Harrismith, The Giant Spider & My First Cape Buffalo Hunt. Pt 1…

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I have had a few requests to at least put up what I have written so far about the buffalo trip. Most of it is what happened leading up to it but ok you guys twisted my arm. I hope you enjoy part one…

So off I went with my good friend Gawie (pronounced like Harvey but with a sound like you are clearing your throat at the beginning) to Harrismith to stay with him and his family for the weekend and then get scooped up by PH Ian Blakeway coming from Kokstad.

It worked out perfectly because Gawie was heading home that weekend anyways, and Harrismith just happens to be in route for Ian going to Johanesburg. This was clearly meant to be!

Here is a picture from the drive down on one of our stops. I took it because if I didn’t tell you I was in South Africa when I snapped the shot, I think anyone could have believed it was from Southern California where I am from.

South Africa or Southern California?

South Africa or Southern California?

Harrismith is kind of what I would describe as a bit of a small mountain town. I believe they used to do a lot of mining in that area. You go up in elevation a bit to get there and it is surrounded by mountains but in somewhat of a massive plain itself. It has beautiful scenery, but it was also extremely cold!!! While staying there I was introduced for the first time to hot water bottles. I always saw them in cartoons and things when I was young but I didn’t know they still existed in real life! Haha! Essentially it is just a rubber bladder with some insulation on the outside of it and you pour very hot water into it and seal it. Then you can have it on your lap or next to you if you are in bed and it helps to keep you warm… or less cold I should say lol.

My first night there no time was wasted. We started getting the hot coals going to have a brai and we went out and purchased some drinks. Gawie has a favorite brand of brandy, Richelieu so I bought him an extra bottle to say thanks for having me. They drink brandy and coke like CRAZY out here. I think if there was one drink in this country that was the most common it would be that. A glass with ice, add brandy to taste and top it off with Coca Cola, it’s as simple as that!

Brandy & Coke Diagram. Quickly done in Photoshop.

Brandy & Coke Diagram. Quickly done in Photoshop.

So as we got things rolling we had an unexpected guest…

Prowling...

Prowling…

This thing was easily the size of a standard saucer dish. And apparently they get MUCH bigger than this!

This thing was easily the size of a standard saucer dish. And apparently they get MUCH bigger than this!

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Top

Please do tell me what you think of this, but I’ll tell you right now, I practically slept with my head submerged under the covers and checked all around my bed before I went to sleep after seeing this big fella. Spiders don’t terrify me or anything like that, but I simply don’t care for the big nasty ones. And they can be quite poisonous out here as well. This type of spider, the Rain Spider thankfully isn’t poisonous, but I still wouldn’t want to get bitten by one!

Harrismith has some beautiful mountains and scenery around it though.

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The view off of Gawie's back balcony.

The view off of Gawie’s back balcony.

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So the night went on, and some more people showed up. I was able to meet Gawie’s younger brother Cassie (sounds like kass-zie) and some of his friends. And even REAL life girls showed up! For a while I had almost forgotten what they looked like haha. So the drinks flowed and eventually the brai was finished so we ate some meat as well. Afterwards the adults decided that we should move the party to another location and leave the kids at home. So off we went to Cassie’s house. I met some more very interesting people there and eventually (not naming any names) I was unknowingly brought along on a drug run. I bet you didn’t see that part coming. Yeah, me neither.

Now before I get any lectures from anyone, I was just asked to “come along for a quick ride”. I was under the impression we were going out to buy some more beer or brandy or something. Eventually after driving around in many circles and lots of phone calls we met up with this shady looking guy in a puffy jacket on a dark small town road. With windows only partway rolled down some words were exchanged. The usual non-specific dodgy lingo. Prices were debated and frustrations arose. And fortunately before it got too heated an agreement was finally reached. It’s interesting, the typical scenes you see in the movies actually aren’t too far off from exactly what happened, minus any bullets flying, chainsaws in bathtubs or saying hello to anyone’s “little friend”.

