Elizabeth the Aussie didn’t seem like much, but boy did Biff deliver
HERE were no kangaroos; not a kookaburra in sight — I was in the Kruger National Park, for crying out loud, so why did I feel like I was in the Australian Outback?
THE GUTSY GIRL GUIDE
It had a lot to do with the woman who’d greeted us as at our bushcamp. She wore a wide-brim leather hat and a bandolier of bullets around her waist. “I’m your guide, Elizabeth,” she said in a distinctly Australian accent, “But you can call me Biff.”
She couldn’t have been more than 20 years old — certainly no bush-hardened Crocodile Dundee. I was worried that such a young Australian, no doubt straight out of guide training, wouldn’t be the best for our group, made up as it was of conservationists and birders. They were also a wickedly funny bunch on the hunt for a good laugh.
Biff woke us at 4:30 the next morning. Through the gauze of our tent, I saw her dim solar lamp glide towards us in the dark. “Good morning. Oh! You had a leopard visitor last night,” she said as she strode past our tent, moving on to wake the others.
I scoured the path leading to our tent with a powerful torch. I struggled to see any evidence of the nocturnal visitor, but eventually a faint track revealed itself. Most people would have missed it even if they knew it was there. That Biff had spotted it was remarkable.
I soon realised her bush knowledge was legion. She used her enormous .458 rifle as a sturdy prop to kneel down and examine animal tracks.
Facing elephants on foot, her calm demeanour put us at ease.
With seemingly binocular vision, she picked out things at great distance and honed in on them to tell their stories — translucent praying mantis pupae hanging on tiny twigs; beautiful birds and beetles we wouldn’t have otherwise seen; plants and seeds we didn’t know the significance of until then. Everything she highlighted was woven into a wonderful tale.
The complement to this was her wicked sense of humour. Biff matched every quip thrown at her from our ribald group and sent them back in double doses.
She was outrageously funny and extremely charming. She would say things that made our jaws drop, then tell us things that warmed our hearts.
One dark night, once we had all become as familiar as old friends, Biff was driving us back to camp when she stopped on the edge of a river bank. She turned the engine and lights off. Before us lay an utterly black void, and she said: “This is my favourite viewpoint.” We frowned into the gloom. “It’s a very special place to me,” she added, “I brought you here because I wanted to tell you something. Something important.” We waited. “You’re the best group I’ve ever guided, and I really mean that.”
We were all touched. After a moment, one of us asked: “How many groups have you guided?”
“You’re my second,” she declared, before firing up the engine and taking off with a grin. We laughed like drunk hyenas.
The next day, Biff astonished us all. We were intent on a swim in the 43°C heat, and persuaded her to take us to the river near our camp. Along the way, Biff led us to the shade of a tree from which we could safely observe a herd of elephants drinking from the river.
Angling to get a good view, we moved into stark sunlight, but Biff urged us to return to the shade for fear of drawing attention from the elephants.
As we did so, she looked down and said, “Puffy. Don’t move!”
Frozen with fear, we scanned the ground for signs of the puff adder — a snake with a nasty reputation for biting humans. To make matters worse, we were wearing flip-flops in preparation for a swim.
“I can hear him, he’s right around here,” she said, reaching for a stick. We couldn’t hear or see a thing. Then, like a bush magician, she confidently hoisted the puff adder up with the stick for all of us to see. It seemed she was indeed a true Croc’ Dundee.
“First puffy I’ve ever seen!” she said, admiring the snake before releasing it.
Stunned, one of us asked how on earth she had identified the puff adder before even seeing it.
“The puffy’s got this really distinct sound — I recognised it from the description in my textbook.”
She probably saved one of our lives that day. Good on you, Biff. — © Anton Crone
Sunday Times29 Nov 2015Article – ANTON CRONEImage – PIET GROBLER