A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Walking Safaris in the Bush

On our second day, with the intent of sleeping in, we awoke early with anticipation of a safari but it was pouring like mad outside. Instead, we read and relaxed, and when the weather cleared, headed out for an afternoon safari. Waiting under a giant baobob tree, the rangers split us into groups, luckily we found ourselves in a smaller group with two tall dutch guys. Our instructions were simple, don’t litter (yay! someone finally cares about the environment) and no talking (fine by me, silence is golden) so as not to scare the critters away.

The rains had come and went leaving the air thickly packed in humidity. My double layer of spf 50 sunscreen and ultrathon insect repellent puddling in white sweaty blotches on my neck and brow, as I dabbed away furiously. See I may be a girl but I don’t perspire and I definitely don’t “glisten” especially on a hot day in Africa. I was sweating buckets. The ranger lead us off the worn paths through the tall tundra, brushing aside tree limbs and plants with his rifle swinging dangerously off his shoulder pointing straight at the head of the person in unlucky position number 2.

We came upon a massive trash dump full of cavorting wart hogs. Not exactly my ultimate wilderness fantasy, although we did get to see a wart hog frenzy when a woman dumped fresh trash and then two tusked males rammed each other in a violent show of dominance. The winner triumphant and puffed up with a sly mustachioed smile between his tusks, the loser slinking away into the forest, beaten and battered.

Next, we veered off the path and watched the ranger poke around on the forest floor, showing us a huge dropping that could only have come from one thing - an elephant. Looking around, there was a clear path where the grass was stamped down under enormously heavy feet, and we followed it with sheer glee. We were on an elephant hunt! Faster and faster we followed the trail with anticipation, and then we heard a loud roar only several hundred feet away. Freezing in place, and listening intently, we had to make a careful approach. Scampering up on an embankment we saw the massive mammal staring back at us, snacking on tree leaves. His white tusks glinted against his black body in the late afternoon sun, with graceful ears always billowing like a flag in the breeze and surely listening to us sneak up on him.

Our cameras snapping furiously trying to frame a decent shot through the trees. We inched forward, craning our necks. The ranger, behind us watching the scene, said it was far enough. Just a little bit closer and I‘ll get a shot, just one more inch. All of a sudden with a loud snort the elephant came charging at us. Oh my god! We ran in all directions. The ranger, steadying his rifle, looked more scared then us as we bolted past him. As fast as it began, the elephant had stopped short, he wasn’t going to run us down, just scare us a little and show us whose boss.

Pumped up from our first walk about, we wanted to do a longer walking safari in the morning and inquired about breakfast. You remember that work ethic I was praising in the poor working class? Sadly it doesn’t extend to critical tourist functions, like park rangers, service schedules, and hotel wait staff (with notable exceptions at big milly‘s and aylo‘s bay). It seems as if everyone tries to work as little as possible, acts incompetently and indifferently, doing you a favor to answer your questions or take your order, directly inhibiting any logical coordination between services. I mean, honestly, you can‘t get coffee before heading on a safari, and when you get back the free breakfast is over. What kind of crap is that? With this attitude its no wonder that tourism has not flourished here.

It was a busy morning and we were unsure we would get our own ranger, as there were at least 20 people waiting for the morning walking safari. We had struck up some conversation with a German law student named Oliver that we nicknamed Safari Joe due to his Crocodile Dundee attire. He was heading on a long walk in the valley with a guide already set-up and graciously allowed us to tag along.
We tucked our pant legs in our socks, and descended down into the valley. It was 8am and the weather was absolutely perfect, slightly cloudy with brisk air from a recent rain. Our first destination was a waterfall that we tried to approach through mud increasing steadily in thickness. At ankle deep, with mud sloshing between my toes, we gave up and headed instead to a tree platform built out in the park. It was a well built, albeit little used structure next to a less used water pump. “Who is way out here pumping water“, we asked. “No one“, he replied.

Along the way we saw a magnificent waterbuck grazing in the grasslands.

We also saw quite a few kob, a type of antelope, with interesting white markings (almost like crude graffiti) on their orange coats. Very skittish animals, at first they freeze in position like stuffed statues and then flee at the slightest provocation, bounding off into the forest as you would imagine bambi.

The walk was a little over four hours and was our favorite adventure at Mole. Even though we didn’t see very many animals it was exciting to be in the wilderness and getting dirty. We only wished we knew we could camp at a tree platform earlier in the week, because that would have been the ultimate experience, even with the frequent rains.

Later that night, Oliver bought some Pito, a locally brewed beer, for us to sample. It tasted earthy and fruity, but at room temperature out of plastic water bottle, it wasn’t exactly an ice cold honey amber ale. He said it tasted better out of a gourd, and we nodded in agreement, everything tastes better out of a gourd. We talked and laughed and took turns lifting an elephant bone that was far heavier than it looked.

Later, after one too many beers, Ron and Oliver thought it a good idea to go on a night-time safari without a ranger. They walked down to the watering hole and saw a pack of waterbuck. On the way back up, the lead ranger appeared furious over their little escapade and placed them under arrest. Fortunately, some quick talking and bribery let them off the hook, otherwise they would be forced to pay a hefty fine and be escorted out of the park immediately. Great idea, boys.

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