Martin Peterson: My time with the Tracks of Giants
I first got involved with the Wilderness Leadership School in 1985 as a Wilderness Guide, where I met Ian McCallum who was running the Cape Branch of the school. This involved taking young adults into remote areas on weekend trails, something I truly loved. I remained an active guide for the following 12 years until the sponsors of the project withdrew.
I actively supported WLS activities thereafter, including Pride of Table Mountain Project, which has been taking groups of 50 children every 2 weeks onto Table Mountain, with trained Xhosa speaking guides for the last 16 years. It’s an amazing project which gives disadvantaged youth a taste of nature and hopefully fuels an on-going interest.
I helped run the World Wilderness Congress (the world’s longest-running, public conservation project and environmental forum managed by The WILD Foundation) in 2001 in Port Elizabeth and got my first taste of the worldwide interest in the preservation of wilderness areas and conservation in general.
I have just returned from 1 month in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe as part of the back up team on the Tracks of Giants expedition, tracing the migratory paths of elephants in Southern Africa.
I assisted with driving, cooking and general logistics involved in keeping an expedition of this nature going. It was simply amazing sleeping in truly wild areas, meeting passionate conservationists and seeing how people and animals survive in close proximity.
We had 2 vehicles, one very full of bags which Johnny managed to pack and unpack with amazing precision and the other full of food and stuff needed to prepare the food, driven by Frank who remained calm unless we put tomatoes in his coolbox. Very uncool!
Anton the bicycle mechanic, cook, cameraman and general do everything guy was amazing and his enthusiasm to perform any task was inspirational. It was a pleasure working with him, keeping everything going and occasionally making sure the whisky bottle wasn’t too full.
I was also fortunate to join Ian McCallum and Ian Michler, the 2 leaders of the expedition on some of the sections, including walking through Chobe National Park in an area frequented by lion, elephant, buffalo, hyena and many other dangerous animals. Ironically my closest encounter with a wild animal involved a honey badger who broke into one of our food boxes, stole some cooking oil and proceeded to destroy the bottle in front of my bed at 3 o’clock in the morning in a kind of “up yours” statement. This section was done with special permission from the Park’s management and without an armed guard and I’m still dreaming of being eaten by a passing lion or an inquisitive hyena, even though I’m back in the urban jungle.
In addition I did some of the cycling sections in Hwange and had the pleasure of stopping to let an elephant cross the road only to be followed by approximately 70 other elephants who proceeded to a watering hole and drank with enthusiasm. These are the kind of animal encounters that will stay with me forever and there were many of them.
We had the pleasure of staying at Davisons Camp in Zimbabwe, courtesy of Wilderness Safaris and on a game drive in fading light we found a pride of 5 young lions. One ventured out of the bush, roared and walked off down the road obviously not finding us very interesting. Then another came out and lay in front of the vehicle and the American tourists next to me were somewhat excited. Then another came out and proceeded to the rear of the vehicle and lay down. Then to everybody’s amazement both lions started playing and rolling over on the ground similar to dogs behaviour. Unbelievable!
I witnessed the kayak section down the Zambezi where the paddlers encountered both crocodiles and hippos and were fortunate to avoid direct contact. My experiences were truly unforgettable and I am very privileged to have been part of this amazing expedition.