Once Upon a Time in Africa

Posted On : Jul 28, 2015

Posted By : Tom Murphy

A Vignette of What Can go Wrong in Africa, and How to Deal with it

Once upon a time in Africa (yes, I know fairy tales start like this.  Take it for what it’s worth), I was young, impressionable, and bull gerbil stupid about Africa and African safaris.  This would have been back ‘bout 1969 when my dreams of Africa were right up there with being handsome and rich.  I lived in San Jose, California, and much to my future dismay and severe reduction of my finances-to-be, there was a small town north of me by the name of San Francisco.  Now in this small town, there was a purveyor of all things safari by the name of Abercrombie and Fitch.  Now in this establishment, on the second floor, were many instruments of hunting with names like Holland and Holland, Purdy, Westley Richards, John Rigby & Co., and others.  These behemoth cannons carried appellations like .600 Nitro Express, .470 Nitro Express, 450/400 Nitro Express, and others.  I was told by a gentleman wearing an impeccable charcoal suit that these were “double rifles” suitable for the great African safari.

And the prices!  Why the Holland & Holland had a gilt edged card stating “Nearly new, $2700.”  Much more money than I could even picture.  (Hey – 1969, remember?)  So thus began my downfall, and so begin a few stories on what can happen in the bush.

The Disappearing Buffalo - Zimbabwe 2006

Actually, this one safari provided enough bad happenings to fill any number of articles.  First, unlike my other safaris, I planned this one all by my lonesome, from airplane to ammunition.  I figured I was a self-appointed expert (after three whole safaris), and really didn’t need a hunt broker.

The hunt was to start in South Africa with a plains game/giraffe hunt with my brother and his son.  So far as it went, it went ok.  Except my brother and my nephew got all the animals, and I got a nice, small monkey.  We were then scheduled to travel via safari truck up to Zimbabwe where I would hunt Cape buffalo.  That’s when things went sideways.  The PH told me that the safari truck was having a new engine installed, and it wouldn’t be ready for a few days.  ‘So, hang around the lodge until the truck’s ready, and we’ll leave the following day.”  Yup, at the daily rate we got to sit and wait while my hunting time was running off the clock.

Ok, so now we’re in the truck – for a while.  Until the exhaust system fell off the engine and we had to stop and spend hours getting that fixed.  Next came a two-hour wait to cross into Zimbabwe.  This exciting time was spent watching our PH sit, smoke, and talk to people. I finally asked him if he would mind getting off his dead "expletive deleted" fundament, and get the paperwork done.  This accomplished, we jumped in the safari truck and drove to the next disaster.  The hydraulic clutch line broke off.  Oops, no clutch.  Double oops, we’re sitting on the side of the road in a truck that looked like a Spanish treasure galleon to the locals, while the sun chased itself behind the hills.  After watching the PH (who, as it turned out, was actually a farmer making some extra rand) talking on his cell phone and staring at the sky, I told him I could drive a stick shift without a clutch. 

After a relatively exciting 230 kilometers driving on the other side of the road, in the dark, with headlights that were about as strong as your average bedroom night light, and shifting the Toyota’s gearbox without a clutch about a zillion times, we arrived in Bulawayo, where I proceeded to run at least ten red lights.  No, I wasn’t going to stop, ‘cause we wouldn’t be able to get going again.  I finally parked in a hotel lot, handed the keys to the PH and said he could bring my room key to the bar.

Next morning, ahh, next morning, the hotel was powerless, the shower was cold, and I didn’t care.  Time to leave.  It was three more hours to camp, and we covered two and a half easily; right up to the time when the crankshaft pulley bolt finally worked its way out of the crank and fell on the ground.  Made an interesting sound, did that engine.  There was no way to reinstall the badly worn pulley on the badly worn crank, so I said.  ‘What the hell, let’s just drive it.  It’s seriously destroyed and will have to be replaced, so let’s head for camp.

OK, now let’s push ahead a bit.  We have reached the point where time has run out, the buffalo are probably in a comfortable bar in Namibia, and the safari truck is packed for the trip to Victoria Falls.

We’re standing next to the truck when the camp cook comes running out.  “The buffalo are here.  The buffalo are here.”

Sure as God made little green frogs, so they were ”here”.  Long story short, we scooted downwind for a mile and with a short prayer and a shorter squeeze of my Ruger #1 in .458 Lott, the only shootable male in the herd was taking a dirt nap.

This would have been a fair end to an interesting hunt, except I never got the buffalo trophy.  No horns, no hide, just excuses.  Oh yeah, and no refund.

Point here is I had absolutely no recourse except by emails, which trickled down to zero after a few months. 

I now know that if I had of contacted a hunt broker, like www.discountafrican hunts.com, I first would not have had any of these problems.  And, if I did run afoul of the dreaded Murphy’s Law, I could have worked with my hunt broker to get things rectified.  The cost for using a broker?  Zero.  The broker is paid by the outfitter; the hunter’s price doesn’t change. 

You think I’ll use a hunt broker from now on?

Story by Tom Murphy, Writer
Port Charlotte, FL