other baits have been hit, except another camera down due to elephant. As we head to check another bait, as if to say yeah, it was me, we encounter a bull and cow elephant on the road. Pete and I put a mock stalk on and I snap some good pics.
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We finish up our bait checking with some bait taking, impala that is. I make a good shot on a ram, and hard hit it travels about 50 yards before it crashes. Pete wants to see how 4 mo. old Jess the Jagd terrier will do on a blood trail. We take Jess to a spot about 40 yds from the ram, and put her on the blood. What a treat. I am like a proud parent. She takes off at a run, twist a few times, runs a large arc, and hops on top of the impala. No line of sight, no open country. Just followed exactly as the impala had run and she found it. Now that is some fun. As a treat, we let Jess drive us home for dinner.
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Scott CWO

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Dang it! Sure wish Big Mike had got that lion! Hopefully he gets one on a future trip.
 

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Dang it! Sure wish Big Mike had got that lion! Hopefully he gets one on a future trip.

Thanks @Scott CWO. Both Big Mike and I were fortunate to get great lions in Tanzania back when the anti’s were just starting to make waves about lions some 10+ years ago. I was really hoping that things would work out and the lion would be found. But that was not to be. And now, it sounds like we need to set our eyes on Botswana for ele. I didn’t ask in your report, but what are your thoughts about the chances of getting your elephant imported?
 

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Thanks @Scott CWO. Both Big Mike and I were fortunate to get great lions in Tanzania back when the anti’s were just starting to make waves about lions some 10+ years ago. I was really hoping that things would work out and the lion would be found. But that was not to be. And now, it sounds like we need to set our eyes on Botswana for ele. I didn’t ask in your report, but what are your thoughts about the chances of getting your elephant imported?
Of course John Jackson and the operators are optimistic. I am hopeful but probably a bit less optimistic. Everyone knows that there are too many elephants in parts of Botswana but there’s a lot of politics involved and a backlogged system of “case by case” evaluations. I address my plan in my report if you want to go to it. I used to believe in getting USFWS import permits before lion and elephant hunting but I have changed my mind now. I applied for a lion permit right after the “case by case” ruling in March of 2018. I was finally contacted by USFWS last year and they wanted to know if I got my lion. I would have received an import permit if I had hunted. I asked them to still issue me a permit before hunting but they quit communicating. Seems they are just doing “case by case” permits on animals that are already hunted. Therefore, I’ve decided to go hunt an elephant and a lion and try to get permits after the hunts. We will see how it goes!
 

Mort Hill

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Of course John Jackson and the operators are optimistic. I am hopeful but probably a bit less optimistic. Everyone knows that there are too many elephants in parts of Botswana but there’s a lot of politics involved and a backlogged system of “case by case” evaluations. I address my plan in my report if you want to go to it. I used to believe in getting USFWS import permits before lion and elephant hunting but I have changed my mind now. I applied for a lion permit right after the “case by case” ruling in March of 2018. I was finally contacted by USFWS last year and they wanted to know if I got my lion. I would have received an import permit if I had hunted. I asked them to still issue me a permit before hunting but they quit communicating. Seems they are just doing “case by case” permits on animals that are already hunted. Therefore, I’ve decided to go hunt an elephant and a lion and try to get permits after the hunts. We will see how it goes!

Did/doing exact same thing. Conservation Force is such a blessing. Always glad to donate to this fantastic cause! Thanks, and I will reread your post in your report.
 

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Thank you for taking the time to share your hunt. I really like your style and your enthusiasm shows. Your Buff is what dreams are made of. I love the snake picture too!
 

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Africa seems to be hard on trail cams.

I have had many encounters with Rattlesnakes, including one that tried to sink his fangs in me. Fortunately, it missed it's mark.
Deadly African snakes?.........no thank you! Lol.

Great story Mort.
 

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Day 4 - Highs and Lows

So as I alluded before, last night was an interesting evening. With expectations high, Big Mike and Brent headed out late afternoon for their lion sit. Pete and I ate dinner, enjoyed our evening by the fire, and waited for news of the lion hunt. Since this was their first sit in the blind, we figured they would call the ball at about 9:00PM, and be back in camp by 10:00PM if nothing showed.

