The Chronicles of the Mexican Horse Thief X – Rhino Wars II
My mission is to do something pro active about the Rhino poaching, while in Cape Town I made a choice, join up with a Private Military Company or help the Rhino. See: Private Military Company vs Anti-Poaching. It has been a treacherous road ……
Rhino Wars Part II.
I had met up with Selomie and Neil in Pretoria, at the meeting we discussed my idea of how to set up an APU. (Anti Poaching Unit) This idea I had while in Cape Town and I refined it over a couple of months, even wrote a few Blog posts on the idea. In retrospect this was not very bright! At this meeting I was invited to go up to the farm, Palala is also a very posh Game Lodge. On this visit I stayed at the Lodge, and was at the main house at lot, also an impressive building with a lot of staff. Here I met for the first and only time Marche Poole, a very loud and slightly over weight blonde from Cape Town, Selomie’s biggest advocate. When Neil and I were suppose to have a meeting, he was playing golf, by the time he got back a meeting would not be productive as I observed some time must have been spent at the 19th hole. The next day we did have a meeting and it was decided that I would go get my kit and move into a Hut deeper in the mountains. I could not just get my kit collected as I had to also go to the Home Office and collect my new ID and Passport. My British Lady and Neil discussed the financial side of this venture and I will not say much about that, leave it to them, all I wanted to do was get in the bush and do my thing.
A friend of My British Lady, Blikkies, was kind enough to cart me around; he also bought a beautiful pair of binoculars for me to take with. So I was all set to move, but on the Friday Neil was suppose to collect me he had some excuse why I could not come up. Many calls between myself and My British Lady later, the next Friday I was told I would be picked up. On that Friday: I have always suspected that Selomie did not like me and this was con firmed by an email she sent My British Lady just hours before I was supposed to be picked up. I get sent a copy these are a few of the things Selomie wrote:
Just a few things Wayne should know before he comes here:
The staff are allowed no drinking. I am not here to be his mother. Wayne will have to entertain himself, I do not do small talk. The privacy of my home is important to me.
Ok. I can stay away from booze for years at a time, even if I feel I am not on her staff, as My British Lady is paying me not her. Hell, my British Lady is looking after me before I even get an anti-poaching job, sending me funds and paying for the places I stay. But the rest? On the Weekend I was there, Selomie commented on more than one occasion that I was too quiet? My first thoughts of that they are just using My British Lady for funds to fix up their farm surface, build a nice “Hunter’s Retreat” on the pretext of setting up an APU? I keep these thoughts to myself and file them for future reference. I then get a call from Selomie, she thinks I cannot come up yet because the place has nothing, she cannot pick me up as the place has no water. I mention that there is a whole dam just meters from the Hut, and if we are to fix it, would it not be better if I was on site? We get cut off. Mails fly between My British Lady and I. Seems funds are not in Palala account yet but Selomie calls me a bit later, telling me they will pick me up shortly and I will have to work very hard this Weekend. My British Lady calls and informs me that she will give me X amount each month but pay it into an account Blikkies is setting up, but she will make sure I have food and the basics. She then very kindly asks me to take no offence, but she knows alcoholics very well and this way shall be better. I took no offence I was in fact rather touched, it is not what you say, it is how you say it. Although I am not so sure I will get food and stuff, as Selomie does not give a shit about my well being, and I was not too far off. Never mind, I will just GO, I know I will survive and this is so close to getting my Rhino mission off the ground I must go. I get info that Selomie and Neil are in a meeting with Blikkies and that he will come up to the farm on Sunday. Neil and Selomie arrive, I bid, Nicky goodbye and we set off, we are in Neil’s brand new Izuzu 4×4 DoubleCab. I get told they are going to a 3 to 4 hour meeting with Wildlife Ranching RSA, and I shall have to wait in the car, shit, I have no book with me. Neil is smoking so I light up a cigarette, Selomie dresses me down, but seriously! I mention quietly that as Neil was smoking I had naturally presumed it would be alright to smoke too. So she picks on him for a while.
We reach Naboomspruit, drive through the suburbs, there we stop to pick up a blonde woman that looks to be in her late 50’s. This is Joma. Then we proceed over some mountains, around a corner and down the road, on the way to the meeting, the two ladies chat away in their language, which is Afrikaans. I watch the bush go by and see a few different species of antelope and a warthog or two. The meeting is been help in a 5 Star Lodge, I have the feeling that Joma will not be waiting in the car with me. No surprise there. The local DIY have set up a stall in the parking lot and one of the items on display is a Solar geyser, I get prices from the friendly salesman, he switchers to English when he hears my atrocious accent. The leave, now I have to kill time. I put the straps on my new binocs, and then go try them out. After the parking lot is a beautiful plain and on it are, Impala, Wildebeest, Ostrich, Monkeys and Giraffe, I silently thank the Colonel for the binocs. I hang around the vehicle, a guy comes out carrying and ice cold beer, aaarrrhh! People start leaving and I falsely think we may go shortly. I have seen Selomie take a drink but know Neil likes the stuff, so being who I am I should know that this is going to take some time. The sun sets. At 7pm my crew finally comes out, all chat to me now and I know exactly why. We take a backroad which are dirt but not in bad condition. We see a few owls; one Barn Owl just sits in the middle of the road looking at us for while. Then we see a Caracal! Rooikat, my original unit 7 South African Infantry’s mascot. The road takes us through another Lodge’s property. We finally get to the farmhouse, looks like I will sleep here tonight and I am quite relieved; if I was dropped at the Hut I would go to bed with no supper! As I have not eaten since the previous evening I am rather hungry. As it is we get Boerewors Rolls and 2 cups of coffee, what a bonus! It is a good thing that I did not bring a months worth of food though as the bakkie was full to the brim anyhow. I get a cottage just off the main house; it also serves as Neil’s office. The bed is huge; even Evonne’s long legs would not hang over this bed! I took a good hot bath which may be my last one for some time and hit the sheets.
The next day I get up at 6:30am, only one old lady that is a house guest is about, I have a couple of mugs of coffee. After my 3rd cup the rest of the house stirs, Neil and Selomie get their small army of workers moving, the men’s first job is to pack a nice new Landcruiser with kit for my Hut. Cot, spade, panga, two huge water bottles, a table all get loaded. I add my personal kit, one civilian bag, army hiking bag and battle jacket. Selomie gives me: cast iron pots, two pillows, a sheet, a large plastic tub, a dish towel, dish washing liquid and a few other odds and ends. One man I did not see the last time I was here is helping, and so I meet Jan the tracker. He has a surly disposition, I surly will find out why during the course of my stay, by his small statue I can see he is from the Pedi Nation. We set off for the Hut, Selomie driving, Joma riding shotgun with Jan, myself and Lucas who is the farm foreman sitting on top of the kit. My Hut is part of an old sheep dip structure, made of bricks with a tin roof, windows on the East and West side. Looking out either window one has the view of mountains just a couple of hundred meters away, magnificent. Attached to the rear is the sheep dip structure and it has been halfway completed to a shower and toilet, albeit a very narrow one. As it was a sheep dip it only had two walls, the long ones, remember this fact. A huge hole is slightly downhill from the entrance to the toilet, for a French Drain, it needs to be filled with rocks, this fact is also important. This is all raw concrete, even the roof and on said roof is a 1000lt container that will be used for water. Selomie and Joma inspect the area as we men unload the kit. Once that is done I have a look inside my Hut and find: a bundled up carpet, bit rotten, the under felt, a dead frog, a wooden kitchen plate display cabinet and some broken glass. The wasps have made their little mud nests all over the walls which they share with the spiders, lots of both. A mini Boma has been build from rock just outside the door, it is full of weeds, but has some interesting iron chairs spread about. I find out later Selomie made these chairs and a lot of the iron artwork on the farm is hers as well. A bit of cleaning up and this place will be perfect!
Selomie, Joma and Lucas leave. Jan and I begin to clean up, I am happy, I am back in the bush, where I belong. I drag the mouldy carpet out into the sun, it has a light coat of fine white dust covering it; dried out and swept, it will do. Jan attacks the hut with a broom, wasps and spiders flee in front of his furious onslaught. As there is only one broom and he is doing so well anyhow I tackle the weeds in the crushed stone floor of the Boma. Lucas arrives back but in the old Landcruiser, he has his baby son, a hammer and a chisel with him. He disappears around the back to the bathroom area and load banging commences. Jan and I finish our tasks and chat a bit, he has no English and I have no Pedi so we converse in Afrikaans. Since I seldom speak the language I struggle a bit but it will come back to me. I find out from Jan, not Selomie that he and I will be working together, not Mishack, the main ranger, and I. Lucas finishes what ever he was doing and he and Jan leave together. I start sorting out my new home, God, I would kill for a cup of coffee. Over the last few days no-one, My British Lady, Colonel Blikkies, Selomie or I have worked out a plan to put some provisions in the Hut. Earlier in the morning Selomie asked me for a list of what I needed, I will come to hate writing shopping lists over the next few days. I am hope she will bring it early today, I need that coffee more than food. I am doubtful. At my West window a small colourful bird appears, he pecks on the glass as if to gain my attention then begins to sing. He keeps this up the whole morning.
My hearing is very bad, I have lost some frequencies, but bass I hear before most “hearing” people, perhaps it is because all the other noise is cut out? I hear one now. I check it out with my binocs, my driveway is very long. It is Selomie and Joma, great I will have coffee soon! Not so, they have just come to take photographs of me to put on facebook in order to show my British Lady. I am forced to pose for a few photos, hate it. Selomie is unusually friendly? As they leave Joma gives me a whicker basket, in it are two stainless steel pots, my food. My word, one has enough pap to feed a platoon and the other has Boerewors of the same proportion. I do not understand these women. The rest of the afternoon I spend doing a recce of my area, taste the dam water, not so good and seeing my wood supply is sorted. I fill three bottles of water from the dam, these I will use to wash dishes and clothes with. The little bird is still at it and I see the first large animal in my backyard. A Waterbuck running hell for leather, I immediately try find what is chasing him, there is a huge Leopard that live here, I saw his spoor on my first visit. He is large and audacious, he even tried to take out one of the smaller Rhino! I see him not, could be he sees me, Leopard are the masters of stealth and camouflage. Meanwhile my fire is going nicely and I put my Potjie (three legged pot) on with water in order to wash. There I am, buck naked, and what do I hear? A bloody vehicle! Mad dash to get some clothes on, finding them in the dark was problematic. I had just put my pants on and Selomie and Joma pull up, not only that but Selomie’s mother and another grey-haired lady for good measure. There are two bales of Lucerne on the rear of the Landcruiser too, they are going to feed the Rhino. I went with before, these huge animals are just like dogs, come running when they know you are about to feed them. Off we go, my job is to throw chucks of Lucerne off the back for the Rhino. If one does not spread it about they fight, again just like dogs. They have a few tussles anyhow, ever seen a Rhino fight a mere meter from where you stand, in an open bakkie? Awesome. First a bellow of air through the nostrils, then a quick clash of horns, clack, clack, like a sword fight. No sound I can describe actually sounds like two Rhino horns clashing. Another thing is one has to be quick, the large female has been known to lift the back of the Landcruiser with her horn if she feels you are not! We head back to the farmhouse and COFFEE! I get fed as well. I bum some coffee off Selomie to take back to my Hut. Neil has been working in his office the whole day and he is tired, so along with Lucas’ 9 year old son we head back to my Hut. My fire still has hot coals so water is put on for, you guessed it, coffee. The lamp Nicky gave me does not work, lucky I have a “shake up” torch, one of which Selomie handed out and a small LED headlamp. I drink coffee and read by torchlight, the wind is howling down the small valley I live in. Something is loose outside and banging, I will check in the morning.
The next morning is miserable weather, cloudy and the wind has not abated, it has also rained and the grass I use as Firelites is sopping wet as is the wood. I did stash some dry Rhino dung in the bathroom though, not my first time living in the bush you see? That under a small piece of candle wax and I am soon drinking coffee. The banging outside is driving me nuts, I go try find the source. The corner of my Huts tin roof is loose, the wooden rafter has rotted away and the nail has fallen out. No problem, plenty of big rocks around here. I collect the largest one I will be able to get on to the roof, by myself, with and the problem is solved, or so I think. Nope, more banging, the other corner! Repeat process. I go in the bathroom and see my little noisy bird has a nest there, I think all the noise is him telling me to shove off! The wind is still blowing like as in Cape Town. Yesterday I washed some clothes and then hung them over the Iron chairs in the Boma; Murphy’s Law, one T-shirt was blown into the fire. I have my coffee and then go in search of the big Leopard or his spoor; I only find Antelope and Giraffe spoor. It is Sunday, Selomie arrives at about 1pm, Blikkies is at the farmhouse, I jump in the cab and she immediately complains I smell of smoke. No shit Sherlock, I have been making fires with wet wood, duh. She DEMANDS I go and change. This woman has serious social skills deficiencies. I do not enjoy conflict, funny hey? So I go change, we arrive at the house; Selomie is most definitely “wining and dinning” Blikkies and indirectly My British Lady. We have a large lunch served to us on a splendidly decked out table. After lunch we get a tour of the Rhino Boma and a very beautiful Cycad Garden. The Cycad are dug up out of the mountains, the thought crosses my mind, is it not illegal to dig up Cycads even if they are on your own property? I say nothing but file this for future reference. While we are in the Cycad Garden two off-road motorbikes arrive at the house, when we get back coffee and cake are being served on the patio. I carry a tray of cakes through and there the bikes sit, one old guy and a young woman. I do a double take…. The young woman is no other than Jolandie Rust! Her and I know each other quite well, she caught my attention when she was preparing to be the first woman to bicycle through South Africa, her and I kept in communication throughout her epic journey, then I made a point of meeting her in person. Before I met her I was doing my Pilanesberg tour thing, then Shanti got my attention, but that is another tale altogether. Neil is amazed that I know her and Selomie just makes her normal sarcastic comments. I get a nice hello hug and another goodbye hug when Jolandie leaves. Neil takes us on a Game drive in the other old Landcruiser, so Blikkies can see the place, our first stop is my Hut then the area that needs patrolling. In the vehicle are: Joma, Mishack, Jan, Blikkies and his wife, oh Neil and I too. Joma is now talking to me? We do the tour and then go to feed the Rhino, while we are doing that Selomie arrives in the new Landcruiser picks up Jan and Mishack and leaves. Later we go back to the Lodge; all the staff are dressed up and in attendance. Wow. All the stops have been pulled on this one. Neil says a prayer and we have to hold hands, Selomie is on my right and Joma on my left, the irony of this is not lost on me. Then we dig in to a magnificent meal. During the meal Neil brings up the subject of Jolandie again, I really do not want to go into this, with these people in particular. But there I go, tell them I was romantically interested in her but another young woman got my attention. Neil says but she is so young and I reply, “No younger than the woman I just left in Pretoria.” Way to go Bisset, shock a table full of conservative Afrikaners’. Man I need to just stay in my Hut and do patrols, only problem is there is no food at my Hut.
