humour

Camping in Kenya. Mara River fishing

Although I do not like eating fish, I am what the British fishing community know as a “coarse fisherman” and I have been engaged on this activity all my life, although I do not fish much these days. At the time we were in Kenya I was already returning the fish, unless someone would be interested in eating them. Tobias, Paul’s camp hand, was such a guy and if he was around there was no way that a fish would escape his attentions and invariably it would end up in the sufuria[1]!

Tobias was from the Luo ethnic group that dwells around lake Victoria both in Kenya and Uganda and, naturally, they eat fish in contrast to the Kikuyu and Maasai that very rarely, if ever, consume them. The rare event of a Maasai herdsman fishing with me was described a while ago in this blog[2] although whether he would have eaten the fish or not will never be known!

As only driving with your eyes closed would stop you from seeing animals while traveling through the Maasai Mara area, sometimes, for a change, we decided to just chill out around camp and on occasions, try our hand at fishing in the shadowy Mara River. We were able to do this as, by virtue of being outside the reserve, we enjoyed freedom of movement within the limits of common sense and/or lessons learnt!

In the area we regularly camped there were a couple of nice grassy spots from where we believed that fishing could be attempted. The problem was that we knew that crocodiles were plentiful in the River and there was no doubt that they were lurking anywhere under the muddy waters. We had already seen them in action snatching wildebeest during their river crossings. Clearly in this setting, fishing would be a hazardous sport.

After careful consideration we chose a nice opening in the riverine forest that not only offered a good view of the river but also towards our back, an important consideration in the Maasai Mara as dangerous animals were also around us inland! As there were no trees nearby we could handle our fishing gear without major mishaps. I have the innate ability to get carried away with the fishing and end up “hooking” a few trees! Although there were lots of hippos cruising up and downriver, we did not consider them a major problem.

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A view of a Mara River hippo pool to show the colour of the water.

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The aftermath of a wildebeest river crossing.

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The Mara River bridge on the way to the Transmara. A lorry and us wait for a herd of Maasai cattle to cross.

So, one of the trips to the Transmara coincided with Paul doing some work with wildebeest on malignant catarrh, a viral disease that affected cattle, and we decided to try fishing. I brought fishing gear and cow liver so we were ready to try our luck. Our intended target was the common and ubiquitous African catfish (Clarias gariepinus). Immediately a worldwide event was born as we represented three Continents: Europe (Britain), represented by Paul, Africa (Kenya, Luoland), represented by Tobias while I was the America representative from Uruguay. Similar to the spear throwing competition earlier[3], it was an intercontinental fishing tournament!

The river was at its normal and flowing gently so that was favourable. What was not were the abundance of submerged trees and branches that poised great difficulties to a normal line recovery. The consequence was severe loss of equipment and we were soon running out of hooks and our lines were getting shorter! In addition, I spent lots of time disentangling my line from the trees that seemed to jump towards me every time I would try to get my bait in the water!

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The Mara River from the DC3 when it did regular flights between Nairobi and the Maasai Mara.

A fish bite was invariably followed by frantic efforts to recover the line in an attempt to get it out while avoiding it getting entangled in the various branches and water plants. However, if you were lucky or perhaps unlucky? and hooked a large fish, the task would become much more difficult as the fish would try to escape by getting inside the branches. In addition, there was the “crocodile problem” as the reptilians would be alerted by the fish splashes and immediately come to “investigate” and get our fish so fast recovery was a must to avoid losing our trophies as those lost “en route” to anything such as snags or crocs would not count.

Paul did quite well and caught more than me. However, Tobias was the star and clear winner. He probably knew things we did not, through years of fishing “for the pot” during his early years near lake Victoria. His technique was simple, almost too simple. He chose to use a hand line and threw it very close to the shore. In this way, he avoided a lot of the snagging and did not suffer too badly from line and hooks losses like us wazungu[4]. He will then wait a short while and pull them out, almost unfairly easily!

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Tobias and the Bushsnob with some of the spoils.

Tobias was delighted, not so much for having won the contest but, much more importantly for him, for having the possibility of feasting on fish for a few days! Although later on we tried the catfish, Paul and I agreed that they tasted like we imagine the Mara River mud would do and, luckily for Tobias, we declined further offerings.

 

[1] Saucepan in Kiswahili.

[2] See: https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/memories-a-fishing-trip/

[3] See: https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2015/11/05/javelin-throwing-almost-olympics-games/

[4] In Kiswahili, white man. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mzungu

Lord of the (dead) flies

While living in Maputo (Mozambique) we rented a house that came with a gardener, as it is usually the case very in these places. His name was Erasmus and he was a very easy-going and religious young man. Often in the afternoon we were regularly treated to a choir of holy hymns when he and the afternoon security guard sang together. We later learnt that they were at the choir at the same church and they were rehearsing. I must admit that -as it is the norm in Africa- they sang very well.

