Archive | September, 2011

Feeling like Bambi

28 Sep

“You going by bicycle?” asked the serious immigration lady on the Botswana Zimbabwe boarder at the start of the Zambezi national park.

“Yup.” I answered.

She looked at me as though I was stupid and said “That’s a bad idea”.

Then the lady beside her chimed in “there are lions, leopards, cheetahs, buffalo, elephant, hyenas and jackals in the park”. I didn’t know what a jackal was but assumed it was more dangerous than an angry sheep.

Another uniform official came up to the ladies, they told him that I was planning to cycle through the park to which he stated “You’ll become a statistic”.

Umm, now I was feeling very nervous. All I wanted was a positive second opinion. I needed a Dan or a big burly short shorts wearing Afrikaans man to say “ya, cycle, enjoy”

Wondering if I should ask the kiwi couple I had just met if I could put my bike on their roof, I cycled up to the entrance into Zimbabwe. This also represented the start of the Zambezi national park.

Unfortunately my positive second opinion was not going to come from the young guy on the boom gate. As I approached he was in fits of laughter, slapping his leg and getting the attention of all the other fellas lazing around in the morning shade of the shacks.

“You going to cycle through the park, HA HA HA HA”. It seemed that the white guy on the bike about to cycle the 70 km through the park was one of the funniest things he had seen. He obviously hadn’t seen the Australians loose to Ireland in the rugby!

He let me through and I pulled off to the side of the road to get a photo of my bike under the ‘Welcome to Zimbabwe’ sign.

At this point I was still in two minds, it wasn’t too late to hitch a ride through. Another smiling local came up to me in that friendly Zimbabwean way and started talking to me. He asked me my plan. I told him I was headed for Victoria Falls and asked him if it was a stupid idea to cycle through.

He answered, “I haven’t heard of anyone being attacked on a bicycle”

Perfect, that was the answer I was wanting. I should have left it at that, but then asked

“So people cycle through the park”

He bursted out laughing, “HA HA, no one cycle through the park!”

When my optimistic friend left me I was tossing up what to do. I then looked at my watch. It was 8.45am. I thought to myself, what would I rather be doing right now, about to sit down at my desk in front of my computer for the 9 to 5 grind or cycling 70km through a national park in the middle of Southern Africa.

It was a no brainer, I hopped on my bike. At first I pedalled timidly not fully committing to it knowing that I was still able to turn around. 2km into the park I was past the point of no return and pumped on the pedals.

Every bird that took flight made me jump, every breath of wind made me spin my head. I was tense.

I reasoned with myself that at least the heat of the day would mean the animals wouldn’t be so active. If I came across a lion under a tree I would hope it would just look at me and think that it was too hot and I too skinny to bother giving chase. I also thought to myself that a chance of a lion attack is very low as long as I don’t see one. Unfortunately I couldn’t ride with my eyes closed.

The thing that made it even more nerve racking was the lion coloured metre high grass that came right up to the road side, perfect camouflage for preying lion – I’m not talking about church going lions either (umm maybe my spelling is off there and that joke doesn’t work). Three metres after the lion coloured grass was 4 metre high bush, perfect for disguising elephants. It’s quite unbelievable how hard it is to spot something as big as an elephant until you are pedalling right beside it.

The most intense moments were when my peripheral would see a flash of lion coloured fur. My heart would miss a beat, then it would calm down once I saw that it was only one of those bambi like creatures (sorry to all those wild life gurus but all the abundant African wildlife; kudu, gazelles, antelope, sable, impalas, waterbuck come under the bambi banner for me, big bambi, bambi with curly horns, bouncing bambi etc).

I couldn’t help but think as I cycled along the road that parted the metre high lion coloured grass that I felt like bambi. These creatures live their entire life under the constant threat of being eaten, like a chicken hanging out at KFC. Every rustle in the bush could be the end of their four legged existence. It’s surprising there isn’t greater drug use amongst the population.

I took small comfort in the fact that at least if a tourist bus came across a lion attacking me on the side of the road they wouldn’t be ohing and ahhing and uploading videos of it on to youtube. Where as if I was a little bambi they would be praising the lord for giving them every safari tourists prized viewing, that of a lion kill.