Day 4, first official working day. I wait for Jan until 7:30am, he said he would meet me here then set out towards the Lodge, I will go see how Blikkies is doing. Blikkies calls a meeting and I tell him my only real concern is food, the rest is what I know how to do, counter insurgency. He concurs this is a real problem. I then tactfully broach the subject of Selomie’s difficult personality and that communication between us is non-existent. Hell, it is with him too! He does not even know if she is here or not. I am not THAT worried about going hungry, the staff and I get on very well, I know these people will not let me starve, just the careless attitude towards people “below” her of Selomie make me push the point. It turns out Selomie has indeed left for Pretoria, Blikkies says he will go shopping for me, what a good man. So, another list is made of what I need, Blikkies’ wife adds a bit to it. They leave and I hunt down the farm foreman, Lucas. I need a door latch, the monkeys and baboons have already noticed my presence, I do not need my Hut’s interior ripped up by either group. On the wall by my bed are old monkey paw prints, they know this place and will associate it with food. I also need a wheelbarrow in order to fill my French Drain with rocks. Lucas and crew are bolting an old conveyor belt around the Rhino Boma. Good reason for this; when a new Rhino arrives and is placed in the Boma it will be less stressed if it cannot see out. I chat with the staff for a while then set off for my Hut. Although it was rather chilly when I left it is now damned hot, walking the few kilometres through the open grassland I notice the impala have already sought the shade, all that is moving are a few lizards and agamas. Since the promised gas stove is pie in the sky it seems a good idea to prepare for wood fire cooking, I believe that Blikkies WILL bring food. I have a stock of wood next to my Boma but no kindling. However, just to the left of my Hut and across the dirt road are two huge Wild Fig trees, plenty of kindling under those. I take a large bag and collect a lot, thinking I had better stash some under cover, making a fire with wet wood is possible but no fun. A few hours later Lucas arrives, he tells me Blikkies will not be coming, Neil has instructed him to take me to town. Neil has authorized Lucas to give me some money for food. I climb aboard and we go back to the farmhouse, there we load a Corsa bakkie with plastic drums, Mishack, Lucas and I set off for town. Naboomspruit is now called Mookgophong; I need a bloody map to find my way around with all these new names. The town is about 40km from Palala; first we drive on a sand road and then get to the tarmac. Most of the way there are fences on both sides and apart from cattle farms there are a lot of Game farms. I see some Nyala, not often I see them outside Kwazulu-Natal. Once in Naboomspruit we begin to do some shopping, on African time! First we go to a shop that looks similar to Shoprite but is not, the selves have limited quantity of stock but the items are very cheap, using a tin of Riccoffee as an example the place is 10% cheaper. I get what I can but still need to go to a Spar to get some origanium and Grandpa Headache Powders. I see some really pretty Afrikaans women, problem is their brothers are huge and both their brothers and fathers have shotguns and rifles and…. Well just lots of guns. We get the rest of my supplies, leave Mishack in the parking lot and move off. Lucas drives to a Boere Agricultural garage and shop, here we fill all the drums with fuel. After that we cross a railway line that divides the town and pull up at the Licensing Department. There is only 1, yes 1, other vehicle there! Coming from Gauteng to this is a shock. Even on the outskirts of Gauteng you are extremely fortunate if you have only 15 or 20 people in front of you. While Lucas is inside I cross the road to look at the graveyard, I take a photo of a sign, “Rules of the Graveyard.” Nearly get hit by the only car on the road when crossing over, get sworn at by the driver, and go wait for Lucas. We then drive back to the parking lot where we left Mishack, he is no where to be seen. So we push off down the main street. Lucas stops at a petrol station with a brand name I have never seen before; the last drum gets filled with fuel. We then stop at a gas place and Lucas asks how much it is to fill a medium size bottle, R71.00. Off we go again, this time to an After School Centre, here we pick up Lucas’ older son, short stop and off again. Back to the parking lot, Mishack is there, he and a friend climb in the back. Lucas seems to know everybody and he chats with them all, at last we are on our way. But no, 15km down the road is a shopping centre of sorts, consisting of a general store, bottle store and a pub. Mishack and friend get out; Mishack goes into the general store while his friend hits the bottle store. They finish up and climb back in. No, we are not leaving yet. Mishack and Lucas decide they will visit the general store together, bored I tag along. Glad I did looking at the long dark haired, dark eyed beauty behind the counter sure relieved my boredom for a while. We finally get back in the vehicle and drive to the farm, Lucas goes straight to the farmhouse. Mmm, how to carry all these groceries back to my Hut? One of the staff, Gift, tells me he will take me. We get into the older Landcruiser, Gift can speak English so we talk about this and that. It is now rather late, I first pack the food in the cupboard, do not want the monkeys to see it, and then make a fire. I had bought some pork chops and had to eat them right away, they would go bad in this heat. I am damn hungry any how. Pork chops, baked beans and fresh chili’s for supper. After I had eaten I drag a large piece of hardwood into the fire as I plan to make my own charcoal. I wake up at 1am and the fire is still smouldering so I make a cup of coffee and look at the stars. The stars are so thick out here that it is hard to find the different constellations, eventually I find the Southern Cross.
My little bird must be after that proverbial worm, he starts pecking at my window just before 5am. My fire is still very hot, I spread the coals so they will die out. While having my coffee I hear, on the slopes of the mountain to my right, the warning cry of the Baboons. “Borghom, Borghom”. I immediately think, “Leopard!” I rush to get my binocs and before I even lift then see something greyish moving along the slopes. Using the binocs I find a family of Bush Pigs running along, not Warthog, Bush Pig. They look like the cartoon Boar in Asterix and Oblix. I am not too disappointed, having often heard them in the night I have never spotted one in the bush before. I make my morning notes and then pack my Battle Jacket, where a magazine of bullets is suppose to go now holds a Cannon Powershot camera, the rest of the magazine pockets are largely empty. I have modified the Jacket so my binocs are easily accessible but do not bang around; other pockets hold water bottles and Super C sweets. And of course, my pen and paper. I walk the few kilometres to the farmhouse to meet up with Jan, the day is overcast and I see only a few Impala on my walk. I am meeting with Jan because it is his main task each day to find the Rhino and see that they are safe. As I have said, Jan is a Pedi, he grew up here and knows the area better than anyone. He is an excellent tracker and has already been responsible for the capture of more than one group of Cycad poachers. He knows where every Cycad is in this property. We start climbing the mountain in the area where Jan says the Rhino should be. We do not speak as we do not want to scare the Rhino off before we can do a visual check that all are ok. The bush is thick with open patches here and there. One can see the Rhino’s favourite spots, open patches under a taller tree; the Rhino leave imprints of their skin on the sand. Roughly 45 min after we reached the mountain we find the Rhino in some thick bush; looking much like large rocks one can easily miss seeing even these huge creatures in the thick bush. We take a rest and discuss how we can use our combined skills in this ant-poaching business. On the way down we see a Giraffe with a very young calf and some Wildebeest. I leave my phone on charge in the garage, even though my server is useless out here my phone is also my only time piece, and move back to my Hut. I am hungry so eat the second chop and some tinned baked beans. The charcoal making has been successful, the fire is out and I collect a shopping bag full. I am procrastinating moving all those rocks for the French Drain, so read a bit. That got me to thinking about last nights spiders. There I was, minding my own business reading a book by torchlight while lying on my bed. As it was hot I was shirtless, next thing I get this tickling feeling on my chest, which is hidden from view by the book. Now, I am not paranoid about spiders, not even really afraid of them, that said, I have also seen the damage some of them can inflict. The problem is, unlike with snakes, I have no idea which spider is harmless and which is not. The one on my bare chest looked similar to the ones I have seen in gardens in Gauteng. Brushing him off and making sure in the dim light that he had really skedaddled I continued reading. Then! Another spider landed on my neck. It ran down my neck and on to my chest in seconds. This kind of spider I have never seen before, shape of a Daddy Longlegs but lime green and pale yellow. After that I pulled the bed cover right up to my chin, never mind how hot it was.
I move a grand total of 2 large rocks. Pushing a wheelbarrow over sourgrass is a daunting task. One progresses 20cm then hit a clump of sourgrass, either a dead stop or the wheelbarrow tilts over. With the latter it is worse, you have to load the rocks again. No man, either Lucas or Gift must bring a vehicle. I walk instead back to the farmhouse to retrieve my phone. Then walk all the way back again, not 10 mins later some of the guys arrive in the Landcruiser with industrial size lawnmower. Shit! They could have given me a lift. I ask what they are doing and find out they will mow the sourgrass around my Hut. Ok. My phone just went dead and I ask Gift if he will charge it overnight and then give it to Jan. He has no problems with that. All of a sudden the guys working behind my Hut start shouting excitedly. A snake! I am barefoot but run to look anyhow. Turns out to be a 30cm long Rhombic Night Adder, so I just grab it by the tail and haul it off deeper in to the bush. I am remembering the pain from my Adder bite a few years ago so do this with due caution. I am cooking chicken stew, with a packet bought at that cheap store. Horrible off cuts, at R6 a packet what can one expect. Mishack insisted I buy this item and in the name of diplomacy I did not tell him what I thought. A bit of fresh chilli can fix anything. Waste not want not and I’ll be damned if I waste the little food I have. Surprisingly the stew turned out bloody nice, better than some of the chicken stews my girlfriends have made me. Since I have way too much for one person I dish up a fair size bowl and give it to the guys with some bread. Sum total of one spoon, but the guys do not seem to mind. One of them returns my bowl, clean, and says in English, “Thank you, it was very good.” They leave shortly after that, I presume Lucas will come later to collect the machine and stuff, I hope so because it looks like rain. He does come and as he is not happy with the area trimmed the machine stays. He also tells me that Jan and I will do a perimeter check along the fence tomorrow. Great!
Making my fire that night was a gas, pun intended. I flinched some petrol from the lawnmower’s supply! At this time I am bathing by heating a little water on the fire and washing in the plastic tub as I do not wish to pollute the dam with soap. I clean up and then cook, getting that smoky smell back again I suppose. The fire is kept going well in to the evening, for coffee of course. This week has been for learning and settling in and I am learning what I will need to make life a tad more comfortable. A gas cooker and gas lamp would be nice. For the time? If my phone dies on me I know my bird taps on the window just before 5am and the Baboons cross back over the mountain at about 5pm. Next I think I should take my British Lady up on the offer of a Quad Bike, the time wasted walking to and from the farmhouse is bad.
Next morning I meet up with Jan and we set off to do the perimeter check. Starting at the main gate with a steep climb almost immediately it is the first mountain we have to climb today. I learn something else, I know you get gym fit and then bush fit, now I see mountain fit is even harder. Once on top the view is magnificent but more importantly it is a view of the Rhino’s most frequented area. I rest and get my pen and paper out, I am re-thinking my strategy. I was expecting to be in a relatively flat area in the bushvelt, now I am in mountain country. Here the idea to set up Observation Posts (OP) will be the way to go. I scout for an ideal spot and draw a rough map of the area and mark it, I continue to do this the whole day. By the end of the day I have a very good plan, even if I say so myself, on how to use the least men and vehicle and secure this place very well. I write it all down and later give it to Neil. With hindsight, that was F-ing dumb! Right now I am thinking, if every time we do a perimeter check we carry extra water and some cans of food, we can stash them up here, that way we will have a self-sufficient OP in no time. Two guys can get in position and remain for a few days, yes! I like it. If those two guys see anything they radio my Hut and two Rapid Deployment guys jump on a Quad and will be in the hot spot in no time at all. Jan and I move on. About and hour later I find my second OP spot, again I mark it on my home made map. The going is hard and although it is spitting a few drops of rain every now and then I am wet from sweat underneath my Jacket. Hell, I have to stop smoking. We go over a couple more mountains and then take a break for lunch. Jan and I have a lot of time to talk and I find out all sorts of things. What is bad is he has a torn hat, really wreaked pair of takkies and a sling bag in about the same condition. He normally does this trip all alone. I am thinking that a first-aid kit, a radio and, hell a whole bunch of other things are needed here. And DEFINITELY no one should do this trip alone, one snake bite and the guy is tickets. I find out how much the black people here dis-like Selomie, typical rich white woman exploiting the local black population. This is not good for the “Hearts and Minds” campaign I have in mind. Jan tells me he was sent out alone and un-armed to track the Cycad Poachers, the reward promised was not forthcoming. Did Selomie get something and not share? I do not know. I am growing to dislike this woman more and more. This is not good, as I am living and setting up an APU on her land. Neil may be the man and earn the money but there is no doubt who wears the pants round here. With this information today the only solution I can see is to cut a line between the farmhouse and the APU. The APU trackers will have to be treated MUCH better that Jan seems to have been. I have much to think about. Jan just has some pap for his lunch, I have a tin of Bully Beef, we share.