The house was built in an area of Maputo liable to flooding and, perhaps because of the humidity and heat, we had a serious problem with flies. The latter became an issue during the rainy season, despite us keeping all rubbish in sealed containers that were removed regularly.

After some search we found the solution: a flytrap, a transparent plastic contraption that, when filled with a smelly solution, would attract flies to it where, unable to escape, they would die.

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In consultation with Odette, our housemaid, the trap was placed by the kitchen door with the objective of intercepting the flies before getting into the house. The siting was an instant success as, after a few days, flies began to get trapped. Then we confronted a problem: the smell! It gradually increased as more flies accumulated and soon Odette started to make remarks about the fedor[1] that started to emanate from the offending trap.

After a couple of days of putting up with the stink, Odette moved the trap away from the house without opposition as, despite being of small complexion, she was clearly in charge of the household personnel by virtue of being the employee closest to us.

The trap stayed in the new location, close to the security guards’ changing quarters, for a few days until they staged a “mini demo” to protest about the stench and Odette agreed to hang it far away, under a casuarina tree where its smell did not interfere with anyone.

Peace restored, the contraption continued to hammer the flies but soon it filled to near bursting point and it became less effective as no more flies would be able to get in anymore. So, Odette stroke again! She asked Erasmus to empty it. Poor old Erasmus had no option but to accept Odette’s request, being her sidekick.

The above background to this saga has been reconstructed afterwards talking to the various participants and witnesses as at the time I still had working duties.

I was at home when I heard a strange noise in the garden and went out to investigate. I saw Odette overseeing Erasmus work from a prudent distance. Erasmus -looking quite sick- was busy emptying the trap while pausing frequently to move away and take deep breaths of pure air while trying to keep his lunch down! Eventually, the job was done and Erasmus started to look his normal self while Odette looked rather amused! I am sure that it was probably his toughest assignment ever.

It was a very quiet Erasmus that walked past after completing the cleaning and that got into the toilet. It was too evident that he needed a long shower to be allowed on public transport to get back home!

After the operation, the trap was not cleaned again, a decision that I suspect followed some hard bargaining between Erasmus and Odette. In 2013 I retired and we left Maputo so the flytrap was packed away and it disappeared from our memories. Since then we have commuted between Uruguay, Argentina and Zimbabwe, avoiding the winter as much as possible.

Harare, being at about 1,500m of altitude has an extremely pleasant climate and it is almost fly- and mosquito-free for most of the year but some flies start to appear just before the rains and their numbers increase when it gets wet. Last year (2016) , the rains started on time and the flies were more numerous than normal.

A consensus was reached between my wife and Stephen -our caretaker- that preventive action was indicated to keep the flies in check. So, lo and behold, the infamous flytrap re-appeared! I immediately remembered Erasmus and felt sorry for Stephen but kept quiet…

This time, as experienced users and with the benefit of hindsight, we placed the trap far from all forms of human and pet habitation and positive results did not take long as the trap had not lost any of its effectiveness. Flies came in in numbers, again probably from the whole of our neighbourhood and, as it happened in Maputo, after about a week, it was obvious that a cleanup was needed.

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My thoughts immediately went to Stephen and I was totally taken by surprise when my wife asked me to do the cleaning! “What about Stephen?” was my immediate response. “He is going to the rural area tomorrow, to prepare the land for planting” was her reply. I found this as a very suspect situation and I even thought that Erasmus had intervened in a long-distance revenge!

So it was the trap and I! I decided to take the only course of action left to me: my often practiced procrastination to see if I could last until Stephen’s return and delegate the task to him. To my regret I failed as some flies were spotted in the kitchen despite my efforts to kill and hide the corpses.

So, like Erasmus before me, I braved the cleanup. I have to confess that I had an advantage over Erasmus as my training and practice as a veterinarian had exposed me to a variety of emanations from decomposing nature. I also found a good face mask (from the times of the flu pandemic scare!) that I decided to wear, apart from rubber gloves.

When I believed I was ready, I went for it! Remembering Erasmus, I refrained from eating prior to the event. I unhooked the trap from the tree without major problems and I sprayed its contents with insecticide to kill the flies that were still alive inside. Emptying it was not as easy as it looked. Being lazy I tried to do it without removing the lid but this was not possible. Opening it became inevitable.

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This action created a blast of malodorous miasma that hit my covered nostrils at full blast. The smell nearly knocked me off my feet and I decided that it was time for a pause to think (read “to keep all my innards in their right places”). At that stage I remember poor old Erasmus again as even the photographer used a powerful zoom to take the shots shown!

The pause worked and I managed to empty the trap from its burden and re-charge it with fresh water and powder so that it could continue functioning. I was quite happy to set it up again as I knew that the next cleanup would fall on Stephen and it would be my time to watch!

After hanging the newly-charged contraption I needed to dispose of the fly bodies by burying them as recommended to prevent any flies’ eggs from hatching. As an added precaution I also sprayed the fly mass with an insecticide and buried them deep.

