Storm clouds wrapped around the flats where we were parked to camp. Lightning struck down with intensity but from a distance that we didn’t hear the thunder. The flats are tricky to judge distance. I contemplated our choice to sleep in the back of the birder’s truck with a tall metal frame around it for transporting ladders. We were for sure the highest point among the expanse and seemed to be tempting the lightning with how conductive we were. But the storm never passed over us. The lightning was bright enough to keep me awake most of the night and a strong wind ripped across connecting the storms on either side of us. The temperature cooled and I found comfort inside my orange sleeping bag – a nice change from avoiding any covers with the heat lately. The sunrise usually begins just past 5 but the storm clouds blocked the sun and instead the sky turned a dull pink. Lightning still struck around the reserve. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a sunrise during a lightning storm – I’ll never forget it.
Other campsites this week have been around the dunes and I took a chance and slept on the fire tower again. I woke up before sunrise to drop my bag down and stayed perched on the top to watch the world get lit up. I figured if someone saw me on their way to field I could play it off that I was just on a morning walk to catch the sunrise. Sometime during the night I had heard a large ungulate gallop below me – it’s definitely safer up there from roving animals and the creepy crawly scorpions, spiders, and snakes I would have to deal with on ground level. Though, my body rebelled a bit when I only brought a yoga mat up to the wooden platform with me. With sand I can at least dig out trenches for my hips and shoulders where up there I was stuck with my bones grinding against the wood if I didn’t sleep on my back – still one of the best places around to sleep outside though. I snuck back without being noticed and prepped the lab for bloods.
Taking the bike out is always a good way to end the days here. I checked on my dead wild cat I had found decapitated a few weeks ago – still dead. But the beetles did some nice work eating away the flesh and tissue around the skeleton. I buried the head to clean up the skull a little more before I add it to my collection. Another bone update – I was given a mongoose skull!
I’ve been seeing more of the antelope groups – they’ve moved down from the flats into the riverbed and in the dunes beyond the fire tower now that there is more growing to eat. My favorite is still the hartebeest that look like a chestnut colored horse with twisted, demonic horns. On a lap around the perimeter fence I finally saw the neighbor’s ostrich! There’s a nest along the fence and finally after more than 8 months of searching, I saw her. I think I scared her as much as she scared me as a drifted around a sandy corner and saw her through the fence – she flapped her wings at me and ran off. A few minutes later I saw the horses on the neighboring farm as well. There are two yearlings that seem curious enough to maybe come close to me some day. The site I spotted them is now a stop I make most evenings to check to see if they’re back – no luck yet. I saw a black-backed jackal out on hornbill highway which are very rare around here due to poisoning on neighboring farms. It was beautiful with long, lanky legs, a striped black and brown coat, and moved across the flats in an easy lope – so cool!
We brewed some more bread beer – basically warm water (25L), yeast (3 packets), sugar (1.5 kg) , old malts (1kg), and 2 loaves of bread to ferment for 24 hours. While we were bottling we thought maybe we should add some priming sugar to carbonate the beer once it was bottled. We tried this towards the end by adding dextrose to the brew and bottled a few, then decided to leave the rest to sit another night in case it was too much. You may already guess where this story is going… basically we created bottle bombs. I was out camping the night they exploded outside of my room but a girl in 10-block on my side was convinced the KMP was being bombed. The bottle caps didn’t just pop, the entire glass bottles exploded into shards. Luckily they were all contained in a sealed large Tupperware. I went to check on them yesterday after returning from sleeping in the lightning storm to find the Tupperware full of beer and glass splinters. I pieced together the story after I overheard the girl asking questions around the farmhouse about the noise from the night before… have you ever really brewed if you haven’t exploded some of your beer?
The onsite vet found a dead bat eared fox pup in her yard and decided to do an impromptu autopsy with the molerat lab. It had died just minutes before she found it. The pup was very thin and the autopsy showed she had serious parasitism of round worm in her digestive system. I’ve never done or seen an autopsy on something so fresh – it was really, really interesting. Batties are one of my favorite animals here, it was sad to see how thin she was and how much she must have been struggling. They are insectivores and in the past the population here nearly collapsed due to rabies. They are making a comeback now and I see them quite regularly in the evening. The evening after the autopsy I found a new den with two pups that looked healthy.
I found the infamous bra tree – a KMP legend of where female volunteers sacrifice a bra upon leaving the project. Some of them had names and dates scrawled on them, the earliest I found was from 2013. They were sun faded, tattered, and a little stretched from the growth of the tree. In just a few months one of mine will be tossed up to join the rest of them.
