Jon T. Peterson
Lizard Fishing in a Land Rover
Updated: May 28, 2019
I have always loved Land Rovers. To me they have always been the iconic bush vehicle and conjure up romantic images of Africa.
I was traveling with a guide through a farmstead in rural South Africa when I spotted an old Landie laid up under a lean to. I told him I wanted to stop but he replied, “don’t worry it will be there when we pass back through”.
When we returned not only was the Rover there but two local people were taking a unusually strong interest in it. It appeared that they were trying to reach something underneath the car with a pole. When we pulled up I tried to ask one of the men what they were doing. I received a response that I wasn’t expecting. “That’s my meat”!, the man exclaimed. Confused, I asked “what meat”? His frenzied response was “thatsmymeatthatsmymeatthatsmymeat”! I put my hands up and told him I just wanted to take pictures of the car. My guide told me that apparently there was something in the undercarriage that they wanted to catch. That something was a giant monitor lizard.
When the man understood that I wasn’t going to take his prize, he calmed down and told me to take my pictures. Taking this peace offering I watched the men try to lasso this three foot long lizard. Things got exciting when the animal made its way up into the passenger seat and fixed its gaze upon me. I brought the camera up to my eye. Through the viewfinder I could see its jaws open and I could hear hissing sounds. Then it charged. I was expecting that if I got charged on this trip it would be by an elephant not by a cheeky reptile. The lizard jumped past my shoulder and landed on the ground. Before it could make its escape the men captured it and fixed a wire noose around its neck.
The lizard was dispatched and the man who was so worried about me taking “his meat” asked if I wanted to see the “one he caught last week”. I glanced at my guide who shrugged and I turned back to the man and simply nodded my head. He hopped into the back of the Land Cruiser and we drove a couple of miles to his house.
The small house was made of corrugated tin and lay baking underneath the African sun. He went inside and brought out what appeared to be the charred remains of another monitor lizard. I was alternately horrified and fascinated. Why was he so interested in finding lizards and eating them? He brought the lizard to me and the guide took pictures of me holding it at arms length by the tip of its tail. I told him I wanted one last picture of just him holding the lizard. As I was ready to snap the picture he ripped a piece of meat off and put it in his mouth.
This was my first trip to Africa and I didn’t understand the realities of life here. My experiences so far had revolved around khakis and gin and tonics. I hadn’t given much thought to those who lived here. I didn’t understand that this man didn’t have a strange fetish for eating lizards. He was hungry. His diet was mostly corn meal and anything else he could scrounge was a huge bonus to him. I was oblivious.
With each subsequent trip to Africa I am reminded that life can be seen through different lenses. Now I embrace these differences and try to see things through the eyes of those who live there. I’ve learned the value of meat, regardless of the source, to the local people. I will never forget that lizard fished out of a Land Rover.