“That is a dangerous place!”
Moses turned his head to look back at me before letting his gaze flow in the direction of my outstretched arm, which was indicating a low rocky hillock pushing its dark basaltic crown up above the tree line on the north bank of the river.
“If anybody is going to find themselves succumbing to the guiles of another, that is where it will happen. If their heart is teetering on the brink of being smitten, the only way they could avoid the consequences of that view up there is if they dropped dead from a heart attack.”
As the slow steady flow of the river drew our boat closer, I continued, “Even though it is not high, the view from up there is stunning. Especially when the Bush is green after the new rains, like now. From there you can asee how the dambo’s are like emeralds of a necklace clipped along the blue strand of the river. Beauty beyond words, was how one couple described it to me after they had braved the scramble to the top.”
That is why I call it Eden’s Outlook.”
We were now back letting the current of the river do most of the work.
Earlier we had left our hosts at the hunting camp and continued upstream.
Initially we had gingerly navigated through the narrow channels where the river was again split apart like paper through the blades of a shredder. There the jumble of blocking boulders were strewn across the landscape by a game of geological backgammon.
Stopping at the old Mushingashi guessed camp I had explained to Moses, “The new owners of this place don’t have the passion of their father. After he was assassinated in Lebanon hardly anybody shows up here, and it seems that the sons are looking for a buyer. Rumor has it that a wealthy American may be interested. But it seems that negotiations are at a halt because other stakeholders have suddenly up there prices when they sensed that money is on the table. Like hyena’s they are too greedy, and as such will probably go hungry.”
Earlier, we had continued upstream beyond the old guest camp to where the river broadens into a wide open flat area. Here it took on the appearance of a flooded plane.
I gave a wide birth to a nervously snorting pod of hippo. I didn’t want to get into very shallow water and the risk of the prop getting mired in mud, before I could tilt up the engine, if the big resident bull decided to charge.
I raised my voice above the noise of the engine, “The border with the tribal area is not too far upstream from here. I spoke loudly to the back of Moses head, “Which I guess is why these hippos are nervous. Most of their experiences with homo horribilis are probably bad.”
Surprisingly beyond the hippos on the north bank of the river a huge herd of elephant had come down to drink. There were at least seventy of them.
“Well!” Moses glanced at me, “Alan and his son must be having some success with his anti-poaching efforts to have such a large herd on his GMA.”
After watching the elephants suck up the water in their trunks and spit it into their mouths to drink, I pushed the engine tiller gently away from my knees so that the prow swung in a wide circle, allowing the boat to move faster down river as its bearing meshed with the flow.
Heading slowly back down river, and passing the hunting camp we waved to the lad on the jetty.
The Russian pair were still sitting on the riverside deck, with their whiskey glasses clutched in their hands.
They stood when they noticed the boat, and then sat as quickly once they saw it was us.
“It seems that they are expecting someone.” Moses commented.
As their vacant stares faded into the distance and the low hillock began to appear, Moses flicked his head towards it.
“Let’s stop and check it out”, he look back at me, “You have stoked my curiosity”.
“Okay”, I replied, “but watch out that you don’t fall under its spell.” And I jokingly mused to him, “But on the other hand maybe it is best to see it, so that you can know the risks, and avoid finding yourself bringing any lass who drifts your way up here.
“Who knows”, I quipped, “Maybe the sangoma has put a spell on the place, and you will get all your senses messed up before you even begin to help me sort out the other strange stuff around here.”
And with that I gunned the outboard to swivel its prowl back into the current and edge the boat under the shade of the river trees at the foot of the hill.
In hindsight, with my life spent in Africa, I should have known not to joke about things when it comes to witchcraft.
“So what do you make of that delightful pair we met this morning?”
I pose the question to Moses as we sat atop the hillock and admired the view, which was as beautiful as I had described it.
Moses sat quietly on one of the rocks looking upriver.
“They are not hunters”, he said, “They are hiding something.”
“Yup!” I replied, “But they must be wealthy. Only the wealthy can afford to travel to Africa and hunt the big game here. Roger said that the pair had the camp booked for a month! It must be costing them a fortune. Someone told me that the concession fee to the government runs at about quarter million dollars a year, and that is before all of Alan’s overhead of staff, vehicles and taxes etc… He must be charging the pair nearly two grand a day, each, and that is before the trophy fees to the government.”
I paused to look up as a Bateleur took off from a big dead tree across the river, and after a few sharp rapid flaps of its wings began to twist skyward in a thermal. I imagined it had come down to the rivver to drink.
“But they don’t strike me as being very interested in the bush, with hunting and nature, let alone concerned with aesthetics and the environment. It is as if their main interest is sitting out on the deck, waiting for something to happen.”
I let our thoughts brew for a while.
“I wonder how they made their money? Very few of the rich folks I have known are alcoholics.
It stands to reason that anybody who has become wealthy has done it by mostly staying away from too much booze, unless they have earn their money the traditional old world way, by inheriting it. Also, I don’t think that there were many bourgeoisie left in Russia to pass on their wealth after Lenin and Stalin finished with them. The new kleptomaniacs surrounding Putin, are not yet old enough to die and pass on their money.”
