Foreword by Mike Mistelske:
In this, his diary of a trip to Namibia, Chapter member Michael Engster captures many of the flavors of Africa. Michael’s writing style—the touch of his German “accent”—makes for delightful reading, and the reader can easily see and feel and taste Michael’s experience.
Michael’s diary is presented in three parts, with “Part 1” in the August issue of Safari Trails and “Part 2 in the November issue of Safari Trails. This is “Part 3”—the final installment. All three parts of Michael’s diary are available in the Trophy Room section of our website.
Thanks, Michael, for sharing this with us.
We have in America The Two-Hearted River Tradition: taking your wounds to the wilderness for a cure, a conversation, a rest or whatever. And as in the Hemmingway story, if your wounds are not too bad, it works. But this is not Michigan, or Faulkner’s Big Woods in Mississippi for that matter. This is Africa!
We have breakfast on the porch while Fechter’s farm workers are loading up the meat that needs to go to the slaughter house in Marienthal. We have a long ride ahead of us, and we have to make a few stops on the way back to Windhoek.
I feel sad to leave Nababis, but then again I always feel sad when I have to leave a remote place.
And so we cross the Packriemen River two more times, dropping off some meat at the Falkenhof farm. Fechter’s brother who owns this place is not like Michael. The place is definitely not inviting, and even the black guys are somewhat different.
We push on to Kalkrand to get gas and look at the Kalahari Bar one more time being surrounded by nothing else but filth.
I try to sleep on the way back to Rehoboth but I can not sleep in a car. And so I look out of the window to see the Baster Homeland where African animals have ceased to exist. Cattle, poachers, greed, stupidity and lack of any kind of game management have wiped this huge area clean of whatever Africa once had to offer. History repeats itself.
Fechter leaves the main road to drive through Rehoboth, the capital of the Baster land, but there is not much to see, however I have to admit that the place looks cleaner then I thought it would be.
Our next stop is the house of Fechter’s parents that is hidden on a little hillside surrounded by cactus, huge flowery bushes and tall trees. We leave some more meat before we finally hit Windhoek.
Katrin who is leading the way drives up to a German restaurant called “Bierstuben”, and that is where we have good German beer and a meal that is strictly outstanding. For a moment I feel like being back home in southern Germany. Needless to say – everybody speaks German, even the black waitresses. You figure.
The next stop is a taxidermy company called Nyatti Wildlife Art. I have seen many taxidermy shops in my days but this place is absolutely top notch. We drop some of our trophies off and look at the ones from last trip that are ready to be shipped to the States. The owner gives us a tour through his facility that employs at least 50 people and gives us a little story about his company. Interesting guy.
Now James Weber wants to see the Windhoek market and some of the sights, but he soon gets stuck with some naked girls from the Ovanimba tribe. He has to pay $5 US to have his picture taken before he is ready to browse the market where we all look for wood carvings. Fechter does the talking, knowing what the price structure has to be. We buy some nice stuff before we head towards the Protestant church and the statue of the German Horseman, a reminder of the few heroic soldiers of the Protection Troops of the early 1900.
The German Horseman
Eventually we are done in Windhoek, which is really not such a bad city, and we drive towards Omunjereke.
The day is still young, and while Michael and Katrin stay on the farm to do some catching up with paperwork, telephone calls, etc.; James, Martin and Bernhard, the Herero foreman, go on a little baboon hunt.
I feel like being alone and make my way down to the river looking for frankolins and guinea fowl. My bird hunting trip however does not go as planned. The closer I get to the river, the higher the grass gets covering all the warthog holes. After falling into four of them my brain starts to work again. Here I am trying to break my legs, sweating and covered with spider webs. If there are any snakes I do not know, but in this tall grass I would not see them anyway. I can hardly see the warthogs running away from me, and I can definitely not get a shot at them. And so I leave the river bottom and make my way uphill.
I walk a lot this evening and being all by myself I feel that I own this part of Africa and all the animals within. The vastness of the land makes you feel small, and at the same time it makes you feel like a king. Strange, is it not?
A lot of wildlife crosses my way and once I see a major warthog with long tusks sticking out of an ugly face. Luck is with the pig, I can not get out of the wind in time, and the fat Pumba disappears into the thorny brush while I start walking back to the farm.
The black clouds rolling in from north-west finally catch up with me, but I am still way too far from the ranch to even try to outrun the weather, and so I get a good African shower. When it rains – it pours and it does not stop. It also gets fairly cool, and back on the farm the Fechters decide to eat inside today.