Lunch over we walk, down a mountain across a dirt road and just straight up again. The dirt road is the one I came in on a week or so ago. We pass the carcass of a Giraffe, it is old and the scavengers have eaten most of it, only the skin and bones remain, this time no pun intended. As there are only Brown Hyena here and not Spotted Hyena nothing has the jaws strong enough to crush the bones. Anyhow, on my recce weekend I asked Neil about this property, I was concerned about the access point here. Neil said it was not a problem. That is all. Jan and I reach a plateau about halfway up the rocky mountain. He points out holes in the ground, un-natural holes dug in between big rocks. There use to be Cycads there. Where did the poachers come through? Edeweni, the next door neighbour place, very up market Game Lodge? The point I asked about? I think about it. From this high up we can see most of the Game farm next door. Jan tells me that if one turns left at the other Lodge’s gate there is just a short sand road then tarmac. I feel that this is the way Rhino poachers will come, if they come. There are two Tour buses at the gate, where I stand will be OP 3. I put myself in poacher’s shoes and see the whole plan. For obvious reasons I shall not share it here. It is in my hand written notes and I shared it with Neil telling him how we could counter act this. Again the fool. If we go ahead with the APU, (apparently I am on a 3 month probation, my British Lady says that it is Selomie that demanded this, Blikkies tells me it was my British Lady that made the clause. People drive me nuts, where is the truth? I don’t know and have no idea how to find out. Already there are lies being told, before we even bloody start. ) my Hut will cut off one access with a radioman constantly on duty no one can pass that way. I add to my map.
Jan and I set off, up, up, up. By the time we are on top of this mountain we can see yet another neighbour’s farm. This is a Big 5 Game Lodge. Jan believes that this cuts off any poaching route. Cycad poachers perhaps, Rhino poachers hunt in Big 5 territory all the time so this area must be watched too. We start our decent and finally come to a cliff, no way down here. The view is spectacular; on the neighbour’s farm I see some Wildebeest then 2 Buffalo. After a short rest we turn sharp right and head for the interior of Palala, and my Hut, I am tired and hungry. By 4:45pm we reach my Hut, Jan leaves and takes my filthy clothes with him, apparently the staff’s clothes are laundered on Mondays and Thursdays, wish I had known that last week. Again the communication gap between Selomie and I is showing. I am so happy to see Lucas has left a gas bottle with a cooking ring in my Hut, last thing I feel like doing is building a fire. I make coffee and then put water on to heat so I can bathe, I am not smelling good at all. I have Rusks and coffee, then two boiled eggs for supper, read until 9pm them sleep.
My bird come alarm clock wakes me up just before 5am, what a pleasure not to have to build a fire in order to have morning coffee. Surprisingly enough my leg muscles are not stiff at all. Today I will check out what I now call Sector 2. This means we start off with a serious climb up to the MTN tower. But first we must back track to the base of the cliff and check that fence too. The Brown hyena was on patrol as usual last night; he walks the road every night. No Leopard spoor. We get to the fence and I look at the mountain we must climb, shit, I am feeling all of my 47 years this morning. When we finally get to the MTN tower I plonk myself down with out even taking my Jacket off. Yesterday I had given Jan some of my Tang cooldrink powder, the ladies (staff) at the farmhouse had mixed it and then placed it in the deepfreeze overnight. I gratefully drink some of this now. We do not rest long, Jan shows me a plant he calls a Koffeeplant telling me if one dries the leaves and then brews them in water it makes a coffee like drink. I shove a handful of leaves in my Jacket. I see a Kori Bustard; the world’s largest flying bird they can weigh in at about 20kg! I have seen one in flight, once! The day is again very hot, humid and overcast, we disturb a Mozambique Spitting Cobra, and the venom of this species is predominantly cytotoxic, causing serious local tissue damage and often requires skin grafts, only slight neurotoxic symptoms have been recorded. I can also spit in your eyes as the name implies. Still not a creature you would want to mess about with. Up here, far from help, I make no attempt to catch it in order to take a photo. Shortly after we see the snake we take a break and have lunch, Jan gives me some of his pap and I reciprocate by giving him half of my Bully Beef. Sector 2 is just one mountain, Jan calls it “Platkop” this literally translated means flathead, and true to its name once on top it is hard to believe that one is so high up. It looks like the grasslands below. Jan shows me another place where the Cycad poachers had come in. The waterways under the fence; the poachers lift the rocks and crawl under the fence. I think this is a good place to put a booby trap and while walking come up with a plan. Since it is illegal to use deadly force a Claymore is out of the question but a non-lethal Thunderflash and a flare attached to the fence would work. The Thunderflash with its incredibly loud bang would scare the shit in to the poacher and the flare would tell the APU and local police something was up. Again, later I share this idea with Selomie and Neil. Dumb. Jan and I finish the patrol; I go back to my Hut and after the inevitable cup of coffee, begin to write down a plan on how to secure Palala. Again I will not put this plan here, for obvious reasons. Stepping outside for a minute I am happy to see some Warthogs in my front garden! Which brings me to the subject of going to the toilet here at night, this is the procedure:
Open the door, do not go outside yet! Shine torch around to check for any yellow eyes. If that is a negative, shine torch on front step to check for Night Adders and such. Then with due caution do what you have to do.
I hear a vehicle approaching, it is Lucas, Selomie who is in Pretoria wants to talk to me. As I do not have an MTN sim card yet Lucas uses his phone to call her. She is very friendly and the reason for the call I am not sure? Anyhow she tells me that she will see me tomorrow. The next morning it is raining, I have no wet weather gear yet. Never mind, it remains warm. Jan and I find the Rhino then return to the farmhouse. The ladies there have not only washed my clothes but ironed them too! My clothes are in shock, I have not owned an iron for more than 7 years. I also ask them for a large needle and some thread, I plan to modify my Battle Jacket, the binocs are banging around too much, and I must make a plan. I have a chest magazine holder made from the same material as the Jacket; it can hold 8 magazines; that means 240 rounds of ammo. The Jacket has place for at least 6 more magazines; 180 rounds. One could start a small war with all that. That is a lot of ammunition, considering I do not even have an assault rifle it is rather funny. I walk back to my Hut and begin to unpick the items I want to use off the chest webbing. That done, I sew the modifications on the Jacket and make a loop with Velcro attachments this loop will go around the binocs. It looks like it shall work and I jump around a bit like a madman to check. Tomorrow I will field test the rig. After that I go over my hand drawn maps and my notes and fine tune my proposed plan for securing this area. Some of the things like the booby traps could use someone better trained than I at that sort of thing, so I make a list of my friends that I am sure will help. Army Engineers and Sappers.
I hear a vehicle approaching. It is the new Landcruiser therefore it must be Selomie. It is but Neil is driving, I get told to pack some gear as I will be sleeping at the house. Ah, flushing toilet! Once at the house we all sit on the patio and I give a report back, show them my maps etc. Selomie is the friendliest she has ever been? She gives me a few items that Blikkies has sent; two books, one on trees and one on birds. Better yet, a brand new SADF (South African Defence Force) raincoat. Selomie then gets a pen and some paper and we set about making a list of all the gear we will need. Neil, always a better source for info, lets me know that my British Lady has pledged R60 000.00 for the set up of my APU. Call me cynical, but this explains the friendliness, you see, my British Lady has insisted from the start that I am part of the deal. Just at that moment, speak of the Devil, my British Lady phones me, on Neil’s phone. We speak briefly and I give her a short version of the basic plan I have worked out. Later Selomie and I get in to the Landcruiser in order to find the Rhino, it is dusk. They are a few short kilometres from the farmhouse. Selomie calls to them; it is an incredible, mind-blowing, marvellous sight to see a crash of Rhino following your vehicle like gun dogs. Back at the farmhouse I get on a computer and access the internet, check my mail and facebook. Not much happening, my mates know that I am in the bush. I post some stuff and then Selomie and I go on a vehicle patrol outside of the farm’s perimeters. She is positively chatty, I am glad of this; we may come from different worlds but our aim seems to be the same. Protect these poor animals as best we can. I go back to the farmhouse and sleep.
My mornings may start of the same but they are by no manner of means repetitive. While Jan and I seek out the Rhino I see new things each day, plant and animal. This day we find our charges within 20 minutes which is good as all the staff have been instructed to gather in the main lounge at 9am. There is a showing of the film “Phila” on TV and the lounge has a very large screen TV. Phila is the Rhino that has survived not one but two poaching attacks. Selomie apparently help make and features strongly in the film. After the showing I get back on the internet, post on my Blog and facebook, put up a few photos. Later I do a vehicle patrol with Selomie along the surrounding dirt roads. I take note of the fishing camp nearby. Sunday I take a break and let Jan find the Rhino alone, I have a lot of mail I wish to send. For the first time since I started my Rhino Wars mission I ask for money, to be put in Palala’s account, not mine. One of my friends from the Executive Outcome days says he will come spend some time with me here, he is operational at present but will spend his leave here. I have many strange friends that fit well in my strange classrooms, the come in different categories I have pages and groups where I keep in contact with them. I contact my “military category” friends, giving them a lowdown on my Sitrep, my basic plan of action and ask for any advice or corrections to the plan. This way the plan is refined even further. Going outside I find the staff all dressed up, to a man. (or woman) They are off either to Church or the Shebeen, the latter been an informal drinking place. Selomie load a fair amount of them in Neil’s Izuzu and drives off. Neil watches sport on TV while I play on the net. Much later when Selomie returns I find she has bought me a month’s worth of groceries! Not been a smoker that is all that is missing; cigarettes. I can make a plan about that. I am very happy and pack all the items in to plastic bins, these are placed in the farmhouse’s very large food storage area. I can take what I need as I need it. As I must cart it on my back I take just enough food to last two days. And, of course, a large can of coffee. Selomie gives me the cost and then the receipt for the stuff, I am to email this to my Lady in Britain, as that is the agreement that has been made. I do the APU, stay on the property in my Hut and my Lady in Britain pays for my food. On the net a lot of my mail was about funding as I feel it is unfair to put the full weight of this project on my Lady in Britain.
Neil and I talk a bit; he wants to start an apiary on the farm. I get all excited. I tried to get Evonne to start one on her property a long time ago when we were going out. She vetoed the idea as bees and horses do not go well together. Neil prints a 60 page document on how to start an apiary for me to read, but before I read it I know one big problem here will be our Ratel, or Honey Badger, the boxes will have to be chained down! Then the invader Bluegum forest will be an excellent place to put bees, honey in the shops is often marked, “Bluegum Honey” and tastes bloody good. Way past the Bluegum is another area full of what we call “Suikerbos” direct translation is sugar bush, need I say more? Then the bombshell. Neil decides that his farm foreman’s 9 year old son, Thabo, need to get fit for the up coming rugby season. Thabo must get a his tent and some stuff and come and live by my Hut, then walk patrol with us each day! Pardon me for being stupid, but, already having Jan and I patrol un-armed is pushing it a bit, now we must take a kid along? That and on a lesser note he must come live with me, a man that has never had children himself, therefore does not really know what to do with them? Crazy, but what can I say, Neil’s farm and his workers. I have seen Neil’s army photo’s hanging on his office walls, but believe he has been out the military for too long, his thinking is seriously flawed. The plan goes ahead and Thabo, a pleasant little boy, gets dropped off with his kit. Lucas puts up a small tent for him and leaves. Thabo is scared to sleep outside and scared to tell Neil this, I tell him not to worry I won’t let him sleep outside and make a space for him in my Hut. Later Lucas arrives with food for Thabo, I have cooked already so we eat twice.
The next day after finding the Rhino I decide to do a road patrol, because of the child, we can go check out the Fish Farm. Still it is a long, dusty, hot walk. Walking past the farmhouse Thabo tells me he is goig to fetch his bicycle and will catch up with me. I wait for him at my Hut but he does not show for more than an hour, I go do my usual lone afternoon patrol. By 4:30 I return to my Hut. Later Lucas arrives with food for Thabo, I have cooked already so we eat twice.
The next day after finding the Rhino I decide to do a road patrol, because of the child, we can go check out the Fish Farm. Still it is a long, dusty, hot walk. Walking past the farmhouse Thabo tells me he is goig to fetch his bicycle and will catch up with me. I wait for him at my Hut but he does not show for more than an hour, I go do my usual lone afternoon patrol. By 4:30 I return to my Hut to see if Thabo is perhaps waiting for me. Speaking of which Jan is giving me a bit of up hill, trying to dictate what we do and where we go. As I am not his boss per se, Neil and Selomie shall have to decide what to do about this, if they want the anti-poaching done to the best of my ability they will have to speak to him. Meanwhile I am enjoying just being in the bush, where I belong. I found two tiny tortoises two days in row, both not as long as your standard Bic lighter. I do ask how the hell I got stuck babysitting all the way out here though. Children are ok, in small doses, and besides I like to be by myself for the most part. I have asked Jan to man another OP post, very close to the farmhouse, just higher up, I set myself up to watch the neighbours in OP 3, I am interested in how much traffic comes down the Enteweni road. Also with only the two of us this makes the most sense. I do wish I had a vehicle to move between points, hours are wasted with me having to walk to the farmhouse when I need something or have to speak to Jan. Thabo gets board with all the walking and watching, so he is sometimes about others not. The days go on. One day Thabo and I find a small Grass Snake, he is not afraid of snakes, just the dark.