Moses nodded his head, “Dudu, you have spent more time than I have around these hunting types, but even I can sense something strange with those two. But then, they are Russian, and as you know we got to know some of them in Angola. Some of those peasants fighting against us were as tough as nails. It was astounding how much they could drink and still be functional.”
Moses continued, “They didn’t seem to care about where they were, or of being so far from home and outside civilization. For them home was where ever there was a bottle of vodka.”
“Yup” I grunted. “Those two certainly seem to be happy around a bottle.”
Here I am helping to train the scouts who will patrol this area, and protect the game for them to hunt. But they don’t care if there are animals around or not. They sit in the middle of one of the most unique areas in Africa, if not the world, and they take no notice of who we are or what we do.”
“When you come to think of it,” I was talking more to myself than Moses, “This Lunga-Lushwishi area, is 8000 km² in size. Across the river is Mushingashi, also a huge block of land. Next to these is the second biggest national park in the world. I, and many others, are helping to preserve them in pristine condition. Here visitors are not even exposed to the pressures of busloads of gawky photo tourists, with cameras clicking like the castanets of a fucking flamenco dancer. And those two assholes don’t give a shit about anything except drinking vodka and being rude.
On the water, occasionally I would gun the engine to nudge the drift of the boat this way or that past, or around a semi-submerged log, or keep it in the center of a narrow channel, as the rivers flow pushed us down or through such features as the labyrinth above the big twin islands. But mostly I held the throttle at idle. It made talking easier.
We were back down from the climb up the low hillock of Eden’s outlook, and had resumed our progress downstream.
It was already mid-afternoon, and I wanted to get as far as the confluence of the Kafue with the Lunga River.
There was a certain urgency in my mission, I felt the pressure of showing Moses the lay of the land and to explain some of its features. I wanted to have some common references if we needed to talk about issues while I was away for the next week or so.
This boat trip up and down the river would have to suffice as a quick reconnaissance survey. I was scheduled to move down to the southern iTezhi–Tezhi part of the park to ccatch a stick down there as it came off the active patrol roster, where I would be conducting their ‘advanced policing’ training.
Before I left, at most, we could squeeze in a road trip up to Kikuji, the future lodge site on the Lunga River. We would not have much time for more than that.
“While I am away you will need to snoop around by yourself to get a better sense of the area,” I said to Moses, “and see if you can pick up an under-current for the weird stuff going on.”
As we talked the flow of the river took the boat wide and towards its south bank. A few minutes later the deck of our own host lodge came into view and the snorts of the hippo pod greeted us.
We waved to one of the girls standing on the deck as we headed past and drifted on towards the pontoon crossing, 14 kilometers downstream.
I watched the enthusiastic response of the young woman waving at us. In a vague way I envied Moses his age advantage. The girl’s waves were obviously not directed my way.
“You have an admirer!” I teased him.
Many a true word said in jest I mused to myself as Moses responded with a dismissive flick of his head.
“You are the one who taught them their tricks!” he replied.
“There was nothing for me to teach them, which they didn’t already know, so no need for any lessons” I chuckled back at him, “But now they have a younger dog on the scene and they sense that there is an audience to display to.”
“Yeah, really, younger, but not young anymore.” Moses grinned back at me, “I have known you for long enough to know that you are the real hound. You have the “Why not” attitude. Not me.” He continued, “I have a ‘why should I’ spirit.”
I laughed. “That maybe so. But I am too old to play tricks, which is OK. I have enough to beg my way through life.”
“By the way,” Moses had turned around to face backward on the forward seat of the boat. He was looking at me with an air of focused curiosity. “What happened to Sophia?”
His question caught me off guard. I hadn’t thought of her since the brief text exchange in Lukulu, “Is that you, I am older now, and younger.”
“Wow, you still remember her name.”
“Of course I do! You were smitten with her for as long as I can remember.”
“It is a long story.” A vague sadness crept over me as I quietly answered him. “She asked me never to contact her again… I had let her down too many times she said. She found a reliable man, she told me. She just disappeared”. I paused. “But that is a long time ago.”
The lonely hunt of the heart is hidden, but it lurks beneath the surface of life. Like the ghost of Ven der Dekkenm, condemned to always fail as he tries to sail his Flying Dutchman around the Cape of Storms, I had been condemned to always fail to round the cape of Sophia’s hopes.
I didn’t tell Moses about her short texted words.
I let the boat drift as we watched a fish eagle fly overhead with a big pike in its claws.
Then I gunned the motor, and it was not long before the long cable of the pontoon came into sight. We waved to two of the staff sitting idly in the shade of the trees, waiting for the next client needing a crossing.
It was getting late in the day. And we only had an hour and a half of daylight left.
Passing under the cable, the low ridge of the geological protrusion came into view. It ran southward as it formed the blocking east wall against which the Lunga River leans before it merges with the Kafue.
The ridge reared up where the Kafue had punched through its barrier. Here a brooding cliff face looked down on the confluence like the eyes of an old which.
My attention was focused on the river, when Moses motion with his head to look up at the cliff face.
I saw nothing.
“At the top!” he stated.
Looking carefully, I saw a motionless figure standing above the cliff. Its camouflage clothes blended into the shrubby vegetation, which covered the brow of the hill like the unkept hair on the head of an old beggar.
The figure made a sweeping gesture with a hand. It said ‘Go way’.