Clean water that we don’t have to dig for. Not the hoof-churned soup with bits of dung floating in it that is often one’s only option. And, bathed in generous shade. With the temperature over forty C it seemed like a blessing…
But beware! The mat of leaves around the edges was barely disturbed. Only one or two bushbuck, a lone kudu bull, a jackal had sipped at the end where the water stretched to just a thin sheet. Why was this inviting oasis avoided by most animals? At the deep end in a gentle-sloped gulley we found the reason: drag marks where a crocodile had heaved its heavy body from the water to sun itself.
The pool lay in a ravine that flowed only for parts of the year. The croc must have roamed up its meander during the rainy season and then got cut off when the flow stopped. This is not uncommon. Crocodiles even travel overland. I have found their tracks quite a long way from water – once a nest in a sandy spot several hundred metres and over a low hill from the nearest water. This one apparently decided it liked it just fine here – and the odd unwary beast that might come to sate itself.
So, keep a keen lookout and don’t dally too close to the edge. The strike is without warning and lightning-fast…
Here is a short extract from Paths of the Tracker about an encounter with a pool monster:
Craig slipped down the roots on his buttocks and lowered himself into the water. The soft mud bubbled and folded around his tired body. He let out a deep sigh of relief and satisfaction and lay back against the roots so that the water lapped deliciously under his chin. He could feel the ache of fatigue and strain deep inside his muscles where the white tendons grip the bone, but he relished the pain of it. It was confirmation that he had put in a noble effort; that he had pushed himself right to the edge of his endurance.
He vaguely noticed a half-submerged piece of bark drifting towards him. I wonder why it’s drifting towards me against the flow of the ripples? his engineering mind mused idly. Drifting piece of bark? Somewhere from the primal depths of his mind alarm stirred vaguely, then suddenly leaped up, screaming in white-hot panic: Crocodile!! The uncoiling of his body into a frantic surge for the bank was pure instinct. He scrambled up the tree roots, slipping in his panic, looking back to see if he was being chased, seeing nothing, regaining his foothold, hesitating momentarily. The water heaved up and exploded in white foam and gaping jaws right under him! Craig felt something like a heavy weight slam down on his foot, and then a violent jerk that tore away one hand from its desperate grip on the roots. But he managed to hold on with the other, yanking violently back with his leg, and then he was free, and he scrambled onto the bank on hands and knees, aware that something was wrong with his left foot, but too horrified to look.
He scuttled away, still unable to get up. He glanced back fearfully. The water was now calmed into the merest lapping against the sides, and he saw his left shoe pop up from the depths towards the middle of the pool and rock gently with the waves.
He was shaking so violently that he could hardly turn to sit. He forced himself to look at his leg. There was a deep gash on the outside of his calf muscle, running almost to his ankle. Blood was beginning to flow from it freely, merging with the water, streaming in little rivulets down his leg and forming a small pool under his heel. A few other less serious lacerations and bruises were bleeding a little too, and beginning to turn a yellow-blue around the edges.
I’m hurt, I’m seriously hurt! What the fuck am I going to do now?! It screamed through his mind. He had never been injured so badly. It felt as if the savage brutality of the situation was simply going to overwhelm him…