Survivorman – African Plains

February 4th

Well, here I go. In short order I will be up in a hot air balloon gliding over the African landscape to get me in to seven days of survival. The training experience has been fascinating. My instructors: Douw, Lee, Koos and Raphael have put in long days showing me the plants, animals and skills necessary to survive out here. More on them later. My family has arrived and will be waiting at a resort called Entabeni for my return seven days from now. My equipment is packed…the batteries are charged…tapes ready.

It’s a temperate area. Not too hot at night – in fact cool. But my challenge is great. After landing – hopefully softly – I will have to make my way from the plains below, through very dangerous lion territory, to a rendezvous point on the top of a cliff. The dangers are many. Elephants, leopards, rhinos, extremely aggressive buffalo, the most poisonous and aggressive snake in the world: the black mamba along with a host of others – cape cobra and puff adders and of course, lions.

We did some initial safari scouting. I’ve seen the lion prides. They’re big. They say one of the males weighs in at 340 kilos. (750lbs)!!!
I’m always somewhat nervous at the start of these. But I am particularly nervous about this one due to the lions. It’ll be an experience!
I will do my best to upload a journal using a sat phone when I am out there.

Well…….nothing left to do now…..here I go.

Sunday, February 4, 2007: Day 1 – Evening

I am sitting inside a hot air balloon basket that I’ve turned over on its side… somewhere on the plains in South Africa. Crickets, just like they do everywhere else in the world, are filling the night air with sound. But that’s not all I hear. Not far from me something in the dark is making low guttural sounds. I’m calming myself by believing it’s only a wildebeest. It could be a leopard… shouldn’t be a lion – given my location, but you never know.

It’s early evening and dark on day one of survival. We failed our first try to get favourable winds for a hot air balloon flight so my weeks start was delayed a day. But early this morning… crap – the growling is getting closer… it’s going to be a long first night!

Ok what was I saying? Oh yeah, early this morning we successfully launched the balloon and I got the ultimate birds eye view of the African wilds. It really is a spectacular experience. Giraffes stopped to look and then galloped away within my view from above. How often do you get to see a giraffe from high up?

My pilot was Felicity Clegg. Eventually we put the balloon down in a field in a nature reserve. The crew – who chased us by Land Cruiser – finally found us and picked up Felicity – leaving me to survive out here for the next seven days alone.

The challenge this time is to first survive here on the plains, then make my way through dangerous lion territory and up to the top of a plateau where my crew will rendezvous with me to end this ordeal.

This is the most intimidated I have been. Allow me to list the dangers: lions, leopards, rhinos, hippos, buffalo, elephants, snakes – the black mamba, cape cobra, puff adder and then the scorpions. They tell me that it is the buffalo that is the most aggressive of all the wildlife but it’s the big cats I fear the most. A large part of this healthy fear is ignorance. Familiarity has a way of dispelling fear and easing the nerves and I simply haven’t spent enough time around lions to know how they will react should one or more come close to me.

I’ve had some pretty solid training but it’s a big country and there is a lot to know. They all say leopards shouldn’t be a problem. But still… I’m out here alone – no rifle – so it’s hard not to feel nervous about another big cat. Besides, just this year a leopard attacked and killed a park ranger in Kruger National Park. For hippos I just need to avoid big water areas – although they kill more people than lions. There are only white rhino here and they are apparently much more docile than the very aggressive black rhinos – whatever that means!

Elephants and buffalo are very ornary creatures so with any luck, I simply won’t come across any in my travels. The black mamba is another story… 10 to 15 feet of aggressive, angry snake that can out slither a human and has one of the most, if not the most, toxic venom on the planet. Behind all of these dangers come the also deadly, cape cobras and puff adders. The last of the line is a host of scorpions including the most deadly scorpions on earth. There are a few other distant threats like a male ostrich (which can and has killed a human with one downward swipe of its claws). At this point in the night I am exhausted. I have a bunch of the balloon material underneath me ready to be used as a blanket – and another cut piece of it is draped over the basket in case it rains. It’s like a little wicker house in here.

The burners on this thing make a great weapon. They shoot a rocket burst of flames 10 feet long and 16 inches across. I’m falling asleep – due to a very long day. But I’ll bet I don’t sleep much tonight.

For the week I have only one bottle of water, a machete, a knife, my multi-tool and a pair of binoculars. I’ll find out what I can salvage from the balloon tomorrow. That thing is still growling out there. It must be a wildebeest!

Within half an hour of the crew leaving today the skies clouded over and a huge lightening storm blew in, effectively causing me to run around covering camera and cutting up the balloon material so I could use it for shelter. It’s always hard to start out surviving in the rain. This is the rainy season in Africa but I don’t expect to get the same deluge I got in the Amazon!

The third-quarter waning moon is now in the sky and is as beautiful as the orange sunset I was treated to after the rain. This truly is a beautiful place – albeit dangerous.