Through the park the only dangerous animals I encountered were an elephant with two calves and a handful of buffalo, both of which I passed within 20 metres of. The buffalo I didn’t even see until I was right by them, thankful that took off in the other direction. The elephant with the young calves I spotted and waited to move, but after 15 minutes I decided to go on the other side of the road and keep an eye on them watching for any signs of it growing agitated. Once past I proceeded to put as much distance as possible between us. I also spotted and heard 100 possible lions.

After covering the fastest 70kms of my life on a bike (not that hard as I have only done that a handful of times) I arrived in the town of Victoria Falls making it a total of 84kms for the day. The only time I stopped was for tomato sandwiches. When I came flying down the hill into the town with a sense of achievement I heard cheering, then a “go kiwi”. I looked back and it was the kiwi couples I had met at the boarder that morning. It must sound so incredibly cheesy, but it felt good, nearly as good as those cold Zambezi lagers I had at the hostel happy hour that night.

Just another day of working the world.

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Once you see black you don’t look back!

26 Sep

On my bike trip thus far I have had many cycling companions, but one sticks out.

Joseph cycled 25km with me as I left Katima. Joseph was a local of Katima and was on his way to work. Joseph was a builder and had his tools on the back of his colonial styled bike that was his work truck.

It all started off pretty harmlessly, Joseph enjoying the challenge of trying to keep up with me on his typical Katima bike that he had bought from the local furniture shop. Thus was before our bike workshop was in place of course. We chatted about life in Katima, about the hut he was building for a chief in a village about 30 kms away and my bike trip.

Joseph then pulled over to the side of the road and told me he would catch me up. After about 10 minutes I heard Joseph puffing and turned to welcome him back. But when I turned I got more than I bargained for. Joseph was no longer wearing his work trousers but was wearing pink satin boxers. From what I saw I quickly realised another reason why bike shorts are very tight. I also realised that when you see black you don’t look back!

Feelings leaving Katima

25 Sep

It was with a mix of emotions that I left Katima.

PROUD

Leaving Katima knowing that I had achieved my goal was satisfying. I cycled off knowing that I had achieved it after nearly 9 years of working towards this moment. When I was cycling away I did some reminiscing. My god it’s been a long time. It dawned on me just how much it consumed my life, it was my life. All my decisions of my life revolved around this goal. I know for the last 5 years at least, not one day has gone pass without me thinking about it. The closer I have come to the completion of it the more it has consumed me.

In saying all this, for me the 11/11/11 will be the final completion. Now I have 6 weeks of adventure to celebrate.

It also felt to finally have the first part of the book to the editor, something I had meant to have done before leaving Australia.

GRATEFUL

I felt grateful for all the support I have had along the way to making all this happen. To you guys my blog readers, to everyone that had a part in the fundraising for the Final Continent Expedition, to my great family and of the course the unconditional support of Mandy. THANK YOU all.

SAD

Obviously it has been an extremely tough last couple of months with all that has happened, some of my toughest days of working the world. Loneliness and sadness have taken on new levels for me. Even though it was my decision for Mandy and I to go our separate ways, it did not make it any easier.

Writing this I think back to the Tuesday. After saying a tearful good bye to Mandy on the Sunday, quite possibly the last time we would ever see each other. On the Tuesday at the bike shop I felt distant and on another planet. I got back home and slumped down on the cheap matress that Mandy and I had bought and transported home on the bike all those weeks ago. I was unable to do anything; I was paralysed with sadness, loneliness and that void that is left when someone close to you is no longer there. I was paralysed with the anxiety of ‘how am I going to get through this’. I had major waves of wanting to head home, not knowing how I would possible be able to finish the bike work shop and never lone think about getting on my bike and cycling to Malawi. I wanted to be around people that knew me, that spoke my language, that knew my culture, that could understand my situation.

What I’m trying to say is that when I cycled away from Katima I had been through the toughest, saddest and loneliest times. Reminiscing on them whilst cycling away, I was pleased that I could leave them there.

