Here there be tigers
Bob Hahndiek and his brothers go fishing on the Zambezi
Most of us at some stage in our lives have an urge to do something out of the ordinary. But unless you make it happen, it will always remain an elusive dream.
My ambition was to go tiger fishing on the Zambezi River. I persuaded two of my fishermen brothers to make the trip with me by showing them the bony skull of a tiger fish, complete with its sharp teeth, which I had borrowed from our local vet.
We drove up from Cape Town through Namaqualand, carpeted with yellow, orange and white spring flowers. The city rapidly drifted from our thoughts.
We stopped first at the Kokerboom Forest Lodge in Keetmanshoop, Namibia, just in time to see the feeding of the cheetahs and visit the Kokerboom Forest at sunset. The dark silhouettes of the trees against an orange sky, in the midst of prehistoric rock outcrops, assumed surreal shapes.
The next night we arrived at the Kavango River Lodge in Rundu. We had missed dinner but nothing was too much trouble. On the verandah overlooking the Okavango, we were given ice-cold beer while the cook prepared a meal for us. What hospitality! The next morning at breakfast, I had to remove a freshly laid egg from my chair and chase the hen out from under the table before I sat down.
We headed on through the Caprivi Strip to Katima Mulilo, arriving at around 3pm. Our directions were quite simple: "From Katima Mulilo, head along the B8 for about 20km and turn off at the Three Way Divorce Club on the Kalembesia Road, then drive approximately 4km on the sand track over the Zambezi floodplain to the lodge. You can't miss it!"
Steering my brother's big, black Mercedes through the grass and sparse vegetation of the floodplain - accompanied by his fevered pleas of "Don't scratch my car!" - was challenging. Inevitably, the big car settled deep into the soft sand at one point and its trusting owner was unceremoniously despatched to walk through elephant country to the lodge to get help.
Our chalet overlooked the Zambezi, which is about 1.5km wide at that point, with Zambia on the opposite bank. Motorboats with guides were available to fishermen. There was no swimming in the river though, as this was populated by numerous large crocodiles and hippos. A hippo had recently attacked and badly damaged a boat and the fishermen were lucky to escape with their lives.
In the late afternoon on our second-last day, we were fishing about 4km downstream from the lodge, in the middle of the river, when the boat, with four of us on board, started taking in water. I told the guide to head straight to the shore. He started the motor but went forward too quickly and the bow of the boat nosed down under the water. We were swamped to the gunwales!
Going slowly, we just made it to the sandy shore. It was 6pm, just getting dark, and we faced the possibility of a night in the open with real terror. By sheer good fortune, we managed to attract the attention of the last boat returning, which gave us a ride back to the lodge.
On the last day of our trip, our guide took me upriver to where a huge colony of hundreds of carmine bee-eaters were nesting. I was quietly dropped off and left alone with the birds. Though my arrival had disturbed them, they were very soon all back and flying close to and all around me as I put up my tripod to film them. Some perched on shrubs, others continued digging their nesting holes in the river bank. I was completely overwhelmed with a deep and unforgettable feeling of wonder.
The fishing experience was memorable, to say the least. On a catch-and-release basis, I was rewarded with a 5kg tiger fish - the biggest catch during our stay.
Returning home, we stopped at a B&B called Lala Panzi in Grootfontein. Driving into the parking area, we were greeted by a barking staffie and a lady calling "Voertsek! Voertsek!" Was she talking to us? No, she was calling her dog, whose name was Voertsek! A large guinea fowl then flew down from the roof, landed between Voertsek and us and proceeded to chase the dog away.
And so, "the three musketeers", as we had come to be known on the trip, travelled the 2700km back to Cape Town, all the richer for the experiences shared, which will live on in our minds forever.