a near-terminal thermal adventure

14 Nov 2011

Walked to the airstrip this morning to mark out an extention to the runway. The old strip will need to be cleared and levelled to make it safe for use again.

On the way back we spot smoke rising from a hill across the river, not far from where I’d briefly seen a mysterious light three nights ago. The area is a thoroughfare for rhino poachers entering SA’s Kruger National Park from Mozambique, so we set out to go and investigate.

After a long walk we start stalking the spot, Alberto with his single shot shotgun at the ready, Shadrick wielding a machete, and me with my Canon EOS 400 set on automatic. It’s hot and quiet in the bush as we softly approach. All we hear is the occasional crackle of a creeping wildfire.

We eventually peep over a rocky outcrop to find the area deserted. Any tracks there may have been, have been obliterated by the fire.

It takes us an hour to systematically put the flames out on all fronts. But beating a fire with mopane branches is hot work and the last tepid tongueful of my small water bottle is not enough to quench my thirst. On the long walk back I begin to overheat and have to stop in shade twice to recover. Alberto and Shadrick, besides being 35 years younger, seem to be infinitely better adapted to cope with the heat.

By the time I walk into camp I’m in bad shape. Headache, white flashes, the works. I pour the coolest water I can find over myself and mix up a litre and a half of rehidrating mixture. Then I lie down in my tent where the thermometer is reading 43 degrees, and fall asleep.

Fighting fire. Maybe we should just have waited for the sun to burn the flames to death..

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