Surviving with the Bushmen & Tracking Painted
Hunting Dogs

Small Cessna

The small Cessna flew effortlessly over endless desert bush shrub, interrupted below by glimpses of ruler-white roads, a few square farm houses and several more rondawels with stick-like farm workers sitting on the steps.  Above, curdling grey skies with lumpy clouds looking like sub-standard mattress-stuffing, opened up, and we stretched towards the landing strip like a large grasshopper.  Neeltjie and her team were there to meet us.  We did not spend long saying hello, as we quickly lunched on mushroom quiche, dumped our travel bags in stone-brick chalets, took a longing drool at the cool pool waters, and then bundled into the game vehicle.  The Bushmen were waiting. 
A 20-minute drive and we were there.  We peered around two low bushes and awe-struck engaged eye-to-eye with bare-chested men, women, boys, girls, toddlers, wrinkled old people and babies. They were animal-skin clad with soft leathery brown skin and protruding bottoms.  They were for real.

Bushmen familyNo language was necessary.  They spoke with their animated eyes, ample smiles and articulate gestures.  We practised spear throwing, while they laughed.  Threw melons along a line, and they chanted and chuckled.  Then they danced and tranced.  A hunt was performed - a wild dog pack chasing a gemsbok.  The gemsbok actor had a deep scar in his side where he had been gored by the latter. He succumbed to the pack and they pretended to feed.  Abruptly the ceremony was over and Neeltjie interpreted for us that they wanted to be left alone to have their evening meal. 

Around the camp fire

Around the camp fire, drink in hand, we reflect on the afternoon.  Trance-like we watch flames leap and wriggle as if they were doing their own Bushmen dance.  Voices vibrate over the coals as we mind-meander reflecting on the personal impact of our first encounter with these gentle souls, pondering their constant clan connectedness:  We have already learnt from them that:

Day 2:  After breakfast we met them in a clearing.  They had walked a long way.  We drove.  They wanted to teach us about the plants in their desert land.  They treasured and stored scarce water in ostrich shells; at the lodge we had hundreds of litres of water just for swimming.

Scarce water is stored in ostrich shells

XiXou and I dig for a tuber together.  We follow a thin stemmed leaf to know where it stores in its earthy hideaway.  The first attempt is a betrayal.  No tuber there, the dark brown steenbok was there first.  The next dig is a success.  We share and peel, cook and eat together around a small fire made from the combined stick-rubbing, cinder-making, life-blowing synergy of four men.  We learn about a plant to cure stomach ailments, about another that increases fertility – the old lady tells her old man to stay away from that one.  There are many plants for eating; one for diarrhoea, seeds to chew when you get thirsty and even a branch, broken and stripped becomes a toothbrush.

A broken stripped branch becomes a toothbrush

Back around the fire, sinking into canvas comfort, we are aware that a herd of eland are cautiously drinking at the illuminated water hole nearby. 

Tony begins, ‘No-one really leads, they seem to have a culture of leadership.’

Catherine continues, ‘They enjoy being together, work is not a chore’.

Bob explains, ‘Their compassion builds community; even the youngsters are being taught how to ignite a fire without matches’.

Mandy reflects, ‘I so valued the time spend with XiXou.  She was free to bring her meaningful contribution into the clan because her mother literally covered her back when she took care of her baby for a bit’. 

Day 3:  The evening before, after watching the Bushmen make their own rope from a plant called ‘Mother’s Tongue’ we set some springhare traps.  Back at the burrow after a good night’s sleep we hear strange sounds and the branch that held the rope noose trap has partially been pulled into the hole.  Bushmen hands cleared the sand to the entrance and pulled the half-strangled springhare from its last vestige of safety.  Soft crying sounds. ‘Shame, shame’, many of us mutter.  Xabu explains, ‘Springhare hunting
Sorry we have to kill her’.  He says this with clicks and words we do not know, but Neeltjie interprets. He accurately knocks twice on her head and her body swings limp.  The rawness of her death offered up for our sustenance, cooked once again upon a stick-rubbed fire, makes us thankful.  Her flesh tastes like turkey and her soft skin stripped from her body is being worked by combined bushmen-guest hands into a supple material for a new holder to carry the small poisoned arrow tips we will use when we hunt later.  In the afternoon we reassemble, split into two groups each led by three Bushmen and try to stalk a wildebeest and an eland.

