I'm a Mountain Zebra… NOT

Trip Start Jun 15, 2013
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Trip End Jul 17, 2013


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Where I stayed
Neuras
What I did
Neuras

Flag of Namibia  ,
Monday, July 1, 2013

Last night was definitely my hardest one away from home… Not so much homesick but just wanting to be comforted. I was warned when prescribed my malaria pills that 25% of people suffer from severe nightmares as a side effect. I thought I was in the 75% majority as up until last night I had only had vivid good dreams, and not night terrors. I woke up sobbing around 4:30 in the morning. I had no idea why right away… I'm sure it’s not uncommon for people to wake up and just feel what they were "feeling" in their dream and not remembering their dream for a couple of minutes. Then I remembered everything, and, although I knew it wasn’t real, I couldn’t stop crying for some reason. The entire dream was about my passing and my attendance at her funeral. All I wanted to was to call Mom, make sure she was okay, and then snuggle with Dorian (I told him if I had nightmares from the pills before I left that he would have to take care of me). Of course, none of these things are possible here. About an hour later, I finally managed to calm down enough to go to back to sleep.

I woke up around 6:30 to shower and grab breakfast. The bed felt so good and warm, especially since I didn’t get a good night’s sleep, that I returned and slept a bit after my shower and before breakfast. Then I went out with the Duke student Matt to look for some tracks in the canyon and consider a location he thought about putting a camera trap. I guess I thought we would drive in the canyon, somehow, and walk from there. Definitely wrong, and boy was I glad that I wore pants.

We drove to the canyon, and Matt told us to get out of the car. I assumed that we were just looking into the canyon (stupid me) as he was pointing a few things out. The canyon we were parked above is called Honey Canyon because native people used to climb the canyon to get where the bee’s hives were located for honey. It was so dangerous that many would fall to their deaths and some of their remains are still there. There is even a grave of one of the Bushmen that fell, and it has become a tradition for visitors to place rocks on his grave as they travel through the canyon. (Keep in mind, I learned about people plummeting to their deaths before I entered the canyon… not a confidence booster.)

Matt then proceeded to find a “good” location to descend into the canyon. We slide, climbed, skidded, crawled, and finally reached the bottom of the Honey Canyon. We then walked for what seemed like quite a distance. During this leg of the trek we ran into a decaying young zebra that had been there for more than 6 months. All that remained were bones and hide. Apparently it had broken its leg (we could see the severity of the break) and died in the canyon. We also spotted some tracks that Matt helped us identify as porcupine and honey badger. We then got a lesson about honey badgers… apparently they are the most aggressive animal in Africa and probably the world. They have so much excess skin that if an animal were to grab them anywhere, they could actually completely turn around and claw the animal’s face. They also tend to go for genitalia when they attack. No animal, not even a lion, will face them. Instead, all animals run in fear when they recognize one. They also have a very large range, more than 100 kilometers, so the entire property of Neuras has only three or four honey badgers that reside.

Because it has been so dry, and the rainy season wasn’t that wet, the animals have been quite desperate. At one part of the Honey Canyon we found a hole that had been dug into the ground and a bit of water was at the bottom. During the duration of our brief pause near the small waterhole, bees completely covered the surface of the water, and more continued to join the others.

We then had to hike up Honey Canyon. I can honestly say I have never been so petrified in my entire life. At one point I was almost in tears simply from the fear of falling. I used all fours to climb up the canyon, and I’m quite certain the climb took more than 10 minutes. This has taught me that fear causes exhaustion and burns energy. The climb up was much steeper and the terrain was much rougher than that of the decent. My pants got caught on a large, sharp rock on my way up and tore. I was glad that I did decide to wear pants, otherwise that gash in my leg would have been much worse than it ended up being. I cannot count how many times the rocks that I tested with my weight were not stable, but what’s worse is the times that they seemed stable until I put more weight on them or the soft sand/rock/soil that would make it seem that I was falling all of the way back down the canyon. By the time I reached the top, I was thirsty (it isn’t overly hot in the mornings, but the air is dry and the sun beats down) and shaking from fear. My hands were already raw from grabbing the rough rocks, plants with thorns, and the list goes on and on.

I forgot to mention when I first I arrived at the farm that nearly every plant has some form of thorns or splinters. My first day at the farm, my jeans got caught on a low tree branch. Instinctively, I reached down to remove the branch and let myself free, and in turn I received a handful of splinters, which finally came out and completely healed a few days ago.   

Back to the canyon adventure. We sat above the canyon and enjoyed the view for about 15 minutes. This gave us enough time to get rehydrated and catch our breath. Then, it was time to go find another canyon to climb down. It had been established that I was probably the only one afraid of this endeavor, and I was certainly the one who took the most time to get up and down the canyons… I admire everyone for how brave they were. I have no idea why they weren’t scared to death. Fiona, the wonderful lady who joined me in riding in the back of the truck the other day, was again kind enough to stay behind with me and made the situation as pleasant as could be.

