My turn. Mud-milky and smelling of earth and animal dung, but sucked through thinly-parted lips in long, eager draughts.
If one wanders into unknown stretches of wilderness in the African heat, the deadly spectre of dehydration hovers in every mirage. Your movement is absolutely governed by water – can you survive on the water you can realistically carry until you are likely to find more?
Here’s an excerpt from Paths of the Tracker with a very real story:
Henry didn’t seem to notice his sense of affront. “One of the most important things to remember for survival in the African bush is to have good water discipline Craig,” he chatted as he unpacked the breakfast ration. “You never know when you’re going to find the next water. Even a known waterhole may be dried up, or have a dead animal rotting in it. So one has to use the water carefully. Try not to drink when you are hot and sweating. It’s like pouring water into a sieve. And drink as much as you can in the cool of the morning, because even when you are walking or working hard, you sweat less than in the heat of the day, so that water lasts you quite a long time before you need more.”
He had finished his preparations and he came and sat down next to Craig with his back against the tree trunk. He said, nodding thoughtfully, “I had an experience once. I was tracking down an elephant wounded by poachers. It ran into a very remote area where there was no water. I wasn’t paying attention, and by the second day my companions had finished all their water. We had to share what I had left between four,” and he nodded at the canvas water pouch he had given Vasco to carry . “We very nearly didn’t make it.” Craig nodded uncomfortably, acutely aware that his trail bag pouch was near empty.
Half an hour later Henry rose and took the canvas water pouch from Vasco for a few mouthfuls, then swung the four fifty onto his shoulder, signalling the end of the rest. From then on, he had them stop and rest in the shade every hour, for fifteen minutes.
By one o’clock the sun had baked the bush to a gasping stand-still. Trees trembled limply across open areas in “the wind of the sun”, as Henry said old Fernando called the mirage, and every living thing stood panting in whatever shade they could find – except the cicadas, who owned those searing hours with their monotonous screaming.
Henry twisted back to Craig without breaking his stride and said: “It’s getting too hot to walk now. Walking in such heat tires one out unnecessarily and it uses a lot of body moisture. Doesn’t make sense. I always rest up till about three. It’s still hot then, but it starts cooling off. This is why one has to get moving early to make the most of the coolness. In the desert we even took to moving only from dusk through the night.”
Craig quietly wondered what it was like to re-visit memories that had to do with “In the desert we even took to moving only from dusk through the night.”