RELEIVED

I felt relieved when I cycled out of Katima that the anxiety I had felt about cycling the lonely road to Malawi had been transformed into excitement. But before I talk about excitement, I want to talk about another relief I felt.………

I FELT LIKE A WHITE MAN

Another reason I felt relieved to leave Katima was because of the people. In Katima I felt very much like a white man. A lot of the time I felt that for the local people I was perceived as a walking Red Cross and not a person. My skin was white, therefore I should give them whatever they needed. Don’t get me wrong, these people have a tough life and I would not trade places with them at all. I suppose if the white man organisations had not come in here handing out aid the locals would now not be asking me “Makua, give me bike/money/bread/sweet”. I also think that if the white man had not colonised here they would be still be happy and content living in mud huts ploughing with ox. Without cell phones, TV’s and rich tourists coming through showing them that maybe the grass is a hell of a lot greener on the white man side of the fence they would still be content with their existence instead of wanting..

It really annoyed me. It frustrated me beyond belief that the local folk would see me and shout “makua” which means white man. In Korea they would point at me and say “waeguk”, in Mexico they called me “gringo”, it’s nothing knew. But in Katima, this was always followed by a “give me”. Everytime someone approached me on the street, I always knew it was leading to a ‘poor me’ story, leading to a give me. I suppose you can’t blame them, when you don’t have bugger all, no harm in trying.

Another thing that compounded this feeling was the segregation between the local white and black population. The white population of Katima is very much the minority, easily less than 5%. But the white population are very much the people who run the majority of the businesses, and of course the Chinese. The blacks are the workers. As workers they seemed to be treated like paid slaves, this may sound harsh, but when you consider a house cleaner is paid $5 a day it sounds right. But this the local wage, and when there is such a large labour pool with unemployment in rural Namibia probably as high as 80%, it is not surprising. Still there are ways of treating people, of treating your workers. The way they are treated annoyed me, it is very much an us and them culture. This probably just adds to the reason why I was then grouped into the white man group and treated as a white person as opposed to a person.

THERE IS HOPE FOR AFRICA

OK, I’m coming across as very cynical, very negative but that was how I felt. I have been into Zambia and I loved the people, I felt like a person. As I write this I’m in Zimbabwe a country that has been ravaged with race and political issues. The people that I have met, the people I have stayed with in the villages have been nothing short of hospitable. I really shouldn’t have brought this topic up as there is so much that needs to brought to the table to discuss to give a fair argument. I can see both sides of the story, but I do not have enough time.

In saying all this, when I look back at Katima I hope I will not remember the man coming up to me and asking “give me bike” before he even says hello. I want to remember the Moses of Katima, the Gifts of Katima.

Moses was the bike shop manager, an honest hardworking guy full of charisma and has so much hope for the future. A guy that never once asked me for anything, except advice and knowledge. He wanted to learn, he wanted his work shop to be a success, he was proud, he was first to the work shop and last to leave. He was a community man, he believed in empowerment not hand outs.

In my time in Katima I learnt a valuable lesson. I had come to Katima with visions of building a great work shop with shaded concrete work areas, everything organised and labelled. The reason I had wanted to do this was to make myself feel good, so I could stand back and look at the great mark I had left on Africa. There is nothing empowering about that. I quickly learnt after talking with Michael Linke the founder of BEN, Namibia is that you can’t come to Africa with the solutions, you have to listen to the problems and what they need.

I was always very conscious not to get too involved and do things my way. I just sat back answered questions, imparted what knowledge I had, suggested ways of doing things. At the end of the day this was not my project, it was their project. And so after spending the week out at Dan’s place working I went to the work shop for my last good bye before getting on my bike. I felt so proud of the guys. With the profits they had already made Moses had bought the guys heavy duty blue work uniforms and work boots. Then Moses took me around the container telling me that the week I had been away he had a local builder out to give him quotes on renovating the container, about the windows and air vents he was planning to put in. I felt so proud. I felt so proud that I hadn’t left them with a grand looking concreted shaded white man looking container, but I felt proud that the men whose work shop it was had such a great sense of ownership. Because they felt proud of the work shop, I felt proud.

Then there was Gift. Gift was the 18 year old cousin of Kenneth who owned the house, also another great guy who I have nothing but time for. Kenneth and his fiancée were away at university so I lived with Gift. Gift was always well up before the sun, studying for his high school exams. He took pride in the house, constantly cleaning and raking the sand in the yard and would always make me dinner if he was cooking. He was so mature and considerate for someone of that age.

Just before my leaving, Gift walked in the house holding a little boy in his arms, I asked him who the little one was, he replied to my surprise “this is my first born”. It was his 3 year old son. Gift told me “this is why I study so hard”.

When I look back on Katima, these are the people that I want to remember, not the people in the street. With people like Moses and Gift, Africa has hope.

