Part two of the journal of Edgar Williams
September 10 1897
I awoke on the morning of my birthday feeling more refreshed and eager for the coming day than I have done in a long while. The memories of the previous day’s exploits were still uppermost in my mind and the possibility of further discoveries filled my heart with excitement. We set off when the sun had barely crept above the skyline and the full moon still hung over us like some watchful eye.
Alas, still no glimpse of lions after our second search, but perhaps an even greater delight: standing within twenty feet of a particularly fine specimen of an elephant. We watched transfixed as the solitary giant used its amazingly prehensile trunk to batter a tree into submission and to surrender a bountiful supply of fruit. Further excitement was provided when we stumbled across another elephant, but this time a distinct threat of danger hung in the air. This one was in a foul temper and it was only under the swift guidance of one of the trackers that we were able to escape to safety.
I think that I must be getting a taste for the adventurous life as I spent the rest of the walk keenly on the lookout for further opportunities for excitement. Unfortunately, there were no more that morning, but interest was provided by a curious herd of impala and kudu, who learned as much from us as we did from them.
The remainder of the morning was spent in idle relaxation, frolicking in the cool clear waters of the Delta and learning the ways of the makoro polers. As an old hand at punting, I was the swiftest learner and managed to impress all with my skills. The others did not fare quite so well.
Against all expectations, I am beginning to relax in these alien surroundings and I am grateful to Amy for throwing down the challenge to win her heart by returning to her with a whisker plucked from the king of beasts.
An afternoon makoro trip provided further opportunities for game viewing upstream, but there were slim pickings and we returned to camp having glimpsed a few of our now old favourites.
The day ended on a gloriously surprising note. By some unknown means, the rest of the party had established that it was my birthday and had put on an impromptu celebration. It was not the usual affair to which I am accustomed, but nonetheless I cannot remember when I last enjoyed myself as much. Our makoro polers entertained us with their vocal and dancing skills and we returned this with hearty renditions of our various national anthems. The Guatemalan who travelled with us entertained us further with any number of outrageous tales of his homeland and would continue to do so for many nights to come.
When at last we had run out of stories we collapsed onto our beds around the fire and fell fast asleep under the watchful eye of the twinkling night sky.
September 11 1897
A howling dervish swept through the camp in the early hours of the morning, rudely awakening us from our peaceful slumber and unsettling the more nervous amongst our number. Confusion reigned supreme for some minutes as a nightmare wind stirred up the dust and almost extinguished the fire, plunging us into near complete darkness. The only light was afforded by the corrupted orange Hunter’s moon, leading some among the party to believe that a great fireball was visiting us from the Heavens above. To make matters worse the mournful cry of some distant animal rang out clear and loud, and it was with great difficulty that we turned over and returned to uneasy sleep.
Due to our lack of success at finding a lion, our guides have decided to cut short our stay in the Delta and we gently navigated our way through the deceptive waters. At the end of our short journey, we bade a somewhat melancholy farewell to our polers, whom we had grown surprisingly close to in our short time together. With these heavy hearts, we took camp for the night in the nearby town of Maun. The day took an upbeat turn when our guides revealed a parting gift for the group. For they had arranged for us an excursion in the most incredible device I have ever seen.
Imagine if you will, an enormous bird, made almost entirely of wood, with wings that spanned over twenty feet, and that were fashioned from reeds. How these people ever managed to construct these pedal-powered marvels was a mystery unfathomable by our limited minds. There was room aboard for one passenger and one pilot, and I was paired with a particularly reckless fellow named Krista.
With our legs pumping, we managed to propel our ship of the sky into the air above the Delta, where the most awesome vista awaited. I cannot hope to do justice to what we witnessed, but as we banked and wheeled our way through the air in a manner God surely never intended, the animals that had eluded us on the ground made themselves abundantly visible.
Great herds of buffalo grazed peacefully, unaware that they were being observed silently from above, as we caught the updrafts and air currents just like the eagle. Zebra galloped energetically across the plains, competing with the impala in some unspoken competition. Elephants peacefully stripped the bark from the mightiest of trees and makoro polers wound their way expertly through the narrow channels.
Sadly the experience was over all too soon and with Krista’s uncommonly sharp instincts, he brought us back down to Earth with barely a bump. I will never forget my time with this incredible birdman and the sights and sounds that assaulted our senses as we left behind the confines of the world below for an all-too-brief time.
September 12 1897
As the lion still eluded us, we headed east across this vast land to a region known as Chobe, where perhaps we might find this great beast. Much of the day was taken up with tiresome travelling and it was not until the afternoon that our group was able to satisfy its hunger for further game viewing.
We took to the river on a great wide barge and were soon rewarded with close up views of beautiful exotic birds, great reptilian monsters in the form of monitor lizards and a particularly fearsome crocodile. A huge herd, some seventeen strong, of wallowing hippo enjoyed the cool mud against their thick skins and a family of baboons, composed of several generations, played and joked amongst the stately impala. Huge horned wildebeest drank cautiously at the water’s edge, ever watchful for lurking crocodiles, ready to pull them under in a heartbeat.
Again, the lack of lions did not prove to be much of a disappointment and as we sailed back to camp under a menacing red sun, I began to question whether my reasons for travelling here were still as valid as they once were.
September 13 1897
A day of most glorious disappointment! After another early rise, to which I am becoming most accustomed, we set forth for Chobe once more, this time on foot. I set off at a great pace with Kris, the local guide, eager as I was to be first to sight the great lion.
