Monthly Archives: September 2014

MONKEY BUSINESS

“There areP1140173 massive crocs around these islands,” Wourter (pronounced: ‘Vorter’) said as he showed me on Google Earth the croc snout-shaped island of Maaze.

“What do I do if I come across elephants?” I ask.

“I’m not quite sure,” he says. “I think stand your ground.” It sounds more like a question. “Best to ask Sean.”

Sean, Chenney’s brother (the general manager of the croc farm) had offered me to do a week of anti-poaching, clean ups and game counts for the week on Maaze and Mashape Islands, two islands the farm owns out on Lake Kariba. It has a camp with six safari tents and plenty of game such as kudu, puku, impala, elands, bush buck and water bucks.

“There are some massive crocs about so be careful,” Sean heeded on top of Wourter’s advise as he guides the speed boat over choppy waters. “Just keep your eyes open all the time.”

“What do I do if I come across elephants?” I ask as we land on the beach.

“Run,” he looks at me deadpan. “Run faster than the other guy.”

Landing on the island I’m introduced to Brian. “He lives here permanently as the caretaker,” Sean explains. He grabs Brian’s arm and points to two large scars. “A baboon attacked him so watch yourself.”

Great. Crocs, elephants, baboons. What else?

Sean and Wourter wish me luck as they chug off back to the mainland. I had three days to spend here with Brian and two game scouts, Ed and Kennedy, who would be by later. I had stocked up on eggs, vegetables, rice, pasta and a whole chicken to sustain me.

“We should put them in the pots,” Brian suggested. “To keep them from the baboons.”

Baboons. The one animal I truly despised. Evil in appearance and evil in nature. Get enough of them together and they’ll take down a lone lion.

“In the afternoon we will go looking for game,” Brian said.P1140167

I set up my gear in the tent overlooking the bay, a small herd of impala grazing in the thorny grass by the water.

At 15:00 I headed out with Kennedy and Brian to trek around the north-western side of the island, spotting all the game I was told would be there. Including a large male croc that shot to the water on our approach.

“It’s breeding season now,” Brian said, pointing to a sandy bank where the grass ended and the dryness of the island began. “Crocodiles will lay eggs here.”

Crocs are much more aggressive in the breeding season.

Brian pointed to uprooted trees, lying like overturned cars in disaster movies.

“Elephants,” he said calmly.

P1140209

As we trekked through following game tracks, we picked up rubbish that poachers had left behind. We came across a couple of deserted camps, fishermen fishing illegally. That night I ate a hearty cold chicken and pasta salad I had cooked. I sat with Brian and the two scouts by the fire, enjoying the calls of animals as the flames crackled, reaching up towards the Milky Way that was making its appearance.

 
The next morning I awoke early to the sunrise and after standard morning procedures, made my way to the kitchen to cook up some breakfast. Moonandi had shown up.

“Brian has Chicken Pox,” he said. “I must take him to the mainland.” The two scouts had already chugged out earlier that morning. “You will be OK by yourself until they come back?” Moonandi asked.

“Sure,” I said. “Think it’s possible for me to paddle out in the canoe?”

“Yes,” he said. “Just be careful. Very big crocodiles here.”

Everyone keeps saying that.

He left with Brian and I was suddenly surrounded by an eerie silence. I made some eggs as fish eagles called out. After washing up I headed over to the canoe. The paddle was broken but still usable. The only issue was that my hands and arms, two features I quite like about my form, would be uncomfortably close to croc infested waters.

Massive crocs here, Sean’s voice echoed in my head.

Along with Wourter’s.

And Moonandi’s.

I looked over the water, my sixth sense of something large watching me climbing my spine, making me shiver despite the hot sun baking the day. There are also hippos to consider. They could easily turn over a canoe and play tug-o-war with me against a croc.

P1140181I turned back to my camp figuring reading Joseph Boyden’s Through Black Spruce might be a safer option. As I sat quietly in the shade of my tent a couple of horse-sized Kudus trotted passed, pausing to nibble at some leaves. Impala were grazing by the river and fish eagles called from above.

