Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Sitting under a tree...

It's 1 pm here and I'm sitting under a tree in the yard watching samango monkeys scampering around. They climb pretty well and on the ground they look almost catlike in the way they move.

We went out early this morning to follow the baboons and found them just before 6 am in a big fig tree. After a breakfast of figs they went to sit in the sun. They wandered up to a neighbouring farm to graze in a burned patch, then around 10 they went through an impenetrable thicket and up a cliff and we lost them. While we were following them it was unbelievable being so close to these wild animals and having them not mind.

I am being watched. The two white horses that live on the property have come up behind me. They are supposed to be feral and nobody looks after them, but they like people well enough. They will eat from your hand and they like to be brushed. We have sat on their backs but they don't take kindly to being told where to go. The way to make horses accept you as the leader is to make them run around a pen until they will come to you and behave, but we don't have a pen and I think these horses might just kick you instead of running. Lady, the mother horse, has scars all over her neck from a leopard attack years ago. Anything that can fight off a leopard probably won't be easily pushed around. Leopards usually don't attack people and a horse is even bigger so I don't know why it went after her.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

I have been at Lajuma for a few days now. It is up in the mountains and not the traditional African safari kind of place. There is some grassland parts but much of it is dense brush and everything has thorns. Big thorns and little ones, curved or barbed, and all out to get you. It is worth it though. I have seen mongooses (mongeese?) and klipspringers which are funny little antelopes. The bushbabies are funny. I have not seen one yet but they make funny noises at night, little startled screams. There are lots of brown ibises that make a kind of hooting sound that I keep mistaking for a baboon.

And of course there are the baboons. One troop is habituated to people and they will keep doing their normal behaviours within a few meters of people. They came to the house yesterday and spent a few hours grazing on the lawn. It was amazing to have dozens of wild animals going about their business just meters away. Apparently once they are fully habituated you can walk among them and they won't even look up. These ones were still more suspicious than that. There are about 70 baboons in this troop but they are usually spread out enough that you can't see them all at the same time. It is not easy to find the baboons. We have gone out looking for them a couple of times and spent hours walking and listening and not found them. Once we really get started we will follow them all day and see where they spend the night and meet them at the sleeping site at dawn. The first thing I need to do is find my way around the site. Sometimes the baboons will go somewhere that people can't, like down a cliff, so I need to know alternate routes to catch up with them.

I am surprised how cold it is here. We are just north of the Tropic of Capricorn (there's a sign on the highway marking it) but it is downright cold at night. Days are warmish as long as you are in the sun but shade drops the temperature about ten degrees and it can still be chilly. The other night there was the most massive epic thundercloud ever. There was lots of lightning and everyone thought it would be the start of the summer rainy season. We got lots of wind but only a few raindrops and it has been sunny since then, so I don't know when the rains will come.

Tomorrow is town day when everyone will pile into a van and go to Louis Trichardt for groceries. I am looking forward to seeing the town. It is safer than Johannesburg so we can walk around and see stuff.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A Few First Impressions

I am finally in South Africa! I'm at the Moafrika Hostel now and it's the nicest hostel I've ever stayed at. Actually it's nicer than any hotel I've ever stayed at, cool African decor and very clean and peaceful. I think I'm the only guest here which is weird. Hostels are usually full and there's always someone to talk to. The staff seem really nice and they speak good English but they speak Zulu among themselves so joining their conversation would be awkward.

Every property here has serious fences around it, mostly concrete walls topped with razor wire, and this is the good part of town. The hostel has a fence and a couple of guard dogs. I was a bit alarmed to see a rotweiller bounding up to me but he just pulled up one of the garden stakes and wanted to play fetch. I wouldn't want to break in uninvited though. They say this is a suburb but it doesn't look like a suburb to me. It is all fenced compounds scattered over the landscape with dirt tracks between them. The adjacent compounds contain houses or apartments, and some don't seem to have any buildings at all, just a fence around some dry grass and red dirt.

I spent yesterday in Heathrow airport, which is huge. It's at least a ten minute walk to get anywhere, and that's on those moving sidewalks. I had to take a subway between terminals, and another subway within the second terminal to get to the gate. The whole place was like an expensive mall, but with planes. All the stores seemed to sell the same stuff, mostly liquor and perfume, so it was not very interesting. Of course, I was very sleep deprived and spent the whole day falling asleep on my feet and waking up just before I fall. I didn't sleep at all on the plane from Calgary to London because by the time it felt like bedtime the sun was rising under the wing. I had a window seat and got a good view of dark blue sea, with ice in it I think. Planes take a shortcut over the arctic so we flew over southern Greenland in the night and I guess there could be ice so far north. It was light by the time we flew over Ireland, which was very pretty, but I didn't see much of England because of the clouds. I would love to visit Britain some day (the airport doesn't count even though I did have to get my passport stamped to change terminals).

The flight to Johannesburg was longer but I was tired enough by then to sleep a little bit. The Johannesburg airport was much less fancy than Heathrow, more like minor airports at home. The driver who picked me up thought it was funny how impressed I was with the local plant life. Our fancy garden flowers back home are just plants here, growing wild. Apparently I arrived just as the spring flowers are getting going. There are bushes with blue and red and purple flowers, and succulent plants and palm trees and trees with little spiky leaves along their branches that may be monkey puzzle trees, and I don't recognize much of anything. I tried to go for a walk but couldn't figure out how to get out through the fence. I could have asked someone but the fence seems like a sign that it's not a very good idea to wander around aimlessly so I walked around the yard. There were chickens and ducks in a pen, and the rotweillers came with me. Dogs like having someone to follow. There were ostriches down the street, a male and two females. I took a picture but they were too far away so they just look like dark dots against the dry grass. The soil itself is a distinct red colour, almost but not quite like PEI. It looks like I thought Africa would look.

I thought it would be hot here but it isn't. It was perfect this afternoon and now that it's dark it's downright cold. It got dark faster than at home, not much twilight, and early around 6:30 or so. I tried to watch the sunset from the porch but it didn't last long and I missed it when the dogs tried to climb into my hammock. There are crickets that sound just like the ones at home and a few night bird calls that I don't recognize. 

Dinner will be some kind of venison pie made of three kinds of local antelope, and after dinner I'm going to bed early. I have to leave at 5:30 AM to get to the bus station by 9. It's about 40 or 50 km but it's rush hour. It seems like an incredible waste to have people stuck in traffic for hours every day when they could be doing more interesting and productive things like, well, anything else. If a million people waste three hours every day in traffic jams, and they do this every day, that must add up to lifetimes of hours down the drain. A reasonable commute is one of my requirements for how I want my life to be, even if that means living in a smaller place to be close to downtown.