We had numerous close encounters with several creatures, but these were of little consequence compared to what was to come. After more than an hour and a half of tiring trekking, Kris and I had pulled ahead of the others, more intent as we were on finding our quarry than these other lightweights. Kris caught sight of a flash of gold high over a sandy rise and in silence we edged our way forward. As we reached the peak, there stretched out before us was the most majestic sight imaginable: at least a dozen full grown lionesses lazing peacefully in the early mornshine, either unaware of our presence, or simply uncaring. Off to one side, a handful of cubs play fought and wrestled, practising their skills for later in life.
Kris nudged me, awaking me from me my hypnotic state, and urged me to go forward, carry out my mission, and pluck out a single whisker. My throat dry, I inched closer to the nearest, as she lay on her back, twitching gently in her dreams. One whisker, some six inches long, protruded tantalisingly near and I reached out a quivering hand. Just as I lay my hand upon it, the remainder of the party burst noisily out from the trees, waking the entire pride in an instant. In another heartbeat, they were gone, leaving nothing behind but a cloud of dust and one trembling Englishman.
This evening around the campfire I was the hero of the hour and I basked willingly in my glory, telling and re-telling my story to the envious party, elaborating each time just a touch more. I look back now from the safety of my camp bed at the most dangerous moment in my life and find it hard to believe that I, Edgar Williams, have stared death in the face and lived to tell the tale. I also realise that I am not greatly disappointed at my failure as it means that I must press on and further explore this intriguing country, and find another chance to prove my worth.
September 14 1897
‘On sights as beautiful as this, angels in their flight must have gazed’. I now know how an awe-struck Livingstone must have felt when he wrote these words, for I too have gazed upon the wondrous vision that is Victoria Falls. We arrived early this morning and headed immediately for the towering Falls where we wandered through the spray-covered rainforest for a great time, captivated by the plummeting waters, marvelling in silence at the sheer power possessed by Mother Nature. A slim rainbow hung in the spray, making the sight even more impossibly alluring and it was with great reluctance that we meekly departed, the roar of the Falls still echoing in our ears.
I write this entry dripping wet, numb with cold and feeling almost as exhilarated as I was when I faced down the lion.
We have taken time out from our travels to raft down the raging waters of the mighty Zambezi, I am told for the purposes of pleasure. After a brief safety lesson at the top of the high canyon walls that surround the river, we shouldered our equipment and began the perilous trek to the bottom, where our true adventure would begin.
When at last we arrived, we were faced with a vision of spine-chilling ferocity. There before us was a spitting, boiling, howling wall of icy madness, that we were expected to traverse and live to tell the tale. Under the experienced guidance of ‘Doc’ we reluctantly boarded our raft, questioning the wisdom of our actions every step of the way. Doc laughed aside our doubts, pushed us off from the haven of the shore and we plunged straight for our first rapid of the day, the aptly named ‘Wall’.
Our paddles gripped tightly, our eyes wide open in trepidation or perhaps excitement, we were swept immediately along by the furious current, seemingly powerless to control our destiny. I remember little of the following moments, as we plunged towards the high stony wall to our left, Doc screaming instructions, us paddling furiously. Just as it seemed that we would make it through, a mammoth wave came from nowhere and effortlessly flipped the entire raft on its back.
In the space of a heartbeat, I was completely submerged, fighting for breath, certain I was about to die. After what seemed like a lifetime, but was in reality mere seconds, I re-surfaced like a cork from a bottle, my lungs fit to burst. The now righted craft lay within my grasp and I reached out for my salvation with the desperation of a doomed man. With superhuman strength I hauled myself up over the high side and collapsed exhausted. Amazingly I still had my paddle, clenched tightly within my already numb fingers.
One by one, my crewmates pulled themselves to safety and once we had ascertained that everyone was still in one piece, we resumed our positions and dug in hard. A quick glance backwards revealed the true face of what we had just barely survived: that of a wild beast, striving to hunt us down and devour us. A beast which we had just tamed. This thought filled our hearts immeasurably and as Doc barked out his commands, the raft moved swiftly onward with a new-found confidence and rhythm.
The rest of the journey is a whirlwind blur of white-water, gut-churning rapids and heart-stopping thrills, that has left me battered and aching but with yet more memories that I am sure will last a lifetime. However, these memories will be bittersweet, tinged as they are with the sadness of departure.
For this evening, we bade farewell to five of our companions, the English couple, the Canadian, and two of our guides, in the luxurious surroundings of the La-La Hotel. Here we sampled succulent game meat, warthog, crocodile and giraffe, and toasted to our adventures of the past week and to those as yet to come. When at last it was time to retire, I am not ashamed to admit it was with a tear in my eye. Despite my initial misgivings the group had proved to be admirable travelling companions and I am proud to number them amongst my friends.
September 15 1897
Our party has returned to full strength, joined as we are by more Antipodeans, along with two more guides. Jack and Japhet are about as different from one another as it is possible to be, and yet I sense that this is the strength that makes them such excellent guides who will lead us safely onwards. Jack is quiet and efficient, while Japhet is a great bear of a man, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye that reveals his playful nature. They have journeyed far from the north, and have many entrancing tales to tell of their travels over the past months, including of their tortuous climb to the very peak of towering Kilimanjaro. Their reasons for joining our party have also been made immediately clear and I must admit that they astonish me. For it appears that word of my own endeavours have spread far and wide and that my quest has become almost common knowledge in many villages from here to Tanzania. Our new companions heard tell of ‘the Englishman who seeks to tame the lion’ as they were venturing through Malawi and decided that they desired to join in my search. I saw no reason to deny them their request and I look forward to the coming days where I hope that I learn much from them.
We overnight in Bulawayo, a recently formed town, founded by a gathering of indifferent, and somewhat inebriated, revellers. The name itself is translated as ‘Killing Place’, a dark reminder of its blood-drenched past.