The procedure over, I was triumphant for a while, until flies started to come towards me, mistaking me for the trap (now clean and smell-less) as I must have stunk badly although I was unable to smell anything at the time and for a while afterwards. Flies still followed me into the house when I entered to have a badly needed shower.

 

[1] Stink in Portuguese.

Hairy binoculars

Eyeglasses are essential for observing wildlife, particularly birds. I really believe that these optical aids make the difference between a good and a bad wildlife experience and I am amazed when I see people visiting wildlife parks without them after having travelled many thousand kilometres to do so.

For a long time I used mediocre binoculars until one day my friend Roger -a reader of this blog- showed me his Leica binoculars and I realized what German optical quality meant. He also told me that once he had a problem with his binoculars and the company immediately came to the rescue and even upgraded his binoculars to compensate him for having had a problem.

So, following his example, as soon as I could, I proudly bought my own Leica Trinovid 10X32 BN 8×32, rubber-coated and waterproof down to five metres. To use them added a new dimension to my game watching and I enjoyed them from the first use as they were easy to calibrate and use. For a while until I noticed the flaw…

To my dismay, I realized that the unthinkable had happened with my marvelous piece of optics. Somewhere inside their rubber-shielded-sealed right ocular lens system there was a hair, more precisely an eyelash, presumably of German origin!

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Bushsnob in Coroico, near La Paz, Bolivia. The hairy binoculars are round his neck…

You will not be able to fathom my disappointment! At Leica in Germany they were horrified when I reported the find and they offered immediate assistance. However, at the time we were living in La Paz, Bolivia and there was no official Leica representative that I could contact to mend the problem. The alternative of sending them to Germany meant being “binocularless” for a while, something far from ideal.

As the problem was manageable, I decided to continue using my hairy binoculars for a couple of years. Having spotted the intruder, now I saw it more often but it did not really interfere with my vision so I was able to use the instrument. Some time later, when transferred to Rome, I could send them via courier for a free fix, as per their lifelong guarantee with all expenses paid. So, as soon as I could, I sent them to Germany.

About a week later, I got an e-mail confirming that the now eyelash-free binoculars were ready and that they had been sent by courier back to me to arrive the next day. It was a very pleased me that went to the courier office at the FAO building as I was anxious to get them back.

I was so excited that I was there even before the courier office opened! When I managed to get in, the binoculars had not yet arrived and I was told to come back in the afternoon as the delivery was expected by late morning. Disappointed, I went back to my office until it was time to return.

I knew, by looking at the face of the courier employee, that there was a problem before she spoke. “Sir, we have a problem. Unfortunately our van carrying all parcels for today was robbed and your parcel is one of the ones lost”. My heart sunk and, although I heard that the Police was investigating the event , bla, bla, bla… I was sure of the final outcome so I thanked her and walked away, distraught.

Back in the office I called Germany and my technical contact went mute for a long while. Then I said that the parcel should have been insured but, surprisingly, he was quite cagey about it and I had the impression that it was not![1] In desperation I told him that I had an imminent bird watching trip to Uganda and that I needed them badly.

Luckily my plead worked and he offered to send me a replacement immediately, item that I got next day. I checked it and it was -luckily- hairless this time and I have enjoyed their great clean optics ever since.

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Bushsnob with hairless binoculars. Of course the only visible difference is the ageing of the user!!!

 

[1] I still do not know if the parcel was insured or not!

Environment panacea?

While in Kruger National Park we stopped at the Nkhulu picnic site in the Southern part of the park to have a break and stretch our legs. The place is adjacent to a small river that was still having some water. This fact made the place attractive for birds and mammals alike.

As soon as we walked in we noticed great excitement as people were congregated by the river edge watching the opposite margin. We soon discovered the reason for such a hoo-ha: a pair of leopards were having a stroll! We postponed our coffee for a while and watched the magnificent animals until they moved off into the thicket. Now, that is an arrival!

We did have our coffee among the excitement that gradually faded but that was somehow renewed every time we were raided by the baboons that were also numerous in the site and a pest throughout the park nowadays. After a while of fending off monkeys and with the image of the leopards still in our minds, it was time to resume our drive so we returned to the car park. Another surprise awaited us.

A car offering “Environmental Remediation” was parked near ours. My first thought was that the Park authorities had already sought a solution to prevent the future problems that the Park would face because of the drought. The knowledge that such an alternative existed made me also forget my concerns about the future of the world while realizing that I had been wrong all along!

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Regrettably and almost immediately my common sense brought me down to earth on that to clean up the latter we need more than that! As I have seen septic tank-emptying tankers labeled under some weird names such as “Honey sucker” I thought that it was probably another one. In any case, I soon forgot about the unusual find!

Once at home, I Googled the company and, to set the record straight, they define their activities as: “… a specialist environmental contracting service, providing assistance to consultants and industry in the monitoring, management and remediation of contaminated land and water throughout the African Continent.”[1]

So, they would not be able to solve the earth’s environmental degradation but I am sure that they provide useful services in their field.

 

[1] See: http://www.georem.co.za/index.html