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Anja’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 27 Oct 2005

Location: back in Alicedale!, South Africa

MapWell, the last 2 days were big ones... It was our turn to head off into the wilderness on foot with nothing but a rucksack, sleeping bag & mat, cooking equipment & food to sleep under the stars with all & sundry! By that I mean the creatures!
So we headed up to Modolo Lodge where we left the bakkie & got packed up & ready to go. We each were carrying rucksacks weighing approx 15kgs & boy was it hot. As we were walking out into the bush with nothing but Steve & a rifle there were a few rules to follow - walk in single line, keep an eye & ear out & no talking. Steve had shown us the hand signals used in case we came across anything we didn't want to get up close & personal with. And so we set off.
First obstacle was an electric fence....so, rucksacks off & crawl! We headed off up into the hills spotting prints & markings along the way - antelope, elephant, hyena, jackal. First stop was a water hole where we went for a dip to cool off. It's heavy work carrying yourself & a rucksack! It's strange swimming where the creatures come to drink & we had to use it for drinking water too (so no peeing in the pool!) It was very refreshing & we were soon ready to set off again.
A further 40 minutes hike had us at our camp. It's amazing to see as it looks completely uninhabited - which is obviously the whole point of the wilderness! So, first thing on the cards was lunch. You would not believe the size of the sandwiches we made - tuna, mayo, cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, pepper, onions... Yummy! All washed down with a precious orange.
Next on the cards was a bush walk. We set off up the hills through high bush & grasses trying to avoid the pepper ticks! Not that you can. They're as small as pinheads & if you don't get them off they burrow into your skin & make you itch for a week! Luckily they were on short supply! We climbed to the top & looked down over Excelsior & Logenbula Lodge. It's wierd seeing it from up high - which must be exactly how the animals look down on us! Spotted various antelope & possibly sighted the hippos up in the dam but as they were all happily grazing I guess no predators were about. And it was a bit hot!
So back to the camp where the real work began - before nightfall we needed fire & water all of which had to be collected. So up to the waterhole & in I went! I had to wade out a few metres without disturbing the mud to ensure we got nice fresh water. I know everything else drinks from the edge but they obviously have no taste! I spotted a few frogs popping up but fortunately nothing tried to nibble my toes...or so I thought. As I emerged from the water Steve said 'I don't mean to shock you but the stuff all over your feet isn't mud but leeches...uummm, added protein! They're meant to brush off quite easily but these little suckers didn;t want to let go! And then one of the water carriers fell over so back in I went! Don't you just love the bush?
And then it was fire wood. There were some dead eucalyptus trees around (which are alien to this area) so we started collected piles & piles of twigs, branches & dead grass. There's no way we want the fire to go out tonight...
And then it was on to dinner. I may have mocked him during the cooking process but Steve made a mighty good goulash & pasta! Everything just got thrown in the pot until it was nice & hot & despite him making too much there was nothing left by the time we'd finished! And then the kettle went on...
By this time it was nice & dark so we sorted out the sleeping & keeping watch rota. We each had to take a turn for 80 minutes until day break ensuring the fire didn't go out & that we scanned the area for predators regularly.
The common misconception is that lions are afraid of fire - this isn't true! The main reason for the fire (apart from warmth & cooking facilities) is to ensure anything that comes past can see you. You don't want to go giving anything bigger than yourself a surprise as this is when they get dangerous.
I was 5th in the shift system so off we went to bed. A sleeping bag on the ground under the stars. It was so beautiful to lie there under the sky listening to the sounds of the bush. Until the jackal kicked off! They sounded like cats having the biggest scrap of their lives..& very close! Steve was on watch before me & when he came to wake me up at 3.30am he took me out to look at the stars. We spotted the Southern Cross, the Dog Star, part of Scorpio, Oriens Belt & a few others. And so my watch began...
All was quiet to start but as the fire had been burning for a number of hours it was harder to keep the flames going. And then the jackal & babbon kicked off again! Wonder what was out there? Nothing I could see but there were plenty of bright eyes in the torch light! It was such a beautiful & peaceful time. I saw 3 shooting stars & made wishes on them all. I wonder if that's allowed? I was thinking about how amazing this whole experience has been & how it has made me feel. It's unbelievable to think I've been here for a month but what a way to end the month. And then the stars started to fade & the sun started to brighten the horizon. Time for Daria to take over the next shift!
To be honest I was awake pretty much the whole time in a kind of waking dreamlike state but didn't feel tired at all. I took pictures of the sun coming over the horizon & we got the kettle on. After breakfast we started to dismantle the camp. You can't even leave your footprints behind so it takes quite a while! By the time we'd finished it was hard to believe that 7 of us had spent the night!
So the sun rose & the temperature soared. It's absolutely stifling with no air so we headed back to the water hole - our own personal swimming pool. The idea had been to hike through for 2 hours but we were suffering from the heat so we quashed that idea. As we sat on the edge of the waterhole a lone snake went for a swim. Looked very much like a boomslang but we were too hot to be too worried! It wasn't interested in us anyway!
And then we pushed off for the final descent. We had Eland & Kudu on both sides on the hills & 5 magnificent eland escorted us out of the hills. They were probably quite happy to see us leave - after all it's their territory, we were justed visiting...
As we crawled back under the electric fence I realised that this was it, the end of my African Adventure.....for now anyway!