Blikkies has called me to see how things are going, depending on where I am on the farm I get decent signal. Selomie has also phoned me, just to tell me 9 Rhino had just been killed in two days. Shit, with the manpower or rather lack thereof and no equipment, radios, weapons my job here is not just difficult it is damn near impossible! I rack my brains on how to solve this problem. At least I know Jan had them in his sight most of yesterday and today so they are safe. There is no human spoor on my two sides either. I believe that the poachers do not just walk in and shoot the Rhino, they send a recce first, this is the spoor I HAVE to pick up if they come. Meanwhile it rains and when it rains in the Waterberg it rains! My Hut has two leaks in the roof and as Murphy would have it both are above my bed. A fast re-arrangement of my sparse furniture and a Dixie under the leaks, I could even use the water to make coffee with when the Dixie’s fill up. Late that afternoon the raid abates, just a fine drizzle, I open my door to see what is happening outside. A solitary Baboon looking miserable in the wet; then I notices movement at my feet. Hell, the whole ground is moving! Thousands and thousands of minute frogs; the other unusual thing is that they are all moving up and away from the dam. I have to close my door because they start jumping up the step and into my Hut.
Selomie has gone to Cape Town for the premier of that movie we watched, “Phila” and Neil has a friend at the farmhouse. I am invited to sleep in the room next to Neil’s office and use the opportunity to get on the net. On Saturday Neil and his friend go off to play golf in Nylstroom, Jan and I do our usual routine, well we start anyhow. Suddenly both Jan and I pull up short. We both heard a sound that no anti-poaching guy wishes to hear. The only worse sound would be a zip/buzz thump and then the bang. The shot sounded like it came from about a kilometer in the opposite direction from the path we were walking. Shit, shit. What to do? We are reasonably sure the Rhino are in front of us, but not 100% sure, do we back track and find the source of the gunshot or hasten to where we think our Rhino are? I decide to go find out about the shot. The terrain is thick bush, gullies and rocks so it takes time to get to the point where we believe the sound originated. We have cell phone comms and I call Neil to see if he fired a weapon as the shot came from the direction of the farmhouse, or so we believed. Neil is on his way to town, he calls his foreman, Lucas, and gets all the workers mobilized to find the Rhino. Brave lot these little Pedis, they dash off into the bush unarmed, not even a panga or knobkerrie. Meanwhile Jan and I reach the area we think the sound came from. Nothing. Then two more bangs! This time it sounds like from behind the farmhouse. I scan the hill, nothing. Jan and I decided to go back to the place we last saw the Rhino tracks. Again about a kilometer or so, on the way we pick up two of the farm workers, we set routes and split up. Half a kilometer later we find Lucas and the signs of where our Rhino slept last night. Finally the two workers find our Rhino, all safe, just stressed out about all the noise the workers have been making. Neil and I have had some cell phone comms and he is already back at the farm. Because of the hills and the wind, Jan and I heard the sound echo and were in the wrong place, Lucas, closer to the sounds pin pointed it correctly but could not tell Jan and I in time as we were in a dead zone, no cell reception for some time. The farm behind us is not a game farm, perhaps they shot some pigs….
Point of this story? Any one that has worked with me in the bush before will verify that I am quite capable of doing this job, BUT, I am severely handicapped in my efficiency by lack of equipment and manpower. This was made glaringly apparent today.
I write and post the story on my Blog, then for the first time since I have been on my Rhino Wars Mission I ask for money. Still I ask not that it gets paid into my bank account but the Palala account. That night I watch DVD’s with Neil, but the next day my mail is overwhelming; many, many people pledge to help, again, Palala not Wayne Bisset personally. Selomie’s niece, Lize, calls me and informs me that she will help me with all this mail, sort of like a PA. Then I find out she will be coming up from Cape Town and be living at the farmhouse from January. Her and the man that gave me a ride to Palala on my recce weekend, Daryl, are an item. He was to help me with the APU but wanted too much money, I believe that Selomie was expecting my British Lady to pay him R35 000.00 a month! Shit! I am grateful for the cigarette money that she sends me, what the hell is up here? I have no patience for this type of shit. The next day I am not feeling very well at all. I am full of tick bites and as usual they have gone black and leak stuff. Yeach! Having had the fever more times than I can remember I know what is happening. I do not go out with Jan, just stay and work the net. One of my old Executive Outcomes buddies that said he will visit tells me he will bring medicine as well, he is also a Medic. The following morning I feel no better, Neil and his friend are leaving and I walk back to my Hut. I have to rest a few times along the way. I hate it when my normally strong body gets this weak. I rest a bit at my Hut, then that afternoon go on a short patrol and set up an OP. Late afternoon, get back to my Hut, take off my boots and promptly stand on a wasp! The wasp zaps me on my big toe, moment of pain then it is ok. My pain threshold is quite high, or? No brain, no pain?
As I am ill I call Jan and tell him to go ahead without me I overslept, I take Grandpa’s, drink coffee and then set off for the back fence. Lucas calls me at 10:30am asking if I have seen the Rhinos. Shit! Jan went after them at about 7:30am he does not answer his phone. I move in the direction where I think Jan will be, through thick bush. At 11:45am I spot Jan, he does not see or hear me, this old man has not lost it. I watch until he is out of site then climb higher. An hour later, with my binocs, I see Jan walking up the road towards the farmhouse; this means he has found the Rhino. I set up an OP and watch until 4pm, the Rhino move into the grasslands. I get one call: Selomie to tell me she will be on the farm later. I do not see her that night but the next morning walk back with Jan to the farmhouse. I am surprised to see Joma there, Selomie shows me a brand new Monocular Nightvision by Bushnell, that someone has donated. Joma calls me into the kitchen, the counter is full of groceries, mainly tinned goods. Joma tells me this is her contribution to the APU. Man, we have enough food to feed a few guys for a month, now we just need the guys and the equipment. The bad news is my British Lady phoned yesterday and told me she had a huge business deal go bad and she is feeling the pinch. The funds for my Hut will be delayed, this is bad but not the end of the world. I can live with no running water, making warm water to wash on the stove and cooking either with the gas or a fire. The food problem certainly seems to be sorted out. For cigarettes I can use my fax2email passive income. I would like to earn some money in order to buy a decent camera and get to a dentist but that can wait. I also have all those pledges from my American friends and will see what Selomie and Neil do with that. My cynical nature tells me although Neil put Daryl down for a R35 000.00 salary in the business plan he sent my British Lady, I doubt that they will offer me 10% of that. Ah well, I am living in the bush and doing what I feel is a good thing, no use in stressing about it. Besides Selomie will be giving me other things to stress about over the next 20 hours. She tells Jan and I to take the rest of the day off as we will be working tonight. I go to the food store and in order to get some supplies for my Hut, the food is not where I put it? My new stuff is missing and one of the plastic containers is missing along with a lot of the goods Joma had brought me. I find the container in the kitchen, it looks like most of the goods are here but the one coffee can has been divided up in little plastic bags. Women! All good intentions and all that but these two have no idea on how to run a military ops, as Selomie will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt later this evening. Jan and I meet at the prescribed time at the farmhouse, Selomie and Joma are sleeping, one of the housemaids tells us Selomie left instructions that Jan and I should go on a patrol and be back at 5:30pm for supper. What the hell, why not? We push off up the mountain behind the house, we can check the front fence and be back on time. When we hit high ground we spot our Rhino coming out of the thick bush all the way across the valley. While we are sitting watching them a small adder, no more than 30cm slithers right past Jan’s takkies! It has a very pretty pattern in shades of grey, brown and black. I am thinking Berg Adder but it’s head shape and pattern are wrong. It looks like a Horned Adder but again, no horns and the pattern is wrong. I catch it and look more closely, no, it’s head is more like a Periguey’s Adder but those are only found in the Namib Desert. I take a photo, I shall put it on my friend Janslang’s facebook page, he may know it. It will not it sit still for it’s photograph so I trap it with my boot, this works and it coils in a defense posture, prefect! All the time I was messing with this Adder it did not attempt to bite or strike at me once, all it did was try escape, snakes are not as vicious as people would believe. My British Lady calls. She tells me she has received a terribly snotty email from Selomie because of the delay in the funding, no, “Sorry you had such bad luck, lost money, “ or anything like that. Just more like when can you send the bloody money. Why am I not surprised. Just after that Selomie calls wanting to know where we are. Jan and I still have 30 min to get to the farmhouse by the specified time, what now? I tell her we are 15mins from the house, she says, “Hurry up!” and hangs up. Rude woman! As we approach the farmhouse I hear a Landcruiser leaving, this is so typical of Selomie! Jan and I sit around and wait and wait, Lucas tells me that Jan and I are going to the gate at the main dirt road. Finally Selomie gets back, she hands me a white wicker basket that contains food and cold drinks. She then tells me the plan; we are to sit at the main road and take down the registration of all the vehicles that pass. I am skeptical about the efficiency of the use of manpower here, but what can I say? An old civilian woman running a security ops….. Let me explain. As one comes from town the tar road becomes a dirt road, after a few kilometers there is a gate that leads to a number of farms, Lodges, an orchard and a Fish Farm. This gate is manned 24/7 by two men, therefore taking Jan and I out the field for the day, to rest which is very kind, then doubling us up with the men at the gate? Nonetheless Jan and I sit and do what we were told. I am not happy, any would be poachers would know that this gate is manned and never once have the Cycad poachers driven up to the gate and asked permission to go get Cycads. We are many kilometers away from where our Rhino sleep, Jan and I would not hear a full magazine of AK fired on automatic from here! I am getting more and more pissed off with Selomie, the way she treats me (and her staff for that matter ) and how she operates her so-called security. So far I have held my tongue, but I know that I will say something sooner or later and it will not be pleasant. In the next 7 hours a grand total of 6 vehicles have gone past us, Jan knows them all. The plan was Selomie would pick Jan and I up at 2am, at 2:45am I phone the woman and ask what is happening, I hear that I have woken her up. The other thing is that there is a huge storm brewing, I do not want to be pissed off and wet! I know that even if it is pouring Selomie will pick us up in the open back Landcruiser, heaven forbid her “workers” get to sit in her nice new Jeep Cherokee. Selomie and Joma finally arrive, we do not go back to the farm, we go on Selomie’s selected vehicle patrol route. The weather has turned bad and Jan and I freeze on the back of the bakkie, if we had being given ANY indication of the plan before hand we would have prepared better; brought a jacket and maybe some raingear with us. No consideration for people that work for her, this lady. I had heard some bad things from her staff when I first got here and gave her the benefit of the doubt, for the second time. The first was when I read the articles posted all over the net; her dealings with the notorious poacher Groenewalt. She never did explain that to me satisfactorily by the by. We do the vehicle patrol and I eventually get back to my Hut at just after 4am. I lie on my bed, drinking coffee and thinking. Jan actually does not have any rain gear…. and and and. I am trying not to have bad thoughts about this whole business all I actually want to do is help the Rhinos as best I can, I would like to earn some money for the things I mentioned before and be able to put some aside, I am not getting any younger. I sleep for ½ and hour then my internal clock wakes me up, I turn over and try get some more sleep, dozing until 8pm. It is raining heavily, normally I would go out regardless, today not. I worry when I get so pissed off, sometimes it lets loose my demons and I hit a serious drinking binge, I do not want this. I have no idea how to deal with Selomie but the one thing I did learn in the AA is; it is extremely difficult to change yourself, impossible to change others. Last night Selomie ordered me to be at the farmhouse at 10am today, although it is still raining hard I walk to the farmhouse. It took me 10mins longer than I anticipated, the paths I usually use were little rivers, Selomie phones me twice, both time before the demanded 10am. Then at 10am she calls and says I must be on time when she tells me to be somewhere as she has other (more important?) things to do. All my happy thoughts are gone and replaced with thoughts like: “Bitch, sitting in a dry office, waited on hand and foot by no less than 3 maids with a vehicle to drive in the rain…” When I get to the farmhouse at 10:10am Selomie tells me I must come back at 2pm! I have murder in my heart. I say nothing, collect some supplies and carry a heavy bag and heart back to my Hut. Halfway there I meet Gift and Mishack, they are trying to burn rubbish in the pit, and the rain has abated for a while. I ask Gift for a lift and while he is there could he collect Thabo’s stuff? He does that, as I cannot sit still I go look for spoor in the newly washed bush.
1:45pm. As I walk up the farmhouse road, for the 2pm meeting, Selomie and Joma drive past me, Joma waves. See why this woman, Selomie, can piss me off? I go into Neil’s office and start charging my phone, Neil has a few books so I sit and read. Some time past 3pm I hear the Landcruiser coming. Selomie gets one of the staff to summon me to her office, 2m from Neil’s and she had just walked right past me. She tells me Lize has emailed my fried Kobus’ number to her and it is obvious she has no clue who he is. Just the man that will sort our radio communications out, Selomie. I try explaining what has happened on the net and whom is prepared to donate what, this is all from my friends, mainly the soldier boys. She ignores me and works on her laptop, the finally looking up dismisses me like a naughty schoolchild. My fuse is now very short and I just walk back to my Hut. On the way back I see a tortoise and a large shedded snake skin, I concentrate on that. At 5pm I am eating, the first chance I have had to get some food today. I hear and then see the new Landcruiser coming. WTF now Selomie? Turns out Selomie wants Joma to take some photos of me at my Hut in order to post them on facebook. Oh, black thoughts descend on me like the earlier rain. On the back of the Landcruiser are 3 women, one older and what looks like her 2 daughters, I barely say hello. I decline Selomie’s offer to go for a drive with them.