EXCITED

Excitement. After some of my darkess moments having been spent in Katima, I was more than ready to leave. On that Tuesday night I talked about I didn’t think i was capable of hopping on my bike and cycling out of Katima, it had terrified me, I plain and simple didn’t think I was capable. Though six weeks after that Tuesday I did cycle out of Katima, and I was excited. I don’t want to sound like an arsehole and belittling all that has happened. But I felt excited, I was soooo relieved I felt excited about the adventure ahead.

Cycling out of Katima I felt adventure was at my finger tips, this was the Africa I had dreamt about. I was no longer scared of being all alone and camping on the side if the road in Africa with just me and my thoughts, I was excited!!!

Unhappy hippo encounter

22 Sep

It was about 5pm, the sun just starting to get lower. Dan who I was staying with at his camp asked me “do you want to go and explore in the Makoro (dug out canoe)?”. Naturally I’m always keen for a bit of adventure so said yes. Off we went, about to try and circumnavigate this island through the unchartered channels of swamp and reeds.

We pulled the makoro out of the water from which it was submerged with algae growing on it. Probably not a good sign. Once all the water was bailed out we made sure the crack in the front of it was above the water line. If I sat towards the back of the makoro it didn’t take on water. This was fine except Dan as looking like a Venice gondola paddler was standing up at the back paddling, wearing his wet tight boxers with my face about a metre away from his crouch! But things were going to get scarier.

Now you have a visual of Dan wearing wet tight boxers standing up in a dug out paddling with me staring at his crouch with the sun setting. Romantic. I wasn’t actually looking at his crouch though. I was facing the back to look for hippos coming from behind as Dan could see them from in front. As you may know Hippos are Africa’s most dangerous animals, killing more people than any other. I eard the other day in Katima that the stretch of Zambezi from Zambia down to Botswana there had been 28 hippo related deaths this year. Even though they are herbaphores (spelling? You know, vegetarian animals) they are extremely territorial. Thus makes them very dangerous if you get between them and the water, or if you happen to enter their territory in a makoro with a half naked Englishman.

It is fair to say that where we were there was no shortage of hippos, in fact Dan my trusty half naked guide always liked to mention that this Kwando river area is known for its dense population of hippos and elephants. From what I had seen I would have to agree, everyday I had seen hippos. When out on the motor boat you always saw them in the main channels hanging out with other hippos with their heads just above the water contemplating life.

You are probably asking “why the hell are you going out in a makoro in hippo infested waters at sunset?” Good question, especially when the locals don’t even consider doing this. You would never go out swimming if you had seen a great white shark in the bay that day. Plus you don’t have to ask around for long either until you have found someone who has experienced seeing a makoro and it’s occupant chomped in half by a pissed off hippo. So why? I suppose it comes down to adventure, that feeling of adrenalin, that feeling that makes you feel alive.

To say I was tenser than my bum cheeks when I spent the night in the cells after being denied entry to the US would be an understatement. Every water lilly or fish ripple turned into a hippo. Dan didn’t really help either with his running commentary, “see the white sand down there, that’s a hippo trail”, and yes as it was only a two metre wide channel between reeds, we were following it.

The later it got, the deeper into the unknown territory we got. You have to remember that although Dan had lived here for four years this was his first time in this part of the swamp as you can’t get to this area in a motor boat. Making me feel further at ease he exclaimed, “I’d never do this with a client”.

The channel we were following forked, right was a deep narrow channel heading into the reeds, left going to swampy grass that was a little closer to our good friend dry land. We took a left, but it wasn’t long before we couldn’t move due to the thick swampy grass. We both hopped out and started to push. Yes, there are crocodiles, as I write this I’m looking out at a bank 50 metres away with a 3 metre crocodile basking in the sun. To try and reassure myself I nervously asked Dan

“No crocodiles in this swampy area eh Dan?”

In his Steve Irwin accent, but being serious “Fuckin eh there are mate, but I’m more worried about the phythons”

“Cheers mate” I replied as we entered waist deep water pushing the makoro through the swampy grass.

20 metres later we were both back in the Makoro clear of the grass and able to paddle. By this time we had been on the water over an hour, the sun was close to setting. Dan was unsure of how to navigate the remaining impassable maze of reeds that lay between us and the tree we were aiming for about 500 metres away. We had three options, firstly try and navigate the unchartered territory and make it to our destination, secondly, get the makoro to dry land and walk back to camp, or thirdly turn around and paddle into the current the way we had come.

