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Western Buffalo Roam Africa’s Cameroon
by David Cabela
“Look here.” Pierre pointed to a large, rounded track on the soft savanna dirt. “Garga says the big bull is walking at the back of the herd.”
“How long ago?” I asked.
“Not long. Dawn maybe.”
Dawn? That had been more than an hour earlier. The herd could be lying in the shade just a short thirty minute hike away or be into the next concession before we could catch up with them.
I guess that is part of the beauty buffalo hunting offers. There are no guarantees. Maybe that’s even the beauty of life and why buffalo hunting often makes for a fine metaphor.
You begin following a set of bull tracks with a great deal of hope which gives you all the energy you need to start out. There is also a bit of apprehension, a bit of fear—if you are honest and humble enough to admit it. If we knew how it would end, what would be the point? Mystery ads beauty and unknowing fuels the curiosity to seek truth. And just when you think you have found the bull, the tangle of brush they have entered becomes too thick to pursue and dusk reminds you that too much curiosity can lead you somewhere you do not want to go.
Looking back on this western buffalo hunt in Cameroon, I realize buffalo hunting may also be a fitting metaphor for my personal spiritual journey.
When you start out on a buffalo track, the hope and excitement and the beauty around you seem as if they can propel you through any obstacle. Obstacles themselves, in fact, seem like marvels of God’s creation full of beauty and wonder. The hooked thorns that grab hold of your arm, though slightly painful, strike you as a minor hardship which you believe will make the end result more satisfying. The rising heat begins as a welcome respite to the morning chill lingering in you fingertips. Every shadow, every bush, every dry creek bed holds the possibility of an unforgettable encounter. You marvel at the hartebeest that charges away at your approach. You feel like a child discovering a new world every time a beetle, a giant ant, or other unique insect scurries across the trail. The memory of a lion roaring in the night reminds you Africa is a place where the line between beauty and danger is sometimes ultra thin. Your senses communicate with one another effortlessly and vibrantly—it feels the way it is supposed to feel.
Then, after a few hours on the trail, the sun begins to weigh on your shoulders and the once fascinating hike becomes a monotonous march toward the end of the day as if none of it mattered at all. Each step becomes slightly more painful than the one before it. The trees begin to look dull and more like obstacles you have to navigate than the unique marvels of creation they were just hours before.
So there I was marching on Cameroon’s savanna under a sun radiating over 110 degrees of pulsating heat. Three hours stretched to five, then to six, and sometime around the eighth hour when I was ready to collapse, when all I wanted was to quit and get back to the relative comforts of camp, Garga ducked behind a nearby thorn bush and pointed.
Kneeling on one knee beside him, I stared through the brush and into a thin wooded dry creek bed. There, lying in the shade was the buffalo herd.
The monotony, the endurance, the seemingly fruitless march actually led somewhere after all. It had not only been meaningful, but necessary. The fire in my belly had been reignited and it refueled the passion I had so easily seemed to forget.
We spent the next twenty minutes glassing the herd, looking for the old bull we were certain was with them. Only when they grew restless and decided to move did we see the one we were after. Of course, he stayed safely behind the females until they had walked out of range and out of sight.
Pierre grabbed my arm prodding me to follow him. “Come, David. If we hurry we can cut them off before they cross the river.”
We took off in a sprint, but it was not long before Garga had to slow down to allow us to catch up to him. My legs had given all they had during the previous eight hours and now, they seemed to move not on my own will power, but on something beyond what I had to give—something both fully within me, but somehow fully outside of me at the same time.
All I know for sure, is they kept pushing forward until we stopped and set up the shooting sticks behind a tree overlooking a ravine 100 yards upwind of us.