I can’t honestly remember if I went to bed and got the report the next morning at 5:00AM, or stayed up, but regardless, report was the same.

Guys were in the blind around 4:00PM, a couple of hours before dusk. As soon as it got good and dark, the two male lions , each on opposite sides of the blind at about 50 yards started to roar. Back and forth. Big Mike said his teeth rattled, his butt puckered, and his nerves frayed. At around 9:00, with the lions not coming to bait, Brent said we need to change up things. The PH called the truck, told them to drive up to the blind, make some noise, open close doors, then head back to wait, not picking up the hunters.

It worked. 5 minutes after they left, the lions were on bait. As the light at the bait slowly illuminates, one of the big males is standing in front of the bait broadside. Big Mike get a clear picture through the .375 sight, and squeezes off what he thinks is a good shot. The lion reacts, spins away from the shot and runs off in the dark. The truck comes, the guys mount up, and head in the direction the lion ran. Unfortunately, all during this time of looking, the female lion is harassing the truck with snarls, charges and general mayhem. They find blood about 100 yds from the bait, but with all the harassment, they back out and plan to return in the morning.

So over morning coffee, we make a plan. The beauty of having 16 days in the field is that I am in no hurry, so I am all on board for Pete to support Brent in the tracking and recovery process. At this point, it is assumed they have a wounded lion.

At the bait site, a plan is made. Big Mike and I are asked to stay at the vehicles due to the exciting circumstances of the previous evening. I am more than willing to do so. Big Mike has mixed feelings, and I get it. However, as we talk he sees the wisdom and safety in the call.

PH’s and tracker head to the last blood spoor and go to work. Mike I discuss the evening and the shot. He still feels good about the shot, but I can tell as time wears on, his confidence all but disappears. 2 hours later the guys return. The news is worrisome to say the least. The track was lost in the grass and thick stuff. By chance, they hear the lions, which ones they do not know. They get within about 40 yards. They see the female, they see a male. But is it Mikes? Only the top of the males head is visible. No shot opportunity. They are busted. The lions run, with the field of view gone in seconds. They wait. Follow up, and find two sets of tracks. A third set joins later and all three head across the boundary into the next concession.

Disappointingly, the saga ends 10 days later with no lion. The other male and female come back to the bait that night as the guys are sitting, but not Big Mikes lion. They will sit for 10 more nights, rebait closer to the boundary(even obtaining permission to follow up on the next concession, but the trail is cold). It is very disheartening indeed, but Big Mike weathers the storm to the end. Never giving up hope, continuing with the rest of his safari, and generally being in good spirits. That is why he is my hunting buddy. We both get it. Shit happens. I lost a good leopard in Tanzania due to a stupid shot. I know how Big Mike is feeling. We agree to make the best out of the rest of the safari. Nough said about that.

Once Pete returns with Brent, he and I head off to check baits. Our focus is on other things until we get to the first bait.

Something’s not right here. End’s up a common theme for the next ten days will be trying to keep trail cams in operation. The bait site is littered with broken branches and leaves, a sure sign of elephant. The trail camera is gone, the bait has not been hit. We fan out and son find parts of camera, a battery here and there, and then the tale tell is of our suspicions. Like a stomped out cigarette, we find the remains of the trail cam. Frickin’ elephant.
View attachment 407618

In total, between elephant and curious leopard, we lose six cameras, 3 to ele, two to leopard. Their crushed and chewed bodies stack up like wrecked cars.
View attachment 407619

We head to the next bait. Ahh, good news. The bait has been hit. Let’s check the camera. Wait, why is the camera facing backwards. We later will discover the leopard is curious, I guess of the scent, and does a little gnawing on the camera. Anyway, there are two sets of tracks, a female and a large male.
View attachment 407620View attachment 407621
The news of a male and female causes Pete concern. Apparently, the will couple up for 6-7 days. During this time, the male rarely will feed as he only has poo-tang on the brain. This can mean a week of frustrating sits in the blind.

