06 May 2012

Catching Up From School

Once again, school has bested me. It has sucked me in with its assignments and deadlines, and kept me from the outside world and from my blog.

So it is time to do some catch up. The next couple posts may not be entirely in line temporally, but they are my adventures from the beginning of April, just over a month ago today.

My fall break, a week long, officially started in Cape Town. I boarded a bus in the early afternoon in Stellenbosch, and rode with my Conservation Management class to the Cape Town Docks where we boarded the ferry for Robben Island, and spent the better part of three days on the Island. I ended March spending the night in one of the prisons on the island made infamous by apartheid, talking to my South African friends and wandering about the island for various conservation projects. We caught tortoises, we assessed vegetation cover on various parts of the island, and I acquired four new South African birds - two lifers (Bank Cormorant and Subantarctic Brown Skua) and two country birds (Pomarine Jaeger and Chukar, and introduced resident on the island). My time on the island was fairly long, and very fun. We braai'd, we enjoyed the sunsets, and we yelled at the kid whose alarm went off at 4 AM. As I left the harbor on the island or the mainland on April 1, it was a beautiful day. The sky was bluer than almost any I had seen before, and Table Mountain loomed above the city and the cold and imposing Atlantic. I was excited, because I knew that on the mainland another adventure awaited, and I was ready for it to begin.

The next morning, I met with Stephanie, Yvonne and Maria: the three amigas. They are all German, and they all had one word on the tip of their tongues: Namibia. We walked to downtown Stellenbosch, and picked up our rental car, a silver Volkswagen Polo. We looked it over, had it checked out, and I insisted on making sure we had infinite mileage (kilometerage?), window insurance, wheel/undercarraige/overall insurance, and that we had a full size spare ready to go. Thoroughly satisfied with our acquisition, we bid Stellenbosch a hasty farewell and drove out to the N1 highway heading over the mountains. We passed through the only tunnel I have seen in Africa, and soon found ourselves in our first stop of the day: Worcester, at the Karoo National Botanical Gardens. The Karoo gardens, though most spectacular in the spring, still did not disappoint. Moments after stepping from the car, I saw my lifer Acacia Pied Barbet, and the trails wandering through the desert afforded amazing views at the succulent plants the interior of South Africa is famous for.

After an hour of wandering through the gardens, enjoying the native flora of southern Africa, we loaded back into the car and began our final push north for the day. We headed onto the R355, and bid the pavement farewell. We were venturing deep into the heart of the Tankwa Karoo, the driest and 'loneliest' part of the entire country. The excitement kept coming, however, even as the vegetation slowly disappeared. Southern Pale Chanting Goshawks became a common sight on the few roadside perches that did exist, Stephanie earned hundreds of brownie points by spotted both Mountain Zebra and some Giraffes, and the car proved itself as we bounced along the rocky and desolate stretch of road.

After a few hours we came to our camp for the night: the Tankwa Tented Camp at the edge of Tankwa Karoo National Park. Considering this was the first major dirt road some of the people in our party had ever traveled (and the first true desert to boot), the landscape was both stark and fascinating, an utter moonscape stranded in the southern reaches of the continent.

The Tankwa Karoo, it all its glory.

We pulled into the camp for the night, and soon wandered off into the more wooded floodplain of the Tankwarivier. We crushed the mud beneath our shoes, wandered through the acacias, and I chased after Karoo Larks flitting along the ground.

About 100 meters from the above picture: the Tankwarivier Floodplain.

As the sun set and the desert began to cool, we headed back to the main building and met the two workers around a fire they had started for us. We were the only guests that night, and we had a lekker time. The girls soon became absorbed in an intense conversation in their home language, and I found myself with the workers. I never caught their names, but I learned they were both from Malawi. I commented that I could not understand any German (at the time - this would change by the end of the week), and one of them looked at  me and said:

"Hearing someone speak another language is like listening to the birds. No one knows what they are saying, because they say it to each other, but all we can do is listen and realize how beautiful is sounds for what it is." (Not a direct quote, but as close as I can remember!)

I agreed with him wholeheartedly, and I soon began learning some of their native language, Chewa. We talked for hours, looked at the moon through a spotting scope, and discussed Africa in general. Slowly, however, the fire started to die and we grew tired, ready to sleep for the long drive ahead.

I bid everyone goodnight, and crawled into my tent, happy to be between the infinite sky and the endless veld. As I closed my eyes, I already knew the next day was going to be another great day.

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