going after colonel kurtz

21 January 2012

Back at camp the assembled wise men are already waiting with their hiking boots on. An area further down the river caught their interest when they flew over it, now they want to go and see what natural secrets it holds.

We follow the river, flying low with red cliffs towering alongside. It’s a wild, wild feeling to travel so free through a valley so ruggedly beautiful and untouched by man.

How to recognise an experienced bush pilot.

Every turn of the snaking waterway reveals an ancient new postcard. Crocodiles splash under as we pass over them, leggy storks take to the wing, hippo stare at us and antelope of all sorts flit into the leafy shadows. From the flanks dark rock chutes add their contribution to the main stream, sometimes sending their waters tumbling down in bright, lively cascades. And inevitably, like sentinels on the banks, all along there are the majestic, pale yellow fever trees.

Inside the helicopter the intercom is unusually quiet. Only the muted whine of the jet turbine filters through the headsets. What else is there to say when the spirit is conversing directly with the soul?

Our landing on a sandbank along a section of the river lined with high forest is straight out of Apocalypse Now. The chopper drops us off and we set out into the forest in single file .

It’s another fantastic realm we enter here. Giant nyala berries and other trees have their roots deep in the fertile soil of an ancient alluvial terrace. Their canopies cast shade over thigh high buffalo grass and shrubs. We wade reverently through the green underworld, ducking past orb spiders patiently guarding their food nets, and pause often to observe the rich life of it all.

 Surely no man has set foot in this wild, pristine place before, I decide, except maybe Adam or Colonel Kurtz. Then we pick up a primitive, vulture-feathered arrow lost by some indigenous hunter. OK – maybe a few cannibals have been here as well. The forest has a strange effect on the wise men too. Every now and then one of them picks a leaf or a little seed and then they all start speaking Latin suddenly. It really is a magical place..

By late afternoon, when the chopper has ferried us all back to camp, there’s a sleek plane parked on my airstrip. The ground has dried off sufficiently and the pilot had done a few practice runs before slipping in over the tops of the mopanes and setting his machine down. Pencele Baloi Airport (which I named after the old man who once lived next to what is now the runway, and who lies buried under the floor of his hut) is in business!

1 thought on “going after colonel kurtz

  1. It looks so sunny! Glad the airstrip worked. Very disappointed about our rain check. (I like the pilot’s feet and the magical forest especially.)

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