Entry #023: Sunday, July 14, 2013 (Pidwa Wilderness Reserve, South Africa)

Okay, Week 2 of Askari is done and dusted, and things are going...

Ah, who am I kidding? The big news of this entry is actually that of another entry. Specifically, the Kilimanjaro entry is finally, finally done. Most of the time was spent uploading the 2-hour video to YouTube, but that's all done now, and I've posted it in the past, so that future generations will never know that there was an issue.Check it out here!  But only if you have a lot of time/patience/tolerance for my voice. Otherwise, you, um, you may want to skip it.

Anyway, onto the last couple days!

As was similar to my time at the orphanage, I've kind of been getting into a groove here in the Pidwa Wilderness reserve, and so the "newness" of a lot of it is starting to fade. That's not to say it's bad in any regard; that's just how life is. It's just different when you're not in a new city every couple of days, like I was in many of my previous travels.

As a note, now that the bandwidth for my Kilimanjaro video is freed up, I am planning to start uploading new photos to my Facebook profile, which would include stuff that's been a long time coming, including everything from Kenya, Tanzania, and the stuff from Askari so far (I think I'll split that into two-week increments). If you're interested in seeing them - or want to see some of my older photos - make sure you're my Facebook friend. Like I said in a previous entry, I would post them on Flickr or something as well, but I only have so much bandwidth (both computer-wise and human-wise).

What? Happenings? Oh, right, stuff happened. Friday began with some manual labor, as we had to do some cleaning up around the preserve. Even though this place has been in good hands for going-on eight years, there are still many remnants of the previous owners, in particular the farmers who, despite being people who worked on the earth, had next to no respect for it, dumping garbage any ol' place. This included bottle, cans, scrap metal, sheets of asbestos(!), tires, entire cars, and barbed wire. Lots and lots of barbed wire. That's what we were working on today. Joe, one of the program leaders, had stumbled on an old barbed wire fence during a bushwalk, and we had to come take it away. It was actually a fairly simple affair: some snipping with wire cutters, some tugging to free from branches, some scratching and tearing of gloves and skin, and one fence was successfully removed.

One thing of note is that there were only five people doing this work. That's because we had two people leaving us that day - the Swede and and the Scot. They had to drive out at 9:45, and since we weren't scheduled to come back until 9:30, it was figured that it'd be better for them to stay home and pack/avoid getting dirtied and cut. But when we got back, we said our goodbyes. It was pleasant enough. I never really got super close to them - well, I haven't gotten super close to anybody, but that's beside the point - but I like to think we ended on a platform of mutual respect, which is good. They had a big to-do with the American girl though, doing a whole group hug and "I'm totally going to come to visit you, like, really!" type of thing going on. Less than two weeks, and they're besties. I suppose you could see it as lucky that college girls can form attachments this quickly, but considering how moody they get towards each other as well (at the drop of a hat), I think I like my own slow-burn style of relationships. Case in point - apparently the two departing girls had a huge falling-out the very previous night (after we played Werewolf), as they were up for several more hours getting drunk, and then just started getting mad at each other. And now they're planning to be on an overland bus for the next month. Hopefully they can kiss and make up, but seriously, women, am I right? Am I right, folks?

Anyway, after they drove off, we continued doing our things for the day, which involved another check of the zebra carcass for photos. Lo and behold, the zebra had been eaten a bit. However, the camera trap had taken all of two pictures since we last checked it - one of Katie the day prior walking back to the car, and one of Katie that day going to check the photos. No animals, no lion, no nothing. Also, the smell was getting worse and worse. (It made me glad the miasma theory of medicine isn't true). It almost seemed like we were destined to never see this thing. So, we had to get one of our other camera traps from a different area, and set it in the place. Hopefully something would catch this carnivore in the act.

I'm not going to go over the chores I have at this place, because this is not Drudgery the Blog, but I will make special note that one of the things we sometimes have to do is thaw a little baby chick corpse, and then serve it to the resident flightless owl in captivity. I mention this for a couple reasons. First, I want it to be known that frozen chick corpses are a thing. Second, the owl's name is Quadric. I can't put my finger on why, but this is a really awesome name. I would be almost tempted to have this in my list of names for potential children/wards, though I'm not sure it works as a human name (and also, it would come behind the trio of Solomon, Gideon, and Archelaos). Quadric the owl himself is pretty cool in his own right, so I definitely don't mind getting a chance to go in his cage and feed him. Owls are just neat.

Anyhoo, after lunch that day, it was time to do some alien plant species control. And by "control", I mean "destruction". There are a number of plants that were brought in, mostly by the previously-mentioned farmers for decorative purposes, which have spread throughout the area, stealing jobs from good, honest local plants. Of these invasive species, the most insidious is a variety of lantana. And the only way of getting rid of these is soaking - soaking - them in herbicides. To do this, we mixed together some poisons (about 200 liters worth) in large containers, and then drove these out to the Langalanga section of the preserve. Here, we got some sprayers, which were large plastic backpacks with a pump on one side, and a hose/nozzle on the other. Other people were making references to Ghostbusters - which was pretty appropriate, I guess - but to me, the things felt more like flamethrowers, so my pop culture references were more in line with Apocalypse Now. Mine especially felt flamethrower-like, because it was a special one that could change from a broad mist to a far-shooting jet of poison. I, thus, had to act as the "sniper", getting the highest leaves (which were quite high - these plants had to be at least 15-20 feet tall in places). Now, if you have a good memory, you might remember that Langalanga is the section of the preserve with the errant lioness. And here we were, stomping around on foot in these bushes. Joe had brought along the rifle, but we all got separated at times, so vigilance was our main weapon. Also, my super-accurate herbicide shooter would apparently work as a last-ditch effort, so I had that working for me. Didn't end up having to use it, which is, all things considered, a good thing. I did get hurt by some of the plants, though. (See, these plants are worse than any of the animals!) My footfalls were a little less-than-light at one point, and I heard/felt a really thick thorn piece through the sole of my shoe, and the skin on my feet. It just touched bone when I brought my foot back up. Thankfully, the pain was short-lived. But yeah, plants are jerks.

