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Sometimes I feel like sharing the mundane of bush wandering; the parts that are not interesting or educational or dramatic, but part of the wilderness experience like the front door key is part of urban living. It is things like the careful checking of the vehicle at stops, the routine of finding a camp site, of preparing for the night, of having meals…
The daily bush routine – which, in the African wilderness turns out to be is more of a framework than a routine – is such a thing.
When I am on extended foot safaris, I like to break out of my overnight camp early, while traces of night still linger in the denser tangles. It is the time when those bush dwellers that live the anxious life of prey begin to shake off the terror of the night predators. They seem cheerful and animated, as if they are grateful for having made it through. It is their most active time, when they skip around, play, feed and mate.
A few predators could still be active too – there might just be a last opportunity to kill in the half-light. Leopards often inform the bush of their presence with their grunting, like a handsaw through wood, and lions may roll their mighty roars over the savannah.
It is altogether a wonderful time of the day; cool and fresh, awash in bird song, bubbling with optimism and anticipation and brimming with stories of the night and the splendour of sunrise.
Towards late morning, animal life slows down. By midday it lingers withdrawn from the heat in pools of shade. Some animals visit waterholes over the hot hours to cool down and to slake the thirst from the morning’s heat – it is about the safest time for them, with the big predators lapsed into dreamy inaction.
Most start to become more active later in the afternoon. They do a last bit of feeding and begin to move towards favourite overnight areas. Some hide in dense bush. Others gather in open areas where their collective eyes have a better chance of spotting predators. Warthogs will seek their burrows – usually old antbear diggings. Baboons will move into trees or steep cliffs. Daytime snakes creep into hollows under rocks or logs, and wide formations of birds shift across the sky to their roosts. Yes, and the night predators rise from their daytime languor and stretch and yawn white and pink at the setting sun and drift into their hunt.
I like to follow this ancient routine too – start at dawn, stop for breakfast after two hours or so, then again midway through the morning for tea. The hot midday hours are spent resting in the shade, and then it’s the afternoon trek. When the sun dips towards the treetops, we must find a suitable camping spot and prepare for the night – we day creatures need to take care if we want to survive the predators of darkness.
Preparations will depend on place and situation. If we are reasonably sure from the signs we had picked up over the afternoon that there are no dangerous predators around it is simple; focus on some personal comfort. If the contrary is true, personal comfort comes after being safe. I sleep in a hammock or on the ground and my companions too, so we need to be careful.
If I have enough people with me, all that is needed, besides common sense and normal vigilance, is enough wood to last the night, and setting watch turns from bedtime till dawn. If I am alone, I have found that frequently getting up to keep a fire going interferes too much with sleep. The best measure to me is a simple alarm, strung on a fishing line around the rest site – that, a good torch and a firearm or the bullwhip to crack when necessary. However, if I become aware of dangerous predators hanging around my camp I may go the way of discretion rather than valour and spend the night in the uncomfortable confines of the cab. If I am without the vehicle, it is both fish alarms and fire, and little sleep…
I tend to have only two meals a day. Breakfast, which usually consists of maize meal porridge with meat, if we have, for my African companions. Sometimes I opt for muesli moistened with water – my companions seem to find this rather weird. Through the course of the day I may chew on some nuts I take along in my pouch, or we may get lucky to find berries or yams or wild honey – but bush food takes a lot of searching for little nutrition. The evening meal receives a bit more attention. My companions usually prefer porridge again with meat or fish, else something meaty from a tin. I often have the same, or some freeze-dried preparation – my African companions don’t like this either, but I take along some; it is nutritious, light to carry and easy to prepare.
But this is a routine easily (and often) deviated from as necessity or curiosity dictates – few days in the African bush turn out as anticipated.