Survivorman – My Journal from Africa – Jan 30th in Johannesberg

Location scouting week

It has been one week since my production partner Dave Brady and I landed in Africa. At midday in late January, we sit shaded from the intense sun under a thatched roof shelter in the Kalahari desert. A major thunder storm is rumbling off in the distance – which is rare. Thousands of scorpions, including the most toxic scorpion in the world are hidden under the surface of the sand. Oryxx, wildebeast, springbok and a few other herds of game animals are roaming by. Cape cobra and puff adders are hiding under five foot high thorn covered bushes. It’s 36 degrees celcious in the shade… a cool day apparently. Last week it was 43 degrees celcious (HOT in Fahrenheit) and should only get hotter over the next month – when I return to do my shoot.

This past week has been a blur of constant traveling throughout South Africa and Botswana. We’re trying to find just the right location to do two Survivorman shoots. We are looking for that classic African terrain for shoot number one and we have our sites set on the Namibian or Kalahari Desert for shoot number two. But it’s been tough. Complicated filming permits and political instability have kept us out of Kenya, Zimbabwe and other countries just north of us.

The first day of scouting only turned up a zoo-like atmosphere. Huge hunting game farms without lions or elephants fenced in on all sides to keep the animals in and the poachers and predators out. Eventually, thanks to advice from my survival consultant from Africa, we came across a large ecological reserve that had what we were looking for; ‘the big five’. In truth, even the largest of ecological preserves throughout Africa – the ones you’ve seen in all the documentaries, have, at some point, fences around them. Thousands of miles of fences. The ‘big five’ as they call them are; lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo. (Don’t ask me why they don’t include the hippo and cheeta and call them the big seven).

For the second location we were hoping to find the Kalahari desert that existed in our minds. Great stretches of sand dunes dotted with acacia trees. We found it…but they had had a good bit of rain last year (although anywhere else in the world would consider it a drought) and so for the first time in a long time the stretches of sand had turned to stretches of grass. Which is fine of course. It’s still ridiculously hot, filled with poisonous creatures and a very tough place to survive in. But for Dave and I – depending on which direction you look – you could fool yourself into believing that it was southern Manitoba or the mid west US. This makes it hard to get that classic Kalahri look.

The logistics behind shooting a Survivorman show are often complicated. We want just the right look that speaks clearly of the ecosystem we had in mind in the first place. I need to know I can realistically pull off a week of survival. We also have to find a way to make the emergency team accessible to me in case of……..well lets not think about that right now.

Day 9

I know that when people who live in hot climates come to my home, even when it’s slightly cool, they find it terribly cold. Well it works in reverse too. This intense, oppressive heat is pretty hard to handle for a frost bitten Canadian boy. But then again, even all the bushman who have been here for thousands of years spend between 10 am and 5pm sitting under a shade tree because….it’s too hot to go out in the sun. And it hasn’t hit its peak heat season yet. It will soon – this is summer in the African desert.

We’ve finally found the right desert location. Long stretches of sand dunes dotted with brittle dry grass valleys and the odd camel thorn tree. There are numerous deadly scorpions (yeah!), an abundance of deadly snakes (alright!), a small scattering of tiny green edibles (whoopee!) and there is no water. Koos Moorcroft is my survival guide who helped me find that perfect ‘lion king’ like Africa for the first shoot. Douw Kruger is the survival guide along with a bushman instructor; Darvid, who has brought us to this desolate Kalahari location as a possible for our second shoot. Last night Douw, Darvid, a snake expert named Ian, David Brady my production partner and I got the surprise of our lives. Darvid took Dave, Douw and myself out to a bird’s nest to show how to hunt them at night. Weaver birds make massive grass woven nests in trees with many holes – making essentially a colonly. Darvid began to shove his hand up into the holes to see if he could grab a few birds for a meal. Douw commented that this was an old nest without birds and we should try another. Yet both he and Darvid tried just a couple more holes. Big mistake. Darvid then jumped. Douw jumped and they spoke to each other in Africanas language. Suddenly Douw yelled ‘snake…he grabbed a snake!’. We shown a light up into the hole, which was about four feet off the ground, to see a large cobra curled up in the hole. But he did not come out. Normally – when startled in an old birds nest hole, a cobra will usually just drop out instantly and either attack or slither away. Had he done this he would have landed right on the face of any one of us four as we crawled in underneath for a look. They are very aggressive, highly poisonous snakes.

This excitement out of the way we moved on to an active nest, tried again and caught four small birds easily. In this time Ian who was in the area doing studies, came back to camp after spending the night searching the roads for snakes. Using an incredible amount of skill he pulled the snake from the nest and revealed a very deadly Cape Cobra about a meter and a half long. He said if it bites you, you have a half an hour until you can no longer function and will most likely die.

This was one of those moments when you sit afterwards and think about just how horribly wrong it all could have gone. Make sure you get a look at this season’s behind the scenes of Survivorman – I caught the whole episode on night vision video tape.

Sitting in a hotel room in Upington, Africa Dave and I are wearing out now. We’ve spent two days doing nothing but driving as we tried to get close to various locations in Botswana for scouting. But this is a big country and we’ve had to cut short some of our scouting plans. Then – the last three days have been spent in the heat with Douw scouting out desert locations. The next four days will be spent around the first location learning the skills necessary to survive in classic Africa. Then I head into dangerous lion territory for my seven days. So I think it’s best I try to take a day off right before I head in to recharge my batteries.