Now, Saturday began quite interestingly. In Langalanga (where all the exciting stuff seems to be happening), there is a single male sable wandering about. This sable's name is "El Diablo," which was well-earned. Apparently, some time before I came, this guy lived in the preserve's sable breeding camps, where he was prized for his good genes. However, he had a bad habit of murdering other sable. He killed at least two males and a female. He had also charged humans on almost every occasion, without provocation. He was deemed too aggressive and dangerous to live amongst other sable, so he was put in this area by himself. Now, we recently heard that when seen recently, his jaw had seemed...loose. It was assumed that it was either broken, or he was possibly bitten by a venomous snake. Joe, who had been on the receiving end of El Diablo's aggression more than anyone, wasn't terribly heartbroken at the concept, but because sable were one of the species that are specifically being helped, it was decided that they'd bring in a helicopter, dart the sable, bring a vet in, and then set him in a boma (and enclosed area) until they decided what to do with him.

So, we set off first thing in the morning. Before the helicopter came, though, we checked the zebra carcass again. There finally were pictures this time, but it was just of brown hyenas who were gnawing at the carcass. So the lioness continues to evade us. But enough about that! We had a sable to find. We drove around, looking for any evidence we could find. Unfortunately, considering we were a single car looking for a single creature in a large area, it was no easy feat. We eventually met up with another car, carrying a bunch of girls. I had no idea who they were, or what they were doing there. But just as I was ready to say, "Don't take this the wrong way, but: who are you?", we got a radio message that the sable had been spotted by the helicopter. The game was afoot, the chase on, etc. The Game Viewer drove faster than I've ever seen it drive before. Even though it's super rough on your backside, I love the roller coaster feel of it. Eventually, we got to the spot where the helicopter was hovering around, and when they pointed down, we all hopped out and ran as fast as we could (while being mindful of thorny plants) to where the massive creature was lying, dazed, on the ground with a huge dart sticking out of it.

We worked quickly to clear out the area and calm down the sable by covering its face and holding onto its horns finally, the vet came and began to go to work. It was then that I realized that all the girls were veterinary students/interns that were volunteering with this guy. After shooting up the sable up with all sorts of things, from vitamins to a super-painkiller (10,000 times more potent than morphine, he said), he examined the jaw, and said that it was very much broken, probably from a kick by a zebra or giraffe. There wasn't much that could be done, so we just had to move the guy. We rolled him onto a tarp, and as a group, lifted him up. And this was no easy feet, as he easily weighed 600 pounds. I had to use both arms to support his fat rump as we walked him out to the pickup truck, where he was packed up. There was a pretty funny moment when they asked me to come up, because I was one of only three men in this whole operation and they needed me to help keep him straight. However, the driver of the truck didn't hear this, and so began driving away just as I was coming up. I probably chased them for a good hundred feet before I gave up and got back in the Game Viewer.

After putting the sable in the boma (during which one of the vet intern girls didn't properly support the sable's head, causing it to knock into the pickup trailer bed and begin bleeding), the vet administered an anti-sedative, and we watched him drunkenly get up and stumble around. When we left, the vet again said that there was nothing that could be done, and so it was now up to Jon (the preserve owner) to decide if the guy be euthanize or left to live like this. More than likely, he's going to die fairly soon one way or another. And despite him being considered one of the most evil creatures in the entire preserve, it's still fairly sad, if only for the pathetic state he's in, with his mouth just hanging open. We came back later to give him some food, and when we found him, he was just lying down, a shell of his former self. We'll see what happens to him before too long.

Oh, we also saw cheetahs. Both Friday and Saturday, in fact. We think it was the same two brothers we saw on Thursday, so they've been making good progress around the preserve. Just thought I'd mention it, because how often do you see cheetahs walking around three days in a row? Not much in Redwood City, I can tell you that.

After all that excitement, we had the rest of Saturday to ourselves (as we did with today). I spent the weekend pretty much the same way I did last week - chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool. In particular, I have come to find that I like one of the hammocks outside of the house. It's impossible not to like hammocks, and this one is particularly nice - it gets good sun while still being shaded, it's out of the way, and it's comfortable. Both days, I had listened to some music, and ended up falling asleep. Not very long, but still, that's the sign of a good hammock, is it not?

Also on Saturday, I had to cook dinner - by myself! Because we only needed to cook for five, it was figured that only one person needed to do it. Which is true. But still, it meant that if it turned out crappy, there was only one person to shoulder the blame. Ironically, because it wasn't the hardest of meals to make - bangers (sausages) and mash (mashed potatoes) - that put even more pressure on it. Thankfully, it actually turned out pretty darn well, so I got that going for me.

And uhhhhh, yeah, that's about it for the weekend. Everything else I did was just recreational, and not really interesting to talk about.

But as a final note, this is the last night I will have my room to myself, as we get two more guys tomorrow. While it will - or rather, might - be good to get older folks (and men folks) to talk to, I will miss having my own space. Oh, well, that's life. All I can hope is that they're nice. And that they both shower in the morning. I don't want to have to worry about sharing a the hot water at night.

...Seriously. I want all the hot water.

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