A little over a year ago I received a call from a gentleman who owned an orthopedic appliance business. He said that he had a large quantity of brand new orthopedic shoes that he needed to donate for a tax write off. Continue reading What To Do With 130 Pairs Of Shoes
I sure wish I’d thought of it, either SCI’s brilliant “Blue Bag” concept, or the jam-packed Blue Bag I just delivered to Liberia. In case you’ve been living in a cave, the Blue Bag is simply a big blue duffel bag with SCI logo. It can be packed with stuff that less fortunate local peoples need, and taken on safari as a checked bag. This particular one, well, I was headed to Liberia, but along the way I stopped in Chattanooga to attend our Tennessee Valley Chapter’s fundraiser. I guess they figured I had enough plaques to put on the wall, so they gave me a Blue Bag, pre-loaded with school supplies, toys, candy, T-shirts, toothbrushes, all kinds of good stuff–about 70 pounds of good stuff!
I was about halfway through my Liberian hunt when we took the Blue Bag to the school in Zuie, a major town on the western bank of the Mana River in western Liberia. By that time I had the lay of the land. Before the civil war, there was a bridge over the Mana River, but now there is no bridge. There is also no power, no running water, no roads, no vehicles…well, that list could go on, but there is a school packed with beautiful children in spotless school uniforms, and a staff of teachers doing the best they can with absolutely nothing.
Safari hunting is new to Zuie, brought in by Morris Dougba of Liberia Rain Forest Safaris. Well, come to think of it, any white faces are fairly unusual in Zuie, but safari hunting has already brought dividends in local employment and sharing of meat. One of the first hunters in, Wilson Stout, pledged the hardware for a well, another basic installation Zuie doesn’t currently have. Thanks to our Tennessee Valley Chapter, the school received their Blue Bag—and they were extremely happy about it.
This is the third time Liberia has been open to sport hunting. Many of us will remember that founder C.J. McElroy and a small number of old-timers hunted there with Harry Gilmore in the 1970s, and that the country was open again briefly in the 1990s in an ill-fated venture headed up by Tom Banks. Right now the reopening is probably the most auspicious because actual government approval has been given, and there are now two safari operators. Steve Kobrine was first, starting in mid-2012 and operating in big forest in the southeast. Morris Dougba started in January 2013 and is hunting the opposite side of the country, toward Guinea and Sierra Leone.
On the western side of the country I found big country with very few people, in a forest that seems to hold a lot of game. The guides are simply local hunters; they know their forest and how to hunt it, but they’re meat hunters and our concept of selective trophy hunting is both brand new and difficult to grasp. To them meat is meat, and it will take time before they work out both how and where to hunt for the rarer prizes like zebra duiker rather than the common bay duiker—which, to them, have exactly the same value on the meat market. Historically, not everyone got zebra duiker, and that is certainly the case today. So far Kobrine has pulled in just one zebra duiker, Dougba none yet—but they’re there, and success will come along.
Beyond that legendary antelope there remains, as always, a good selection of forest game. Bongo have always been uncommon in Liberia, and I saw enough forest buffalo tracks to be hopeful, and there are both red river hogs and giant forest hogs around. Liberia is mostly a duiker hunt, with Maxwell’s, bay, and black duiker the most prevalent species. Water chevrotain are not uncommon, and although they are rare, all the forest hunters have encountered Jentink’s and yellow-back duiker.