Monday, February 5, 2007: Day 2 – Not so early morning

It rained off and on all night and became windy. So it’s hard to to pull myself out of this little wicker basket shelter. But I know I must. I’ve got to survey the surroundings and assess my situation.

Evening:

Well I draped some zigzag brush around the wicker basket shelter to repel the mosquitoes but it doesn’t seem to be working – there are even more tonight than last night.

It’s been a long hot day – with over 40°C in the sun and 35°C in the shade. It’s still hot in the pitch dark yet I find some small relief from a gentle breeze from the wings of a moth that is fluttering over my forehead – attracted to the dim light of the video camera that I am using to see this page I am writing on.

I ran out of water early today and so I did a proper military patrol to survey my surroundings and find water. After about an hours walk I found a small creek flowing nicely with clean water. There were even some cattails – not too late in the season for me to munch on.

I’ve seen no game animals all day – I’m not sure why.

I checked out a few termite nests hoping to have a meal but they were too old – one was taken over by some very aggressive ants and the other was full of snake and anteater holes. So I guess for today it’s just cattails and water. Maybe tomorrow I will be able to set some snares in a new location.

I’ll leave here tomorrow and start to make my way to the rendezvous point. Salvaging various parts of the hot air balloon I was able to make both a hammock and a tent – so I won’t have to make shelters as I travel.

The heat during the day is intense. Just like the animals I need to spend most of the time between 10am and 4pm sitting in the shade. Even sleeping. When I did travel today on my search for water I was lucky enough not to run into any black mambas… though I was certainly in prime territory.

In the distance tonight – lightening is striking in both the eastern and western skies.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007: Day 3 – Evening

It’s been a long hot day – and somehow I’ve pulled a muscle in my left shoulder leaving me with pretty much the use of only one arm. I was hoping to get up early and travel before the heat, but not sleeping well through the night lead to me finally snoozing from 6 to 8 am. Now that I have been this long without food my dreams become crazy, stressful and vivid. I’ve never mentioned this before but it always happens.

Once I was finally up I packed up and headed out. I’ve got long way to go and will have to travel every day from here on in.

I found a spot for my night between two trees in the middle of the forest. Once the ham… oh
I hear something BIG walking this way – sounds like a zebra – the smoke from my fire will likely scare them off.

Anyway – I put up the hammock and went to find water. All I could locate was a warthog watering hole. So I dug my own hole and let fresh water seep in. it still was muddy brown but drinkable – and boy did I need water today.

I then cut apart one of the webbing straps from the hot air balloon and took the wire out from the inside – perfect snake wire so I put out a few sets on warthog trails.

Then a huge storm blew by. It threatened with dark clouds and lightening all around me but never dropped rain. Either wildebeest or zebra are quite close to me as I write this – I am downwind of them, so I am surp… oh – there they go – they just took off – must have been the smoke. Hmmmm nope – some are still there – I guess it could be a warthog too…

Anyway – the big storm threat caused me to put up the tarp I salvaged from the balloon material.

At the moment – the sky is darkening – the first star is out – the air is still – large animals are grunting and pushing through bushes about 75 feet away. My fire is smoldering and if the mosquitoes leave me alone I hope to have my first semi-comfortable sleep – but I doubt it.

I started the fire by salvaging some items from the balloons first aid kit. Some potassium permanganate (an antiseptic) and some glycerin (for diarrhea) – together they make a potent cocktail that ignites them to flame. I put them together on some rhino dung that I found which holds an ember and helps to keep away bugs hmmm… I can hear them grunting again – definitely wildebeest out there – plus a few other sounds.

This guy clearly does not like me being here – he is pacing back and forth and grunting – god help me if it’s a buffalo – probably the meanest animal out here. I’m going to stoke up the fire!

If I have to climb my tree to safety it’s going to hurt! It’s an Acacia tree – all thorns.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007: Day 4 – Morning

Now this is a change of pace. I think I must have slept a good four hours. I even felt chilled a few times. Seems funny to feel good about feeling cold but the heat has been overbearing and I welcome the relief. The cause of the cool weather? Rain.

It came in slowly last night, which is good because I am definitely not set up for a big storm. I set up a tarp from a square I cut out of the balloon and hung my hammock just under the edge – so the pitter-patter of the drizzle lulled me to sleep for a few hours.

Fortunately my fire is still going, so I’ve dragged it under the tarp. I put a large log over the top of it last night and that is all it took to protect it from the rain.

Now comes the waiting game. Either I give in and travel or wait it out until the rain stops. Feels good not to be hiding from the sun at 8am. I can see some cloud break up in the distance so hopefully the rain will leave by midday.

Whenever I sit under a trap, with a fire going and the rain coming down I am transported to any of the few hundred canoe trips I have taken. It’s fine doing what I am doing – filming… being Survivorman – but I long for the beauty and power of a northern Ontario canoe journey down some wild river… there is really nothing like it.

Soon I’ll put up with the rain and head out to check my snare. For now I’ll sit, or lie, and drink the six gallons of fresh water my tarp has collected.

