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My Courteney Adventure:
Excerpts from Kariba Walk – David Lemon

 

Day Seven

I have quite a comfortable camp. My sleeping mat is laid on top of a small groundsheet, then I have my blanket – I had thought of leaving it behind – and on top of that, a ‘sheetbag’ – merely a double sheet, sewn up along one edge so that I can climb into it as I would, a proper sleeping bag. I use my pack as a backrest during the day and my discarded clothing as my night time pillow.

On the way back to camp from my river walk, I was seen off by a mother jumbo with tiny calf at heel. She shook her head and mock charged through the sand while junior squealed, but I stood my ground and she turned off with a shrill scream of disgust. Such wonderful animals, elephant.
I much prefer them to my own species.

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Day Twenty Three

Just sat down on a rock in the inlet, drinking in a somewhat smudgy sunset – the evening sounds of hippo snortling, a distant hyena and birds in the trees are so very soothing. It is moments like this when I am totally alone in a place of almost indescribable beauty that make these funny little adventures of mine worthwhile.

I can feel my body and mind relax in total serenity and it is a lovely feeling. I have experienced it many times on previous trips and it is what I always remember afterwards.

The pain, tension and fear that always form part of my adventures are quickly forgotten. Now I sit waiting for my fire to burn up and feel totally content. I shall have more noodles (yuk!) and a cup of peppermint chocolate – wish I had brought more of those – then hopefully sleep well and be fit for another hard day tomorrow.

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Day Twenty Five

About half an hour ago I was stumbling through the jess, not even sure which direction I was going in and cursing the fates that led me into the bloody stuff. Blood was flowing freely and I was paying no attention whatsoever to my surroundings when a big lioness ran off – fortunately in the opposite direction – from almost beneath my feet. She was followed by another and then another while I stood still, my heart pounding with the shock of it all and my mouth doubtless hanging open in an imbecilic gape.

I don’t really know how many lions there were. It might have been three, it might have been four or even five, but one of them had no intention of fleeing before this bloodied stranger. She sat where she was among heavy branches and gazed somewhat dispassionately at me. She was probably wondering whether I was worth the effort of chasing and eating, but perhaps my skinniness put her off.

She was probably the matriarch of the pride and there was no mistaking the arrogant power in her body. I knew that I was in trouble. There were less than five meters between us and I could see and hear the flies around her face, so I began backing off as slowly and quietly as I dared. My instincts shrieked at me to run like hell but that would undoubtedly have been fatal, so I ignored that horrible clinging, poking jess and concentrated on a very slow reverse, all the while gazing into those implacable yellow eyes as the lioness watched my progress.

A branch snagged in my sleeve, ripping the cloth with a horribly noisy, tearing sound. I stopped for a moment but she didn’t move so I resumed my stealthy retreat. As soon as I could no longer see that terrifying form in front of me, I turned and made off as quickly as I possibly could, not caring which direction I was moving in as long as I was leaving those damned great cats behind.

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Day Thirty Two

I have been walking for an hour and done just over four kilometers through some truly beautiful mopani forest, obviously untouched by Man. Thick trunks are widely spaced and the going is gentle. A little surprisingly I have seen no game, nor even signs of game. This would seem to be perfect countryside for wild life. There are pans with frog choruses going at full blast but I suppose there is little grass for the grazers. Odd flowers peep out and I often marvel at these little triumphs of nature. Some of them are so damned pretty yet they live, bloom and die completely alone and unseen.

Woodland kingfishers have been driving me scatty with their calls over the past couple of weeks and they seem to be even noisier here. Perhaps it is just one bird following me?

I was thinking about routine this morning. All over the world people are rushing around, preparing for Monday morning school, office etc while I sit on my pack in a place of indescribable beauty with nothing much to do but look, listen and keep myself moving gently in the right direction. At the moment, I am truly a free man in every sense of the word. I have no routine, not even with my food. I eat when I feel like it and if I don’t, I don’t.

As long as I have enough water, I am happy. This really is the way to live and a way that has been largely forgotten in the modern world. Life in ‘civilization’ means having to be ‘successful’ but out here, nobody cares what I do with myself or my life.

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Day Forty Four

Hellishly difficult first hour or so today. This is totally different countryside from that which I have grown accustomed to over the weeks and it is going to wear me out I reckon. There are heavily wooded hillsides and ravines, covered with thick, clinging bush that is not quite jess but has similar effects.