The Waterberg is beginning to live up to its name, all the previously dry galleys are now fast moving streams; water is seeping out of what looks like solid rock, even the animal paths are small streams of clear water. Never, never have I seen so many tiny frogs; they are everywhere. This day Jan and I are having a hard time finding the Rhino, all the spoor has been washed out. After nearly 3 hours of searching we find them, higher up than we have ever seen them before, they obviously do not like laying down in the water. We found them because of a fly. Jan and I had the spoor but were walking around in circle not seeing the beasts. We had split up in order to cover more ground, just as Jan was walking towards me something “wrong” caught my eye. There, again. It moved too fast to even be a small bird and it was black. I signaled Jan to stand still and reached for my binocs focusing on the area where I caught the movement. Gotch! The very tip of a Rhino’s ear which was flicking in irritation, thank you Mr. Fly. Man, between this spot and the one of the Leopard’s tail in Pilanesberg I do not know which was better. Hard of hearing I may be but these sharp eyes more than make up for that, Jan is my ears. Jan and I have a well deserved smoke break, it is not to be a peaceful one, as my phone rings and it is Selomie. I dread calls from this woman; she always has some snide and nasty remark to make, no matter how hard I try to keep things at least civil. Today’s comment revolves around the fact that I have not used Neil’s mountain bike she had offered. I told her I prefer to walk. She immediately came back that I should get fit or I will break my ankle on the mountain. Now what kind of logic is that? I decide then and there I will stop talking to this woman unless I really, really have to. I have no understanding of people such as her. No, that is a lie, I do understand that some people with very low self worth and self loathing find some sort of solace in degrading others. Selomie continues talking, telling me that Jan and I must join the other workers at my Hut, clean up the area and throw rocks in the French Drain. She pointed adds that since my British Lady is not putting up the funds, SHE will build me a bathroom. Yeah? On the money I got soliciting on the internet perhaps? The afternoon is spent collecting rocks, under one rock I find a Black-Headed Centipede Eater. Long name for a small snake, it has mild venom and is back-fanged, really cannot do any damage to a human. I pause to take a photo and then continue collecting rocks, thinking it is unusual that I have found not one scorpion. I do find a very small chameleon in the grass next to some rocks though. Selomie arrives; she is chatty and ever so friendly, drives me crazy, this mood swinging. She informs me that 2 more Rhino were killed, it is right in a large well known APU’s backyard! They have all the men and equipment I want, if these guys could not stop the poachers what chance do I stand? Mainly alone, Selomie make both Jan and Mishack work in the pristine gardens around the farmhouse most of the time, no radio, no weapon. I worry, I worry, I worry. Jan no longer even mans the OP, he digs in the bloody garden. But have no one I can speak to. Selomie then tells me to come to the house later; she does not inform me why. As the following day is Friday and a public holiday I know Neil will be here and at least I can talk to him on some levels.
Arriving at the farmhouse I see Neil walking up from the Rhino Boma with two rather large people, one short woman and a very tall man. I get introduced to Neil’s daughter and her husband, both of whose names evade me now. We all go and sit in the kitchen, I have no idea why I am here and say very little. Selomie goes to her office, not before telling me to post a thank you note on facebook for the Nightvision equipment and some other donated items I notice in the kitchen. I go to Neil’s office I do not see my laptop, when the funding from my British Lady was all a go, Selomie insisted on taking it for an upgrade. Neil has let me use his laptop before but he has not unpacked it today. I go into the sleeping quarters of the office, pour some Detol in the bath, the tick bites are looking bad, and after my bath I read a bit and sleep.
Although it is a public holiday Selomie has her staff all working, her nephew happens to be a plumber and had arrived on the farm in the early hours, with his other aunt. He is going to fix up the bathroom at my Hut, instead of the Solar Geyser that was proposed we shall now have a Donkey. This is a large drum one makes a fire under in order to make hot water. I am fine with this having used this system many times before. The day starts off badly, Jan is missing, he does that sometimes and all the civilians want to come with to find the Rhino. I have my doubts that the overweight ones will make the first plateau but Neil is the director of this movie and he owns the place. To make matters worse the dogs that live on the farm, a Jack Russel and some type of gun dog PLUS the two visiting Sausage Dogs are to come with. God give me strength! Oh, Lucas’ son Thabo is amongst this conglomeration as well, just for good measure. Jan arrives and he is not as quiet as I, he points out the faulty thinking of this plan to Neil. Bless that little Pedi. Neil laughs him off and we all set off. The dirt road to the bush line is steep enough and it takes a while to get to the point where Jan and I normally enter the bush. As it rained heavily at about 4am we have no spoor to follow from the grasslands. In cases like this I learned from Jan, find where the Rhino last slept and take it from there, do a grid. At the bush line the civilian see the steep rock incline that is hidden by the bush, they decide to take a stroll alone the road rather. I say a prayer of thanks. Jan and I do our thing, finding the Rhino very quickly.
Back at the ranch, I mean farmhouse, the civilians are all drinking coffee and chatting animatedly. Apparently the stupid little Jack Russell chased a pair of baby Warthogs and of course there was a mother Warthog around. She chased the Jack Russell who promptly ran to Neil. Fortunately for Neil the Warthog pulled up short when she saw her babies we safe. I just shake my head at the very idea of taking little yapping dogs “walkies” on a Game Farm. After a hearty breakfast, cooked by the lady members of staff, everyone and I mean everyone, set off for my Hut, but not before Selomie brings up the point, loudly and in front of all about the stompies (cigarette butts) she has seen laying about the area. Humph! I never throw a butt in the bush. I had them all in a neat pile in my protected Boma. Lucas, who visits now and then with his toddler. The toddler like all small children loves stompies; he did a good job of eating some and spreading the rest around. It helps not to try explaining. Still I dig in my back pocket and throw the contents on the kitchen counter, a handful of stompies. Selomie says that I have only being putting them in my pocket recently, yes since I started smoking in the SADF in 1984.
Work commences on my bathroom, Jan, Thabo and I collect rocks, Selomie drives. While unloading the rocks Thabo throws one that hits me on the forehead. Bang! Man down. Not often that I get a TKO but that rock was hard, blood pours down my face. The rock had knocked me right off the trailer we were unloading. I sit up but my vision is not so good. Neil comes to see if I am alright, then he and Selomie tell me to get on the back of the Landcruiser. We drive back to the farmhouse, Selomie tells me to go wash the wound in the bathroom off Neil’s office. I do this. Selomie calls me to the kitchen. When I get there she kaks on me for not drying the wound. I tell her, “No towels.” I would not dare get blood on her posh towels even if there were towels in that bathroom. Neil kaks on the maid because of lack of towels, asking her what the hell does he pay her for. Selomie has a crepe bandage, I do not tell her that the bandage is used for sprained ankles not wounds. My head is fuzzy. Eventually I get patched up and we go back to my Hut. Selomie puts me to work, the Pedi guys just shake their heads, Thabo is worried that I am angry with him, I give him a hug and tell him all is well, no problem. I know he did not do it on purpose, if someone else was behind the rock, I would wonder. :} The plumber and his aunt, a very manly looking woman, have been busy, the basin is attached to the wall and the Donkey is in place. We break for lunch and go back to the farmhouse, I now have a fair sized headache. Selomie shows me a wooded painted desk, she tell me I must sand it down. I do not think she means right now and just say, “Ok.” At lunch I hear what the price for the plumber is; he will shoot a Kudu and an Impala. I wish I had had the money to hire those Solar heating guys. I am not a bunny hugger really but there is no need to shoot anything on this farm. After lunch Neil says, “Come with me.” We go back to my Hut and inspect the Donkey. We then go back to the farmhouse. There we hitch another type of Donkey to the old Landcruiser. This is a huge tank and a pump. That gets driven to my Hut, Neil tries to get close enough to the little dam in order to pump in water. The recent rains have washed the track out completely so it is back to the farmhouse to fill the tank. That done we eventually fill the container on my bathrooms roof with water. Neil tells me to make a fire under the Donkey. Gift has been helping us all along, it is now late Saturday afternoon, he is not a happy man as he was supposed to be off long ago. I doubt if overtime is paid on this farm. I see that I will not be at the farmhouse tonight, again a stupid short sighted view from Selomie and Neil. I should be on the internet, Selomie told me just this morning that I should not send people that want to purchase the Palala Bumper sticker, “Save a Rhino, Hunt a Poacher.” her address; I must collect them myself. She wants the money, I get the order but she does not want to do the work to follow up. Leaving me at my Hut, no electricity and no internet is not the most intelligent way to go. As I had left my Battle Jacket in Neil’s office I walk back and collect it, I do it quietly. I have some radios coming that a friend is donating and I ought to contact him too, but I am glad to get away from the nagging, bossy, moaning Selomie. At this stage my head is really hurting and I look forward to just laying down. That night I am thinking, “Well that is over and it cannot get any worse.” Oh dear, it did!
Today, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Selomie proved, to me at least, who she really is. At about 3:30pm I was walking back to my Hut after spending from 6am in the bush. An un-marked, or very badly marked helicopter appears, flying low over the bush, it starts circling the property. Man it was so low I could have hit it with a handgun, if I had one. I immediately sms Lize, my so-called PA, I have very little airtime. I ask her to paste this information on the Save Our Rhino page. I know that will get a lot of attention and very quickly. It will also alert any Rhino owners in the Waterberg as I know it will jump in seconds to all the other pages. Without a weapon this is the best plan I can think of in such a hurry. Surely the cavalry will come? I race back on foot, un-armed to where I know my Rhino are, a few kilometers away. I have no plan, I will have to see what is what when I get there. I am cursing and imagining all sorts of horrid things. What the hell am I to do if they fire at me from the chopper? What happens if they have armed, with AKs, guys on the ground. I run anyhow. I am in the bush where the Rhino were last seen when I get an sms from Lize. The chopper is an unannounced drill organized by Selomie. Oh, Fuck it! I am too angry to explain it in mere words, the anger and hatred roll over me. Even writing this now the anger is back and intense. The anger then was fuelled by delayed reaction of fear, fear of losing the Rhino, fear of getting wounded badly or killed myself…. Fear and anger, not a happy combination. I sit panting on a rock, I send an sms to Lize stating how STUPID this was. Lize sms’s me back, she obviously told Salomie about my last sms, that Selomie has posted on facebook that the first helicopter drill were successfully done in the Waterberg with the comment, “Wayne thinks this is silly.” Silly, silly!? It goes way beyond silly, it is bloody criminal. I wonder how many other people nearly had a heart attack over this showboating. One does not do bloody drills in an operational area, full stop. I then calm down and start thinking. Who owns that helicopter? One night after quite a few whisky’s Neil mentioned that Selomie is so good she even got Groenewalt to let them use his helicopter in the “Phila” film. Is this true? Was this Groenewalt machine again? All sorts of things are going on in my mind. I swop a few more sms’s with Lize, but as Selomie will be her boss soon and she will be stuck here on the farm she has to remain loyal to Selomie, I understand this. I have walked back to my Hut, I need coffee, the white Landcruiser comes barreling down the road. Selomie jumps out the cab, she is furious. She directs a tirade at me. How dare I put up a post on facebook, SHE will be the one that posts anything. How dare I post anything about Palala? I get even quieter when I am this angry and tell her very softly that I put a post about the Waterberg area, not Palala. She yells that I should have called her, SHE has the radios and the guns. I think, “I know that, don’t rub it in.” She then goes off how SHE knows all the people in the Waterberg, the APU’s, the police, she is even on first name basis with the head of anti-poaching in the Hawks. I tell her I also know people, hence the warning on facebook. This just makes her more angry. She yells at me asking why I did not call her, so I explain since I really do not like the way she speaks to me I try talk to her as little as possible. That did not go down well either. She goes on how everyone else in the area called her and how many missed calls she received, I am the only one that did not re-act she states. I point out that this is incorrect; I am the only one that did not re-act the way SHE would have liked me to.
Then we get to the actual crux of the matter. Selomie tells me how angry she is that my British Lady did not come up with the money as per Neil’s business plan, how she had to have my computer fixed, pay for all my food, fix my Hut, and buy me an internet modem. Never mind I see no modem and eat very little, where is her compassion for my British Lady’s mis-fortune? The poor woman has stressed herself right into hospital over this business and I do believe has paid money toward the project anyhow, I know my cigarettes were paid for by my British Lady as the money for them went into my account. Selomie also has a full time person, with just a little military experience, patrolling her farm, every day. She is getting donations based on the fact that she is starting an APU, not because she has a few Rhinos running around, who organized that? Me and my British Lady, that is who. I do not get a chance to say any of this. It comes out that a few not so pleasant emails have been passed between Selomie and my British Lady and Selomie has even HAD to ban her from the Palala page on facebook. I wrote an article a while back of why I believed the Rhino were doomed, it was about money and greed. I need to add huge egos to that list. Selomie finally gets in the Landcruiser and shoves off, my head is hurting worse that when it was hit by that rock.
I drink a lot of coffee; I cannot get over the implications of this “silly” helicopter drill. I liken it to a fake bomb threat. What if, never mind what if, I did send an emergency signal via Save Our Rhino, and not to the Queen Bee, what if someone like the Hawks had been called out? Perhaps away from a real threat, mobilize a unit at great expense. What if some one like me had a weapon and shot the helicopter out the air? Dead chopper pilot and crew and shooter in jail. More than mere silly this, I for one will not call in an aircraft in the area again, the other APU people? What is the price of that? More dead Rhino. I am thinking of just walking away from here, right now, from Palala, from my whole Rhino mission.