“Cocain’s a hell of a drug.” – Rick James

I saw some things that night. And I learned even more than I saw.
If I could sum up my experience with those people that night it was that they were a great bunch of humans, who just so happened to have a few bad habits. All said and done, I was still in one piece and experienced a whole lot of life in it’s most raw state. This was the real deal with very real people.

*For the record, for anyone reading this that doesn’t know me that well, I am happy to say that I have never done drugs and I don’t ever plan on doing them. I also try not to judge those who do use them, because we all have our problems/habits, and that’s as simple as I can put it.

I cut out around 4am and headed back to Gawie’s feeling good and numb (he and his wife had gone home a few hours ago in the night). My God I tell you it was FREEZING outside. If I had to guess, it was somewhere around 20 degrees F, and I wasn’t really dressed for that. The breeze, when it hit you seemed to go right through your superficial layers and stiffen your bodies every movement.

Once I got indoors and next to my bed, as I had mentioned previously, I took my flashlight and had a nice look around my bed and under my pillows for anything that didn’t belong sleeping in there, kept all my clothes on and pulled the covers in tight just under my nose. I awoke the next morning around 11am with a mild headache and a slightly dry mouth. Nothing too bad considering how long the night was.

It was Sunday! And we hadn’t a care in the world. We ended up taking a nice little drive down to the liquor store around noon. Now it’s not my usual style to start drinking again so early right after a good night of partying but when in Rome I guess huh? He grabbed 4 cold quarts of Carling Black Label Beer (his favorite) and we went off to the local park that Gawie wanted to show me. He told me he grew up playing there when he was very young. It was a pretty cool place with a mixture of open areas that had a dirt bike track built in with jumps and ramps and areas with lots of trees and a stream that went through the middle of the whole place. It was a kids paradise! Like one big playground. Some old “toppies” as they call them were down by the stream preparing their fishing gear close to where a rickety rope and wooden plank bridge went across. I had thought it would be fun to cross it but upon closer inspection it was pretty dilapidated and I didn’t feel like plunging into the rocks below the day before the buff hunt! Haha.

We moved onward farther into the park and towards the rear where we found a nice little spot to relax near a dam that had been partially washed away. We broke into our second bottle and my headache was soon becoming a thing of the past. We discussed all different kinds of matters. I told him more about my family and he told me about his. Lots of talk of politics as well. He brought his 3 young kids along and while we sipped they ran around like wild indians, barefoot and bursting with energy. It was such a nice day out, crisp and clear with wispy clouds hanging in the air. Still very cold out, but I stood in the sun and soaked up as much warmth from it as possible while my cold bottle of beer hanging in my hand most likely leeched out more warmth than I was taking in.

So as our bottles were drying up the kids were soon becoming popsicles so we headed home.

Oh and an interesting detail for you, Harrismith is such a small town, they don’t even mess with you if they see you actively drinking and driving down the roads. Just as long as you are still keeping it between the lines and on all four tires. There was a police car going the opposite way on our right when we were stopped at the robot (the stoplight) and I was asking Gawie about it and he said “No, don’t even worry about them. Watch this.” And he stared at the cops as he raised his bulbous brown bottle of beer, up-up-up to his lips and took three nice long big gulps one after the other and slowly brought his bottle back to his lap. I waited and watched for them to react somehow. Moments passed. Nothing. My jaw nearly dropped! Things were different in that small town. But I guess Las Vegas is close to the same thing. As long as you are keeping things under control, nobody really has anything to say… Just don’t cross the line.

Gawie’s wife Essie was busy making us Sunday lunch. Now I don’t know if this is a tradition amongst all South Africans but at least with his family, Gawie told me that Sunday lunch was the one meal each week that had to be a big deal. Essentially it worked out to being something close to a small Thanksgiving day meal. They made lamb, rice, this sweet buttery orange squash dish, a smashed potato and green bean mixture and I don’t remember what else. But everything on the plate was absolutely delicious and I ate until I was bursting. It was one of the best meals I have ever eaten in SA. And it was all home cooked. My favorite. These SA women could teach many of the younger American ladies a thing or two about cooking I tell ya.