We reset the camera, sweep clean under the bait, and head to check more baits. No other baits have been hit, except another camera down due to elephant. As we head to check another bait, as if to say yeah, it was me, we encounter a bull and cow elephant on the road. Pete and I put a mock stalk on and I snap some good pics.
View attachment 407622
View attachment 407624

We finish up our bait checking with some bait taking, impala that is. I make a good shot on a ram, and hard hit it travels about 50 yards before it crashes. Pete wants to see how 4 mo. old Jess the Jagd terrier will do on a blood trail. We take Jess to a spot about 40 yds from the ram, and put her on the blood. What a treat. I am like a proud parent. She takes off at a run, twist a few times, runs a large arc, and hops on top of the impala. No line of sight, no open country. Just followed exactly as the impala had run and she found it. Now that is some fun. As a treat, we let Jess drive us home for dinner.
View attachment 407625
I lost a couple of trail cameras to overly curious black bears because, at first, some idiot wasn’t smart enough to check the cameras before refreshing the bait.
That ended after I built metal guards for them.
This one isn’t finished yet as I still have to weld on the hooks for the chain that holds it on but you get the idea.
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When done, I boil them and treat them the same as I do my traps…and am as careful with them as my traps as well. I haven’t lost a camera in the six years since I made the first one.

Sorry to skid off the rail Mort. Just though someone might be able to use the info.

Fantastic writing, please keep going!
 

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Day 5 Let’s Get To It

So the leopard hunting routine can be a grind. Up early, check baits, hunt for baits, hang baits, lunch, check more baits, hunt more baits, hang more baits, return for dinner, sleep, repeat.

Today we return to the bait with the male and female bait to find the female has fed once again, with the male just hanging out near the bait waiting on some noo-noo. She fed at 6:24 PM which in terms of being able to hunt with a light is very early and encouraging. Some of these Zim cats love to torture the hunter feeding at say 2 or 3AM. You just play the hand you are dealt.

We refresh the bait, and my excitement builds as Pete instructs the boys to construct the blind. I am used to a traditional hand built blind. My excitement is tempered when the small pop up blind is produced. Pete assures me we need to use this blind as we will be closer to the bait than he usually likes but that is the set up with the bait just the other side of the dry creek bed.

Two things pop into my mind. One, the blind is about as big as one of my camo coveralls. I’ll be wearing this damn blind which means no room to stretch for hours. Second, due to proximity and size, ain’t no way I will be smoking cigars to while away the time.

Aside. I hunted Zambia with an old chain smoking PH when I got my first leopard. We always smoked in the blind, he his cigs, me my cigars. He taught me tons. We played the wind. Smoke doesn’t freak out the game, and if they smell your smoke they can smell you. I bet our blind looked like one of those tobacco barns in Kentucky during tobacco drying season. Volumes of billowing smoke.

Anyway, blind set up and brushed in, path back to road cut in and cleaned of dry leaves. This is the area near the dry creek crossing, and Tafodzwa and Manager cutting brush some distance away for the blind.
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We head to the next bait. The tracks show that we have another leopard love couple at the bait. The female fed the night before, but last night only a civet. We are hopeful that maybe their torrid love affair is over. The only other issue is that the leopard is not using the tree we leaned up against the bait tree to access the bait, but climbing straight up the bait tree and hanging on the bottom of the bait. Not the shot position we wanted(leopard never follow instructions), so we modify the set up to be as inviting as a handicap parking spot on Black Friday.
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I also use the opportunity to wander off and find the perfect place for the morning download. I honestly believe in my life I may have answered nature’s call more often outdoors than indoors.
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We try a stalk on a group of eland tracks we find crossing the road, but these eland are smart and seem to be moving in a serpentine exit plan and we lose the tracks in the high grass.

Upon a trip past the skinning we see Big Mike has taken a nice dark giraffe for more bait to try and draw his lion back to bait. Now I want one too. I had taken an old bull with my son back in 2018, but this dark giraffe skin would look great on my cigar smoking screened porch.
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The day ends uneventfully except I try my hand at some photo creativity. Always trying for that essence of Africa picture.
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I lost a couple of trail cameras to overly curious black bears because, at first, some idiot wasn’t smart enough to check the cameras before refreshing the bait.
That ended after I built metal guards for them.
This one isn’t finished yet as I still have to weld on the hooks for the chain that holds it on but you get the idea.
View attachment 407710
View attachment 407711
When done, I boil them and treat them the same as I do my traps…and am as careful with them as my traps as well. I haven’t lost a camera in the six years since I made the first one.

