After our first shopping trip to Fort Victoria, we arrived back at our pondokkie (little house) at Chipinda Pools feeling hot and weary after the long, bumpy drive, and unloaded the supplies that were to last us for a month. Peter had invested in a paraffin-driven deepfreezer and, after checking that this was still working – a great relief – removed the meat from the cold box and transferred it to the freezer . Albert had surpased himself and had a stew all ready simmering on the Dover stove. We took a couple of cold beers outside and sat watching the sunset. Such a peaceful evening, the hippo gently grunting away, and every now and again we would hear in the distance the trumpeting of an irate elephant and the explosive cracking of branches as they were pulled down to access the leaves. Albert wandered down to the river to fill a bucket. Dusk was a dangerous time to do this, with ever the danger of crocodiles and hippo which, in particular, would at that time of day be leaving the water and moving onto the river bank and beyond in search of their favourite grasses, but he had lived all his life in the bush and knew what he was doing. Moving back up the river bank with the heavy bucket he disappeared round the back of the house and placed the bucket on a fire outside the kitchen door. He would patiently sit smoking his home-made cigarettes while waiting for the water heat up, and at the right moment grab the handle, pad through to the bathroom and pour the contents into the bath. This gave us about two inches in which to bathe ourselves. (Did I ever mention, there was no water laid on to the house, or sink in the kitchen?)We had agreed that I would always bath first. Albert said his goodnights, I went off to bath and Peter finished his beer while slapping at the mosquitoes and tsetse flies endeavouring to drink him dry of blood.
The next morning, we went on foot across the river to see Bill, the river being quite low in places, so not too much of a risk. After chatting and tea, and a plan for the days work we set off back across the river, Peter leading, then me and Rip at the back. Suddenly we heard a yelp. Just one small yelp, a splash and then silence. We stopped, looking back with dread at the short reeds and the swirling water, and there was no Rip in sight. He had been taken, no doubt about it. We all know the grief when losing a beloved animal. Peter was heartbroken.
Life had to go on and the next day saw us setting out to the Chilotjo Cliffs area checking up on the men walking through the bush with the test herd capturing tsetse flies. On the way we passed kudu, a huge herd of buffalo and, of course, elephant. The elephant in this area are notoriously aggressive due, they say, to the many years of hunting they have endured, and on most of our trips into the bush they lived up to this description as we would invariably be charged and chased. I had first experienced being chased in Wankie before I married, and this had left a deep impression on me. I was, and still am, very afraid of elephants. This has encouraged some people to regail me, gloatingly, with awful tales of people being torn limb from limb, or crushed and gored, but despite this I do love them! (The elephants, that is!) But always from a safe and get-awayable distance. To meet one head-on standing in the middle of the road as you go round a bend produces for me heartstopping fear.
The view from the top of the cliffs is glorious; miles and miles of uninhabited bush, as far as the eye can see. the Lundi River winding way into the distance.
This area eventually became the Gonarezhou National Park.
In the meantime, Bill, Peter’s boss, had resigned and a new man arrived in the form of Geoff and his wife, Ruth. They arrived with two huge removal trucks following them in their landrover and we greeted them with tea and biscuits while people offloaded their furniture, of which there was a great deal. They started on the second truck and we were amazed to find it contained not more furniture, but plants! Pot plants, big and small and rambling, several hollowed out tree trunks full of ferns and other exotic flora. I had not thought you could move your garden with you.
Ruth and I got on well. They eventually retired to the Cape in South Africa.
But then one day Peter was called to go across the river where he was told that the powers-that-be believed that a station so far out in the bush, many hours journey away from the nearest town was not the place for me! A young woman. I could not convince them otherwise, that I was loving it to bits, and wanted to stay, but they were unmoved, and it seemed we were to get ready to leave, spend a couple of days in Salisbury, the city, and then make our way to Kariba to a house on the edge of the almost completed Kariba Dam. The only good thing about that, we thought, was that Peter would become involved in Operation Noah, the efforts of many men led by Rupert Fothergill to rescue animals getting trapped on the islands created by the rising waters of the dam.
We said goodbye to the Lowveld, but only for the time being – we were to go back there, a place deep in our hearts, in the future.