The forest is always a difficult and challenging place to hunt, but Dougba had established a perfectly comfortable base camp and had good equipment, including three very sturdy slide-action shotguns. Interestingly, I also found this forest to be relatively “clean.” There are few snakes, few thorns and a whole lot fewer biting ants than I recall from several forest hunts in C.A.R. and Cameroon. In ten days, I saw exactly one mosquito. My hunting partner was Ralf Schneider, a very experienced forest hand, and we both commented on this, along with one other phenomenon that we cannot explain: As with all close-cover hunting you’re going to get scratches on your extremities. Under typical jungle/forest conditions even the smallest scratches turn septic immediately and take forever to heal. The scratches were unavoidably present—but there was little infection. It wasn’t an easy hunt, and I certainly didn’t find the game I hoped to find—but I’m convinced it’s there. I’ll just have to try again…and bring another Blue Bag.—Craig Boddington
Nights leading up to our departure were sleepless as Lisa and I monitored Hurricane Irene and the massive flight delays. Still, we departed Monday night and arrived in Maputo on Wednesday evening, then took a couple more flights to Lichinga where we met our PH, Matt Hulley-Miller and his tired-looking Toyota Land Cruiser.
We drove 3 1/2 hours north and just before turning to the hunting camp, passed an abandoned village where lions had been eating and tormenting the inhabitants, and elephants raiding the crops. Lisa would be in camp for two weeks, while I planned four to finish my Big Five and Dangerous Seven. Videographer James Peters was with us to film my elephant and lion hunt for television.
Grass around camp was as much as 11 feet tall and I wondered how we would ever find any animals. I quickly learned what had been practiced there for thousands of years — the use of fire. It has been said that Mozambique burns to the ground yearly, and the head tracker, Kashier, and his assistants, Martindika, Watson and Pedro, spent a lot of time lighting fires.
Since lion and leopard were on my scorecard, we started by hunting the Majuene West concession on the Lugenda River in search of hippo for bait.
The following day, we looked at new territory and did lots of burning there. The plan was that animals would be visible two days after the burning, so we headed back to Majuene West to look for more hippos while we waited. We travelled for several grueling hours through brush and terrain along what could generously be called a goat path to a section of river that had been promising the year before. This year, however, it was bone dry so we retraced our steps back to the oxbow lake where, fortunately, we found a bull hippo. A 300-grain solid loaded by Jim Peters performed flawlessly.
I quickly learned insect repellants do not phase tsetse flies. I was getting 40 to 60 good bites a day and would occasionally see bugs that resembled ladybugs, only they were tsetse flies filled with human blood. Our cameraman, James Peters, swatted a couple under his shirt that, when crushed, made it look as though he had been shot. Matt was fairly ill by this point and we gave him a course of Cipro as the malaria meds he was taking weren’t helping all that much. There were also Mopani flies to entertain us. Think of a fly about the size of a gnat with a high-pitched whine like a mosquito. By day three I relearned not to breathe through my mouth, or I would inhale a couple of flies. To keep the Mopani flies at bay, we burned elephant dung. We usually set about three piles around the lunch table so that even if the wind swirled, we were still afforded comfort.
A nice warthog was encountered while going from bait to bait and he, too, wound up as bait in a tree.
Camp was interesting. There was a 2.5Kw Honda generator that ran for two hours in the morning and evening and a 55-gallon drum with fire under it that served as our warm water, direct from the river. Our meals were cooked over a steel plate and we had fresh bread every day that was baked in a hole in the ground. There was no cell phone service, no Internet, no TV –nothing but silence and an incredibly starry sky at night. It seemed like the entire sky was like the Milky Way on clear nights.
Leaving camp on the morning of Day 6, we encountered a bush pig, but the three of us stalking with a camera through crunchy grass and leaves were not successful. Before we got to the road to travel on, we also found a warthog and bull eland, so it was shaping up to be a promising day. Immediately upon entering the concession, we spotted a group of Boehm’s zebra.
By the time Lisa left camp, some of the baits were getting a bit old. We enhanced the route we covered every day with baboons, bush pig and other surprises. I got a very nice Livingston eland and Boehm’s zebra while checking the baits, and those also went in the trees for bait.
