Monday, 24 October 2011

Town Day

Lajuma is only an hour and a half from the town of Louis Trichardt, so every Monday is town day. They are supposed to pick us up at 8, but it's usually later. There are almost 20 students now and most people needed to go, so we had a little convoy of beat up pickups and the van. I rode in the least powerful truck, which had the trailer for some reason, and we had to get out and walk up the steepest part. I don't think I've mentioned the road yet. Lajuma is up a mountain, 7 km from the paved road, and that 7 km takes about half an hour, more if it rained recently. Fortunately the rainy season is getting off to a slow start: two storms and some mist, then it got sunny and hot again. 

Louis Trichardt is small and usually very hot, but it is the biggest place around and has quite a few stores. The strangest thing is if you ask store staff whether the store sells something, they will have no idea. It's not just a few people, it is about 9 out of 10 (I don't know where to find stuff here; don't judge me!) The occasional person that knows something will be very nice and helpful though. 

You can get the same sort of groceries as at home except that everything is a bit different. Cottage cheese is a spread here, and you can't get proper spices, only spice mixes and they all contain salt. They have rusks here, which are tasty crunchy bread things that fit in your pocket and are surprisingly filling. I hope I can get them at home. 

The problem with town day is that it is too long. We started at Cafe Rosa for breakfast. Most of the other patrons are old white Afrikaners who go to the church next door, which is a little weird but the food is great and we always get a warm welcome despite being a horde of scruffy backpackers. You can get vetkoek (pronounced fat cook) which is a huge deep fried dough thing with filling. The best filling is eggs and bacon and cheese, a real heart attack on a plate kind of thing. I didn't get that today though, I went for a nice healthy carrot cake. It's only one day a week and I spend at least four other days hiking and scrambling up the mountain from dawn to dusk so I can eat what I want. 

After breakfast I went to the bookstore and it wasn't there. It's not really a store, just a woman who usually has a few tables of used books next to Robot Hardware, and she wasn't there this week. Sadly, Robot Hardware does not sell robots (unless you count creepy toy puppy things that have batteries to make them look like they're breathing). 

My next stop was the mall. I met some of the other students at the good restaurant, Mikes Kitchen. Melissa had a daiquiri which was over a foot tall and very skinny and pink, and I decided I needed one too. We were there for a few hours and then it was time for groceries, the real reason we go to town. 

Pete drove one of the trucks today and he wanted to leave early so we managed to leave by 3. Everyone else had to wait for the official departure time of 4, which usually turns into 5. The town doesn't really have anything to do, no movie theatre or bowling or anything like that, and it is stupefyingly hot and not particularly scenic so going for a walk is no fun. Leaving early was a good thing, and most importantly it got us home in time to check the baboons' sleeping sites. If we know where they are sleeping we can get there before they wake up tomorrow, which will be about 5:15 in the m

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Rain, and Various Creatures

Well, the rainy season arrived the night before last, announcing itself with an epic nine hour thunderstorm! You couldn't tell which lightning went with which thunder. I was trying to sleep when it started and I could actually feel the thunder rumbling. Somebody saw lighning hit our house but things must be well grounded because it didn't do any damage, didn't even blow a breaker.

The power up here is surprisingly reliable, considering it comes from a homemade generator powered by a waterfall. The current is a little erratic so the lights flicker sometimes, but we always have light and more importantly computers. There is even Internet but the bandwidth is limited so we can only do basic stuff.

Anyway the thunderstorm stopped around midmorning so we were able to go out after the baboons. Soaking wet baboons do not look happy; they tend to huddle together and their tails get awfully muddy. The rain muffles sounds so they lose track of each other so I saw several joyful reunions. Naturally I followed a small group of juveniles who got separated from the rest for a few hours, and they moved fast looking for the troop but they went the wrong way and took me on a longer walk than usual, with a lot of steep cliffy bits.

The rain stopped in the afternoon. It comes and goes but there is still a fair bit of sunshine in between. Everyone is happy about the rain. Laura doesn't have to water her tree saplings, Jordan's termites have emerged from hibernation, and it is not so hot anymore. Bonnie the cat does not approve of it though. She is young and has likely never seen a storm like that but she does enjoy the plentiful frogs. I don't know how we got so many frogs so fast. They are rusty red on top and brown underneath and they are very loud. I found one in the bathroom; it's not nice to find something large and moving when you are more than half asleep.

About the bushbabies, they do have huge eyes but you can't mistake them for anything else that lives around here. Yellow eyeshine up a tree is a bushbaby, orange eyeshine is usually a civet or jennet, blue eyes around knee level are a leopard (who should be left alone) and the tiny purple eyes right on the ground are spiders. Yes you can see spider eyes and the lawn is full of them! The cat has yellow eyes but she is much friendlier than a bushbaby.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Rainy Season?

The weather is a popular topic anywhere, and here the rainy season is mentioned at least daily. It should have arrived weeks ago, or not until November, and it was supposed to come today, or Tuesday, or not for weeks yet. Nobody seems to know but everyone has heard rumours.

Lajuma is a great place for rumours, like the one about the zebras that were bought by the previous owner of the property. There are definitely zebra bones where one fell off a cliff (they don't normally live in such mountainous terrain) and there may or may not be surviving zebra around. There is so much dense bush around that large animals can certainly hide in it.

I saw a young kudu yesterday, and bushbuck and red duiker and about a dozen mongooses. I didnt know mongooses were social but apparently many species do live in groups. And I saw my first bushbaby last night. That makes four of the five primate species in the area: baboons, samangos, vervets and the thick tailed bushbaby. I still need to see the lesser bushbaby, but they are usually harder to find.

And speaking of primates, I finished my sock monkey! It looks ok except for the ears which are a bit raggedy. Anyone know how to make better ears for a sock monkey? I might just leave it though and say it is an old male that has been through the wars. Baboons tend to have scars, torn ears and broken tails, especially the males. I am getting better at recognizing individual baboons, especially the males but a few of the females and juveniles as well. Anyway I still have some socks left, so when the rain hits and we get stuck inside sometimes I will make a sock elephant.

We had a lot of thunder and scary dark clouds this afternoon, lots of leaves clattering down on the roof, but not a drop of rain. It still feels kind of unsettled though.