We started out on Wednesday after we were dropped off on the southern bank of the Letaba river, about 8km from the nearest tar and public access road. From there we hiked southwards. Pretty soon we were shown where elephants had dug for water in a riverbed, and were then shown how to do it ourselves. Much to my surprise this hole in the ground was suddenly our life-line. Our only source of water - as sulphuric as it smells, and as yellow as it looks, and as organic (not in a good way) as it tasted, this was all we had.
We made camp about 200m from there in a scenic bend in the river with a rock face as backdrop. The night gave us sounds of scops and pearl spotted owl(et)s, hyenas and lion.
The next morning we kept south, following some fresh lion spoor for a possible sighting.
Unfortunately they eluded us. We had a close encounter with a dagha boy (solitary Cape buffalo bull) after one of the ladies had startled it during a toilet break - which made for a few tense moments. Luckily the sound of a .458 cartridge being chambered made it think twice about a charge.
From there we walked to find water, only to find it occupied by a big elephant bull. We sat on the banks watching him with the wind blowing our scent directly toward him. He was not bothered and after about 20 minutes he calmly walked past us, not 12 yards from where we were sitting. Unbelievable experience.
We dug a fresh water hole, made lunch and had a siesta - after which we had a pretty hard walk to where we wanted to set up our fly camp again.
Impossible as it seemed, this campsite was even more picturesque than the first, again in a dry river bed. The guides let us decide where we wanted to pitch camp but after we had chosen a spot they pointed out that it was right next to a well-used elephant path and that our presence may prevent them from drinking. We moved about 300 yards onwards.
We found a place to dig for water again, about 100 yards away from the tents. This night the lions roared quite a bit and we could audibly track the pride. I woke up early to take a leak, with the sky still very grey. As I finished I saw three big grey animals moving towards our water hole, and without my glasses I assumed them to be hippo. I made a tactical retreat to my tent from where I got the buckets - only to realise that it was 3 rhino coming for a drink. They were very skittish, and when another hiker unzipped his tent they vanished.
Going to collect water for the day showed very clear evidence that a male leopard visited the water hole during the night as well:
We broke up camp, set out and almost immediately had another close encounter with a buff.
We finally reached the Letaba. Our guides found us a shallow pool with no crocs and we were able to cool down a bit. The feeling of running water on the body was immensely satisfying after two days of having practically had only survival water with us.
Our drinking water from then on came from the Letaba, which is quite polluted. Our chlorine drops were used religiously from then on.
Our last camp was on a sandy bank of the Letaba river. Absolutely breathtaking. Crocs and hippo around us all night.
This is where dawn found us:
Moments later the fiery flame of an Africa sunrise greeted us:
The final day saw a short walk to the pickup point where we were greeted with cold beers. After 4
days of suspect, luke-warm water this went down very well!
A random moment during our hike
The metal (mettle) that Nature is made of: