When we set off, Ilze had told me that we would be enjoying a girly day at Louise's spa. I had no objections. However, things turned out quite differently than expected as I learned as soon as we arrived at the lodge. After introductions were made, Johan, Louise's husband, told us that everything was packed and ready to go for a day of fishing at the nearby dam. Now let me first introduce you to Johan, so you can understand what this meant. Johan, who had sadly passed away since, was an outfitter who accompanied overseas hunters on hunting and fishing excursions across Southern Africa. In the off seasons, he caught game. So, being packed and ready for a day of fishing meant that everything had been taken care of and we were in good hands for the day. Of course, having only just been introduced to Johan and Louise I had no way of knowing this and I was highly skeptical. I had visions of previous fishing excursions with less organized, or rather, more ill-equipped fishermen. I would simply have to bite the bullet and make the most of it.
My fears were unfounded. When Johan said that everything had been taken care of, he truly meant it. I am not into fishing, but do not mind spending the day next to the water. Any water. I love being near water. So, while everyone else was setting up and getting their lines in the water, I was happily exploring the area with my camera in tow. I am a very happy chappy when I am outside snapping pictures and I had a great time next to the dam.
Towards the afternoon Johan called us over to get in the boat he had brought along. For the next hour or so we cruised the vast dam from side to side and it was a sheer thrill to feel the wind in my hair. What made it even more spectacular were the fish. They seemed to enjoy the presence of the speeding boat and raced alongside or jumped over the tumultuous waters in its wake. I could not help laughing out loud at their antics. I felt wholly and completely blessed to have such an unexpected treat bestowed on me without even planning it.
Back at the lodge, everyone was very busy putting the tackle away and getting things ready for the New Year's braai that evening. A couple of farmers from the vicinity would be joining us and it would prove to be a fun evening. In the meantime, as I was 'the guest', I was not put to work and were left to roam the grounds freely. I once again set off to do just that... with my camera around my neck.
This was when I came upon the lodge's dining room. It was a huge area and it was filled with stuffed hunting trophies. Now, this is not something I am into at all, but after recovering from my initial shock, the artist in me recognized the value of this find. Here I was presented with the rare opportunity of photographing each of the wide variety of animals from every possible angle my heart could desire. I would have a literal treasure trove of reference material to sketch and paint from in future. To say that I made good use of the opportunity could be considered the understatement of the year! I snapped away unhindered as everyone hustled and bustled around me.
At some stage during the day, I remember that us three women, Louis, Ilze and myself, took a trip in one of the 4x4's across the farm. It was a good thing we took this vehicle too, as the terrain was quite rough in some places and we certainly did not stick to the roads. This was a hunting and breeding farm. Animals were kept to be sold off, or hunted by trophy hunters. As for, who had no interest in either of these activities, it was a sheer delight to be able to watch the animals grazing freely in their natural habitat. The added bonus to being allowed on a farm like this, is that you stand a good chance of encountering some of the more rare species. What a privilege!
Later that evening, as things had settled down a bit and people were relaxing with drinks in hand, I asked about the philosophy of hunting and the future of the hunting industry against the backdrop of a conservation-minded generation. This was when I learned that your big game hunters are some of the most avid wildlife conservationists around. There are only very limited areas left for wild animals to roam freely, if you take all game farms and reserves into consideration. It is absolutely essential to the survival of these animals that their numbers should be controlled. As size matters in the hunting industry, breeding programmes have been introduced to ensure that the strongest of the species survive, with breeding regulated to guard against in-breeding and other pitfalls. Also, the money generated from overseas hunters, who spend small fortunes on these hunting trips, allow job creation and security to a myriad of people across a vast range of related occupations. It was a true eye opener to sit down and listen to someone talk with so much passion about the plight of wildlife conservation, especially with this man being a professional hunter. I was reminded once again that too often in life we make judgments about things and people without bothering to gather the facts first.
We spent the night at the lodge and returned to our vacation in Mokala the next day, but this unplanned and unexpected visit was an enriching one that brought me much needed new insight. Also, it was the start of what would turn out to be a truly great friendship with Louise.
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