Each day we were getting to know our vehicle a little better, as each day there were new surprises such as overheating up to four times a day. The vehicle continued to break down regularly and one day had a total electrical failure. Another day the tie rods fell off the front end and we used baling wire to hold them together, but there was so much wire wrapped around the parts that the tire would not go back on. A couple of chain shackles were used, but they made the steering loose as a goose, which made for some interesting bounces off trees we tried to steer past. The radiator was replaced, but with the wrong one, so the temp gauge on the dashboard no longer worked. Instead, when folks in the hunt seat began feeling water droplets, it was time to let the engine cool down. A new pair of tie rods was eventually delivered to camp. They were the wrong size, but better than chain shackles.
We named the 1994 Toyota Land Cruiser “Hope.” We hoped it would get us back. We hoped it would start. We hoped it would run. Sometimes it was “Hopeless.” There was nasty terrain to traverse in the dark once, and while driving we heard a new noise from Hope. We lifted the hood and couldn’t find anything, then a few hundred more yards farther along there was a new, more serious noise. Lifting the hood we still found nothing, but looking underneath, found that we had lost our front drive shaft. The trackers took torches back over our path and found the section of drive shaft and two of the four bolts, but no nuts or lock washers. Nuts the wrong size were cross-threaded on the bolts and we made it home.
After one long, hot day, I decided to shower before dinner. I grabbed a pair of clean pants to put on and, when I put one foot in, thought I hit a thorn. It felt like a razor slashed my toe and it started burning like mad. I pulled my foot out and out fell a scorpion. How does something that small cause that much pain? I stayed calm, went to the dining area and mentioned I had just been stung by a scorpion and inquired about the seriousness. It was very bothersome for four days.
Several weeks into the trip, we were desperate for a leopard. A track was encountered that could have been a small male or a medium female, so a blind was hastily erected and we settled in. Cameraman, PH and I, all sat silent as darkness fell. The wind was swirling and the PH decided the set up would not work. Matt picked up the walkie-talkie to call for the truck when we heard a cough behind us in the grass. A leopard was sitting five feet behind us and started growling. Matt called the trackers back to tell them not to come get us, and after about 40 minutes of the hunters being the hunted, the leopard moved in front of the blind.
I went on several treks for elephant, and though every single one resulted in finding elephant, Matt kept telling me, “No, that one is too small,” their ivory was in the 35 to 40 pound class. One day we tracked a pair of males roughly 18 miles only to find one of them had huge feet, but only 40-pound tusks. On these treks, we would leave the truck and start out for who knows where or for how long.
The very first elephant we tracked resulted in a mock charge. It is one thing to see those on TV, it is entirely different when a fairly full-grown African elephant is running at you, bellowing and screaming, ears flared, trunk in the air and the PH says, “Stand there! Don’t run! Don’t move!”
The 18-mile stalk took us through the abandoned village where the elephants were probably wondering why the crops were gone. We were on our way to check leopard baits another day when we cut a pair of elephant tracks that we followed for about eight miles. The wind was swirling and we were afraid of startling the pair of bulls so we rerouted our approach through a couple streams and thick brush and made a safer approach. How amazing it is to see these huge animals taking down individual trees to get what they want to eat. While looking at one through the trees, Matt said, “That is your elephant, but bad news, it only has one tusk.” We were only three days from the end of the 28-day hunt, so I wasn’t going to argue over the tusk.
I cannot tell you how hesitant I was when Matt said to shoot it on the shoulder. I was feeling pretty small and that bull looked mighty big. The bull had just torn down a palm tree and I shot one shoulder, Matt shot the other as it faced us head on. It disappeared behind some brush and I instantly thought, “How long will this tracking be, this time?” There was no time to think about it more as the bull came around some trees, saw us and charged. Even the trackers scattered to the wind. I shot once just above the eye and dropped it 14 small steps from where I was standing.
It turns out that in the brush, the other tusk was not visible — the ivories should go close to 70 pounds.
Cape buffalo tracks were occasionally seen, mostly after the rainy season, but buffalo had never been spotted in that concession. The following day while driving and looking for leopard sign, we found fresh buffalo sign. I jokingly said, “Let me put you on the map. Let’s go find that buffalo.” Word of advice — don’t say that to someone half your age. Over hill, over dale, through thick brush, through burned out areas, we tracked hard. Something was making the buffalo move. We never saw lion tracks, but the buffalo did not want to stop.