None of these options really stood out as a favourite. Going into a place that Dan had never been in the fading light, with no cell phones or light could only end up in us being stranded. Getting to dry land and walking back wasn’t an option as Dan had no shoes on and the thorns here are deadly, think some one having hammered nails into a plank of wood deadly. Our only option was to turn back.

To my relief we turned back. I would only be able to relax when I was seated back at camp by the fire with a cold beer. We were in the middle of untouched wilderness with the sun set reflexing off the glassy water and not a soul or sound in sight. But it was hard to truly appreciate it as I felt so vulnerable sitting at water level knowing we were in hippo territory. For some reason being on land with the lions, hyenas and elephants felt safer. Even though on land everything that wants to eat you can out run you, at least you have an option of running instead of just sitting there.

We were taking the safest of the three options and turning back. But it didn’t make me feel any more relaxed. Dan reassured me that I had every reason not to be relaxed,

“Hap, I’m bricking it too. Now the sun has set this is the time the Hippo’s leave the main channels and come down these narrow side channels for the night to get out and graze.”

Dan’s usual joking mood also changed his tone of voice more serious.

“If we get tipped, don’t swim on the surface they will get you. Dive down and swim to dry land”

I was now in full radar mode. I was facing the front panning the water ahead. I was also counting off the familiar landmarks that brought us closer to home. With the sun asleep until the morning the fading light sparkled off the open lagoon that we entered. This was familiar territory, 100 metres from camp. A place we had fished most evenings, a place I hadn’t seen any hippos. Finally I could start to relax.

Suddenly my radar went off “is that a hippo?” I nervously asked Dan. I waited for his reply to let me know that it was just another water lilly.

Dan’s tone was serious “Fuck it’s a hippo. Fuck it’s a big barstard. Fuck it’s moving towards us”

The hippos giant rock like head was about 20 metres away in the wide lagoon area. But the V like ripples made by his eyes were heading our way.

Dan now in his survival guide mode “quick, we’ll pull the makoro onto this island, let’s get out”

We pulled onto the tiny island that was home to a sole tree. The hippo coming around behind us, it’s eyes still firmly focused on us.

I was hanging on Dan’s every word. “stay calm, lets get to the dry land.”

We started off through the swampy grass with water around our knees. We had one more grassy channel to cross and luckily it didn’t look too deep. All I wanted to do was run as fast as possible through the swamp to the bank, but Dan was all about staying calm and doing a fast walk. I looked back, the hippo still moving towards us. Then his eyes went down under the water.

Stuff this walking business, I had seen these hippos move through the water like torpedos. Dan could calmly walk all he wanted, but I was last in line, therefore first on the menu. As I went to run the last 10 metres Dan disappeared as he fell forward with a splash and went under. I followed straight behind him with a splash. The once knee deep water had dropped off into a head height deep grassy channel. Now Dan was in the same panic state I was as we waited for the hippo torpedo to come barrelling down the channel. Scrambling over each other we desperately splashed and swam our way to the bank not bothering to look behind.

With adrenelin pulsing through us we could have wrestled a croc if it lay between us and that bank. We scampered up the bank on all fours. I didn’t stop running until at the bush line. When we arrived, we stood there looking at each other. All I could do was swear. My whole body was shaking uncontrollably, full body convulsions. The swearing slowly submerged into laughter, but still unable to form sentences.

Finally I recovered, and Dan with a smile said

“Now you have to go and get my shoes, they are only 30 metres down there”

Little did I know the reason Dan had a smile was because lying enroute was a big old tree beside the river that housed a resident bird population. As I shakily walked past jumping at every noise towards Dan’s shoes I approached the tree. Suddenly all the birds took flight squawking at the top of their lungs. I jumped so dam high in the air squealing that Dan nearly died from laughter.

We got back to camp and cracked a beer. As I took my first sip we heard a hippo just 15 metres from us out in the river. Oohhhhhh I had never felt so alive. Life was good.

Quick update

16 Sep

Hey folks,

I have 12 minutes left on my internet so going to try and write a quick post.  The internet is slow draining over here, i have posts on my laptop but unable to upload them. But i will when I come across half decent internet.