Fast forwarding a bit… The next morning we drove down to meet up with Ian. He was a little late because his diesel froze up overnight (that should give you an idea how cold it was!). He had to light a fire under it for about 2 hours to thaw it out but he eventually got it working. Some goodbyes were said and off I went. Me and Ian talked a ton and he turned out to be just as pleasant as he sounded over the phone. It worked out nice because he had never been to Joburg airport to pick up clients before because he usually gets his clients in Durban but I had been there several times already and I was able to help show him where to go for everything. We grabbed a bite to eat at KFC in the airport and of course I grabbed an ice cream cone to go for 4 Rand. Which at the time was about 40 cents American.

Eventually the clients Cal Pappas and his friend Greg came through the big double doors and we assisted them with their luggage and then with getting Cal’s historical .600 Nitro Express double rifle. I guess it was an original from I think he said 1914, but don’t quote me on that year. It was around then and was very old. Wow you should have seen the cartridges in that thing! If they were any bigger I may have mistaken them for 40mm grenades for a grenade launcher lol!

Cal was a big guy, probably around 6’5″ if I had to guess and was built like a body builder. The man was a walking tank I tell you. But overall a nice guy. Greg was a bit skinny or average looking with glasses and came off a bit nerdy but not in a bad way of course. He was coming along not only as Cal’s good friend but as his amateur but informed and well equipped cameraman.

We had about a 4 hour drive ahead of us up to where we were staying in a gated community that had lots of wild game within it. It was just below the Crocodile River (you could hear the water flowing but couldn’t see it, that’s how close we were) and right next to a portion of Kruger Park. It was nice place that was like a big brick condo building with a jacuzzi and brai area in the backyard. The jacuzzi was absolutely freezing cold however and I wouldn’t even want to think of how long it would take to get that water heated.

Here are some photos I took at that location.

The front entrance.

The front entrance.

The Brai Area in the backyard.

The Brai Area in the backyard.

Sunset

Sunset

We got there just after midnight. Since we only had 3 days to hunt we wanted to get up early that morning so we planned for waking at 4:30am. I was quick to unpack and get to bed but Ian and the hosts were carrying on till around 2am.

Rise and shine! Time for a hot shower… Or so I thought.
I wish I had taken a photo of this bathroom for you guys, but it had a giant rectangle punched out of the wall where you think a window would be, and yeah, instead there was nothing. Just open air. Now I hear that a lot of places in Africa build like this because for 3/4 of the year it is so blooming hot. But it was incredibly cold at this time! It took much mental focus just to follow through with the idea of taking off your clothes to jump into the shower. My body was screaming at me “What are you crazy!?!?” But I got the water as hot as I could to build up a “pocket” (the shower was open from mid-waist up with the punched out wall, so the cold air came right in from outside) inside the shower and jumped in as fast as I could. I scrubbed up as fast as I could and about 8 minutes later I could feel the water slowly starting to cool down. Ok, sometimes the pressure out here isn’t always stable so I twisted the hot knob some more and things got a little better but only for a short while. The hot water ran out. Before the water became ice cold I rinsed off and jumped out to dry off. Of course the floors were tile as well, so they were minus a gazillion degrees too! Sheeesh!

Anyways, we grabbed our gear and headed out in the vehicles to get to the hunting concession, which was no more than 10 mins down the road from where we were staying.

Now I’m not going to sit here and play Mr. Macho man and lie to you about this hunt. To me, it wasn’t really a true wild experience just because the concession wasn’t really all that big. But on the other hand, don’t get me wrong you could still get into some really thick brush on this property and it didn’t provide much less heart pounding moments than any other place would I’m sure.

We were there right around 6am.

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I know I look grumpy, but I was just tired and in "Serious" mode.

I know I look grumpy, but I was just tired and in “Serious” mode.

Staging area.

Staging area.

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I strapped on my bullet belt and loaded the magazine of my CZ 550 Safari Magnum with 5 powerful cartridges. We all hopped on the back of one truck and drove off into the open plains and worked our way towards the thick bush that was up ahead.

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