6:30am. Hear a hell of a racket, a Microlite flies past at very low level. I still use the binocs, one pilot, a man and a woman passenger; both are well dressed in civilian clothes. Their flight path is straight, coming from the posh Game Lodge next door across this farm and away. Now considering I do not consider this an immediate threat, should I or should I not phone Selomie. I have another coffee and do not phone it in. Jan and I meet up in the bush and we go in search of our Rhino, whilst we are busy with that the Microlite returns, just in a reverse pattern. This time I send Selomie an sms, she calls me back. I get informed that the neighbors have a Microlite Club, but she is angry that they are flying over her property. She actually asks me politely to call her when we find the Rhino. Today they are in none of their usual spots, I am getting good at this tracking stuff, what with my photographers eyes. When we do find them something happens that has not occurred once in the month that I have been tracking them; the large gravid female makes a mock charge at us! Jan is desperately looking for a large enough trees to climb but the only available tree is where the Rhino are. This Rhino is normally placid and I get to thinking about the sudden change. I may be wrong but the only thing that I can thing off is the helicopter “drills” of yesterday, the helicopter was hovering right above the Rhino at one stage, she is also stressed out! So not only “silly” but dangerous, to Jan and I. She eventually turns and crashes through the bush with the other Rhino following her. I sms Selomie letting her know the Rhino are fine, which is not 100% accurate. Selomie calls, when I tell her I plan to patrol the Western area of the farm she tells me, no, I must come and sand the table as it is for my computer. So, this is how The Mexican Horse Thief shall save the Rhino, by sanding down old tables.
I sand away until 1pm. Selomie comes and asks me if I would like to ride with her to the gate, not our one, the one where Jan and I sat for hour at the main dirt road. Selomie is chatting away like we are old mates, I wonder if she knows that I know about her posts on facebook. The good news is that Selomie has managed to get the use of one of the two gate houses, hooked up with some guys that do vehicle patrol too. The gate house will be used as a rest stop where the guys can either take a nap or just drink coffee. She also tells me that she had instructed the staff to give me some game meat. I tell her that Mishack offered me some liver and lites which I respectfully declined to accept. Selomie tells me that she will make sure I get some game mince. Poor animals died because my Hut needed hot water. Jan and the gate guard are busy painting the room out, I am thinking that I will sleep here sometimes. The gate guard and I get on well, but I was told by Selomie that the guards at this gate have been paid off by Cycad poachers before, I am not sure if this is true or if this guy was one of them. Considering what the Rhino owners and other farmers pay these people and how they treat their staff ….. I don’t really blame the Pedi for having little loyalty to the white folk. All I can to is try and change the view the Pedi have of us white people. Bloody hard job that is going to be. Just observing the way things are on the farm I am at makes me see how difficult this will be. Jan has already told me about the double standards I see, he likes to drink, but the staff is allowed no alcohol on the property, then they un-load crates of the stuff for the white people that come and go from the farmhouse. I hear other stories and they are not good either. So far I do believe that the staff gets along with me, I am always polite and when I have cigarettes or sweets I share with them. I do not do this with a purpose; it is just the way I am.
Much later as dusk is falling I see large dark shades moving at the end of my very long driveway, could it be? I get my binocs and yes, it is the Rhino, I have never seen them in this area before. Great, I have Rhino in my front garden! The next day I meet up with Jan and he is in a foul mood, some problems with the staff and their pay. He tells me that they received only half pay, this is bad, it is Christmas in a few days time. We find the Rhino and we take a rest, I give Jan a cigarette, I can see he wants to tell me something but is working up to it in the usual African way. It comes out Lucas has told him Neil and Selomie are saying I do not work, they will look after their own Rhino. We sit and talk for a couple of hours, I find out about his stillborn child, how the white people handled that situation, Selomie has forgotten the incident, she most likely thinks she handle it so well and was very generous, but the facts hang heavy in Jan’s heart. He tells me to about the reward for finding the Cycad poachers that never happened, and well, all sorts of other things. Shit, I do not like being a white man as we have this conversation. I can kiss any idea of a “Hearts and Minds” campaign here goodbye, I am bloody lucky these people are friendly to me. One reason is that they see me as a little bit different; I don’t speak the same language as their masters, so I am another tribe. Also they see that Selomie treats me the same if not worse than them. When we get to the farmhouse there is no work being done, all the men are standing in a group, Lucas is trying to pacify them by the looks of things. I go to the store and get some Pronutro and a few other items. On my way out I have to walk past the meeting, I greed the men and they smile and give me the African handshake; even Lucas who is normally pretty reserved in his dealings with me. I think about the morning and what I have seen and learned, I sms Lize and ask her to email my British Lady, a “Please call me.” I think I should leave this place; there MUST be a place that could use me better and have people I can respect to work with. My Lady from Britain calls, we get cut off a few times and the connection is bad when we have it, I manage to convey Selomie’s message she gave me on Monday, “no money from Britain and I must go,” was the just of it. My Lady from Britain says she WILL send money via Blikkies but it will take some time. She also state that she has looked in to Selomie and that the woman has not got a sterling reputation, no shit? I knew that but came here on the bases that I believe anyone can change. While I wait to see how this drama I find myself in will play out, I do what I came here to do; try insuring the safety of the Rhino. I move to the mountain on the North West of the farm, finding a tortoise and no human spoor but my own. On my way back I see a Warthog and her piglets; I concentrate on the beauty around me and not the crap the humans bring into this place.
That evening I get an sms from my British Lady, “Wayne are you ok? I have expressed my concerns on the Executive Outcomes page.” Oh Fuck! Lize is on that page! Now there shall be trouble, Lize will tell Selomie about this. I was not so happy, but my British Lady was concerned about my physical safety. At the time I was not, but considering that just after I left, Selomie put on another page that I should be “taken out”, perhaps I should have been? Because of the post I get calls from a few of my former comrades-in-arms, they too are worried. I sit and ask myself, “How the hell do you get yourself in these situations, Bisset?” I cannot even blame booze, I have been coffeeholic and off the hard stuff for months! Darkness falls, I hear the Landcruiser coming, it was inevitable. Neil is with Thabo, all he says is, “Get on the back, I will bring you back later.” We go in to his office and he tells me he wants to read me something on the net. Ah, I will now get the full details of what my British Lady has said. Lize whom was invited to the secret group has copied and pasted, then emailed the copy to Neil. She will have to get kicked out for that one! Neil reads it and the comments made beneath it. Even if I had no Intel I would have picked up it is from the EO group as Neil reads the name of each person that comments, all my mates. Soldier mates. I ask him if I may know what site this is on. His reply? “Never mind, thousands of people will see it.” He is lying, there are less than 100 people in that group, the only way 1000’s will see it is if he reposts the copy elsewhere. He then talks for more than an hour; mainly about what he and Selomie have accomplished on the farm and with Palala. I think about my talk with Jan. Then he repeats something he told me before, the fact that it was Groenewalt’s helicopter in the “Phila” film and it is thanks to Selomie that they could use it. He then tells me what a good poacher hunter HE is, how many Cycad poaches HE has caught. I think of Jan’s story of how he was sent out all alone to get the spoor and once he found it had to come and call the white men. How Jan told me that he is a pariah certain circles in the town because of this. Neil adds,” You military types can tell me nothing!” Yeah? Cycad poacher do not carry AK 47’s as a general rule, Rhino poachers do. I then get told how an America part has now withdrawn his pledge because of this post, the American was to give one month salary toward Palala. I think, “Hello Gary, keep your money Boet.” Gary is a contractor I speak with often, unfortunately after I left Palala and Selomie did her smear campaign Gary does not talk to me much any more. He embellishes the lie, I play along, funny how so many people think I am stupid, must be something I didn’t say. He then tells me that he understand people, as a lawyer of 25 to 30 years (he does not know which?) he is a better psychologist than any psychologist. Therefore he knows exactly why I told my British Lady that Selomie is a bitch, it is because Lucas told me that I could not use the computer. I had forgotten about that, a program was down loading and it was logical I would not use the computer, besides, bitch is not a word I use often, so I doubt if I called Selomie one. My language when crude is crude, bitch just not do it for me. He goes on to slay my British Lady for quite some time. What can I say, I am stuck here on this man’s farm, besides I doubt if he will take one word I say in. He then takes a further hour to type a letter to my British Lady and CC’s it to a lot of people, now HE is making this thing bigger than need be. Selomie flits in and out, she brings Neil two hamburger patties and a boiled potato. I sit and watch this all, saying not one word, it would be funny if it were not such a tragedy. As in a divorce it is the children that suffer, here I see it will be the Rhino. I get a lift back to my Hut at about 11:30pm, I had thought that tonight I may have been sleeping on that main dirt road, I read a bit and try to sleep.
The next morning I go with Jan to do what I came here to do; look after the Rhino to the best of my ability. Then I walk back to the farmhouse with Jan, not knowing what to expect. Neil has written down all the names of the people that have commented on the EO post, I must contact each and “fix” the situation. I give him another chance to give up his lie about the 1000’s of people that have seen this post and ask him what is the name of this mysterious website? He again replies, “Never mind.” Well, you know they say never trust a lawyer? I get the MTN modem and install it on my own computer, it cost just under R500.00 to get upgraded, all I see is my Photoshop is gone and a different version of Windows is in. I check to see if my documents have survived, all my Chronicles of the Mexican Horse Thief are in here. They survived, I have a memory stick backup anyhow. I check facebook, here is a lot of movement, I comment in the EO group, then send a message to the groups creator and admin guy. I explain why Lize was in the group in the first place and why she breached our security. She had little choice as she is under Selomie’s thumb, financial reason as per usual, but we have to kick her out the group. I see there is a request to join our very select group, Selomie Maritz. Yeah, right Selomie. I must smile. Neil comes and gives me instructions on what to post in facebook. I must write a factual account of who has paid for my food and to fix up my Hut. I do this but only as a doc in the EO group, this is where the problem is, not the general masses. Because he is lying and I am keeping quiet about what I know these things cannot be discussed. Selomie comes and gives me uphill, she wants to know if I will attack her on facebook and my Blog, as I did another organization that was a bit shady. I tell her, truthfully, that while I am on the farm I shall not. I do what I have to do on the net and return to my Hut, no sooner am I sitting with a cup of coffee and a book that I get a call from Selomie. “Come and fix up your shit!” she shouts. I have no idea what she is talking about and ask, “What shit?” This place is so full of shit that I have a hard time sorting one lot out from the other. I had copied the doc I made for the EO group and emailed it to both Selomie and Neil with a note that I thought it would be wise NOT to post it on my profile page as this would just lead to curiosity and unwanted questions. This was for their own good not mine, I had nothing and still do not have anything to hide. Selomie demanded that I post it, along with an apology, on my personal wall. I tell her the storm is about to break and I shall get very wet if I walk to the farmhouse right now, she does not care and I walk. Up until that moment I was still going to keep my hand written notes just for reference, edit them and add to my Mexican Chronicles. On my walk I contemplate typing it out as is and putting it straight on to my Blog. Selomie gave me a lecture on the consequences of my actions, she should have heeded her own advise. A short story with the title, “Rhino Wars – Money and Egos” will do well. Not nice, but such is my nature. Get pushed, pushed, pushed. I keep quiet then one more push and BANG! Well this was the last push. I get to the farmhouse and the storm has kicked out the electricity, so I take Neil’s computer and post a sarcastic apology, anyone that really knows me would have picked it up. Then I see my friends have been busy, the EO guy has made a secret group just for Rhino related things, an friend living in America has set up a fund raising page and a closed group, this lightens my mood a little. It would seem the Mexican Horse Thief name has completion wit my Rhino Wars title I first put up so long ago. The rain is really coming down now, Selomie and a Ranger type guy are sitting in the kitchen, in my anger I left my Hut with out my Battle Jacket which holds my rain gear. I ask for a plastic packet for my phone and then walk back to my Hut. To keep my mind off all this nonsense I compile a list of all the birds I have seen here, using Blikkies book as a reference.
Funny enough life just goes back to the normal routine, I meet Jan, we find the Rhino, and I do back fence patrols. One occasion I came across a band of Mongoose and as luck would have it a baby was separated from the group as they ran away. Now since reading Morgan’s “My Feeling for Fauna” I have wanted a pet Mongoose, hence I made a concerted effort to catch the little chap. Man, could he move at a dash of speed? Needless to say he got away leaving me panting with exhaustion. During the course of the week I was introduced to the APU guys from Entembeni, so it looks like Selomie will keep me on here. Why not? She has my food donated, which I notice is disappearing faster than I eat, and pays me nothing. One of the APU guys is from my old army unit, 7 SAI, we were in the same Company in the same year but both of us do not remember the other. Selomie also shows me goods that have been donated for the Palala APU, boots, lamps, small gas stoves, some clothes and what not. I see here give some of the clothes to the workers that have nothing to do with the APU, later that week. It is 2 days before Christmas at about 6:30pm; I hear a Landcruiser and think, “What now?” Turns out I am invited to supper at the farmhouse in order to meet some of Selomie’s friends up from Colesberg. While I am at the farmhouse my friend Gordon calls, I leave the table and walk to the far side of the patio. Gordon may come visit and I am giving him directions on how to get to me. Selomie pops up out of no where and moans about how I must be careful of whom I give directions to. My God, does this woman never stop? Firstly to listen then interrupt a private phone call is not very good manners and secondly is she trying to teach me about OPSEC? Thirdly, I have known Gordon since we were about 12 years old! I cut the conversation short, Selomie not happy with only interrupting my call begins to lecture me loudly about security and giving people directions, this all closer to the table where he friend cannot help but over hear. A little later Selomie develops a headache and has to retire, I suspect she is going to go chat to what she calls “The Palala Girls” on facebook, she finds her friends and husband boring. I spend the rest of the evening listening to all the bush stories Neil and his friend have, they obviously go way back too. Later on Neil gives me a lift back to my Hut.