So peaceful, I thought as I watched. Lizards had been scrambling all over my tent and now one had fearlessly jumped on my book, followed the lines of prose to my hand and jumped on my arm. I allowed it to run up to my shoulder before I nudged it off.

P1140179

Sonofa…

It was about lunchtime anyway and I decided to head over to the self-catering kitchen to make some grub. When I saw the mother baboon with her young clinging to her back jump from the barred window of the kitchen I had a bad feeling. She scampered off, barking out a warning to her troop. The outside bin had been tipped over, its lid lying like a passed out drunk beside the can. I ran up to the kitchen.

I saw smashed egg shells strewn across the floor. Two apples and an orange helpless by the now de-lidded pots they had been hidden in. I was about to charge in when I noticed the long tail almost touching the floor. I followed it to the owner, a male primate the size of a German Shepard, sitting on the cross beam, munching on an orange.

My orange.

“Sonofa…,” I stared at it as it ignored my presence.

Then it pooped, the feces landing in four loud splats on the concrete floor.

“Not in my fucking kitchen, ya bastard!” I Gordon Ramsey-ed, startling the beast to jump to the thatched roof.

I made my way to the door when a flash of Brian’s scarred arm and Sean’s voice echoing, ‘A baboon attacked him so watch yourself here,’ stopped me mid-storm.

Shit.

I looked around for a weapon. I wasn’t going to attack a baboon. I’m crazy but not that crazy but I’d need something for self-defense just in case. As humans, evolving into trimming nails and having canines that can only tear flesh off a cooked meat, we’re just not that well equipped to handle Gaya’s other inhabitants.

I grabbed the axe leaning against the outside wall and slowly opened the door. The baboon had already moved onto an onion and was biting into it. It didn’t seem like it wanted a fight. It just wanted a way out. It was too big to fit between the space of the thatched roof and mud brick wall.

Must ‘ave opened the door, the cheeky fucker.

I left the entrance open and moved away from it as it hopped between the cross beams and scampered out. I slammed it shut and looked around at the mess of broken egg shells. I salvaged the apples and the last orange. I hid the bag of tomatoes and the onions it didn’t get to in a sealed box of towels. I locked the kitchen door and walked back to my camp with the axe, cursing all the way.

“Tomorrow we go to see elephants on Mashape Island,” Ed suggested when the guides came back. “You can walk with elephants?”

“Mate,” I said, “I can walk with lions.” Just not baboons.

The next morning I lazed in bed past sunrise. The scouts had gone to the mainland leaving me alone again. I headed over to the kitchen with the axe in tow. As soon as I saw the overturned bins and the metal sheet that was supposedly placed on the barred window to keep out the monkeys I knew that it would not be a pretty sight.

Cursing in every language I knew how to curse in (turns out, I know quite a few) I cautiously approached as a baboon barked a warning for the troop to retreat. I peered into the kitchen. It looked like a tornado had passed through. Everything was overturned. They had gotten into the scouts supplies and had even tipped over the small couch. My left over rice in the pot were no longer left. The kettle was spilled of its contents and the salt was cut up as though they were doing lines of coke. Feces splatted everywhere.

Too angry to cook (never cook when angry) I resorted to a packet of vanilla biscuits for lunch. At 15:00 the guides returned.

“The kitchen’s been renovated,” I said grimly.

They looked in, tsk-tsking. “We are very sorry,” they said.

“It’s cool,” I grinned. “Part of the African adventure.” Fucking baboons.

P1140201Kennedy took me out to Mashape Island to scout for elephants. As we approached the beach a herd of wilderbeest and zebra scattered. We scared off elands, waterbucks, bushbucks, impala and in the distant, “Elephant,” Kennedy pointed out.

He then pointed to the tracks on the ground. “Crocodile nest for eggs.” He began to dig in the sand. I kept an eye out on the water. I had spotted  the mother just before and put myself in a position to run, outlining a possible track towards the safety of the bush.

“No eggs,” Kennedy said, scratching his head.

“It’s cool,” I said. “Let’s keep moving.”

Kennedy saw that the elephant was making its way towards us. All alone it was most likely a bull. “We should go inland,” he suggested. “The elephant is coming because we are disturbing it.”

“Yeah, good idea,” I seconded his suggestion and we headed in to scurry away elands, kudu, zebra and a warthog.

