Elephants and Waypoints

Elephants and Waypoints

Dear Friends,

I just recently heard a sound I’ll never forget – wild elephants – rumbling, tumultuous, cumulus clouds of the forest – not more than 130 yards away, grunting, snorting, occasionally shrieking, and snapping branches and trees like pretzels. Imagine being a football’s field distance from a creature you could hear breathing like it was standing behind your neck? Weza, the guard / scout says there were about a dozen animals, some probably bigger than a hut and weighing ten thousand pounds. We know the path they take. Like many animals, they have their routine. The path they take is exactly the one I walk through on the way to the chalets above the watering hole (which is where the elephants are now). The scout, Weza, says if I meet him at 6 AM, he’ll show me what they did during the previous evening (tonight).

Yes, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Of course, there used to be elephants in Kansas, but that’s a story for another day.

At dinner I found myself eating with my hands. The practice here is beginning to take hold. I eat lunch with the staff and this is how they eat. The meals are almost always the same, "soup" with sadza. Let me explain. By "soup", they mean meat stew. The meat is usually cattle, but sometimes wild game – kudu, impala, sable. It is always lean, to say the least, and often tough, although not always. Sometimes it’s remarkably tender. There is also a good dosage of chicken, what they call "inkukhu", and a cafeteria cat, named Kinki, won’t leave you alone on those occasions.

Sadza is like massed potatoes made from maize. For vegetables there is sometimes greens, and sometimes grilled tomatoes and onions. Anyway, eating involves rolling the sadza into balls and dipping it into the stew. It’s actually a quite natural way to eat and I guess I’m not surprised to find that I was doing it on my own unconsciously, even when the staff wasn’t around. I do tend to eat dinners alone quite a bit, which I have absolutely no problem with. I’m happy to have this place to myself. There are also plenty of times when it’s fully packed with visitors, so I relish the nights when I’m one of the few.

By-the-way, a few nights ago I had a bit of a fight with a centipede, and although I won, I wasn’t happy with my tactics. I should have displayed a bit more composure, but the damn thing caught me by surprise (when don’t they) and was scurrying so quickly (it’s legs like little soldiers) and didn’t budge the first time I tried to brush him out. That’s when I realized we were in for a fight and his menacing stingers got in the air. I also understand they have scorpions here, but I haven’t seen any, although I did get acquainted today with the furry spider by the sink. I am actually acquiring a sense of endearment for the spindle-like cohabitants of my bungalow. This was particularly true last time when I felt that every shower (in the remote chalet) was a trip into an arachnid locker room. They kindly made space for me, but mostly, it seemed, were wondering what I was doing there. Mostly, however, this is a birders paradise – so many colors and shapes and sounds and sizes. all unknown to me. I guess I’m glad I’m not a birder, because it could be overload and I might not get anything done. To me, they’re just colorful background noise. A few, like the hornbill, demand attention.

So, what have I been doing? Well, a lot more of the boundary marking, GPS readings, and in harder to get to locations, including up some damn steep hills, apparently protected by thorn bushes the Devil would be proud of. I practically left a pound of flesh on some of those hills. Who needs predators when the trees can skin you alive? Anyway, I am starting to love working with GPS and Google Earth. It’s wonderful to see these places on the map. I’ve found now that in addition to taking the waypoint reading, I also keep the tracking on the whole time, and when I come to a beacon I walk a circle around it. This then shows up on the track / path that I import. You can see the precise circle where I walked. This becomes a second way to verify where I actually was.

Some of the hilltop views by the spot of these beacons where I take the waypoint readings are extraordinary. You can see the great safari laid out bare – endless expanses of grass with distant hills. I can only imagine what it used to look like when herds of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of animals came by, and all the grass was high and rivers were plentiful. Those days will return, and that’s why I’m here.

Now I’m writing from inside the mosquito net, looking out to the sunrise through this gossamer mesh. It creates a dream quality. The netting really isn’t necessary this time of year. The mosquitoes have frozen their hinnies off, but given the few crawling things still about, it doesn’t hurt, but mostly, I just think I’ve come to desire it, like a little womb, a quasi tent, holding me safe.

The other night I turned off the exterior light but didn’t notice any change, as far as I could tell the exterior around the tent was still lit up. Flicking the switch made no difference. Then I realized. It’s the light of the moon (two-days past full), barreling into the chalet as if it belongs here. In deed, it does. That’s the African way.


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