4th June 1971. A twenty-four years old in a Land Rover, loaded with six months supplies and a rifle and shotgun stashed away, left Salisbury, Rhodesia, headed for Mozambique, via Malawi.
Who was he, that lucky swine?
I picked up Andew, the Lab technician where he had been staying at my cousin Marge Boultbee’s place and we cleared the border into Mozambique at Nyamapanda to start across the corridor towards Malawi. Arriving after dark in the town of Tete on the mighty Zambezi, we slept on the south bank to await the morning ferry.
There had been a line of huge trucks in the queue ahead of us, but we were fitted in between them on the ferry, so got away early. We crossed the border into Malawi at Mwanza and exited back into Mozambique at Milange, a village in the shadow of a mountain of the same name.
I had visited my other cousins in Rhodesia, the Arkell family, but I had missed Richard Arkell who, they said, was away in Malawi for a few days to get his British passport renewed in Blantyre. Stupid as it might sound, I had kept an eye out for his Peugeot 403 all the way through that country, hoping to bump into him, to no avail.
There it was in Milange, outside a pub where Richard had gone to buy some Portuguese wine! Was he surprised to see me! Well, we didn’t leave the pub until the next day…
On dirt roads all the way; via Molumbo, Gurue (with its tea plantations), Nauela then south again to Alto Moloque where the company base camp was situated. Easy to find; I just asked where the Estrangeiros were.
My team leader was Spine van Niekerk, an athletic-looking man in his thirties whom I soon came to like and respect. In the team were only two others: Joey (nee Bond) Bowbrick and Norman Trevor-Jones.
I spent my first few days with Spine, getting used to the area which has a fairly high rainfall and thus more leached soils than I had previously experienced. The vegetation was totally strange Brachystegia woodland so I was hard put to learn to identify something like a hundred new species of trees, shrubs and grasses as well as their uses.
After a week, I moved to Norman’s camp near the Catholic mission outside the village of Nauela with my own team of labourers to dig the usual pits to describe and take soil samples. Jonesville grew apace as the labour built their own quick thatch and pole houses to add to our tents, grass cook-shack, bathroom and toilet. Soon there was a wigwam type hen-house to hold the chickens we bought off the locals for consumption. Other meat was scarce, so we lived off chicken, eggs and locally bought veggies.
Norman was a rough diamond, a solidly built guy, my age, aggressive but with a good sense of humour. He was engaged to a Rhodesian girl from Marandellas, Shona Stockil, to be married in December of that year.
I shot a guinea-fowl for the pot in the Nauela area, of a type I had not seen before. It looked like the common helmeted guinea-fowl but had a crest like a lourie. Not having a bird-book with me, I assumed it was the crested quinea-fowl, but later, when I saw a picture of one, and then the real thing, it was definitely not, and, while the plumed guinea-fowl has a straighter feathered crest than the crested, it was also not one of these which are in any case found further north in the Congo. Strange.
I hope I did not eat the last of a species as it went extinct!
The rough Alto Molocue airstrip was only just long enough to land the twin engined Lodestar of AOC when the Co-ordination party flew in, in mid-July. Besides Doc Loxton, Frank Merryweather and Professor John Phillips, there were two geologists, a dam specialist, the pilot and two aircrew. It was hugely interesting, learning from the learned the wider picture of how the Africa Surface has weathered down the millennia to what it is now. Prof Phillips was a very interesting and knowledgeable botanist with a wealth of stories and anecdotes from many parts of the world. He had known General Jan Smuts who also had an interest in natural history.
After Co-ord, we got stuck into mapping our areas. I moved camp to a tiny village called Inago, north of Nauela, and we had finished the bulk of the mapping when Norman and I were transferred to a new contract in the Zambezi valley, to be based at a small town called Mutarara.
We set off just after noon on 28th August. The journey was an adventure on its own.