Sunday, January 3, 2010

Welcome to Namibia

We woke up early and broke down our tents. It has yet to cease amazing me just how quickly we can all put up our tents, and then take them back down again. An army on the move could be prepared for the night in less than five minutes, and broken down in half that time, on the path once more. We are a well oiled machine – powered by the power of keenness.

When we boarded the bus there was silence for a good long time. Too long. This trip was becoming quiet, and boring, and without social interaction. Everyone seemed far too into their own books, music, or self. Rai decided this needed to change. She started us playing catch phrase, where names of movies, and people, and things like that were all written down and thrown into her big floppy straw hat. The very one I stole the day before when we were pirating the orange river.

One person would give clues as to just what the phrase was, and others would have to guess the thing. For some time we played, and it seemed like only the four of us cared enough to try and guess, but little by little this started to change. “Beneath the Florance celestial orb.” Huh? What? I don't get it.

I repeated my phrase. Still nothing – from the back, “It's Under the Tuscan Sun!”

Correct she was! And thus she entered the fold. Though she claimed not to really be playing, ten minutes later she was slitting on the cooler box at the front of the truck giving as good as she got. Others were roped into this game as well. And thus the bus stated to bond.

When our game had come to an end, humdingers became the delight of choice. People would hum songs and others would try to guess them for the much needed and appreciated points-that-mean-nothing. Our bus was a family.

We played against the guides in the front cab,by speaking, humming, or singing, into the microphone.

As we zipped across Africa we came across a nest built by social weavers over a twenty seven year period. Hundreds, perhaps, lived inside. The African landscape had been changing on daily basis, and as such it never once became boring. While you might retire to your novel now and then, the windows to the world outside were sill most coveted.

And through those windows I saw my first Zebra. It was way off, couldn't be photographed with any ease, but sure enough there was a zebra standing in the distance. So much more than a painted horse, these striped creatures are. And their mohawks? Spectacular as well.

Animals, exotic, and distant from those found at home have a very special draw to them, Sure there may be thousands of them here, but I'd never seen one before, and so -

When we arrived at our campsite, the first thing we had pointed out to us was the swimming pool. Yes, we are in Africa, but that's no need to go without some of the basic necessities of life – you know, like a swimming pool. There was, however, just one slight drawback to this plan. It seems as if there was another tour group who had also discovered said pool. They were travelling with Nomad tours, and had yet to earn themselves the nickname that would stick with them for some time to come. But all that would change -

Before heading to the pool Hey brought out his most spectacular possession. A 200 gram, heavy weight, high wind, Frisbee. We tossed it around the desert, relearning all the throws we used to know years ago. After some practice, I was getting it under my leg, over my head, ringing off my thumb, and raising up as if by magic. We played barefoot. In the desert. In the desert where there were all sorts of scorpions and snakes waiting to make us much less alive than we would have been otherwise. Perhaps one could say that mistakes were made here, but just as I thought we were being the fool, another of our tour walked past:

“Where are you headed?” I asked.

He told me he was going off to that point in the distance. A mountain? No – it wasn't a mountain. It was a sand dune. And he would hike up it. “Are you bringing water?” I questioned noting the lack of it in his hands. “Huh, that would probably be a good idea, wouldn't it?” And so off he went, fetching his water, and heading off into the distance. Never to be seen again.

O.K. He was seen again, but it's possible to understand how things might have played out differently.

Off to the pool, Frisbee still in hand, we joined the other people who, half an hour earlier, had stated that they too wanted to go for a swim. Due to the nature of group dynamics it had taken this long for them to decide that they actually were going to go. And so, rather than costing us time, our game of flying disk toss actually saved us from many minutes of awkwardly standing around.

Now our crew showed up at the pool in baggy swimsuits, some wearing shirts to protect from the sun, ready to jump right in and splash around. But when we arrived we discovered the Nomad group already there. The guys were standing in the shallow end, beer in hand, showing off their ripped bodies, walking two feet, only to turn around and walk back the safe two feet. The show-off-shuffle if you will. And the girls? They all sat pool side in their fashionista bikinis, all very this-season, with large Jackie-O sunglasses. They tilted their torsos to the left, they tilted their torsos to the right. They were bone dry.

Well, good for them. Into the pool we jumped. “Hey look, it's Santa!” Oh good, Charmers, these guys are. Just as I was about to say something, I realized that for, perhaps the first time in my life that I heard that phrase, they weren't talking to me.

No – they were talking to the grey haired, short bearded, east German from our tour.

As we swam and wanted to play Frisbee we were blocked by the beer drinking standing at the other end. This just being there to be there was ridiculous. I announced that I had to do something, got out of the pool, and put into action plan SandlotAlpha. I would not be pretending to drown in order to make out with the lifeguard, but I would be walking to the deep end, flexing for all to see, in fabulous ridiculosity, and then jumping into the pool with the trademarked scream of “Canon ball!” causing localized Richter activity, and emptying the pool of a fair amount of its unclean, can't see the bottom five feet away, water.

Where did this water end up? Mostly on the once-dry girls sitting pool side.

Though I could not see the results of my actions, I was later told that many angry looks were exchanged, and that I had done an excellent service, striking a blow for the good guys. Striking a blow again these evil boozehounds, who dubbed their truck the Beer Bus. Beer Bus? These kids were straight off the Party Bus. They cared not for travel, and that's fine – but partiers were what they were, and whenever we would meet again great sighs would be let go: Guh – it's the party bus.

Rai called them the BimboBus – but that was too much of a pejorative for me, though possibly still perfectly valid.

It should be noted that one of the girls from the party bus (party van, party truck, etc.) was overheard saying, “I hate the sand! When are we going to get out of all this sand?!” Sweetie - you probably shouldn't have come on a trip to the desert. I hear there's all sorts of sand here!

As we sat in a circle watching the sun set, I made my feelings on the local cider known. “It tastes [expletive] vial!” And it did – Savanna? Not a delicious cider. It's to cider what American beer is to real beer. This announcement won me no friends, as some people found it the drink of choice. First enemies were forming.

But there was no time to worry about that, for as the sun set, much quicker here where the earth spins faster, leaving a strip of reds, golds, and oranges across the horizon for an hour yet to come, the sky darkened. The stars began to shine.

Imagine a world without light pollution, where the skies stretch on and on, where the horizon is so low, and the sky is so large. This is where I was standing. This i what I was looking at. The world around me existed, but it seemed so temporary, so unimportant. Everything else was sky. And stars. Some of them I knew, though why Orion was upside down, I could only guess at. Yes, I understand that all constellations are reversed here – but why wold such a great hunter stand on his head? Most were strange and foreign to me. I would see the Southern Cross for the first time.

The sky here, facing my campground, lightly illuminated by the truck's glowing kitchen light, bringing the tree under which all our tents were erected, into view, seeing the world of black broken by pinpricks of white? That was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen in my entire life.

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