Friday morning I was glad to be back on the mainland, bidding farewell to Ed and Kennedy as I needed to make שמ outline to head to Lusaka after the weekend.

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HIGH-FLYING

AGshearwater

The only time I’ve taken to the air during my travels

http://africageographic.com/blog/the-victoria-falls-three-air-combo/

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HITCH-HIKING IN ZAMBIA – PART I

“So you don’t have any money?” Phillip looked at me with the kind of look that said, ‘I’m curious to know more but not sure if I really want to’.

It was just past 13:00 when I found myself on the outskirts of Chome, at the Mwetoka turnoff to Maambo, surrounded by 22 hitch-hikers and approached by three drunks trying to convince me to buy them drinks.

Desperation for a ride was sticking to me like these inebriated folk.

“So you don’t have money?” Phillip repeated.

Being on the road for 15 months, you learn to read people pretty quickly. Body language becomes your mother-tongue. And reading Phillip debating with himself, I knew he would eventually say, “OK, let’s go.”

kbcHe took on two other passengers, retired gentlemen who needed a ride to Maambo, about 70 K’s down the road. My aim was to reach the Kariba Bush Club, home to one of the world’s largest crocodile farms with 80,000 dinosaurs. Both the lodge and the farm are on the banks of Lake Kariba. It’s a croc-infested, hippo-swarming lake where the Zambezi flows in and then out the other end to continue its journey to the Indian Ocean.

The day had started casually enough. It was the first time I had woken sober after four days of partying with Irish Dave, an Irishman crossing the African continent from Cork to Cape Town who happened to have started his journey from Cork in Ireland on May 13th, 2013.

I had started my journey from Melbourne, Australia, diagonally from Irish Dave, on May 13th, 2013.

I blame Irish Dave for having to undergo white-water rafting and the zipline\bungee\gorge swing completely inebriated (not that I’m complaining. Not sure if I’d had the balls to do it sober).

Grubby, owner of Rafting Extreme and The Grotto, a campsite for overland tours (and nomadic barterers like myself) who had allowed me to camp since last Thursday, offered to drop me off at the roadblock where trucks are checked for papers.

He spoke with the friendly policeman who agreed to organise a ride for me to Chome, about 200 K’s north-east of Livingstone.

“How much can you pay?” the officer had asked me.

I explained that, “I don’t use money.”

He raised an eyebrow but said he’ll do his best.

I had barely planted arse-in-seat when he called me over to the 18-wheeled rig that had stopped.

It was the quickest ride I had ever hitched on my travels. I swung the passenger-side door open and threw my bags and guitar up to the driver.

“Simon,” he introduced himself. IMG_5309

A big laughing, bald-headed full of life Zimbabwean, we conversed all the way to Chome, discussing things about Africa, his travels to England – “Too cold, I ran back to Africa” – Dubai – “Too hot, I ran back to Africa”. I answered his questions about Australia and blew his mind with my philosophy of not using money.

We entered the district of Zimba, a rural town where we stopped and Simon bought me a banana-maize energy drink called Mahu. “Much healthier than Redbull,” he said.

The mahu was delicious and rejuvenating.

As we passed through the villages of Kalomo, Mukwela, Shanga Ubone (which means, ‘Nice to see’) and finally to Chome to the Mwetoka turnoff to Maambo, Simon said, “This is real Africa. There is no town planner. Everything is a mess.” Just like the potholed roads. He shook his head in disappointment. “I can’t believe people still live like this in 2014.”

I kind of agree although I think part of Africa’s appeal is the ruralness. At the turnoff, Simon helped carry my bags over to the side of the road.

“Do you have a religion?” I asked him before we parted ways.

“I’m a strong Christian believer,” he said proudly.

I presented him with a hand-carved wooden cross that a pastor in Tsumeb, Namibia, had given me. Simon widened his already wide smile as he firmly shook my hands.

“If you see me on the roads of Africa, you’ll stop for me again?” I asked him.

“You bet,” he grinned as he walked back to his rig.

Simon had yet to climb into his cab when a drunken local approached me. It was just on 13:00 and this guy was on-his-ass drunk (although standing, awkwardly).

