Sunday, January 3, 2010

But Sir, Today is Christmas Day

Merry Christmas! Somehow Christmas morning snuck up on all of us. We headed to the bus (err... truck) after a quick breakfast, and said our goodbyes to those who would no longer be travelling with us. We also made welcomes for the new folks. And then after what seemed like forever, we were on our way to the Ghanzi Trail Blazers campsite for the night.

Stop one, crossing the boarder. Exiting Namibia would be relatively painless. My passport now had a Christmas exit stamp in it. However, entering BOTSWANA! err... Botswana, well entrances were never my favourite thing. There were always so many things that could go horribly wrong. I felt that travelling with a group might help smooth things along though.

Just before the boarder we parked in a petrol station to wait for Niki to catch up with us. She had been motoring along at one hundred and fifty kph in the back of a taxi all morning, trying to catch up. When she finally made it, we were able to all climb on board and head off to the wonderful boarder into Botswana. Her taxi fare? Two hundred and eighty dollars American. This is why we travel with insurance, people.

While I had little problem crossing, aside from realizing that my stamp listed me as entering on December 26th, rather than today, Courtney overheard one of the other guards talking. While she was getting stamped a few windows down, her officer looked down at me, and spoke “man, that guy looks like Osama Bin Laden.” Well, it looks like I chose the right window.

And now it also seems as if I spent a full day in noman's land. I'm sure I could make up all sorts of detention stories to back that up. Christmas in “Nowhere.” The girls will come a running.

When we got to the camp, half of us went on a bush walk with people from the Xhique tribe. They had been forced from Namibia due to changing laws, and loss of space. They showed us what berries were edible, what roots could be used for what (all translated from their language, riff with clicks and unknown, to us, syllables.

By combining part of one root, with parts of another, they were able to produce a form of bush soap used for cleaning. By squeezing the larger of the two roots they could produce water which helped them with the rinsing and bathing.

Finally they ended up showing us how to build a fire with two sticks. I have tried this in the past, never getting further than the smoking stage. As I watched these people, who must do it multiple times a day, I didn't feel so bad. Even they had to trade off, and take their time to get to the smoking stage. Finally when it burst into flames, they asked for cigarettes from those on the walk, lighting them over the fire.

These were traditionally dressed people, male and females, with their lower halves covered in skins. The women also carried babies on their backs, wrapped in springbok blankets. This was another example of human tourism where pictures were snapped, awkwardly. But the little French boy who kept poking one of the babies with a piece of grass, as his parents looked on with approval, called most of that awkwardness onto himself.

The tribe used a traditional medicine on his wasp sting to help it. I secretly hoped it made his hand fall off in three days.

After the walk we were transported to the quarry where half of our group had already set up tents. This was a beautiful site, overlooking a large natural pool which we could swim in. While we were out Chef invited everyone to jump in, with a loud scream of Botswana, still dressed in their clothes. They obliged. When we jumped in later, we were told of the biting bugs and beetles that infested the pool. Though we never came across them, we were told hold many there were. Bridget came out with one still in her shirt, apparently.

There are few things as rewarding as a good swim after a hot hot day.

Back in the tent Hamish opened his presents that his parents had given him to travel with. He also let me rip the wrapping off one, gifting me with the gum that was found inside. Thank you Hamish's family! In the tent I opened the letter Katherine had given me to keep until Christmas day, and read it then. With any luck, she should have received my time lapsed email that I wrote to her.

Then it was Christmas dinner.

A feast of corn, and steak, and potato salad, and all wonder of veggies, and broccoli with cheese, and many a cup of hot chocolate (I have really become quite a fan of this drink since travelling.)

Before eating we all crossed arms, grabbed the ends of Christmas crackers, and gave them a great pull. Paper crowns, small plastic prizes, and the most terrible jokes of all time flew everywhere! Crowns were worn (proving that all families wear these on this day) and jokes were read – the best of which was “All toilet seats from the station were stolen, police have nothing to go on.” That was the very best.

After dinner we went to watch the traditional dancing of the tribe we walked with earlier. I may have slipped in and out of consciousness a few times during this, but during their last song I was wide awake. People were asked to come dance with them, but none moved. I wanted to go but didn't lead the charge. Chef pulled Hamish up – thank goodness, now I could go. And the three of us danced around the fire with peoples of the Xhique tribe. That's how I spent Christmas? What did you do?

Carols were sung on the back of the pickup truck that led us from the fire back to camp, through horse stables, and down bouncy dirt roads. Yellow Submarine, and Bohemian Rhapsody may have also been shouted at the top of our lungs. Ahh Christmas.

Late into the night, talking with Raymond and Chef Mia (sharing the beers our truck had given them for Christmas) a pact was made. One that would not come to fruition until the next morning. Early the next morning.

Hamish and I slept in our bathing suits.

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