6 - Spear. Mint condition.
After chimp trek, into the small town for a beer at The Hive Bistro's upstairs patio overlooking the jungle. Still buzzing with excitement from the chimp experience, the Nile beer tasted especially delicious. We watched as massive white rain clouds crept quickly over the verdant emerald hills closer, closer then wham floodgates opened and the winds whooshed in a wall of water, dropping both the temperature and an incredible volume of water in mere minutes, turning the nearby dirt road into a muddy rivulet.
An old man came to visit us upstairs, a former guide now retired. He asked us to visit his “mission” next door. Thankfully it was a cultural mission, not religious. I asked if he had any spears for sale…he assumed I was joking, but Levan confirmed I was on a serious hunt for a weapon, and the man said he had one. The clouds emptied faster than my beer bottle, and we walked out into sunshine, through the bushes into the store & mission next door. He did indeed have 3 old spears for sale, authentic but still a little rough despite his furious cleaning as he handed them over. The shafts had heft, thanks to the metal blade at one end and the metal sheath covering the other (to provide balance and a smooth flight). When I declined to buy, he said he would ask around the village that evening for other weapons, and we agreed to stop by in the morning and he and Levan exchanged phone numbers.
Nate (very reluctantly suspect) agreed to join in an abbreviated version of the elder’s 2.5 hour cultural tour in the back room. US$20 was a little steep, relatively speaking, but his passion for the mission shone through with religious fervour, so we sat down on the bench and began to learn about the elephant skull, early life in the village (50 years ago, and there’s been a lot of change since then), grinding sorghum with a simple mill (two large, flat and smooth stones), how they made beer and gin from bananas (a lot of feet stomping in a wooden trough), making coffee, and then outside to see examples of different animal traps (surprisingly deep holes, slanting in which can even trap elephants, or large round holes scooped out which can hold over a dozen stupid warthogs which will follow their friends down to doom instead of running away after the first one falls in), to the snare which I’ve always wanted to see in action (surprisingly simple, yet deadly effective, even against elephants, and inhumane, as a poacher might not check the snare for days at a time, with the wire cutting deeper as the animal struggles for its life).
7AM breakfast, then south to Queen Elizabeth National Park. The village elder wasn’t answering his phone, so we didn’t drive back to his village. Ten minutes later he called, so we turned around. He had two (freshly washed) spears. He’d hiked up into the hills to get them, outside of cell range which is why he’d missed Levan’s calls.
The negotiations started, and I felt bad because I knew he thought he was about to hit the jackpot. But he didn’t know who he was up against. His dreams were shattered after his opening, hopeful salvo:
“For you, $40.” (200,000 shillings)
“Well, I was only planning on spending around 30,000 to 40,000 shillings.”
Uganda's national animal is the beautiful crested crane. If this guy had a crest, it would have lowered enough to touch his toes. Hope fled his body like a gigantic spiritual exhale.
“The owner is expecting at least $20.”
“I can go to 50,000.”
He looked around for help. He found only Levan, who laughed and in their language that 50,000 was plenty. We’d discussed a reasonable price range earlier, so I’d planted five 10,000 notes in my pocket, which I brought out to show was all I had.
The old guy knew he was defeated, and made a final pitch to cover his transportation costs having hiked high into the hills to retrieve the spear. On cue (with no rehearsal), Nate offered to lend me 10,000.
Final price 60,000 or about US$17.
Levan later said I looked like a Ugandan king. Who could argue?
(Ugandan mobile phone cameras are a few generations behind Apple's):
Buying a spear proved quite difficult, as the government had confiscated almost 100% of the traditional hunting tools. Getting it in to Canada would prove just as challenging...