“I want to invite you to play pool,” he said, eyes yellowish-red, shirt dirty and ripped as were his shoes.

“I’d love to, but I’m waiting for a truck,” I explained, casually, as though he were sober.

“Then I will wait with you.”

Please don’t. I’ll never get a ride with this guy hanging around.

“Buy me a drink,” he then said.

“No,” I grinned. “Friend’s don’t ask each other to buy drinks. If I want, I will choose whether to buy you a drink or not.”

“You are my boss,” he retorted (in Africa, any white man is regarded a boss for the obvious white-black reasons). I laughed at his call.

“No, my brother. I’m no one’s boss.”

“But you are a white man,” he looked at me confused.

“I’m a man,” I said proudly. “A hu-man. Just like you. There is no difference if you are black or white or yellow. We are all people.” Then I quoted Zambia’s motto: “One nation, one people, right?”

At this, his eyes widened and he slapped my hand in a painful hi-five.

I really needed him to go back to the bar (and perhaps pass out). More people were arriving and pretty soon I was surrounded by a village worth’s of locals and their babies (staring at me) with shopping bags, all looking to hitch a ride.

“I’m going to buy another drink,” said the drunken. “I watch you from there,” he pointed to the bar across the road.

Perfect. I gave him the thumbs up. Then two more drunks showed up.

“Mwe uli bwanji?” I asked to their well-being in the local popular dialect (out of 72), Nyanji.

They hi-fived me, one of them having pink nail polish on his nails. “You play music?” he drunkenly slurred, observing my guitar case.

“Eyai (pronounced ‘eh’),” I confirmed.

“I dance,” he then proceeded to wobble his knees as he and his friend cracked up in contagious laughter. I laughed with them as I excused myself to try and flag down a passing car.

After a few repeated scenes of their dance moves they finally trucked on when Phillip arrived to the rescue.

“So you don’t use money?” he asked in the car.

“Nope,” I said. “I exchange things, skills, for food, bed and passage.”

“What will you give me then?” he asked, unashamed.

“Let me teach you the ways of life without money,” and I gave them my spiel.

“What do you plan for the future?” one of the gentlemen asked me.

“I don’t plan anything.” They looked at me in shock. “You see,” I began to explain, “if you plan something and it doesn’t work out, you become angry, disappointed, sad and unhappy. This way, if I don’t plan anything, I’m never disappointed.”

“So you are always happy?” said the guy in the front passenger seat.

“Exactly,” I grinned.

They were shocked that I had no intention of getting married (as in, I wouldn’t sign a contract for love) or of having children.

“It’s my choice whether I want children or not, right?” They agreed. “So it’s my choice to not want any.” For now.

“You have taught me something today,” Phillip said.

“You see,” I grinned, “we exchanged something.”

In Maambo Phillip assisted in organising a ride for me to the bush club with Mostbana who piled his sedan with 7 people. I shared the front seat with a long-limbered skinny kid who had to sit on the emergency brake. To make room in the boot, my smaller pack was between my knees while half of my guitar hung out of the window, the other half lay on the dashboard.

We took the worst road possible through villages that time had forgotten about, dropping off people, picking up more hitchers. Mostbana attempted to get a truck to help me to reach the lodge as he didn’t plan on it for his final destination.

The truck refused and so, finding some more people to cover his petrol costs, we set out for the remaining 14 km’s to the bush club over potholed, trench-dug roads that the sand trucks had decimated (a military Humvee would have struggled here). The full moon rose high on the horizon, the sun setting behind us.

I was thinking what I could give Mostbana for his generosity as we didn’t really converse much. We pulled into the bush club and I was surprised to see a pair of zebra’s munching on the lawn. Impala’s were frolicking about freely as were some goats and three dogs.

I met my contact, Marina who showed me to my new home for the next month. “I’ve just got to pay the driver and I’ll show you the rest of the camp.”IMG_5375

Pay the driver?

That cheeky mother…

Feeling betrayed and false-fed on his generosity, I decided to give Mostbana nothing more than a handshake.

Dinner was chicken curry at the bar overlooking the lake where the sun painted a picture-perfect canvas of reds, orange and blues.

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