My four companions on this sojourn, ready for the day’s trek.
“The day’s trek,” would be a meander in a general direction, say north, but easily deviated from to investigate bush phenomena we might notice, or to search for water, or to explore stories we might pick up from local bush people, and the like.
On the right is Jacqui, whom I recruited as bush medium. He spoke a few words of English and a few of Fanagolo. Fanagolo is a pidgin language based on Zulu that developed on the South African gold mines as a kind of lingua franca between men from all over Southern Africa that came to find work there.
I was lucky to find Jacqui. I had turned off the main north road (itself no more than a rutted and potholed dirt gash through the bush) onto a faint east-running track, in the hope that it would take me deeper into unspoilt bushland. It turned out to have been made by illegal loggers poaching tree-giants from the ancient miombo forests east of the Gorongoza Game Reserve.
Jacqui was a camp hanger-on with them and he happened to be walking along the track when I came up. Fortunately he didn’t run away. I think he immediately surmised that my bush beaten old Land Cruiser couldn’t possibly have any connection to the authorities – well, the “authorities” was alltogether a very distant and unlikely phenomenon in that place.
When I figured out, after several attempts that his name was not Jackie, or Jakkie or Jacques but in fact Jacqui, I decided, if only for the name, I’d take him on. Jacqui was able to ease me past the suspicious and not-too-friendly loggers and deeper into the bush along an ever-feinter track. He also deftly recruited his two friends Pedro and Victor, on the left, as carriers of gear and food.
Jacqui turned out to be less than the bush sage I was looking for. I think he realised this after a a day or so on foot. When we came across semi-nomadic bush-dwellers some three day’s walking from where we had left the vehicle, he suggested I ask Bonzamane, whom we found there, to accompany us. He is standing immediately to the left of Jacqui – note the bare feet.
The backpacks the men are carrying are loaded with supplies and a few other necessities for survival in the bush. It is rudimentary. I don’t, for example, take a tent; just my hammock. If it rains there is a waterproof poncho we can huddle under until it clears.
took over Jacqui’s backpack. Jacqui insisted that he carry the smaller one that I had, plus the embarrassingly new machete from the coop in Pretoria that he has in his right hand. I was left with my rifle, ammunition, my binoculars, and my compass. Pedro, next to Bonzamane has the green medical bag and the blue map holder in addition to his backpack.
Bonzamane turned out to be excellent in the bush, but communication with him was difficult. It happened through Jacqui and that consisted of a few painfully-twisted Fanagolo and English words, which had to be copiously augmented with sign language. But Bonzamane was intelligent and he usually understood what I was asking even before Jacqui comprehended. I learnt a lot from him.
My companions change with every expedition. I go to a different area and I would recruit from among the local people. Finding the right people to take along into the bush is always a patient and time-consuming task. The crux is to first find a good anchor man – one that could be a true bush medium, is willing and able to take on the rigours of life on foot in the wilderness and with whom I can communicate.
Such men are scarce, especially those that carry that deep instinct for the bush and the animals that I find so fascinating. Once the right man has been found and recruited, he would usually be able to assist in getting hold of the rest of the crew.
I thought to drop in a short extract from The Wanderers about having the right bush sage here:
“It takes years to build up that kind of experience and “bush intuition” and it shows on the person. The best trackers I have come across tended to be past their late thirties. Usually rather demure individuals, gnarled by exposure to the harsh African elements, and with a few old scars from bush mishaps and violent encounters with animals. I feel comfortable with such individuals and develop strong bonds of comradeship with them.”
Many of my bush companions are wise in the ways of the wilderness, but simple in Modern World terms — illiterate, with only anecdotal and highly idealised knowledge of the modern world. The few that had actually travelled there, to South Africa, mostly, quickly realise, on their return, that very little of it is relevant in the Middle World, and even less in the Wilderness. The Modern World and all it holds is relegated to the stuff of tall tales around the beer pots, or twisted into adaptations that are sometimes weird, sometimes amusing, sometimes astonishingly innovative, to make some sense in the realities of life in the Middle World or the Wilderness.