Martin and James had as much luck hunting baboon as I had hunting birds and pigs. To compensate for that, we eat a lot and drink a lot this evening. We want to go to bed early, but jokes and hunting stories are exchanged, and all of a sudden it is late one more time. Good company does that to you.
The birds wake me up again; I get out of the bed and step outside to see the sun coming up. I take a few pictures, unsuccessfully trying to capture the spell that this awakening day puts on me. A picture however is two dimensional. The third dimension, the noises and the smell of a new morning can not be captured by a digital camera, but only by your senses.
This is our last hunting day, and I do not want to be late for breakfast. I wake up Martin and James and walk over to the main house where Katrin and the black girls are busy preparing another gourmet meal.
We are not loosing any weight on this trip. No way, sir.
And while we are getting stuffed, the plan for the day is discussed. Fechter has to leave in the afternoon to pick up some Swedish hunters at the airport. In the morning Martin and James want to check for baboons, while I rather go on a little bird hunt. We all leave with our trusted 4×4 truck, and after a half-hour drive Michael Fechter drops me off on a small ridge. He shows me a windmill half way up on a far away hillside. “Can you see it? And when I nod he says: “It should take you about a good hour to get there. You find a tree stand and a waterhole. Good spot. We pick you up around noon. Good luck.”
“Thanks, no sweat, I will be there.”
And then I am alone. I get my gun ready and head for the windmill. I have more then four hours to get there. Piece of cake!
And so I watch the others disappear, put shells in my gun and start for the windmill. I am mesmerized by the landscape, the trees and flowers, the absolute abundance of birds and wildlife. The guinea fowl however are very shy today, and I can not get a shot. I can not get a shot at the warthog either, and still I feel great. I am all by myself again, and Africa belongs to me, the tall grass, the sandy creek beds, the wide valleys and the rocky ridges and the waterholes. The thing that does not belong to me is the windmill. The windmill disappeared on me and no matter how often or how long I glass the area, someone stole the damned windmill. If I put it in other words: I am lost.
And so I try to make my way back to where I came from which takes me about an hour and a half. Believe it or not, the windmill is back!
Now walking from ridge to ridge, from the big tree to the dead tree, from the red rock to the brush pile and so forth, I finally reach the windmill. I am as happy as I am tired and I look like a guy who took a shower with all his clothes on. And where is the compass when you need it?
Not even five minutes later I hear our truck. My buddies did not get a baboon, and it was easy for me to get here, and I have been waiting for them for over an hour.
Fechter looks at me and grins; I grin back. It was a good morning after all.
We slowly head back to Omunjereke. The baboons are still fooling us. Martin shoots twice with Fechter’s Mauser 9,3×64 but unfortunately with little result. The same thing happens to me and my birds. There will be no guinea fowl soup after all.
Cheetah!! And three of them. “Someone shoot!” We know that Michael Fechter lost 8 calves the last month, and he lost them to these cats. He has a license from the game department and wants to see at least one of the cats dead. Well, Martin’s gun is empty and Fechter has the spare shells in his pocket, my gun is also empty, and Jim Weber misses with his .300 Win.mag. The cats are gone. “Sh…!”
But what is this, one of the cats shows up again just to get killed by a well placed shot fired by our Yankee guest James Weber. We call it luck, he calls it shooting skills, but we are strictly joking. James is a good shot, and now he is also a lucky hunter. It does not happen too often to run into several cheetahs, miss and get a second chance. It does not even happen too often to just see these elusive cats. This is the real thing here; we are not in a park where animals pose for you.
The cheetah happens to be a young female which as of now is immortal due to the many pictures that we take.
The cat’s hide however has to stay in Namibia due to the regulations that do not allow a hunter to bring such a trophy back to the U.S.A. Fechter finds his little whisky glasses and the gin bottle somewhere in the truck. A ceremonial drink is definitely on order, followed by a good glass of red wine back on the ranch.
And while we are sitting in the shade of the grass roof eating another one of Katrin’s good dishes, we watch some warthogs fighting down at the bank of the river. It can hardly get any better.
Michael Fechter has to pick up new customers at the Windhoek airport and take them south to a Kalahari Desert hunt. It always hurts me to say goodbye to a friend, especially when you do not know when you will see him again. And so we make it short. “Take care, see you soon, keep your powder dry, do not let the bad guys get you, and so on.” And then he is gone.
