Monday, April 12, 2010
Man vs Mountain (who do you think will win?)
The journey continues, the clock ticks on. I woke up yesterday and realized that I only have two or three weeks left in Africa. After being here for so long and having no real timetable for most of the time, the return of a sense of time is not altogether welcome addition to my life. This is the first time in which time has had a significant effect on my life in quite some time. I've developed a disdain for doing anything that could be considered racing against the clock, anytime I hear anyone say the words "hurry" or "schedule" I kind of go glassy eyed. But on the other hand I have finally stopped wasting time. Not having anything to do other than exactly what I want to when I want to, I have no need for "killing time". I'm doing my best to live every moment, and since there's no one but me to judge me for the ways in which I choose to do it, I spend virtually every moment doing what I want. I have finally gotten over the idea of doing what I think I ought to be doing and instead just dong what makes me happy- namely hammocks and gummy worms. In other words, not having a job is nice.
The last week or so has been pretty whirlwind actually, fit in around my busy schedule of wall staring. I rented a car with a couple Danes I met in Mozambique, and it has opened up possibilities like only having a car can. After Durban we went to Saint Lucia National park for Easter weekend. It was advertised as a place where you'll bump into hippos on the street at night if you aren't careful, so it seemed like a pretty kickass place for an Easter-egg hunt. Alas we saw no hippos up close, though we saw plenty out in the river. It was in any event an incredibly beautiful place with great beaches and great hikes. The hiking in South Africa is a reality check, it makes you reassess just how rugged you want to be. It would be similar to hiking elsewhere- beautiful scenery, solitude, hills big and small- except that there are also big scary animals roaming the parks. Before setting off I would have said that this makes it way better because you have the possibility of seeing leopards and elephants around every corner. But, as anyone could have predicted, big animals are scary. As soon as we stumbled upon our first beast, a ferocious wildebeest to be exact, we were so terrified that we turned back. I'd like to say I would have continued on if the girl in the group didn't chicken out, but truth be told I only had probably one encounter left myself before I'd run away shrieking. Being spooked away from hiking we decided to instead chill by the river and drink a few grown-ups' sodas. It was all well and good until a crocodile came out of nowhere and damn near bit my nose off. Jesus, this Africa is no joke. So we retired to the couch where nothing could harm us. I think it was then that I protracted fleas.
After a brief tour of Shaka Zulu's stomping grounds and a canopy tour/ birdwalk on an elevated board walk 20 meters high, we set off for the Drakensburg mountains, and Lesotho.
The word on Lesotho is it is amazingly beautiful but equally impressive in its difficulty to access. Without a car, I had heard, it is not really even worth doing. We had a car, so I was ready to tackle Lesotho. Now would be a good time to mention that Lesotho is at very high altitude- I think like 15,000 feet, and therefore it is very very cold. Did I also mention that our rental car was a hummingbird with wheels? The plan was therefore to take a .8 liter engine matchbox car fully loaded with clueless people and gear designed for tropic heat into possibly snowy mountain passes. How could we possibly fail?
The entire mountain experience proved to be a pretty exhaustive exercise in failure and unpreparedness. We set off for an overnight hike in the Southern Drakensburg mountains to see the Giant's Castle. The brochure mentioned «hike-in sleeping huts ». Given that I now have a sleeping bag but no tent after the Malawi disaster, a hut sounded perfect. I had my hiking boots- a little loose in the sole area after a run in with concrete in the Dominican Republic but repaired with the assistance of my ever crafty Mother, my sleeping bag and Masai blanket and a backpack full of random food- mostly bread and peanut butter. It seemed like enough to survive a night. How hard could it be? I'm from Oregon, home of the hiking people for God's sake. I could have rethought things when they told me the huts were nothing more than a roof and four walls with boards to put your camping mattress on, seeing as I own no camping mattress. I should have rethought things when I had to sign a waiver at the gate attesting to my mountaineering prowess and possession of snow gear and emergency rations. Instead I plowed ahead. Things went great on day one. It took about 3 hours to hike 10 km up to the hut at 2500 meters elevation, beautiful views the whole way. We got up to the hut in time to eat some rations before nightfall. Then things took a turn for the should-have-known-better.
1. It was really really cold, I could just almost see my breath. Keeping in mind I've been in effing Africa for the last year, this felt like the rough equivalent of the inside of a freezer in the Arctic tundra during a blizzard. I swear I saw a polar bear rifling through my flip flops. I was quite literally wearing every piece of fabric I brought up the hill, and just barely not shivering.
2. After getting soaked in Malawi and -in hindsight- clearly not drying properly, my sleeping bag was covered in a fine layer of mildew. Nothing to do but power through it.
3. I forgot to bring both flashlights.
4. I guess I got a little overzealous in packing light and didn't think to bring a book or ipod or anything. Night fell at about 6pm and I had nothing to do but literally stare at the wall. Except it was so dark because the hut had no electricity that I couldn't even see the wall, so I just stared into nothingness for a few hours.
5. With nothing to do and freezing my matookes off, I decided to just go to sleep. I had no mattress, so that meant curling up in a ball on a wooden plank, arms sucked into my sleeves and breathing toxic mildew fumes all night. A new low for me.
6. I woke up with the sun the next morning ready to put as much distance as possible between me and my complete and utter failure at "roughing it," so I set off to hike down the hill asap. No breakfast no nothing. Things were going wonderful for about the first 200 meters, then the problems started. As it would seem, the glue used to repair my boots wasn't as waterproof as advertised. In fact, when exposed to the morning dew, and perhaps as a result of being in extreme humidity for a year, the glue all but melted. The soles of my shoes literally fell off 1% of the way into my treacherous descent. Great. I'm nothing if not just clever enough to delay the inevitable briefly, so using some rope- the only smart packing decision I made- I tied my shoes back together and continued down the mountain. In the end I made it, shambling into the campsite like some kind of Hooverville Sherpa with one shoe tied together and the other a sad little soleless moccasin.
After giving my complete submission to the mountains we decided to scrap Lesotho and head back to the beach where things are easy. And there I shall remain for awhile.