Sunday, September 14, 2008

An action-packed adventure saga!

I just finished another exciting evening of playing with numbers and scary formulae... and decided that rather than having the world see me as a total and utter loser (I had a breakthrough and got very excited) I would talk about the last few days.

Firstly, I haven't blogged in absolute ages. we had a heatwave - on a cool day (I think it was Wednesday) when I enjoyed myself because I wasn't dying of heat, I measured that it was 28 degrees in the house, 31 in the shade outside and 34 in partial shade. I was too scared to find out what full sun was, as I'd just finished a morning sitting out in the sun and didn't want to know. In Fahrenheit, for you non-metric people (I will save up the rant about Fahrenheit for a day when I have a few cool points (no pun intended) saved up), that's 82 inside (I love old houses for their ability to be cool on a hot day and warm on cold day), 88 in the shade outside and 93 in partial shade).

I know that the weather will only get hotter, and I managed 10 weeks of proper summer (I'm here almost a month earlier this year than last year), but I'm not used to this yet, and I think I got a bit of heatstroke and felt really sick after drinking about 4 litres of water in a few hours - I was desperately thirsty but couldn't drink anymore!

So anyway a few days ago it went cold, and I relished the opportunity to spend a morning in bed (I had a fever and therefore insisted on a morning off) and go into town to get a few groceries. It's almost an hour drive to the nearest shop, and it's quite a pest because when the weather is good I hate having to take an afternoon to go shopping or go to get petrol for the bakkie, so I've learned by experience to use the bad days as much as possible for things like laundry, shopping, writing up results and the all-important sleep.

Quite often though, the rain will last for up to 4 or 5 days, and then you sit and go crazy because you were super-efficient on the first rainy day (or just don't feel like working). Last year my 6-week trip became a 10-week trip because of the weather, although I must admit, I have developed an incredible talent for predicting the weather from looking at the sky in the evenings. One day I will write a list of all the extra things Ive learned on fieldwork and that will be on it.

Back to the point - the day after that (yesterday)it rained, so I couldn't even go for a walk or anything. Fortunately, although it had been cold, it was dry the day before and I'd taken a long walk in the early evening so I was able to sit in the house without going nuts. I predicted that it would be rainy this morning but clear up in the afternoon, and I was wrong - it was partly-cloudy and cool, warming up in the afternoon. I spent the morning driving around exploring new tracks around the conservancy with mt traps and everything ready in case it cleared up. After about an hour I gave up and sat at the house pretending to work, but actually listening to music for an hour or two. Then I realised that the weather was perfect to take a hike to where I thought there might be some nice lizard habitat, which I thought might be near to or connected to a big outcrop just up the road from the house. It was quite a walk to get there, there are a lot of tiny thorn bushes that can scratch through your clothes in quite a painful way. Then, while you try and untangle yourself you invariably walk past a couple of thorn trees. I got away with a few minor scratches today, and no big thorns to the scalp - unlike Tuesday's getting stuck in a thicket saga (ouch!).

It was very exciting, the outcrop I've seen tiny bits of turned out to be quite ice and big, and as I got there the sun came out from behind the clouds and a beautiful lizard ran out and looked at me. I half expected to hear a chorus of "oooooh!" from the clouds at the same time. It was also quite a nice vantage point for a couple of hills that I've never really considered trapping on before, and I could see another outcrop nearby that's not as nice, but definitely is worth trapping at for a day or two!

I decided that I didn't want to go back through the thorn bushes today and I knew that I was relatively close to a huge outcrop that overlooks the house. we call it the Sundowner rock because on most undergrad field-trips we take the KIDSes up there for sun-downers one evening. I didn't realise (possibly because I'm usually on TOP of said sundowner rock)that it's surrounded by a thick tangle of thorn bushes. By the time I realised that an intelligent person would have turned back about 20 minutes before, I was kind of in a get-hurt-either-way situation so I kept going. It was amazing, after the huge thorny hedges (for lack of a better word) I ended up in what felt like coastal forest, with a relatively clear floor and huge vines. A lot of the branches belong to a weird tree that only has leaves for a few weeks a year or something, but the branches are covered in giant thorns. I don't know what it's called but we use a branch to teach the undergrads about thorn structure at the beginning of their plant-identification course. I had never expected to be stuck in a maze of them though!