We have half a day of hunting left before our bags have to be packed. Thinking about the long flight back, the layovers, customs, security checks, waiting in line and eating sh…ty but expensive junk food at the airports makes my skin crawl.
One more time – if I could stay here, I think I would.
Bernhard picks us up at about 3.30 pm after we had a good cup of coffee. The farm feels empty without Fechter.
We are driving north, and I am the first one who is dropped off about 300 yards from a big tree stand. Martin and James stay on the truck. I watch them drive away until the African brush swallows them. My rifle is loaded when I slowly approach the tree stand. Seeing some movement out of the corner of my eye makes me stop. Too late, a big hog has spotted me sooner and is taking off double time. No chance for a shot.
Fechter told us to always check the tree stands for wasp nests and snakes. I can not detect either one and settle for some hours of waiting and glassing. It is like watching National Geographic on TV: springbuck, oryx, hartebeest, a sow with 5 piglets, a young jackal, some kudu cows and an assortment of birds keep me entertained; and when I finally spot a major warthog, adrenalin is released into my system.
The pig is about a mile away but makes good progress to come my way. I think about leaving my tree stand but abandon the idea. So far my sneaking up on pigs did not work – why should it work now. And so I watch this warthog for at least 20 minutes before I loose it in the tall grass. Obviously this is not my day, and the sow that brings her piglets right under my tree stand does nothing to improve this. I take some pictures before mamma pig takes her children back home. Nothing for the next hour. I would like to walk back to the ranch, but Bernhard wants to pick us all up and when you go hunting with other people one should stick to the plan.
Some of my springbuck friends that I have been watching ever since I got here start acting a little nervous. I reach for the binoculars and spot two warthogs about 50 yards out there, one of them sporting serious tusks. There is no time to waste. My cape gun comes up; I get the crosshairs centered and apply pressure to the front trigger, sending a 286 grain bullet on the way. The warthog dies in its tracks and my Africa hunt is over. This was a last-minute shot. The patience that was more or less forced on me paid of.
And so I get off the stand and walk over to the hog; I break a little branch and stick it in the warthog’s mouth. This is an old German hunting tradition. The last bite. You have to respect the animals that you hunt. You can call it silly or laugh about this, but I will still do it.
(The final hour of our hunt; thank you Mr. warthog)
Death is not a dreadful thing in Africa – not if you respect the animal you kill, not if you feed people or your memory.
Dragging the pig back to the trail turns out to be a job and a half. I guess it is a macho thing. I could have waited for Bernhard, however I have my own ideas about hunting. The more you work for a trophy, the more valuable it gets.
It is dark already when Bernhard comes back; we load up the pig, shake hands and go to pick up Martin and James.
On the way back to Omunjereke we swap stories. Martin shot a jackal with his .470 N.E. and we decide not to look at the pictures he took. James was baboon hunting and shot a fairly big one but could not find him in the dark. He was not really happy about this.
After a warm shower, supper with oryx filet, red cabbage, dumplings, salad, fruit and pudding accompanied by red wine from the Cape we have a few sundowners. The fire glows and our last evening slowly comes to an end.
The last breakfast, good as always. I take the truck and drive back to my tree stand to pick up the binoculars that I forgot the night before.
Back on the farm we load up our gear, say goodbye and head for the airport.
“Goodbye to you Katrin and thanks for a good time. Hope to see you soon. Say hello to Michael!”
Needless to say, our flight to Johannesburg has been cancelled. People everywhere, all of them complaining, while the mess is getting bigger and bigger. Nobody knows what is going on. We feel sorry for the poor gate agent who is getting yelled at by almost everybody.
Whenever we stranded people get news through the loudspeaker, it turns out to be wrong. We watch some rich Texans bribing the gate agent with some good old American dollars. Shameful, but money talks.
A good hour later, after two planes could not start due to mechanical problems, things slowly get back to normal and we end up on the same flight the Texans paid money to get on.
I can not help smiling at them: “Nice to see you again, gents.” They give me the dirty look in return.
The rest of our trip is boring and too long, like always. But finally we make it back to Ponca City. The next few days we have our photos developed and start talking about our next trip, much to the dismay of wife and mother.
But when you leave Africa, a part of you seems to stay there, and so you have to go back to reclaim it.
The times of Hemmingway’s, Ruark’s or even Capstick’s safaris are over. Let us enjoy what is left as long as there is something left to enjoy!
The close of The Blue Hour
Ponca City, OK