Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Moving on

Hello from Cape Town! I just arrived today and I have been ever so lazy since leaving Lajuma. I spent my last days there catching up on all the stuff I hadn’t got around to in the last five months. I took pictures of the baboons and finally got some good ones, and Pete made me a DVD of some of his baboon videos. The videos are supposed to be for identification of individuals, but sometimes they are quite cute and funny too.
 Saturday I was going to follow the baboons for the last time but they went somewhere we couldn’t go, so I climbed Mt Lajuma, the highest peak in the Soutpansberg Mountains. Actually it is not that high, somewhat over 1400m I think. It took less than two hours to get up and down, and that included hanging around to enjoy the view. There were pink proteas blooming at the top, very pretty alien-looking flowers. People say you can see Zimbabwe from up there, but it is so far that the details get lost in the haze. I never did get to Zimbabwe because nobody wanted to come with me and it’s not the kind of place you want to go by yourself. I have seen money from there, including a hundred trillion dollar bill that probably wasn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
Saturday afternoon we had the scavenger hunt. I deliberately hid the prizes in places that I thought would be easy to find, but people still had trouble. Most people stay on the roads and the official trails so they don’t know the place like I do. The baboon people have to know the secret trails and the places where you can cut across country without facing a sheer cliff or an impenetrable thicket. All the teams ended up joining together to keep from getting lost in the wilderness that I navigated every day, but everyone had fun and that was the point. Many of the prizes were water pistols so naturally there was a water fight afterwards.
We had a braii for my going away party. I made the fire and it was the best one I ever did. That’s one thing I have learned in Africa: how to make fire. The secret is to make a structure that has as much air in it as wood, and to not keep poking at it every minute or two. We didn’t have an axe so I built it out of logs six inches thick and stuffed the inside with sticks and cardboard and these magic fire lighting chemical cubes they have here. We sat around it half the night, talking and watching the fire and listening to the bushbabies and the bats and the sexy owls (I don’t know what kind of owls they really are but everyone who hears it agrees that their “who-HOO” call has kind of a sexy sound to it). I was drinking Amarula most of the night, and if you’re going to have too much to drink, I would recommend something other than a cream liqueur. It does taste lovely though, kind of like Baileys but a bit fruity too.
The trip from Lajuma to Pretoria was uneventful. Limpopo province is mostly bushveld, which sounds exotic but it all looks the same when you see it for six straight hours. The land was mostly flat, flatter than the prairies, flatter than anything I have ever seen. Much of the time nothing obstructs your view but the curvature of the earth. Occasionally there are small mountains that seem dropped on the landscape; they rise abruptly out of the plain with no intervening foothills like the Rockies.
The brochures say there is lots to do in Pretoria and Johannesburg, but I was only there for a day and did nothing but lounge around. The hostel was great, with a nice garden and a pool and a sad-eyed spaniel called Sherlock Bones. That was yesterday, and I flew to Cape Town today and did nothing much here either. I want to go to the waterfront tomorrow and see the ocean, and I have booked a great white shark tour on Friday. The water is not as clear this time of year but you can still see the sharks. I will let you know how that goes, and hopefully find a better computer to upload pictures!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

All good things come to an end

Nothing lasts. I'm moving on again, to Capetown next week and then back to Canada in March. It is terribly sad to leave all the people I have met here but it is time. I have been here longer than anyone else in the barn. People have gotten the idea that I know what's going on and sometimes I actually do: I know the best places to swim, how to light the water heater, what is jumping on the roof (bushbabies have the night shift, and samangoes take over during the day with a little help from the baboons), and how to bake on a gas camping stove. I am hoping to get some decent baboon pictures before I go, but these are the best so far.
One of the samangoes. Whenever monkeys sit like this, I have a cartoonish urge to pull their tails.
Sadly, one of my favourite baboons has probably died. Klink was the oldest male in the troop and looked ancient and frail for years, so it was not unexpected. I never saw him pick a fight, unusual in a baboon, and he was so old and harmless that none of the other males bothered to threaten him. We saw him one day, feeding and keeping up with the others, and then we didn't see him the next day. It has been four days now so we don't expect to see him again. Our baboons actually have pretty good lives here: very few predators bother them and there is so much food that they all have little pot bellies.
I think this is Knight, one of the older juvenile males.
I have been very busy with following baboons, looking for jobs, packing, and training my replacements. There were three new people to replace me, but one of them quit already because she was scared of snakes. It's a good thing she wasn't with me this morning, because I saw the biggest snake I have seen here yet. It was at least 3m long, so it must have been a black mamba because they are the only snake here that gets that big. I don't know for certain that it was even alive, because it did not react at all and I got within 2m before I saw it. I think it was alive though, and just lying in the sun to get warm after a cold night. 

I liked the symmetry of the two grooming pairs here. In the background you can see the brai area (South African BBQ) and an early prototype of the baboon weighing platform (the triangular thing).
I am organizing a treasure hunt. Monday I got some toys in town and yesterday I hid them while I was out with the baboons. I'm going to give everyone the GPS coordinates and see how long it takes them to find the prizes. I tried to put the treasures near pretty views or interesting rock formations. Only the baboon people ever go off the trails so this will be a good opportunity for everyone else to see some new territory. 
Samangoes are territorial and try to drive the baboons away. Baboons are much bigger and not territorial, and they interpret the samangoes' threats as an invitation to play. The one on the left is a samango, on the right is a very young baboon, and I'm not sure what the one at the top is.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Meet the New Baby!

We have new people! We have been collecting the new bunch of people over the last few weeks and there are about a dozen of us after the four we picked up in town yesterday. Two more are coming tomorrow, and they will be replacing me on the baboon project. I have to help train them, so I hope they will be keen to scramble up cliffs after the baboons. It is always interesting when you get new people at a field station and everyone has to get to know each other again. We are planning a big welcome party on Saturday, with a limbo contest and drinks in coconuts. Katy is going to show me how to open a coconut the proper way, with a machete.

The youngest member of our Lajuma family is also the cutest. Her name is Mally, or something I can never remember, and she is a baby dormouse. We suspect the cat killed the mother dormouse while she was moving her nest. Adult dormice are pests because they attract snakes, and the cat is here to control them, but the baby has become a pet. Her eyes are almost beginning to open and she has soft grey fur. She can crawl around pretty well and likes to nuzzle against people. Rodents are usually very fearful but this one is too young to be afraid of us. She is tiny enough to sit in a teaspoon and possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen. She lives in a box with a hot water bottle and gets baby formula from a syringe every two hours. Camilla was embarassed about buying the formula, and gave the cashier a rambling explanation that it was for a dormouse, not a baby.

 Here I am with one of the samango monkeys. He is the barn troop male, and his name is Nelson or Shitbag, depending who you ask. He has been known to come inside houses and steal food. 

I am still looking for something to do after this. I have sent out a bunch of applications and had quite a few interviews so hopefully I will get some good news soon. It doesn't help when somebody throws a toad at you during an interview while you're trying to sound competent and professional. (To be fair, she was just trying to remove it from the house and it escaped). We have lots of red toads in the house, but at least they have not been taking shelter in my boots at night anymore.

On an unrelated note, here is a rhino from Kruger National Park. You can tell it is a white rhino because it has a square lip and it is grazing. Black rhinos have a narrow hooked lip and usually browse. I still don't have any really good baboon pictures, but here are two I took the other day.
 Here are two baboons in a hurry, and one of the younger juveniles stuffing his face. I wish I had cheek pouches like a monkey. Am I the only one who thinks it would be convenient to be able to just stuff breakfast in your mouth and chew it later during a boring part of your commute?