I also think quite carefully about the unthinkable. In other words, what will happen if I fall ill or am hurt while on the hunt. Where are the nearest hospitals, what facilities do they offer, what is the standard of nursing and health care and, most importantly, how am I going to get to the nearest acceptable facility? One of my friends reduces this question to a very simple answer, namely, if it is in the northern hemisphere, fly to Zurich and, if it is in the southern hemisphere, fly to Cape Town. Has my professional hunter received any first aid training and has he had any experience in dealing with sick or wounded people, including snake, scorpion and spider bites? Do I have insurance which covers medical evacuation? Am I going to take my own medical kit and, if so, what should it contain? Fortunately, in this regard, my wife is a trained nursing sister and when it has been necessary to take my own medical aid kit, she has prepared a very comprehensive one.
Long before embarking on the trip I take time to consult an expert and, I stress, an expert, not merely a family general practitioner, as to medical precautions that can and should be taken before, during and after the trip. And I am not talking merely about things like the obvious malarial prophylactics. At various times I have been inoculated for smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, tetanus, polio, encephalitis, meningitis, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies and flu. In some cases a series of injections is required. In the case of hepatitis B, for example, the course is spread over a period of three months, hence it is no good popping along to see your family GP on the day before you are due to leave. I always have a gamma globulin injection in the week before I leave as this boosts the body’s immune system in general, although it only lasts for a relatively short period of time, roughly about six months. In South Africa, I have found the Netcare Travel Clinic to be the most well informed, up to date and efficient operation for this kind of advice and service. Apart from anything else, their trained nursing sisters give so many injections every day that they are experts in providing the maximum amount of cover with the minimum amount of pain. They also keep your records on computer and can tell, instantly, which of your cover has expired, what needs boosting and what you need for every African destination.
Africa is a tough continent. It often seems that everything on it and in it, animal, vegetable or mineral, wants a piece of you. From the grasses that cut your arms and legs, to the thorns (of all sizes, shapes and descriptions) that are patiently waiting to take a piece out of you. And, of course, not to forget the snakes, scorpions, spiders, bees, wasps, mosquitoes, flies, fleas and ticks. Sometimes these space invaders come in more subtle forms, like the jiggers which lay in wait in the sand for the unwary who walk bare foot on the tempting, neatly swept, camp surrounds. An itchy bump on the bottom of your foot, with a little black dot in the centre, or, worse still, under a toe nail, will be the bad news bear. The black dot is actually a worm and must be removed carefully if infection is to be avoided. And then there are the flies that lay eggs on the inside of your clothing as it dries on the washing line. A good hot iron takes care of them so I am careful not to dress in un-ironed clothes.
This is a topic all of its own and a very important one. If you are allergic to any of these bugs it can make your safari a misery. If you are prepared, however, the marvels of modern science and a degree of caution and common sense can allow you to escape most of the unfortunate ‘accidents’ which befall the ‘un’ people – you know them – the unprepared, uneducated, unwilling to learn people. Because, although there are a slew of ointments, creams, sprays and pills to alleviate the symptoms, it is much better to take with you those things that will prevent you from being bitten in the first place. A careful questioning of the usual suspects will provide you with the relevant information. For example, if you spray your clothes with Bayticol it will keep the ticks off. If you pretend you are a colouring in book and Tabard is a crayon, that should keep the mozzies away and, I must confess, it has been ages since I have hunted in anything other than longs and long-sleeved shirts, no matter how hot it is.
At the end of the day, I know myself best and, for all those minor ailments that I can and do pick up in a strange environment, eating and drinking different food, under physically demanding circumstances, I usually end up being my own doctor. I make a list of things, starting at my head and ending at my feet, that I suffer from and take along those peculiar remedies. You know the ones – like Caltex CX3, they work for me!
Despite having walked hundreds of kilometres on safari, I have never had trouble with my feet. Not until hunting in Central Africa that is. One day tracking giant eland we walked 42 kilometres (calculated from way point to way point on the GPS). The tracks led us across the innumerable petite marigeaux (little streams) in the region and my well-worn boots retained the water wonderfully well. My well soaked, water softened feet developed the mother of all blisters. I had brought nothing for my feet. Fortunately, my PH knew exactly what to do. He extracted some of the fluid from my blisters using a syringe and replaced it with mercurochrome. If your eyes are starting to water as you read this then you are either an ex-paratrooper or have done this before. Yes, it burns like the fires of hell but, if you coat the blisters with antibiotic cream and wrap your feet in thick, white adhesive plaster, you can walk the next day and the next and…
Ever since, I pack a spare pair of boots and socks in the baggage man’s pack and, when my feet become soaked, change my footwear. Especially when hunting those animals you kill with your feet, like elephant and eland, bad or blistered feet can kill your hunt.