Part of me was really sad that I never came here as a little kid, there were all kinds of awesome places that I would have loved to play in when I was little! I remember spending hours under the hedge in our driveway... using the petals from the flowers as currency, yellow was highest if I remember correctly. But, I digress, back to the adventures: so I managed to climb over and under and around the thorns without too much damage to myself. A lot of the branches were dead or rotting and I managed to clear a bit of a path. Then I finally reached the base of the sundowner rock (rock sounds small, it's probably nearly a square kilometer, and made up of a bunch of little outcrops connected by a ridge of grass along the very top). and realised that I was facing a 50-100 metre sheer granite wall. I realised that I hadn't been thinking too clearly - this is the East-facing side that I've never trapped on because it's too steep for me to climb down without someone else there to call the ambulance if something goes wrong (drama-queen? me? NEVER!. Fortunately it was dry, even after all the rain - climbing on wet granite is to beg for a Darwin Award - and I clambered up a big boulder to where I could see a deep fissure running up the length of the slope - looked like the best spot to hold on! On top of the boulder was a smaller, but still considerably large and stable looking rock, so I climbed up, to feel it rocking gently underneath me. I froze and climbed back onto the bigger rock very carefully and then tried a few other routes up. Nothing felt safe enough for me to try. I'm not a stranger to falling, and I usually don't mind pushing my limits somewhat, but the idea of falling that far down onto a tangle of the massive thorns... not so much.

I looked around and decided that my best option was to get off the rock and walk along the base of the cliff (for lack of a better word) to where I could see there was a bit more of an incline and a few handholds and things. there was a big tree at the base of the rock, so I leaned my foot against it so I could shuffle down and jump off. Well, to cut a long story short, the tree was hollow and rotten and fell over. I got the fright of my life and did some spider-man-style backpedalling and then jumped off the side of the rock.

After all of that the climb was pretty uneventful, the incline was slopey enough for me to climb and my shoes were fantastic. I got new shoes a little while ago because my old field-shoes were all but worn out. I had to try a different brand and I haven't liked them too much so far, but today they definitely did the job!

to jump topic completely (it will make sense shortly) one of my favourite memories is of a school trip when I was 15 or 16. The staff at my school stated calling me the "happy camper" because that was the week where I came out of my shell and actually poke to people and participated. I had always been super-shy but for some reason that trip I wasn't and I think it was very much the turning point for me where I stopped being quiet and well-behaved and became... me. Anyway the trip was a week of kayaking, raft-building, archery, obstacle courses, hiking and... rock climbing and abseiling. I was near-phobic of heights, to the point where I could hardly stand on a chair without getting shaky, and that week i started my long journey of getting over it. I think if I could show my 15-year-old self the places I climb now, I would never have believed it! I managed to climb the 20 metre rock face, which was a huge step for me! Of course, most people did it in five to ten minutes, and I took almost an hour, stopping only to swear loudly at a sometimes friend of mine (I think I was the most-quoted person on the trip as nobody had ever heard me swear before either). i felt quite bad about it later as she had been trying to shout encouragement, while I had been trying to focus, but she claimed to be proud to be the person who finally got me to yell obscenities. For the record I didn't manage the abseiling, going into hysterics and climbing back up after a few metres, but I can still remember the cheering when I made it to the top!

Anyway, the guy who was running the climbing section became a good friend of mine on the trip. he was a huge Afrikaans guy with dreds, called Isaak and we used to chat about life in general most evening. He was the type who would go crazy staying in one place for more than a few months and had backpacked around Botswana a month or two before, and I asked so many questions about his travels that it amazes me that he didn't smack me on the head and tell me to shut up.

so, to the point of the story, while I was climbing today I kept hearing his voice in my head saying "the trick to rock climbing is to stay as close to the rock as possible. Don't lean back, lean forward. Plan your route up and then hug the rock. Stay as close to the rock as you can." It was kind of weird. I haven't thought about that trip for ages! For the record, a friend of mine went to work at the camp a few years later and the staff there remembered our group. Might have to do with an unfortunate injury I inflicted on the boss during a game of pool volleyball/rugby (word of advice: if I have the ball do NOT grab on to my foot from behind. I will kick. Hard). Isaak has, of course, moved on by now and nobody hs a clue about where he is.

So after all that I sat at the top and admired the view of the farm. The rain has cleared the dust haze and I could see forever! Plus it gave me a chance to recover from the adrenaline-shakes. And I walked across the outcrop and down the path to the main road. The other day when I missed the path and got stuck in some thorn bushes I smelled something odd and thought I'd stepped in some baboon dung. The smell was worse today, and pretty unmistakable. An animal has died, near the path. How on earth people do jobs with decomposing bodies, I have no idea, I ended up running back to the house to escape the stench. Which was fun - not the stench, the run. Last year I went running nearly every day but I haven't yet on this trip.

And then I sat and fought with formulae and numbers and finally finished a section of what I've been working on for the last 6 weeks. So all in all it's been a good day! And now that I've finished my evening cup of Rooibos and evening biscuit I'm going to head off to bed so I can get up early and machete an easier path to the new sites before I have to start trapping.

Either way, I think I've more than made up for the recent lack of posting by the length of this! I didn't realise how long it was getting...


SuvvyGirl said...

Well I am glad you have made it back from your excursions in one piece! I like the bit about when you were little and used flower petals as money. :)