Sunday, January 3, 2010

Mountain Trails and Bush Babies

Waking up before the sun rises is clearly something other people do. Not us. Not on this tour. No sir – we are well awake, and ready to take on the day in the wee early dark hours of the morning. Just give us or breakfast spread, and pass me my hot chocolate and I'm ready to take on the world. That tent will be broken down, my pack will be on the truck, and I'll be rearing to get to where I'm going in no time at all.

Seven o'clock isn't just sleeping in, it's impossible. Six thirty is a luxury. Five o'clock is just fine. Four might be early, but hey – it's doable.

Captain Raymond gets us up early, because the longer you're awake the more you see – and his methods have worked. We are his well oiled human machine, and as we drove out of Ethosa, his crazed theories paid off again. Two Cheetahs were playing with each other in the tall grass. A hyena bathed itself in a rain pool a few feet from where we snapped away eagerly with our cameras, and a female lion walked so close to our truck that some were scared it might pounce on Indika, sticking his body out the window for better shots.

We all contemplated the death of one of our own, versus the crazy pictures we'd take of the incident.

I feel like I'm in Africa now. It's strange. I talked about it a lot in Europe – oh Europe, you seem so long ago now – how it feels like just another city. Well Africa may not have been a city, but I'm not sure what it felt like. I'm not sure where these feelings and expectations come from either – but there, as I'd seen almost every animal I could have ever hoped to see, I definitely felt as if I was in Africa.

We headed away from the park, and made a brief stop at a Wimpy restaurant (the logo to which looks a lot like Wimpy's back in Canada, and the restaurants themselves aren't all that different - something is a foot here. I had a banana milkshake. “Bananas are good.” (Sigh - tomorrow is Christmas Eve and Dr. Who will by dying over the next two days. And I'll not be able to watch. Sad, solemn tragedy. For he was the one that taught me the goodness of bananas.)

As we travelled in the truck, I read – with my best Radio voice – the Cosmo horoscopes for 2010 from a magazine someone had bought. They were scandalous, and full of humorous delight for the whole truck to enjoy. And for a while time was passed. Chef's horoscope told her that she's be pouring chocolate sauce over a male encounter, and that her love of cooking would really “heat things up.” This was all said to happen on January 13th. Time will tell. It was oh so fitting. You go Chef.

Today took us to Waterberg camp, where a cliff overlooked the Namibian plains. There was a trail that led up into the hills. As with anything, I needed to climb it – to prove to myself, more than anyone, that I could. No physical activity would hold me back. Though I still remembered the god awful pain of dune 45.

Up though the red rocks I climbed, on my own – not wanting to be forced up by others, or hold them back. I climbed for nearly an hour, following the white arrows, and the footprints that marked the trail. Halfway up was a swimming pool. I'd see it on the way down, I was sure. It was hot, and I was foolishly without water. But I had come to far. Up I continued.

At one point I noticed the white footprints became yellow. The rocks also started going much steeper than they had been. But I carried on. Something else was bothering me, but I couldn't quite put a finger on it.

Finally, after three times I was sure I had reached the top, I reached the top. I looked around, took pictures, and then it hit me – the other thing that bothered me... there were no human footprints up here. And no one had passed me. People left after me, people left before me. I was slow. There should have been some sign of others, but there wasn't. There was nothing.

And there were a number of animal tracks, and animal droppings. it was time to leave. I tried to follow my own tracks back, but couldn't. I had lost my trail. For a few moments I thought what a terrible mistake I had made. i saw what looked like a trail, but didn't remember it from earlier. Still – anything was better than nothing, if the rain came, or the sun set.

I headed down, and saw the yellow prints on the rocks again. I was back on track. My knees were killing me by this point. Then they switched back to white. I wondered what caused this change. Oh – look – a sign, I missed on the way up “No access beyond this point without a valid permit and guide.” Interesting. I followed the white prints to the top there, and then took some more pictures, heading down as the thunder rolled in, reaching the bottom just before the rain started. I thought many times on the way down that I had been a fool to go up, but safely at the bottom -

Just passed the pool, no longer a good option as the water fell from above, I saw Hamish and Mitchel standing quietly in the path. Shh! They told me. They had found a baby Springbok. I took a few pictures, and then walked back to camp. It was only a few feet from us.

Dinner was braai broodjies. Think grilled cheese – but over a fire. Literally they translate into BBQ Sandwiches. They're more like a panini actually. Bread with mayo, tomatoes, cheese, cooked over an open fire. Chef had done it again. It went well with ketchup (or tomato sauce as the Aussies and Africans called it. I tell you – that's something you put on pasta, not food. They couldn't think of the name of the red sauce they put on pasta. Ai ya.)

Raymond called us to come quick with cameras. He had found a dikdik close to camp. The smallest of all African Antelope. It was deep in the bush, though. Hmm – I showed him a picture of the baby springbok I had taken earlier from close range. “Is this it?” I asked. “Yuah!” he replied. Good for me. It wasn't a springbok after all. Thinking that's all it was, Hamish and Mitchel took no shots. Success.

When everyone else went to sleep Hamish and I stayed up chatting with Raymond and Mia. It's strange to realize that they're people, just like everyone else, despite their role as leader. It's almost like how students think of teachers – though you'd expect me to know better by now.

We talked about their past trips, and looked through photos. Raymond had one of a zebra with it's face half eaten off, showing the skull below. That was an intense shot. Not to mention some cute baby cheetah shots from a rehabilitation centre.

Now, the exact incidents need not be discussed fully – but we were made away that if we called the truck a bus anymore terrible things could happen. Mia could only scratch Raymond's back for so long. Something would have to be done.

But first Mia would need pretend she was a bush baby and climb high up into a tree; “Hamish not client, Hamish friend.”

How could we stop calling the truck a bus?

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