We walked atop the canyon for a good twenty minutes. The terrain on top is no different than the terrain that forms walls of the canyon, but it does make life a bit easier to have horizontal ground as opposed to vertical ground to endure. The decent into the next canyon was nowhere near as bad as the adventure of climbing back up the previous canyon, but it was still quite steep. Worst-case scenario, Matt told us, we would slip on loose sand/rock/soil, land on our bums, and slide down a ways. This wasn’t unappealing to me, as Fiona and I had both discussed how tempting it was to sit on our butts and slide down the slope as a quicker, less energy exerting method. We arrived at the bottom of the canyon and walked for another longer period of time to the end of the canyon. It was a location that Matt had considered putting a camera trap, and while we were there he decided against it. The canyon provided a bit of shade at location, and we sat down for another good 20 minutes and just relaxed.

Then it was time to go back to the vehicle. We walked for ages on the rough land in the canyon. Our only reference to where the vehicle was located was the GPS system, which only tells how many meters from the target point someone is. Basically, we weren’t sure the exact location of the vehicle and where the best spot would be to climb based on closeness to the vehicle. We settled on an area that was more of a very very very large and steep hill as opposed to what seemed like a mountain. This trip up was no where near as scary as the other as I was able to walk on just my legs instead of all fours the majority of the way and most of the rocks were more stable. The difficult part came from already walking and climbing for more than three hours and being sore, exhausted, and almost out of water. It was an incredible feeling when I reached the top, as I just knew that the vehicle would be waiting for us, and our hike would be done.

WRONG!

No vehicle in sight. We all continued on the direction that we knew we came from. We had more than 500 meters to hike until we would see the truck according to the GPS. This meant a bit more climbing, a long stretch above the canyon, and then a decent to where the truck was. Finally, we had made it. Four hours later.

I would like to point out how thankful I was that I did not make this trip in the rainy season, during this canyon trip more than ever, as there is no way I would have made it out of the morning without at least some form of snake, scorpion, or spider injury. I did not see a single one while I was out.

Also, don’t confuse the smile in my pictures in the canyon for happiness… It’s really pure fear.

Then we headed back and had lunch. We had these fantastic fried buns that were topped with a ground beef mixture, mozzarella cheese, and then I added mayonnaise. I was told that these “sandwiches” are called fat boy sandwiches.

I had a couple of hours to recover, so I went and showered (it was much needed… whether I sweated from fear or heat and exhaustion or all of the above, I will never know), then came back to visit with everyone and have a drink. Almost everyone was journaling at the outside bar top. Sven, the German man that arrived at the farm the same day as I did, and I spotted a larger and quite beautiful bird (hopefully I will get a picture eventually). I learned it is called the grey go away bird because when it makes its call it sounds like it is saying “away”. It reminded me of a more tropical bird, despite its bland color, because of the crown on its head, much like a cockatiel.

During this relaxing time period, the three warthogs from yesterday returned to graze in the yard. Noodle, of course, was after them again, trying to herd them off. At one point, right as I turned away of course, apparently Noodle got quite brave and put his front paws on one of their heads. The warthog then lifted his head quickly, and Noodle went flying. He was okay, and everyone burst into laughter. I am hoping I have the opportunity to witness a similar situation before I leave Neuras.

Then we went on a game count. Yesterday we were on the north side of the land; today we were on the south side. The south side didn’t have as pretty of views, but definitely was not short of incredibly steep hills that caused all of us to slide all of the way forward in our seats. We also didn’t see as much game, only a handful of female kudu and a couple of springbok.

We got back around 4:00 and supper wasn’t until 6:00. That left me enough time to nap. I rolled out of bed and headed to supper. We had a fantastic leg and thigh chicken dish with sweet potatoes (the best I’ve had prepared in cinnamon… normally I don’t like them made like that), some bland wheat dish, and a small Coke (I woke up with a headache and thought the caffeine might help).

Now everyone is gathered around and watching one of the Batman movies (I think). I have to be up early tomorrow morning (5:30 departure) to head to Sossusvlei where the sand dunes are located. I’m quite certain they are the largest in the world. It’s about an hour and a half drive and we stop to eat a buffet (a buffet!!) at a lodge with Internet access (internet access!), so you all will actually be able to read this tomorrow (if I can get everything posted with the limited time I have). Quite exciting!

Things I’ve learned today: Honey badgers are badass. There is a book of African animal dung called The Scatalogue. Nike running shoes suck for hiking. American Eagle khakis are no match for canyon rocks. I am not a mountain zebra, nor am I a kudu, a klipspringer, a rock dassie, a springbok, or any other rock-climbing animal.
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