Mid-morning breakfast break, with maize meal porridge. That’s what we’ve got so far for today. Maybe later we get lucky and we find some berries or yams, or perhaps a pool that holds fish, or some wild honey. But bush food takes a lot of searching for very little nutrition. The porridge, at least, has substance, but I’m going to have to find us some meat soon.
I like to break out of the overnight camp early; start walking with bits of night still lingering in the denser tangles. At that time, the ungulates are beginning to shake off the terrors of darkness, when sharper-eyed predators might silently have crept up on them. They always seem cheerful and animated, then, as if they are grateful for having made it through and having another day of life to enjoy. It is their most active time, when they skip around, play, feed, mate, if it is the time…
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 of course there is the sunrise…
A few predators might even still be active in the cool half-light – there might just be a last opportunity to kill if they had not been successful during the night. Leopards often inform the bush of their presence at this time with their grunting, like a handsaw through wood. Lions might also roll their mighty roars to over the savannah.
From around eleven the bush seems to start slowing down. By midday it lies withdrawn in its shade, hiding from the heat. It is only from about three-thirty that it starts to become active again. Then the animals do a last bit of feeding before they have to start seeking reasonably safe areas for the night. Antelopes and even larger ungulates will gather together in more open areas where they have a better chance of spotting predators. Warthogs will seek their burrows – usually old antbear diggings – baboons will move into trees or steep cliffs, if there are, day-time snakes will seek hollows under rocks or logs and giant V’s of birds will shift across the sky to their roosts. Yes, and the night predators will rise from their languish and stretch and yawn a flash of fangs and tongue at the setting sun and start to prowl.
Unless there is a reason to do different, which, in the African bush, may happen, I like to follow this ancient logic too – start at dawn, stop around nine or so for breakfast, then again around eleven thirty or twelve to rest over the hottest part. I prefer remaining in the shade till about three, then move again till the sun dips towards the treetops. That is the time for us, the day creatures that are preyed upon by the big predators, to prepare for the night in the best way we know, so that we can hopefully rest undisturbed.
Night preparation will depend on place and situation. If we are reasonably sure that there are no dangerous predators around, it would be simple, focussed on getting a bit of personal comfort. If the contrary is true, personal comfort comes after being safe. I sleep on the ground or in a hammock, so I need to be careful.
If there are enough people with me, all that would be needed, besides common sense and normal vigilance, is enough wood to last the night, and setting watch turns from bed time till dawn. If I am alone, I have found that keeping a fire going all night interferes too much with getting some sleep. The best measure to me is a simple fishing alarm, strung on a fishing line around the rest site. That, a really good torch, and a firearm if one has one to make a noise with, or else the bullwhip to crack. However, if I become aware of predators insisting on hanging around camp, I may go the way of discretion rather than valour and spend the night in the rather uncomfortable confines of the cab, if I am with the vehicle. If not, it is both fish alarms and fire, and very little sleep.