Late afternoon, we thought we were getting close when a huge gust of wind came through and just about broke everyone’s spirit. They were sure our scent was blown to the buffalo. I said, as a person familiar with wind and water, I thought we should look just off the direction of the wind and miracle of miracles — we found them. Matt had me get down on my butt, feet forward, and crab walk through grass about 250 yards with the Model 70 across my stomach so as not to scare them off.
Matt was hurrying me for a shot as he suspected the buffalo had spotted us. I fired the .375 H&H and we paused. About eight buffalo ran past and one went off at an angle. Matt screamed at me not to shoot that one; it had been wounded by something else. About 10 seconds after the shot, a small tree collapsed in front of us. I had fired the soft point through a tree about 1 1/4 inches in diameter. There was extreme disappointment with all the work we had put in, but I wanted to venture that the single that was hobbling was the one I shot. PH would have nothing to do with that idea as we were miles from the truck and it was getting late. Then one of the trackers found blood. Game on! Matt was worried and said there was a 99 percent chance we would encounter a charge in thick brush.
We were finding a good blood trail with bits of bone occasionally. The buffalo made it about two miles before we found it and had our way with it.
And the TV show? Matt came down with malaria, the PH in the adjoining camp came down with malaria, the PH assisting and running for parts and supplies came down with malaria and the videographer came down with malaria and was in camp the day I shot the elephant and the day I shot the Cape buffalo.—Tom Mattusch
During the SCI Reno convention, my wife, Rhonda, and I booked an eight-day vacation with Cotton Tree Lodge (CTL) in Belize while visiting Drake Dawson’s Safari Unlimited booth. For years, Cotton Tree and Dawson have been donating hunts and trips to SCI chapters. Jeff Pzena, co-owner, give us details on the package we booked–the Deluxe Cabana Fishing Package for two with accommodations, meals, tour, fishing trips and transfers included.
This was not to be a typical tropical resort with a swimming pool, several buffet lines, drinks and many tourists. Cotton Tree Lodge is an eco-lodge with loads of adventure. The eco-lodge is nestled on the bank of the gentle Moho River, great for a swim. We asked our SCI friends, Stuart Doc White, his wife, Janet, and son, Austin, to join us. Doc and Austin, avid scuba divers, jumped on the offer because the second largest barrier reef in the world is off the coast of Belize.
We wanted a different kind of vacation. We got that and more. The staff was great and the tours were a learning experience. Food was fresh and homemade. Our comfy cabana had a cool rustic feel. Lodging in handcrafted rosewood thatched with jungle palms, the beautiful surroundings made you feel like you are in the jungle.
First day, Doc, Austin, and I fished with guide, Alex Leonardo, in the Gulf of Honduras for barracuda, snook, snapper and grouper. We cast for permit fish among the mangrove islands. We caught tons of barracuda and snook, some snapper and a huge grouper that got away. All the fish were released except for what was brought back to CTL for dinners. The crystal clear waters boasted flying fish, sea turtles and dolphins. The Moho River provided some trolling for huge snook. One day, Doc, Austin, and Alex snorkeled and captured enough conch for the CTL to serve everyone chowder one night. Doc and Austin did two day dives and a night dive. They stayed with Garbutt’s Dive Service on Lime Caye, had a great time swimming with sharks, turtles and fish, and said Mrs. Garbutt is a fantastic cook.
Head tour guide, Hugo Panti, told us about a natural cave the Mayans had used. The cave, only recently found, required some rock climbing to access. It was not on the tour list, nor open to the general public, but we arranged a special guide to go with us. It was a daylong trip for the guys. Things like that element made the journey worth every penny.
While we fished, the ladies went to the market in Punta Gorda and visited a cocoa plantation. With Hugo guiding, our entire group visited recently found Mayan ruins. Later, we went river rafting at Big Falls where we were invited to visit the home of Cotton Tree Lodge security guard, Jose, and his family.