I am bleeding heavily from trying to push my way through the stuff and it took me an hour to reach the lake again. This is jungle rather than the usual savannah and I am not really used to that. I spend most of my time walking, doubled over and hunched while I try and follow narrow, winding paths. I just had to pray that I didn’t meet up with elephant or dagga boy using the same track in the opposite direction, as there were no escape routes to the sides.

I gave myself a long lecture at one stage when sweat, blood and panic threatened to overwhelm me. Told myself to be patient and keep chipping away at the mileage. Won’t get a lot more done today though as blue, cloudless sky and at only six thirty, it is already hellishly hot.

Now I am sitting on a rock with my evening pipe, just drinking in the beauty of the lake and its surrounds. The water is calm after a choppy day and the hills of Zambia look incredibly lovely in the setting sun. The islands gleam vivid green in the evening light and it seems a tragedy that this sort of view is so seldom seen by mankind.

On the other hand, it probably is not such a bad thing as it is still pristine when daft wanderers like myself come along. This sort of view really does soothe the soul and even the most troubled spirit cannot fail but be moved by it. At moments like this, I am so glad I embarked on this silly little odyssey.

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Day Forty Six

I’ve now been ‘on the road’ for a few hours and just walked around a large bay. The going was not easy with both rocky stretches and soft sand but for most of the way, I had my eye on a tall tree that overlooked a grassy area and cast abundant shade. It would make the ideal resting place and the prospect kept me going, although sweat was literally cascading off me.

Twenty meters from the tree, I was slowing down – I had actually loosened one strap of my pack – when a tasselled tail flicked idly into life from the grass and I realized that my proposed day camp was already occupied.

I don’t know how many lions there were – I actually saw three – but I didn’t think they would appreciate my company, so without pausing to tighten the pack strap, I carried on walking. One male raised his head to watch my progress but he didn’t seem overly interested and soon dropped it down again.

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Day Forty Eight

I suppose that after such a shitty day as was yesterday, it was inevitable that I should have a bad night too. It was terribly hot, I was feet downward on a rocky slope and for the first time, I was hassled by mosquitoes. I woke at half past three, was out of bed by ten to four and on the road an hour later. I was even stupid enough to descend the cliff on a water run by torchlight. That really was asking for trouble and at one stage, I stepped into a void between rocks and was lucky to escape with a bruised heel rather than a broken leg.

I sometimes wonder what comes over me at times. I knew how stupidly risky that was, yet still I went ahead and did it!
I have an irate dog baboon creating merry hell a little way behind me. I don’t think he knows what I am and is making sure I know my place. He is obviously the boss baboon for this area and I am an interloper. His family are sitting comfortably on rocks behind him, looking like spectators at a football match.

The bush is thickening up very fast too. I came to a huge wall of greenery earlier that I despaired of ever getting through. Fortunately I found a narrow game trail and managed to wriggle my way along that but at times I was on all fours and that is not easy with a heavy pack.

These occasional ‘roads’ through the thick stuff occur where buffalo or elephant have forced their way through and I take advantage of them with much relief, although all too often they seem to peter out most disappointingly. I followed a dagga boy for a while this morning but when he stopped and turned around a few meters ahead of me, I backtracked and made a lengthy detour to get around him. I don’t think he saw me but he was just too big to cope with and I didn’t have the energy to run if he came at me.

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Day Fifty Six

It seems vaguely interesting that after weeks of looking forward to my arrival at Binga – a meal, a proper drink, a bed, phone calls and contact with people – I am now extremely nervous at the prospect of arriving. There is so much I will miss. On the other hand, I am desperate for rest and repair. Last night I was feeling my bones and never knew I had so many! My hips jut out badly and I don’t think I have a bum any more.

But I love this countryside for all its clinging jess, lions, rocky terrain and other pitfalls. I love being beside the lake and listening to the birds or the night sounds. I so love the sunsets and sunrises, the evening light on hills and water and of course that vast expanse of night sky.

Oh I shall miss it all so much. Perhaps I can drag this last week out for a while.

On the other hand, the appeal of good food and a cold beer is hard to resist.

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BLOOD SWEAT AND LIONS is available online through Amazon.

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