It is pouring with rain and I am almost finished reading my book, I need to go to the Lodge and get another. I kit up for wet weather, cell and smokes in Ziplock bag and shoved in my Cargo pants pocket, camera in another Ziplock and into its usual pocket in my Jacket, books to return in large plastic bag and large pocket of the Jacket, go to go. I leave the binocs, although they have “Waterproof” printed on them, last time I took them out in such foul weather they misted up for a few days, I had to take them apart and dry the insides out with a soft clothe. In order to get to the Lodge or the farmhouse I must go past 3 dams, my small one by my Hut which is well below me. The other 2 have letoffs that go under the dirt road I travel. The first dip I come to as I leave my front garden is now a small river but at the second dam where the overflow is suppose to go through a large pipe under the road, there is a big river and the road is no more. The third dam which was the slowest to fill has made up for lost time; the road here too is washed away. I find the shallowest path; still the water is above my knees. At the Lodge I meet Mishack and Lizzie, There are two Lizzies working here, a Pedi sized one and one taller than I. Mishack tells me Jan and some of the staff are stuck on the town side of a river that crosses the main dirt road, even 4×4’s cannot get across the overflow. I laugh, Jan must be happy, he most likely drank the night away at the Shebeen. Mishack also tells me all MTN communication is lost, him and I chat about the unusual Adder I had found, he too has no idea which type it is. I collect 2 James Patterson books and set off for the farmhouse, Lizzie and Mishack walk with me in the rain, poor Lizzie has no raincoat. At the farmhouse Selomie, Neil and guests are drinking coffee on the patio. I inform Neil about the roads, tell Selomie it will be impossible to track the Rhino in this downpour, get offered a cup of coffee by Neil then set of for my Hut. One the way back while crossing one of the newly formed rivers I step in a hole, classic! I wade out and am grateful I remembered to waterproof all my stuff, I check my camera and cell phone, both are dry. As I get into my Hut my phone rings, this is a surprise, firstly the reception inside my Hut is non existent and secondly, even at the farmhouse where reception is strong, no one had signal. It is my British Lady, she needs me to send Blikkies my bank details, again! I am getting my cigarette and coffee money. We get cut off and the signal disappears altogether, I will have to wait to send the details.
I believe it is Christmas Eve. The rain is endless, I read and then make myself a supper consisting of Bully Beef, Baked Beans and the inevitable chilies. Christmas has never being a happy time for me, bad connective thoughts fill my head, if I dwell on it I shall become melancholy. I do believe the Mexican is lonely! I eat my supper and retire to bed early.
Just after 5am I hear a vehicle, it is the Landcruiser that has the game viewing chairs attached. Neil is driving and gives me a wave; about an hour later the Landcruiser passed on its way back. I have a visitor; a huge old Warthog with the most magnificent tusks. I have seen him a few times before but only in the thick bush, today he strolls casually past my Hut in the open grasslands. Christmas morning, the sun is coming up and there are only a few clouds in the sky, I have my coffee and kit up. I think Jan shall not be seen for at least another day or two and I shall have to find the Rhino on my own. Since Jan cannot drink here he will hang out at the neighboring orchard, those farmers have a Shebeen running. I think about this as I am walking, the implications to my mission here. The staff have unloaded cases and cases of booze, Thabo gets to play barboy, at 9 years old, I have watched him, he pours a mean Whisky, and has what we would call a heavy hand. If I was drinking I would love the little fellow! So with the staff banned from drinking and watching all the white folk drink, combined with the way they are treated, not just here but in this area in general, hell in any countrified area in South Africa, is causing a massive problem for anti-poaching. Already I hear the Rhino referred to as those rich white peoples property. Why should they care about the Rhino? One step further. Why not make some much needed extra money by just telling some other rich white guy where to find the Rhino? I do not see an easy solution to this problem. I believe the above conditions are playing a huge role in the reason we are losing this Rhino War. My happy Christmas morning thoughts. I find the Rhino, they are red! They must have been having a mud bath at the only waterhole I have seen that has that red African dirt, the rest of the mountains have a rich black soil. I phone Selomie to let her know the Rhino are okay, no answer, I try call Neil, same thing. I am watching them far below me with my binocs, if they wish not to speak to me so be it, Selomie goes no where without her phone. I climb down the mountain, my cell phone needs charging and I will do that at the Lodge. The two Colesberg guest pass me in their 4×4, a brief, “Merry Christmas” and they drive off. I plug in my phone and call my sister, she is in shock, I very, very seldom phone, not only her but anyone. There is no return call from Either Selomie or Neil, what would have happened if I had been calling in a “situation”? Man, I have to stop being so pissed off with them, they however make this damn difficult to achieve. Back at my Hut I eat a tin of Pilchards in chilli sauce straight out of the tin. I read a bit and then set off to find the Rhino, taking just my binocs and going barefoot. Unusual for this time of day they are on the grassy plains, Selomie must have lured them out for the guests with some Lucerne. I find a nice soft rock and just sit and watch the Rhino for quite some time. Later back at my Hut I make supper, Bully Beef, Baked Beans, a tin of tomato and onion mix and chopped up fresh chilli. Not bad at all. There is enough for lunch tomorrow too. I ponder about this Christmas thing. As a child there was no Christmas, growing up with Jehovah’s Witness parents, then when married my wife’s family was the exact opposite, really went over the top and I really did not fit in. Since then most Christmas’ I try go camping with a good friend and only come out after New Year! The few Christmas parties I have attended, some sober, some drinking, my observation is the Christmas spirit come mainly out of a bottle. Bit cynical, what?
Boxing day. The usual routine, find the Rhino, minus Jan though, I do hope he is having fun as he is in for a hard time when and if he returns. After insuring the Rhino are okay I walk to the house. I go to collect some food in the store and notice that the containers have a lot less in them than when I last looked. I am sad the Melrose Cheese is gone. I don’t mind if the stuff is taken, Selomie is using it for the main gate guys perhaps, perhaps not; just she made and later continued making such a big deal of how much it cost to feed me. I even had to email the receipt for goods to my British Lady, with Selomie expecting her to pay for all the stuff. I say hello to the people, the farmhouse is full of them, Marche Poole is NOT one of them. I do not get offered coffee and so leave for my Hut. The wind is howling down my little valley and it is cold, I make a fire under my Donkey, thus far the sun has warmed the Donkey enough for a nice warm shower every evening, not today. Neil, his daughter and son-in-law drive past, on their way back the stop at my Hut. Neil informs me that I may come and use his modem and go on the internet. I thank him and tell him I shall be along after I have had a shower. I walk to the farmhouse and go into Neil’s office, get on the net and say Merry, Merry to my mates. Selomie sends Thabo to tell me she wants to see me in the kitchen. I finish what I am doing an amble into the kitchen. There is a lot of stuff lying on the floor, Selomie has gotten more donations, Jan arrives, looking very pissed off. He finally gets a pair of boots and an “Emergency Poncho”, I get a T-shirt and an “Emergency Poncho” too. I thank Selomie and go back to Neil’s office, a short time later Selomie barges in and DEMANDS that I ban someone called Dave Swallow on facebook. I vaguely recall the name and check, yes he is on my friends list. Now I do not ban people on my profile very often and not without good reason, who does this woman think she is? I ask Selomie why? She tells me he is in with the poaching syndicates. That is a hell of an accusation, and considering Neil’s letter to my British Lady threatening to sue for liable or some such thing, she should know better. Wonder where here source of information comes from? I check and indeed Dave and I have commented on the same posts on a few Rhino related pages. I pack my up and leave.
The next morning Jan is with me looking for the Rhino and he looks just as pissed off as he was yesterday. He also has a pair of line of sight radios someone has donated. Again in the usual African way he takes his own time before he talks to me. It is amazing he does tell me anything at all, the racial lines still stand everywhere in the world, no matter what we are told, but out here in the country areas of South Africa they are still very strong. We find the Rhino and then a soft rock on which to sit, the usual ritual, I give Jan a smoke and light one myself. Jan begins to speak and this is what he told me.
Yesterday when he returned to the farm Neil told him to pack his stuff and “fuck off”, Neil swears worse than a trooper. Jan, I love this little Pedi man, he has attitude, packed his stuff and then went to collect the rest of his money. I remember him telling me that the staff only received half pay just before Christmas, apparently Neil and Selomie have a cash flow problem. Jan tells me how much he got, R320.00 I a fucking shocked. My turn to swear. Jan has a wife and 2 small children he must care for, that amount of money keeps me in cigarettes for just under a month! This is appalling. Everything I thought about the locals being open to bribes for info on the Rhino has quadrupled. Jan tells me further. When he was packed and ready to go, asking for his money, Neil tells him he may not. Not “Let’s talk about this.” Or “Please stay I was out of hand.” Jan may not go. I ask Jan how the hell is he feeding his family. He just shakes his head. We walk back to the house, I go and get some tins of food and a packet of maize meal from my containers in the store, I do not let anyone see me, I give these to Jan and, unnecessary, tell him to keep quiet about it.
Neil comes out, he informs me some people will be camping by my Hut, the other workers are busy filling the French drain, it is still not complete. Jan and I walk towards my Hut and my phone rings. It is my British Lady, I give her an update, she too is shocked. I also tell her I think Blikkies has been taken in by Neil and Selomie and I know they are corresponding, about what I do not know. I have no loyalty to Selomie or Neil, my British Lady whom I have never met in person is the only person that has done every thing she has told me she would. I am privileged in the fact that she trusts me so. My British Lady is pretty good at recce too! She find a lot of things out from very far way, one thing she tells me is Neil has been saying about me, “ he has been destitute for so long now….” What? I am broke a lot of the time and since I have been trying to help the Rhino more so as I do not get paid and do not do other work. My choice. I speak with the guys, they say they may go into town on Friday, I ask may I travel with. My Fax2email money will be in and I need coffee and cigarettes, some biltong would be nice too. I share last nights left over supper with them and then we continue to finish the French Drain. The Drain is now covered with corrugated asbestos sheets, The guys move off to go and get soil to cover the sheets, while I wait a white bakkie arrives with a man and a woman in it. The campers I presume. I greet then and show them the bathroom, I do not recall their names we spoke hardly at all. They apparently had some things to say about me at a later date. One thing was in the three days they were there I did not shower. What! Bloody perverts were watching me? The open end of the shower and indeed right into the shower was clearly visible from their camp. I had to wait for them to push off before I could use the toilet!
I get a call from Selomie, one of my facebook friends, Margaret is at the Lodge, I should go and greet her. On my way I bump into the workers that I was waiting for at my Hut. They are repairing the road, I would have waited a long time. This is typical of Selomie and her planning, not only that, Jan and Mishack are working here too. So much for looking out for the Rhino, I must ask Jan when last Selomie allowed him to go to the OP. I arrive at the Lodge and am greeted very warmly by Margaret and her husband who offers me a beer. I tell him straight out I am an alky and on the wagon, best that way, if one says not now, or even not today, sooner or later the offer comes again, and who knows if I will be able to say, “No.”? Not I. That bit of business over I meet Margaret’s daughter and two grandchildren. I know that some of the stuff at the farmhouse was donated by Margaret and thank her, her husband has some smokes for me too. Then they give me a very nice Stanley Multi-tool for Christmas. Mishack has been relieved of road repair duty in order to take the guests for a walk, that makes him happy. He is not generally a happy chap, he worked hard to get his Grade 3 Ranger papers, paid for it himself he tells me, then spends most of his time working with a weed-eater as a gardener. As usual Mishack has a lot of wonderful things to show us. The Rhino are out on the plains and we are able to get very close to them. I bid Margaret and her family farewell and walk back to my Hut. The two camping people drive past me and neither wave or offer me a lift. I do not shower because of the campers, but go back to the washing in a basin story. The next morning presents a problem with ablutions, not only the campers are here, Selomie is visiting them as well. I meet up with Jan and we go find the Rhino, then I walk to the Lodge. I see the camping couple are there with Selomie, sitting in the area for eating. I go to tell Selomie that the Rhino are fine. She looks up with a, “what the hell do you want?” look. This woman has no manners and even less class, I just say, “The Rhino are fine.” She dismisses me as one would a servant, or a slave. I go and greet Margaret and her family, I see they are not as friendly as yesterday and I do not wonder why. I have no idea though of what Selomie has planned for Margaret’s stay here. I am not comfortable and decide to just go back to my Hut. Selomie has the ability to make me feel like a servant and an un-wanted one at that. Little did I know it but it would get much worst that very afternoon. I spend the rest of the morning checking for human spoor on the far side of the farm, near the farmhouse and Lodge there is just human spoor, all the guests. I starts to rain so that plan becomes obsolete. After lunch I make the huge error of going to see if Margaret is being looked after ok. The Lodge is packed and I am not so happy to see Joma and Selomie. Some film crew people are about as well, I just nod hello. Selomie comes up to me and tells me I must walk and find the Rhino, Mishack and the crew leave in a bakkie, Joma and Selomie in the Landcruiser. I walk the few kilometres where I think the Rhino should be. Obviously the vehicles got there before me. I hit the bush trail that will lead me to where I had seen the Rhino this morning. Less than 20 minutes later Mishack calls me on my phone, he wants to know where I saw the Rhino last, then asks me to meet him on the road. I climb down the mountain and wait for him. When he arrives with the film crew I lead him and the crew up the mountain. I leave him to find his on spoor and hit the trail again, Jan has taught me well, I know the Rhinos favourite spots and move off to check those. A bit later Mishack and I cross paths again in the dense bush, he has not found any spoor yet either. We walk together for a while, the woman in the film crew asks me if I am a volunteer, I pause to think about this, and eventually give an unfriendly, curt, “Yes.” I split up from their group and track on my own. Later I hear their vehicle moving about and then leave the area. A few minutes later I find fresh Rhino spoor, not a raindrop in it, following that I find fresh dung, they are here. The Rhino have also heard the vehicles and are going down the mountain, they know they will get Lucerne. I catch up with then while they are still in the bush. I call Mishack to tell him where they will come out, he does not answer his phone. I have a view of the grasslands and see Selomie’s Landcruiser with a lot of people on the back, it is Margaret and her family. I walk just to the edge of the bush line and watch, no one has seen me as yet. I see and photograph Selomie showing off, she gets out of her vehicle an approaches the Rhino. The large female does not like this and, shakes her head, much like an angry Elephant would. Selomie hastily gets back in the vehicle, pity, is the nasty thought I have. Then Mishack and the film crew arrive, I move out of the bush line to speak with Mishack. I tell him where I found the Rhino. My phone rings, Selomie says, “ Wayne I do not want you associating with the guests.” and hangs up. I hang around a bit, I am fucking angry now. Selomie calls again and says, “I don’t want you talking to them!” I mention the fact that I am at least 500m away from anyone. She hangs up. I thing, “Right, Mrs Maritz, I know why you are scared of me talking to a film crew, what are you hiding Selomie? But my time is not now.” I walk back to my Hut and complete my notes while all is fresh in my mind. I have few enemies, I do not seek any out, but over the past week or two this woman has made herself my enemy. A bad one on a personal and professional level, hell on every level, I have not had such thoughts in a long, long time. I sms my British Lady and tell her I think she should not sent a single penny to Palala.
