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…of Smoke

Of Smoke: The smell of smoke in an African hunting safari camp

Often between a hunting safari expedition, I have often found myself searching for something which was just a fleeting thought, a slight “tug” at the back of my mind that I could not get a grasp on. Something was missing, but I could not get the proverbial “…finger on it”. Then, one weekend when I was doing the very traditional South African “braai thing” (barbecue) it crystallized. “Smoke, but of course…” it reared up in my mind. How could I not realise it? Not being aware of it? The smell of smoke, to be more precise.

The world we live in today is getting more and more estranged from most things natural. Smoke is one of natures “raw” natural by products and can be an early warning to danger, especially in the built up urban areas and of course within our homes, but out ”… in the bush” during a hunting safari and in the concession areas that we hunt it also is the opposite side of the coin.

Smoke, “real” smoke, is to any rural African and true “bush” man a mind easer. Smoke is soothing, a sign of home and hearth, a conveyer of camaraderie, family and relaxation. The fire becomes the centre piece for preparing food, re-living the day’s events, contemplation and for very many of us as locals it means a braai with some pap (grits) and some beef or lamb chops, maybe shush kebab or green corn on the cob.

In any African hunting safari camp worth its salt, it is even more than that. Smoke is the constant given indicating where camp is and the campfire where tall tales are told, where laughter rings and where sometimes we morosely contemplate the days failings of a stalk gone wrong, a missed shot or even worse, a shot badly placed and resulting in a prolonged, mind anguished follow up. Smoke means that water is being boiled for that deliciously nice shower in the evening after a long day’s slug and smoke very early in the morning will be followed by the rich aroma of percolating coffee.

The smoke from a hunting camp fire in Africa has a very specific smell and many a time from the wood of the Mopane tree. It is the slight mixture of acrid sweet and for me, never fail to stir memories. Sitting down around a mopane campfire striking a match to a briar pipe and feeling the first draw of a sweet, dark Latakia/Virginia mix tobacco filling my mouth is indescribable. Add to that the smoky, peaty smell of a decent single malt and I get the feeling that heaven cannot be too far away.