Sorry to skid off the rail Mort. Just though someone might be able to use the info.

Fantastic writing, please keep going!

We had same problem with bears in New Mexico while bow hunting elk.

With regards to leopard, this would work great. Not so confident with the elephant who were the biggest nuisance. Thanks!
 

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“…as inviting as a handicap parking spot on Black Friday” :LOL:

Love the pics!
 

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We had same problem with bears in New Mexico while bow hunting elk.

With regards to leopard, this would work great. Not so confident with the elephant who were the biggest nuisance. Thanks!
I wouldn’t venture to guess what “elephant proof” might consist of. Bomb shelter of some sort perhaps. Concrete block maybe. :giggle:
 

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Day 6 Are You Kidding Me

The day starts off with us heading straight to the creek bait site where we had erected the pop up blind. We check the tracks and verify with the trail cam.

The female started at 6:45PM, just about true darkness. The male was there, but did not eat. But this is still very encouraging. We can out wait the love trist with 10 days left, so as long as we keep fresh bait, the big male should stick around for when love leaves and he is hungry.
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We head on to our next bait, the one where we remodeled the ramp way to the bait. Great news. The big male has fed at 11:40PM. No tracks of the female either. So we clear for a blind site before we move on to check the other baits.

At this point we have the “plan” discussion. Since this cat hit the bait late, let’s give this bait another night. Let’s get some history on this cat.

We decide we will sit tonight in the pop-up blind at the previously hit bait. We swing back by on our way back to lunch and get everything set up at the blind. Chairs, forked log for rifle rest, etc. I sit in my chair and move my rifle with ease so that I have a clear shot at the bait, as well as the base of the tree if the male shows but does not feed.

We head back early to camp to eat, rest up, and head to our first leopard sit in Zim.

We arrive at the blind at 4:10PM. It is hot. We are dropped off and slowly make our way down the cleared path to the blind. Knowing we are here for at least 5 hours, and with evening temps in the low 40’s F, I was instructed to dress warmly so I would not need to add clothing on during the crucial hours after dark. So I donned my fleece sweater, and a pair of pull up sweat pants, take my beanie cap, and head in the the blind. It is like an Easy Bake Oven in there. I have not gotten ass in chair and the sweat is pouring off me. I am hot, uncomfortable, squeezed into the corner of the pop up like a packaged Twinkie. I drink my two bottles of water, and steal one of Petes. I worry about having to piss, but realize the way I am sweating, I should be more concerned about heat stroke. It is only a couple hours to dark and thankfully the temperature starts to back down.

Just at twilight, about 5:45, things get eerily quiet. Then I hear it. The tale tell scratching of claws as they climb up the tree. The way my senses snap into action is amazing. I see the leopard walking the limb out to the bait, hear the scratching as the bait covering is moved away. Get a whiff of the bait as the leopard moves it into place on the limb for dinner. This is awesome!

Pete confirms it is the female so I scan with dogged determined zest to see if I can find the male at the base of the tree. In the failing light, I find nothing.

30 minutes later, there comes the loud cough/saw of the male from directly behind the bait tree. The female leaves the tree. Several moments later, we hear the male sawing away loudly as he services the female. I remember thinking, “Good for you old boy, because I’m gonna wreck your world, and this is last piece of leopard ass your gonna remember.”

Well, this come and eat, male coughs, she leaves, male gets booty call, went on for 3 more hours. I remembered what Pete said about paired up leopards. Drive you nuts.

At 9:00 we call the truck and head back to camp for a late dinner, cigar, bush TV, and story telling. Maybe tomorrow will bring good news at the other baits.
 

Royal27

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That will make you forget the heat in a hurry!

I might have had to have been cold though.....
 

rinehart0050

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Man. The anticipation is killing me. Fingers crossed that things work out! Good luck.
 

BourbonTrail

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I like how you are building up the suspense. It makes for more of a story and less of a “report”.
 

tarbe

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I just realized I really miss Zimbabwe....
 

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