Two of the bearers recruited along the way, loaded and ready for the day’s meander.
The meat, flamed and smoked overnight is now a deep purple and fairly dry. At the midday break they will undo the bundles and carve bits off the edges to eat and perhaps cure the rest a bit more, so that it becomes almost black in colour. The men have trussed it up with palm leaves in approximately equal portions and they will carry it balanced on their heads.
African people have an amazing sense of balance. I know the women, who are the main gatherers and carriers of water and firewood in wilderness societies, to bear huge bundles of wood or containers of water over many kilometres. These loads often weigh more than twenty kilograms and the wood bundles are not necessarily evenly shaped. They carry them through the bush and along little footpaths that plunge and climb through deep ravines and twist-travers rough terrain crowded with vegetation, anthills and obstacles. The men seem to have the same ability. These meat bundles are not as heavy, but the bearers will carry the combination of backpack and meat load through the day, often over rough surfaces and through dense bush.
I call regular rests – about hourly, and we don’t hurry; we enjoy the bush. And I prefer to follow bush paths. This is usually possible because the bush is veined with small paths, some made by animals, some by humans, but used by all. Some are main migration routes; some are even ancient trading routes. Others just lead to waterholes or mineral deposits or favourite grazing areas or little bush villages or clusters of huts where semi-nomadic bush dwellers have made their temporary abode. Some of the main elephant paths are quite big and smoothed by the great feet and will roughly follow a specific direction for many, many kilometres. Other paths are small and just suddenly run out.
On sojourns like this I am usually not heading anywhere in particular, so in the words of the Cheshire Cat, I’m sure to get there if I just walk for long enough… The paths deliciously ramble through the bush, branching off, running out, suddenly appearing again in another place, so it suits my rather aimless wandering.
However, I have found that, even if one wanted to get to a specific destination, it is still better to pick your way there along the paths. It is a bit of a challenge keeping your direction and deciding when to abandon a particular path, but it is safer, an easier walk and mostly gets you there quicker – and more rested, because you don’t need to hack through very dense patches, or search for crossings, or end up retracing your steps because you just couldn’t get through.