I’m late, but I’m not sorry. I skipped a deadline for this African Safari Hunting blog, but I can’t apologize to you (or even my editor) because I missed it intentionally, knowingly, purposefully. Like a hooky-playing schoolboy, I knew exactly what I was doing and I’ll face whatever music is to come, but I hope you won’t play it too gratingly loud after you find out why I’m so shamelessly without remorse.
I was on safari in Tanzania, booked for 21 days in the Kigosi flood plains for what was promised to be an epic adventure. Oh, it was epic alright, but not exactly as we’d figured.
We’d planned to first hunt sitatunga, the unique aquatic antelope with specially adapted hooves that allow him to walk on water (or, to be more precise, the plants and vegetation just under the surface) and then we would venture further out into the swamps to hunt several islands that were said to have been un-hunted for at least the last three years.
How titillating is that? Remote islands that haven’t seen a boot-print in three or four seasons!
We could reach them because my professional hunter, Michel Mantheakis of Miombo Safaris, had trucked a swamp buggy clear across Tanzania, from Dar es Salaam to Lake Tanganyika. He’d purchased the swamp buggy in Florida several years ago, disassembled it and shipped it to Africa. A monstrosity of a vehicle with gigantic tractor tires, its undercarriage sits a good 8 feet off the ground. It can go through mud and muck like nothing. It even floats. And with it we could reach these "virgin" islands.
“There’ll be fifty-inch buffalo behind every tree and black-maned lion under every bush,” I joked. Manny, as I’d taken to calling him because it bugged me to call a man Michel, chuckled as he added, “Don’t forget the vast herds of hundred-pound elephant, swarms of kudu and flocks of sable.”
The plan was to stay in base camp long enough to hunt the sitatunga, a main goal of this safari, and then venture out into the swamp to reach the remote islands where we’d set up a main camp and then sally forth with the buggy, fly camping as we went. We’d drive the Land Cruiser and a two-ton lorry carrying tents and supplies as far as we could and then foray from there with the buggy. All this was to happen after the sitatunga was taken which, Manny said, shouldn’t take more than three or four days.
By day six, I started to get worried. By day eight, I was frantic. We’d built five “stilt blinds” on termite mounds out in the swamps, but we’d only seen immature male sitatunga and a few females. We even took to sleeping in the rickety blinds, cramped, stiff and tired, in order to be there at first light without the disturbance of sloshing our way out to the blinds with flashlights. Sitatunga only move in the first half-hour to hour of daylight and again right at dusk, a pair of very narrow windows.
“We can’t keep this up,” I said dejectedly yet another sitatunga-less day. “We still have lion and elephant and leopard and kudu and sable and everything else. I can’t spend eight days out of 21 on a single animal.”
“Don’t worry about the days,” Manny replied. “I’m not one of these ‘Sorry, your 21 days are up. That’s just hunting.’ sort of PHs. I’ll give you another week of days. No charge.”
“I don’t know what to say… thank you.”
“It’s not because you’re a writer either. I’ve done this before for clients who hunt hard but things just don’t work out. This freakish rain hasn’t helped. We’ve done everything we should have done. We slept in blinds. We’ve worked hard. You haven’t missed a shot or passed up an opportunity, so don’t worry about the days. If you can re-book your flight home, we’ll hunt for another week, or whatever it takes.”
And so we pressed on. I finally shot a tremendous sitatunga on the 14th day, a full two weeks of the most dogged hunting I’ve ever done in Africa. We then left for the uncharted islands and another adventure began, but that’s another story.
At least for now, you know why I’m late. Blame it on Michel Mantheakis for giving me what turned out to be an extra 10 days of hunting— on the house. I’m not apologizing. All I’m going to say is, “Thank you, Manny.”
Postscript: My 21-day safari turned into 31, so stay tuned for all the wild and wonderful stories in the coming weeks, for which I will be on time— I promise.