My thoughts and recollections are: Having lived next to the gorgeous Moho River for a week, watching the azure water flow, the fish jump, and the herons rest in the shade–plus all the afternoon kayaking and swims, the perfect way to cool off and relax. Eating the locally grown, delicious gourmet food the kitchen prepared daily, the luscious, and hilariously named, tropical drinks. Cliff-diving, swimming through the cave in crystal waters, snorkeling, exploring ruins, touring the Moho by kayak. Exploring the jungle and learning about the wildlife, taking in the sounds and sights of howler monkeys–imagine waking up to sounds that equaled any made for Jurassic park movies. There were hummingbirds, honeycreepers, parrots, and innumerable others. Swinging in a hammock on the porch of our gorgeous thatched cabana, taking in the stunning view and the fresh, vivid scent of the greenest plants I’ve ever seen. Last, but not least, meeting all the staff, including the independent contractors who lend their services as tour guides, the members of the community we met during outings to nearby sites and villages. As I try to recapture the experience, words fail me. I honestly cannot describe how truly valuable and amazing my time at Cotton Tree Lodge was.
We met so many brilliant people. I continue to be incredibly inspired by the collective drive, ambition and dedication to cradle-to-grave sustainability the Lodge and their partners have. I owe the Lodge a great debt of gratitude for the connection they forged when our group visited.
Many guests have asked how they can give something back to the communities near Cotton Tree Lodge. You might consider volunteering for a day with Sustainable Harvest’s programs and working directly with local communities. You can donate school supplies to the local primary schools in the villages of Santa Anna and San Felipe. The most requested items include math workbooks, notebooks, pencils and any other general school supplies. Don’t take anything requiring batteries or replacement parts. Please pack your donations in your luggage. Do not mail them because the recipients of international packages are often taxed on the contents. It is sometimes possible to arrange a brief visit for you to deliver your donations to the local schools. Please e-mail them at email@example.com for more information about appropriate contributions.
Our group took two SCI Badgerland Safari Blue Bags. We brought them as luggage, stuffed with school supplies, books, solar calculators, soccer balls, clothes, Legos, and toys. Since it was Easter, all the schools were closed. Hugo arranged for the San Felipe village leader to have all the youngsters meet us at the village center. Janet and Austin spent an hour distributing items to the young children while the leader kept order. All the children were well mannered. We arranged with CTL Manager, Jay, to take all the other things to the Tumul K’in high school students after the Easter holiday.
I had a great time hanging out with and getting to know (as much as you can in a week) the staff at the Lodge. I miss the guys already. I had some awesome and really fun talks with Darren, Sandy, Ernesto, Pablo and Carlos. I was so happy to meet and talk with managers, Jay and Becca-Macy Moore, and Chris Crowell, co-owner of the Lodge. They have a large staff, both locals and foreigners, who do eco tourism project work.
Nestled between unspoiled rainforest and the banks of the Moho River, Cotton Tree Lodge is a tranquil retreat on 100 private acres in the undiscovered Toledo District. The owners, Chris and Jeff, opened the resort in early 2007, hoping to develop “a magical place – where visitors could get in touch with the land, the people, and themselves.” Cotton Tree Lodge is located between two Maya villages, San Felipe and Santa Ana. Many lodge employees live in these villages, and Cotton Tree Lodge strives to be a good neighbor. Most of their neighbors are Mayan subsistence farmers living in small villages. Garinagu, Mestizo, Creoles, East Indian, Chinese, and Mennonite people also live there, along with European and American expats, missionaries and non-profit workers. Toledo is a unique and diverse place celebrating the diverse cultures through community events like the Toledo Cacao Festival and Maya Day at Tumul K’in Center of Learning.
I can definitely recommend this trip for fishing and adventure. Hunts can be added with Drake Dawson’s Safari Unlimited.– Alan Heth