So much I want to say.  Luckily for you i have to keep this short. I’m currently in Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls. Left Katima on Wednesday. I rather releived that I’m excited to be back on the bike, as for awhile there I wasn’t too sure if being on the lonely road was the best place to be with all that has happened over the past month or so.  But I’m loving it, and really looking forward to the coming little adventure.

My plan.  I left Katima on Wednesday and made it to Botswana, camped there and the following day which was yesterday came into Zimbabwe. This involved cycling 70km through a national park, rather tense time, but my god I covered some quick km’s and only stopped once. Luckily didn’t see any lions, only buffalo and elephant.

I’m staying in Vic Falls on the Zimbabwe side. I LOVE the Zim people.  I head off tomorrow early, providing i don’t over indulge in the happy hour drinks here at the hostel (loving being back around fellow travelers).  I have to cover 250-300kms by Tuesday to catch an overnight ferry across Lake Kariba (the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia).

Once on the Eastern shore of Kariba, I will head up into Zambia 500km to go to a place called Minga where the people from back in Nelson are working.  In fact it’s my family doctor, the parents or Charlie and Lucy Parr if you know them.

Then it’s another 500km onto Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe.  Will spend a couple of weeks there. My plan is to spend my 30th on the rooftop of Africa, Mt Kilimanjaro, but it pretty expensive, $US1500 for the 5-8 day hike. I hoping to get a company on board to help sponsor a bit of it, so if you know any travel based companies let me know.

OK, time running out, so much i want to say, and a few yarns as well but they gonna have to wait.

Hope you are all well.

Nuthin but love Hap

 

Sleeping with elephants

13 Sep

Howdy folks,

I’m back from the wild and have a few stories to tell in the coming blog posts (I had a whole bunch of photos with this post but have had to cut the majority out due to the slow internet and cost).

Last week I spent it at Mashi River Safaris after meeting Dan the energetic pint sized Englishman owner at the local bar in Katima. After a night full of beer drinking the plan was for me to go and help him build a mud hut and have him show me around his backyard that just so happens to be the Kwando River that borders the Bwabwata National Park.

On the Sunday I hitched a ride the 100km out of Katima. Then 14km down a gravel road past Rodericks village where I attended the funeral. Once at Dan’s place we were out on the river in his boat spotting the abundant elephants and hippos that called this area home.

Once back at camp it was time for me to pitch a tent. Dan went and got me one of his tents and said

“Do you want an exciting nights sleep?”

Umm, is this a loaded question I wondered? I met Dan in a bar, he has spent a lot of time alone in the African bush. Was he wanting to have the African version of broke back mountain? Without waiting for my answer he started walking and said,

“We’ll put your tent outside the camp in the elephant corridor”

Off we marched through the scrubby bush to pitch my tent in the elephant corridor. The elephant corridor is basically what it sounds like. It’s a pathway (you can see the clearing in front of my tent) through the bush that the elephants use to go from the river back into the bush. It’s easy to spot as you walk through due to the ravaged broken trees and rock sized elephant crap everywhere. Wanting the full experience and because it was bloody hot we just put up the inner mosquito part of the tent. Then off we went back to the camp to light the camp fire, have a few beers and dinner.

Come 10pm it was time for bed and I made the 80 metre trek into the bush to find my tent. Anyone that has been to Africa and slept a night in the middle of the bush knows that on your first nights it is rather nerve racking. Especially when all of sudden all the bushes look identical and you’re wandering around trying to find your tent waiting to come across an elephant, hippo, lion or pack of hyena that call this area home.

When I got to the tent it dawned on me how small, flimsy and insignificant the mosquito netted tent was, especially when you compare it to a five ton bull elephant. In saying that, it also felt good to crawl inside it away from the wild. Unluckily for me the apprehensive feeling only grew when I went to zip up the tent. The zip didn’t work. 30 frustrating minutes later I conceded defeat to the zip. There was no way I was sleeping with the tent open, namely because there had been fresh hyena tracks in the camp and this area had a large population of them. They are rather harmless when compared to Lions etc, but they have been known to attack people when a sleep. I texted Dan

‘hey mate, I’m having trouble with my zipper’

Dan the next morning told me when he got the text he had wondered if I was inviting him to my tent for a night of Africa broke back loving. He texted back offering a hand and telling me there were spare tents in the storage hut. Not wanting to bother him I told him I would be fine. Off I went again into the bush back to the main camp to find another tent.