Day 4 – night

Well the drizzle finally stopped and I made my way deep into lion territory. From here on in the guides in this reserve are trying to keep an eye out for me. They have been expecting me to pass through here by now… they know where the majority of lions are during the day, 80% of the time.

Nighttime is something else altogether. They are quite concerned about me being out here on my own. So… somewhere out there are stationed my safety crew with rifles ready. I have a loud air horn like you might use at a hockey game. If they hear it they will come running – hopefully not too late.

At least I’ve had some sustenance this evening. I picked a bunch of marula fruit and caught a small crab in a stream. My snares did nothing last night but I’ve set them again at this location so hopefully I will have a substantial meal by morning.

I’ve built a palace compared to my usual shelters but it feels horribly inadequate in the face of a large lion or a few buffalo. It’s the square tarp I made – set up like an “A”-frame and surrounded by Acacia thorn trees – the thorns are not barrier to the lions – only a deterrent – a slight one at that! I don’t see myself sleeping much tonight. Usually someone does watch while the other sleeps but of course – I’m alone and unfortunately the crackling of the fire is making it hard to hear the noises in the bush. Maybe that’s a good thing… I’ve got 10 hours of darkness to wait out – it’s going to be a long night.

Day 4 – night con’t…

Well there’s a first for everything and last night was the first time I have ever slept in African lion territory. As predicted – I didn’t sleep much. All of a sudden a pack of baboons started screeching up a fuss – grunting, barking and howling. Baboons sleep at night so that only means one thing – leopard. Lions don’t hunt them because they can climb so high. They weren’t far – maybe 100 yards or so from me but as I hunkered down in my little corral of thorn trees expecting to hear, smell or see lions – the baboons weren’t doing my nerves any favours with all their haunting groans in the dark.

I awoke every hour or more to feed the fire and convince myself that doing so would hold off the lions. Fortunately for me it was a dark night and I was in a thicket – so they were more likely to be off hunting in more open areas where they can see better. Slowly I made it through the night.

Sunrise was never more welcomed. The night over, I checked my snares – nothing. I did find a dead bee-eater bird – but it’s not a good idea to eat an animal you find dead as a snake could have bitten it.

So far the day has been all travel as I have made my way out of lion territory (whew!)
And higher up towards the plateau where I must rendezvous with my crew.

So now the (very real) dangers are predominately: the black mamba – there are lots of ‘em up here – buffalo and elephant – so I must travel cautiously. The area has become rocky and sparsely vegetated. My best chance for food here will be guinea foul using a throwing stick. As I write this I have stopped at where I will spend the night and from here I can see the wildlife-studded grasslands that are my final destination.

Thursday, February 8, 2007: Day 5 – Night

This is a bit of a paradise compared to where I have been. Apart from being extremely active black mamba territory, my view is incredible. Being able to see far, for about 190 degrees, is comforting. All the clouds have cleared and left me with an incredible sunset. The hammock won’t last another night I don’t think… it’s ripping apart. I finally did what I should’ve the first day – made myself a throwing stick for hunting birds and small game. I haven’t seen any game but I missed two good opportunities at some guinea foul. So at fading light I went out for a hunt. No luck – saw leopard tracks though. It’ll still be an uneasy night due to the snakes but the fire is burning, the hammock is up for now and the stars are coming out. Tomorrow I’ll walk right straight thru the plains with its herds of wildebeest, zebras, eland, impala, springbok, giraffes, buffalo and elephant.

Friday, February 9, 2007: Day 6 – Morning

Made it through another night. No snakes, no leopards but the hammock is history. I don’t know how I will keep myself off the ground on the plains. Well… no trees there anyway. Time to move on. I’ll keep my throwing stick handy in case I spot any guinea foul.

No clouds – looks like it’s going to be a cooker of a day. I’ll have to guzzle water every chance I get…

You’d think after years of survival training and practice I would’ve learned. Yet still – the simplest of mistakes can cause you to miss your one chance at something. I figured I would strap the throwing stick on to my pack while I walked out into the plains and would go hunting when I got the chance. Instead of doing the right thing (keeping the throwing stick in hand and ready) – which it thought about – I said ‘nah…wont need it’. Of course minutes into my walk I scared up a few land birds right from under my feet. They were way too fast for me to drop my heavy pack and struggle with getting the throwing stick off and then actually get a shot away. And then. That was it. For the next two days I walked the grass of the plains looking for a bird to hit….nothing…just a few termites to nibble on. I really wanted to end this episode with a successful bird catch but it was not to be. I was sustained by water seeping from cracks in the rocks.

With a few herds of wildebeast, ostrich and impala, and a few gatherings of wart hogs and rhinos out on the plains I finished my week off a little anticlimactic but safely. Eventually the safety crew found me on the plains and met me at sundown. Now on to the intensely hot Kalahari desert – home of the deadly Cape Cobra and parbuthus scorpion.