Every night our connecting-reflecting place is around the camp fire, usually with a pre-dinner drink.  Tonight, we can smell sizzling kudu steaks but we are not the ones to provide.  We laugh recalling the hunt.  Ranked like a creeping caterpillar with our bums in the air we made too much noise shuffling through the grass to get within shooting distance of the eland or wildebeest herds, but we had fun and realized how difficult it was to use a bow and arrow to make a kill.  We had a lot to learn.  They showed us: 

We are leaving tomorrow for the ‘Waters that Thunder’, sad, but forever changed by this Bushman tribe.  Sad, but eager to see what adventures still lie ahead.

Days 4 - 6:  We are in the Cessna again, this time snaking over wide meanders of water and moving elephant herds who nod hello to the sound of the airplane engines up above.  We are flying low, lechwe run from the new predator bird in the sky, fish eagles shriek and giant herons fly their purple-bronze shimmer almost in parallel.  Pregnant with wonder we can hardly take in one more sight or sound when we begin to swoop down the sluggish brown belly of the Zambezi river as she gathers speed and becomes a blur that disappears over the precipice of the Victoria Falls.  Waters dive to the depth of the gorge below and our stomachs churn in sympathy.  Mesmerized we begin our descent for the dusty sand swirls that sweep across the grasslands of the Victoria Falls airport.  Once again we bunny-hop to a standstill to be received by the open smile set in the ebony beaming face of our guide, Dumi, the youngest son of the Shangaan king.

Victoria Falls

Black cultural Africa meets English Colonialism as we enter the grand old lady where we will be staying – the Victoria Falls Hotel, her skirts spread at the base of the gorge. Here we wine and dine, feast on Fall views with rainbow sunsets shimmering in her blasting breath.  That night we are entertained with tribal songs and the entrancing energetic acrobatics of tribal dancers.  The next night is so different as we travel on a slow steam train along the edge of the Falls into the National park.  We laugh and disembark when we can go no further for a while because a big bull elephant has found some tasty feed between the railway tracks.  His wrinkled bulk spread-eagled across the track says, ‘You can wait until I am finished’

At night and early morning in this friendly town we don’t have to worry about being robbed. Hassled by some vendors maybe, but we do need to take care not to bump into a passing elephant, a hungry lion pride or a curious buffalo.

The next morning we get wet in the early morning sunrise alongside the plummeting waters, walk 107 steps up and down into her depths and enjoy a hunger-satisfying breakfast that includes fruits, yoghurt, salmon, strawberries, bacon, sausage, mushrooms and any kind of eggs and breads we have ever thought of sampling.   The time goes too quickly.

Day 7:  Dumi has settled us into our luxury tented camp at the Inyati waterhole in Hwange National Park.  We call this part of the experience Wild Women, Wild Dogs and Wild Men – not the drunken carousing kind, women and men I mean, but those who are learning to live intuitively.  Clarissa Estes says:

We are filled with longing for the wild.  There are few culturally sanctioned antidotes for this yearning.  We were taught to feel shame for such a desire.  We grew our hair long and used it to hide our feelings.  But the shadow of Wild Woman still lurks behind us during our days and in our nights.  No matter where we are, the shadow that trots behind us is definitely four-footed.'

Painted Hunting Dogs

We are in game vehicles traveling to the Painted Hunting Dog Conservation Project.  Greg greets us.  He has survived many trials and tragedies over the fifteen years of protecting this endangered species.  Here they heal from snares, re-form into packs and are released back into the wild. Bushcamps of children from surrounding communities holiday here to learn about conservation, the characteristics and behaviors of this exciting animal species and they even see a wild dog kill from the one kilometer canopied walkway that leads from the Project center to their Bushcamp dwellings.  Their success stories include those of children who go home to tell their older brothers and parents not to set snares to kill their new Painted Hunting Dog friends.

In the days that follow Greg takes us tracking the painted Hunting Dogs in the wild and we learn: wild dogs are intuitive and relational by nature: intensely concerned with their young, their mate and their pack; inquiring, possessed of great endurance and strength, deeply intuitive, experienced in adapting to constantly changing circumstances, stalwart and brave. 

Our journey is over but echoing in my head is verse 4 of Psalm 37: 
‘Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.’

On the Peace-of-Eden Corporate WildLife Team Building Adventures insights gained in wilderness places with wild animals and tribal people happen because we are having fun, relaxing and reconnecting with what I call our God-created, Species-specific ways of living and relating.  In this experience the Wild Dogs and the Bushmen are our teachers, Victoria Falls is a Peace-of-Eden.