Successfully finding a new tent and making it back safely I put it up, crawled inside and heard the sweet sound of the zip closing. I lay back in my tent and looked out through the mosquito netting at the trees silhouetted by the half moon. That moment there was what I had envisioned Africa being like when I had I was back in Melbourne thinking of my final continent.

My blissful moment slowly morphed into one of vulnerability. There is nothing like lying down on the ground in the middle of an elephant corridor to make you feel vulnerable. Your senses are intensified. All the sounds of the bush turn into a hungry lion or a sleepy elephant that is going to innocently walk right over your tent. The smell of the onions on my hands that I had prepared for dinner overpowered me and all the warnings that elephants were attracted to fruit and vegetables started trampling through my head.

I had asked Dan before leaving the camp fire what to do when the elephants came, to which he replied in his pommy accent

“Just don’t act like a [insert four letter C word here]”

So there I was lying in the middle of an elephant corridor under the African sky trying to not act like a c***. Eventually the day of hitchhiking, sunshine, wildlife watching and camp fire beers whisked me away into I deep sleep. In the early morning those camp fire beers woke me up with my bladder knocking at the tent door wanting out. As I had been rather nervous, when I had gone and got the new tent I had also picked up a 5 litre water bottle so I could answer the call of nature without have to touch the zipper or enter the wild. Unscrewing the bottle I quickly realised the 5 litre water bottle had been used for petrol as the strong fumes filled my nostrils. But putting the old fella in the petrol bottle seemed like a better option than going outside or having the zip fail on me.

With my bladder empty and my groin burning as though I had spent a night with Paris Hilton I lay back down. My thoughts of Paris Hilton were interrupted with the approaching sound of rustling bushes. Then to my left through the mosquito net I saw the unmistakable bulk of two elephants emerge into view. I was surprised at how calm I felt as they made their way closer to my tent. I was up on one elbow looking out at them, unable to move, not wanting to move, I was transfixed by the moment. I couldn’t believe how such giant creatures could move so silently and gracefully. I wasn’t scared of these beasts, I was in awe of them. I wondered if behind them was an entire herd. But I will never know, as when the leading bull was five metres from me lying on the ground he quietly came to a halt. His ears flared out, his trunk went into the air horizontal to the ground. He had picked up my scent, as elephants sight is rather shit house but their sense of smell makes up for this. I was hoping that the smell coming from my sleeping bag was going to overpower the smell of onions on my hand. It must have, as quietly as they had come into my world, they turned and walked out of sight to find another path in the corridor.

WOW. That moment I will remember for the rest of my life. Such a special moment. This was what Africa was about for me. The reason I loved the moment so much is because it made me feel at one with the wild. I look back at how fearful I had been when Mandy and I had been biking through the national park on our way to Katima. I was so scared of charging elephants. But like my English safari guide told me, they won’t hurt you if you don’t act like a c***.

The next morning I as I was having coffee with Dan he asked if I had seen elephants. I told him I had been visited twice during the night and told him what an amazing experience it had been. I asked him about the elephants and how they know you’re there, and what happens if they have a blocked trunk and walk over your tent. Isn’t it dangerous? To which he once again filled me with confidence.

“yeah, just last year down the road at another camp a German girl had her tent trampled while she was asleep”

Going bush!

3 Sep

Hey folks,

Just a quick post to let you know I’m heading bush for a week on a mini working the world chapter. Therefore I won’t have internet access.

I was meant to be leaving Katima on my bike this Monday, cycling Northern Zimbabwe, into Zambia ending in Malawi.  We were having my going away drinks at a local bar and I got talking to a short energetic English guy in his mid 30’s by the name of Dan who had just spent 2 months in the bush straigh. I had heard a lot about Dan from the local expats as he happens to have a small Safari camp an hour out of town. Its just down the road from Rodericks village and accross the river from the other previous posts about the Elephants.

Dan managed to talk to me into going out and building some mud huts for his camp as he’s quiet the next couple of weeks. Although it wasn’t a hard sell, especially once he mentioned sunset beers on his boat fishing. If you don’t hear from me for a week or two that’s the reason why. He’s promised me heaps of wildlife and having spent the night with Dan there will be plenty of laughs as well.