On my death bed I will tell those, assuming there is anyone listening, that walking in the bush with Jerry Hambana has been some of the most ‘alive time’ of my life. Not fun time, memorable time or unforgettable time – but alive time… moments when the heart beats a little quicker, the eyes were keener and the footsteps more measured. Walking in the proximity of lion and leopard can do that to you and if you are a natural at it (and there are many on the team) then you probably move beyond the excitement phase of tracking to the business end of it.
I’m not a natural bush tracker and I’ll always have a more natural eye for golfballs crouching in 6 inch rough than mustard yellow eyes in the thatching grass. As a result I get set off easily when on foot. Quails and francolins exploding from thickets at knee height and bushbuck and duiker bursting to life from their frozen hiding places are heart arresting moments and I seem to have had many of them. Jerry doesn’t flinch of course but he does watch my spasmodic reactions with some delight.
Beyond the natural sounds that trigger adrenalin when on fresh tracks, there are the internal squeaks and gurgles that can be experienced at the ungodly hours we often find ourselves creeping around in the bush… Serious tracking should be left for after breakfast because my empty stomach speaks in a range somewhere between a cat like growl and an elephant rumble. I’ve watched Jerry freeze momentarily as my internal digestions have shattered a silent morning. If I hadn’t given myself a fright in those moments I probably would have been able to take some pride in foxing Jerry.
More recently I’ve been having other more serious problems. If you have ever had a ringing in one of your ears then you’ll know part of what I’m about to describe. Ringing in the ears is common enough amongst most people and is an indication of some sort of ear damage or hearing loss. This is hardly suprising given our modern lifestyles. I’ve had the whole ringing ear thing before and when I was growing up I was taught a superstition that it meant someone was talking about you. Obviously as a singleton I used to think that it was a gathering of girls discussing me at length but more recently I’ve fantasised that management have been discussing giving me a raise. Alarmingly though, the ringing has now developed into something much more sinister – tinnitus…..
At least I think it’s tinnitus that’s afflicting me. We are a way away from an ear doctor here so I’ve diagnosed myself on the internet. Searching for definitions rendered: “Tinnitus can be perceived in one or both ears or in the head. It is usually described as a ringing noise, but in some patients, it takes the form of a high-pitched whining, electric buzzing, hissing, humming, tinging or whistling sound, or as ticking, clicking, roaring, “crickets” or “tree frogs” or “cicadas”. That description should have most rangers running to an ENT surgeon.
My experience is a rythmical whirring in my right ear and that sound is easily confused with wild dogs contact calling each other. It’s disconcerting when the ‘holy grail’ of animal sightings keeps calling inside your head and poor Jerry has had to learn to disregard my insistence that the pack is nearby and on the run. I’ve also wondered if I’ve stumbled onto, beyond the range of the average human ear, radio transmissions.
More probably I’ve got age and loud sound induced damage. It’s manageable but annoying when things are very quiet and internal sounds are amplified by silence. At it’s worst I’ve wanted to cut my ear off (I wonder if Van Gogh suffered from tinnitus) but now I’ve relegated it to the bunch of other ailments I’ve collected along the way (astigmatism, bad back etc…) and eventually I’m guessing it will become ‘white noise.’
Ipods, snoring wife, rifle practice and parties on Varty Deck all come to mind as the most obvious source of noise damage, but I’ve decided to blame the roaring Majingilane male lions for my auditory impairment.
As such my two New Years resolutions will be to park further away from male lions and to see what compensation the provident fund offers rangers who’ve heard one too many lion symphonies…
I feel for your pain. Fortunately the loud hum in my ears is not constant. I believe mine is from working around jet engines for 20 years. I have a relative who has tinnitus and it drives her crazy! On rainy humid days its worse. Sometimes music helps to drown out the roaring sound.
Hang in there!
Well, you obviously have a keen, self deprecating sense of humor! Next time we come, would love to have the privelege of meeting and/or having you as our ranger. However, ‘hie you’ quickly to the closest MD facility…wouldn’t want you to miss out on a moments worth of sounds!
In any case, get well soon!
Tinnitus …. cyclic….be happy when it’s gone. I always am.
It all lies in your knees, “jy is bang man”, clattering knees make funny noises. But dont worry many people would have carried a extra pair of pants with them on walks like you do. The walking part. I love your article , gives you the human side of it.
Experienced trackers like Jerry sometimes confess their fears too, the thing about walking in the bush is you must just act braver than the next guy(believing you can run faster also helps, although running is often not a good option). The moment you see the other guys weakness you feed on that. Many of the workers on the game farms in the Timbavati and Klaserie i had a beer or two…. with start talking when the tongue gets lose, and believe me i have heard great stories. In many that extra pair of pants would have been very handy.
Thanks for your article , i miss my time in the bush when i read this.
Those Majingilane’s have a lot to answer for at Londolozi !!! I think the noise is just laughter waves going through your brain, you certainly have a great sense of humour!! (I would not risk the snoring wife theory if I was you!) Seriously some treatments are available for ear noise conditions (Meniere’s disease or otoscierosis which is usually hereditary) so as Geri said – haste ye to a specialist young man.
Sounds like you and Jerry are a great team – have fun – and take care of yourself ……..
I loved this post Tom. Thank you very much. Always an excitement even to hear about a heart-racing walk in the bush. My very first encounter with a Lion on foot was a funny one. Our trainer, Mark Louws, had spotted the mane lying lying low in the grass and we were all still somewhat oblivious to it’s presence. Each taking a turn to spot it (binoculars were even out, despite the close range haha), and then slowly retreating to the back of the group, hands a lot shakier and hearts a lot louder than before. A priceless moment, and you’ve hit the nail on the head in this blog. I wish you a speedy recovery 🙂
Many thanks for your most enjoyable post! I read the blog every morning at 05h15, and then I try to imagine the activities at Londolozi? Rangers and trackers getting the trucks ready for another real Africa experience, the kitchen staff brewing coffee to die (or wake up) for!, and guests waking up to another day in wild-life paradise!
We are already longing for the next visit, even though it will only be next year.
As Geri and Sheena indicated, tinnitis is usually treatable, but a thorough medical examination would be needed, followed by (probably) either an MRI of the internal acoustic canals, to look for micro-vascular neuro-compression, or a high res CT of the mastoid bones, to look for bony pathology.
Please let me know as soon as you’re ready to go, I’ll gladly give advice as far as my knowledge can go!
My e-mail address should be available on your data system, otherwise just mail me at work, our website is scan2live.com.
Gerrit and six other Londo’s fans!