I have a rough night, by dawn I have changed my T-shirt twice, the night sweats have soaked my sleeping bag too. I have my coffee and then take my washing to the house. Jan and I go up the mountain, all yesterdays spoor has been washed away by last nights heavy rain. Jan and I search for new spoor with no results, we check the Rhinos favourite spots, all are waterlogged. Only one thing for it, we must do a grid pattern across the mountain. I am feeling nauseous and after a couple of hours tell Jan I have to go lie down, bloody tick bites. I lie down and send another sms to my British Lady, asking her to contact our EO friend and see if he has a position and a place I can go. I find no solution to the predicament here at Palala. I run through my head asking myself if I could have done anything differently here that would have prevented this mess. I see none. I cannot see eye to eye with control freaks, this I cannot change. They way Selomie and Neil treat people reliant on them I shall NEVER accept. No, I believe in what I believe and even if that causes me dis-comfort or even harm I stand by it. I sleep.
The next morning I am feeling a bit better and so walk to the farmhouse, as the staff believe they will be taken to town today Jan is not going to find the Rhino, we can do that when we get back. I hang out with the staff members that believe they are going to town by the farmhouse’s large garage. Neil comes to his bedroom window and calls me. He tells me the staff are not going to town today. He will be going into Nystroom but will be playing golf. Again the “I’m alright Jack” attitude, never mind that the staff needs to buy supplies and not cigarettes like me, food. On hearing they will not be going to town most of the staff move off muttering, two women remain behind. One I have never seen before, the other I have but do not recall her name, she speaks very little Afrikaans and, of course, no English. Jan and I move out, we may as well go find the Rhino now. As we are walking down the road the two campers pull up, the man asks if we are going to find the Rhino, I give him an affirmative and ask if he would like to accompany us. He tells me he has to go into town, man, I need cigarettes and have no shame, I ask may I go with. He tells me he will check with Selomie and if it is alright she will phone me. I hold back a growl. Jan and I just get into the bush when Selomie calls, she asks how fast can I get back to the farmhouse. I tell her about 20 minutes. She replies, “Be quicker than that.” Hangs up. I get to the farmhouse and wait outside the kitchen, Selomie comes past on the way to her office and tells me the campers are leaving with out me. What a lovely, sweet woman she is. I go to the campers bakkie, the two ladies are in the back already, we wait another 20 odd minutes and the male camper comes out of the house. He tells me he will drive us to Naboomspruit, drop us at the post office, go another 40km to Nylstroom and pick us up on the way back. This sounds fine to me, the younger woman translates to the woman with the baby. The younger woman speaks English very well, not usual around these parts. She asks why I always have my Battle Jacket with me. I tell her it is so I get use to it, which is true but I also carry it because it has my camera and my note in it. More important it has my ID and my Passport in it as well. One never knows when one may have to just vacate the area in a hurry. She goes on to tell me she thought I was a soldier and then hands me her cell phone. On the display is a photograph of her, in an SANDF uniform with a Signals Corps beret. As we leave she tells me how glad she is that she got this lift and to be leaving the farm. She hates the farm, great, even the local soldiers hate this place, if we need their help that is wonderful. Bloody Selomie. The more information I get the worse I feel about this place. I need to go where I can actually make a difference in this Rhino War of mine, this place is hopeless. The soldier lady will not be coming back with us. At the post office I bit her good luck and farewell. Then try explain to the other lady that I will meet her back here in about an hour, no, I will not be going with her shopping. That sort of done I go and draw money at the ATM, get my cigarettes and some other supplies, after which I decide to go and have a cup of coffee. As I move towards the post office I meet up with the lady that will be going back with me. Shame, she is caring heavy, what with the baby and all her shopping, one item is a large bag of maize meal. I help her by taking that. The campers arrive a short time later and the poor woman gets I a panic when they do not see us right away, she grabs all of her stuff and the baby and runs to the bakkie shouting. She is terrified that they will drive off with out her. This tells me a lot too. Once back at the farmhouse the camper go have coffee with Selomie, the woman struggles up the sharp incline to the servants quarters and I start walking back to my Hut. I too am caring heavy, I bought some cans of condensed milk and a few other little luxuries. Halfway back I see the campers driving back, this time not only do they wave but also make a detour in order to pick me up. Back at my Hut I pack my goods away, I have also bought that Biltong I had been thinking about for the past few days, I read a bit and sample the Biltong. Then I get ready to go on patrol, on my way out the male camper calls me, we chat for a while, he shows me the spoor of an Aardvark by their tent, I in turn show him the Brown Hyena tracks. Funny, for days they have not even acknowledged my existence now he wants to chat. I do not “get” people at all. I have not got much to say to them so move out. I saw the Rhino when walking from the farmhouse; I go see how far they have moved. On my way back the game viewing Landcruiser, with Lucas driving comes along. It is full of guests, I say hello to Lucas and ignore the staring guests completely as per instructions. Not my normal manner, they must think me terribly rude. I had also bought 2 pork chops in town and back at my Hut I make a fire and cook them, supper, along with Baked Beans and yes, chilli.
Early the next morning another Microlite flies over the property, the camper woman takes a photo of it with a very nice camera and long lens. The guy comes up to me and asks if him and his wife may come with Jan and I to find the Rhino today. I tell him, “Sure”. We drive to meet Jan, a pleasure. After about an hour of searching, Jan did not show up, we bump into Mishack. He has two guests with him, he tells me they had seen the Rhino and the Rhino had fled off into thick bush. No use trying to find them now, they will just run deeper into the bush. I walk to the house in order to collect my clean laundry and charge my phone. My British Lady calls while I am at the farmhouse; she tells me some money will be in my account shortly. She also informs me that Neil and Selomie have fired off emails all around the world, including one to my American Special Forces friend Gary. The mails are not very pleasant and basically are an attack against my British Lady. Where will this all end? In my notes I write, “With me having no job, no money and no place to go most likely.” And was I accurate or what? Neither a very happy Christmas nor auspicious start to a new year I do hope it gets better. I spend the rest of the day cleaning up in and around my Hut, I have also made a small garden with indigenous plants. Got a lecture about that too by the by. Selomie did not want any foreign plants here. Where I was to get the plants is a question, only at the farmhouse garden which is full of them. I don’t even plant foreign species in my homes in suburbia. While collecting firewood, the campers are gone, I see another Grass Snake, it moves at speed into the bush. Fast little creatures Grass Snakes. I get a couple of sms’s from my friend Gordon, I was I could have been at his New Year party, they are always great fun and packed with, pretty women, like Shanti. Meanwhile I am trying to work out a way on how to get out of here, Palala, gracefully and with another job lined up.
As I need more books I pack a couple of books to return into my day bag, on the way to meet Jan I stash the day bag by the road that leads to the Lodge. I also need to get my phone charged. Problem is the Lodge is packed with people and if Selomie finds out I have been there she will throw a fit. I need books so I will go to the Lodge regardless. I find the Rhino, again without Jan, I do not even bother to call Selomie, if she really cared about the Rhino so much she would have called me every morning that I go out alone, which has been often as Jan is AWOL again. In the late afternoon I hear a vehicle. It is Neil, he stops at the Hut and says, “Get in, we need to talk.” In Neil’s office I get a re-hash of that other nights story with a few added extras. The first being that I must contact my British Lady as she is responsible for me not him. He also gives me some fatherly/lawyerly advise that once my British Lady has sorted me out I should break all contact with her. Nice Neil, take the money and run? Not my style at all, his sure, but not mine. He continues to tell me that the only reason that Gary and Lize made the plans to move up here from Cape Town is because he thought my British Lady would accept his business plan. I know a few details on that plan, like the huge salary for Gary and the price he quoted her for second hand 4×4’s. Only about R100 000 or so more that I can get one, a bloody nice one, for. I like these people less and less. In retrospect this is important, he reiterates, at length how Palala was never into starting an APU, the idea was just to have a sanctuary. Again he blame my British Lady for forcing him in this direction. I wonder how she forced him? He smelt money and volunteered as far as I can tell. He goes on in this vein for quite some time. I say little, just listen. He finally tells me he will be out the whole day tomorrow but will leave his MTN modem for me to use, I must find a new job and a place to stay.
I arrive early the next morning, Jan is not about and I am no longer welcome to try protecting the Rhino. I look in Neil’s office; typically he has not left the modem for me as promised. I write letters on my computer to SanWild, Pro-track and a few others. Selomie comes into Neil’s office and I ask her about connectivity. Selomie goes to her office and returns with a modem. I get busy, the first reply come back from Louis of SanWild, she has no place for me right now. I speak to my friends on facebook, do not go into detail, just say the APU idea is scrapped here and I need work. I now get mail from people that I have had no previous interaction with, mainly they ask, “How on earth did you get mixed up with Selomie??” I have no answer to that one; ask I am asking myself the same question. Then people start looking for me, after the isolation here it is very heart warming. While this is going on my British Lady is keeping in contact with me and giving a lot of moral support. I need it. Selomie comes in and wants the modem back, she then loses it completely and says she will give me a lift RIGHT now, to wherever I want to go, even all the way to Gravalotte. I inform her that I am waiting for replies and RIGHT now, have no place to go, and if she takes the connection away I will get no place to go. She loses it even further, which I would not have believed to have been possible unless I saw it. She shouts that this is not her problem, it is my British Lady’s problem, and I brought all this upon myself by sharing what goes on at Palala with my British Lady. Man, my British Lady has not heard ¼ of what goes on at Palala, some of the things she will read only now. Selomie storms off only to return to shout some more, I really hate shouting, worse that just being hit or something. I have to leave this place now, right away, I can only take so much abuse before my own temper will flare. I decide the Backpackers in Pretoria is where I will go. I look up the cost, R150.00 a night for the dorm, that is not too bad. I go back to my Hut to pack my kit. I see two vehicles at the camp by my Hut, one is the SPOTS Landrover. The man from SPOTS recognises me from the march at Johannesburg Zoo, he come to say hello. He asks how it is going here, I tell him not so good I am leaving and leave it at that. Before I get away he does ask how much Selomie is paying me for being here, I just laugh.
Neil arrives in the late afternoon and asks what is happening, I give him the lowdown. He asks me what set Selomie off and I answer as truthfully as I can, “Nothing.” Neil is quiet and sits on the rock outside what used to be my Hut, with his head in his hands. The sun is setting and my long driveway is washed in golden light, I am wondering how in such a beautiful place and setting there can be so much shit. Neil leaves and I go read my book, and drink coffee, of course.
The next day I do not go look for the Rhino, I do not think anyone does, the campers and these new people like vehicle patrols, not walking. Perhaps they will sometime. I sms Neil and ask what time should I come up to the farmhouse? He sends back he will text me later. I repair some of my kit and read, at 5pm I get a sms that Neil will pick me up at 8:30 in the morning. I had wanted to confirm a booking at the Backpackers but this is not possible, I will just arrive and take it from there. My British Lady calls and tells me she will confirm the booking, a good woman this. A little later she calls again to tell me that Pretoria Backpackes have only rooms available at R240.00 and she has booked that. My British Lady also tells me she has organized money to be paid into my bank to pay for the accommodation. I thank her profusely. I will get to Pretoria and the sort out a cheaper place to stay.
The next morning I meet Lize for the first and last time when Neil picks me up. Neil drives me to Pretoria, we drive in silence as we have nothing to say to each other. I get dropped off and that is the story of my stay at Palala.
Of course this is just one man’s opinion and observation, written without prejudice………..