Here’s a recipe for some really amazing and easy chickpea + tomato bread rolls. But hopefully you have a can opener unlike George and I – upon stabbing the can of tomatoes with a butcher knife, she wore as much of the tomatoes as we put into the recipe. We may start a cooking show highlighting tricks for cooking in a place like the KMP which lacks many helpful utensils (i.e. can opener and sharp knives), replacing ingredients for things we lack (usually lacking baking powder, baking soda, and olive oil), struggling with the ovens to hold a constant temperature to not undercook or burn the shit out of whatever you’re baking, and the constant battle against cockroaches finding their way in to your food. Here is the recipe:
- Smash up one can of chickpeas in bowl (after draining it)
- Add 1 tbsp veg oil, pinch of salt, tsp of mixed herbs and mix
- Add 1 can of crushed tomatoes (may need to cut up if whole in can)
- Add 1 packet instant yeast (10 g) and mix
- Add 100 grams of flour and mix
- Add 300 g more flour and knead aggressively for 10 minutes
- Let rise for 1 hour
- Form into rolls and let rolls rise for 30 mins
- Bake at low heat and check every 5 minutes
- Bake for about 15 mins
We’ve hired the car, settled on the route, and booked the campsites for our adventure in March. I will be joining the town trip next week to Upington to get my yellow fever vaccination – seems important since it’s the rainy season and I may not be allowed back in the US if I travel there without the vaccine (unclear). Four of us (a French, a Belgian, a Canadian, and an American – sounds like the start of a joke) will be driving a loop around Botswana and Namibia and visiting some amazing places.
- Okavango Delta: one of the world’s largest inland deltas, overnight mokoro (pole boat) trip into the delta, wildlife: elephant, antelope, hippos, lions, cheetahs, leopard, hyena, African wild dog, reintroduced rhino, lots of birds
- Nxai Pan: salt pans, baobab trees, wildlife: elephants, giraffes, jackals, lions, cheetahs
- Chobe National Park: Chobe riverfront, Linyati marshes, remote Savuti, wildlife: massive elephants (tens of thousands of them!), antelope, leopard, hippos
- Victoria Falls: Seventh natural wonder of the world, up to one million liters of water fall per second down 108 meter drop along a 1.7 km wide strip in Zambezi Gorge (still deciding which side to view it from – Zimbabwe or Zambia)
- Caprivi Strip: Border crossing from Bots to Namib, expanse of mopane and terminalia broadleaf forest, wildlife recovering after decades of poaching
- Etosha: Home to 114 mammal species and 340 bird species, 16 reptile and amphibian species, and one fish species (curious about that one), desolate nature of the pan pocketed with waterholes to view wildlife, wildlife: black rhinos, lions, cheetah, elephants, black-backed jackal, giraffes, gemsbok, ostrich, and other antelope species
- Skeleton coast: the sea (!!!), foggy region with rocky and sandy coastal shallows, graveyard for unwary ships, one of the world’s most inhospitable waterless areas in the world’s oldest desert, potential to sand board or sand kayak (?) down dunes, wildlife: cape fur seals
- Sossusvlei: Ephemeral pan set in red sand dunes, part of oldest and driest ecosystem, wind alters the shape of the dunes
We have just over two weeks to complete this trip, it will for sure be a marathon. As you can see though we couldn’t drop any of these destinations – all sound too amazing. Without including driving within the parks, the route is about 5700 kilometers estimating to take 67 hours. We hired a Toyota Land Cruiser double cab with tents mounted on the roof. We needed 4WD to get anywhere in the parks and since none of us have our camping gear out here, and it’s big five country where you really kinda need something to sleep in or on, we went for the option with the canopy and roof tents. Since our budget was pretty much blown between the cruiser and cost of the campsites in the national parks, we will be living off couscous for the 17 days we’re on the road. I can only imagine the stories we’ll have to tell after this adventure!
The job ad for my replacement went up this week – it’s starting to feel pretty real that this chapter is coming to an end. I’m trying not to plan too much for what’s next but pieces are falling together. I’m trending towards spending June in Kenya through WWOOFing (I found a cool animal sanctuary farm near Nairobi and an organic fruit farm on the slopes of Mount Kenya) and climbing/backpacking for a week or so on Mount Kenya. I’ve looked for opportunities to sail at least part of the way home but it seems like it’s the wrong time of year to sail across the Atlantic. So I’m looking at opportunities around Southeast Asia – that’s the plan for July. I’m thinking of getting a flight from Nairobi to Bangkok and figuring something out from there.
Been hooked on Alt J lately: Every Other Freckle