October 31, 2008, Category: South Africa, Travel

Day 9: Sweni Wilderness Trek

Note: I have posted a small selection of the nearly 4,000 pictures we took on the trip. You can see them here. If you didn’t start reading on Day 1, you might want to start from the beginning 

IMG_1002 Today was pretty much a repeat of yesterday, except when they took us out for our morning walk they stopped near where we had seen the lions. Orbit said to stay very close and quiet today because this area was an active lion area. We found many of their tracks and fresh dung as we hiked, but no lions. After a short while, Andre stopped us to play a game. I seriously would not have played but everyone else went along with it so I decided it must be safe. He drew three lines in the sand, one close, two further away, then picked up a small handful of round dry buck pellets and gave us each two. The idea of the game is to put the pellet in your mouth…yes, you read right…and yes a pellet is poop. Then you spit it as far as you can. The South Africans went first, then Curtis. I got him laughing at one point and he almost couldn’t spit the second one…so I told him he better hurry before it gets soggy. My first attempt didn’t go well but my second one sailed way past the far line. I think I got a nice spin on it or something…lol. Afterwards I thought what I should have done was pretended to put it in my mouth then pause and say, “hey, this is pretty good,” as I was mock chewing.

We hiked further and ended up having breakfast on the same rocks that we’d watched the sunset the night before. Then we hiked to the dry river bed and the bamboo stocks and sandy base. As I watched Obert in front of me carrying is assault rifle and dressed in khakis, I couldn’t help but think about the soldiers in Vietnam. We veered out when we hit water and were standing on the bank looking at an elephant when Andre whispered, “Lion!” He pointed across the river and 40 yards away under a palm tree was a large male lion watching us from the shade. Everyone fell silent and moved in close and I fumbled with the camcorder. Once we’d spotting him, he didn’t stick around. He stood and vanished into the palm trees, then reappeared moving to our right. Then he roared, an elephant trumpeted, and we heard brush being crushed. We didn’t see nor hear the lion again, but we heard the elephants and could see the tops of their trunks sticking above the trees, sniffing around. It was pretty funny looking. With the lion on the move (and they said there were most likely at least 2 others with them), the rangers moved us away and we then continued our hiking.

Everything was quite until they both got really excited and whispered for us to hurry and look where they were pointing. My only thought was that it must be a leopard and I started fumbling for the camcorder again. I got to them and they pointed and whispered, “Look! It’s our car, it’s still there!” Haha…they are hilarious.

IMG_1074 It wasn’t as hot today, but it feels a muggy. There was a constant cloud cover so we didn’t have the direct sunlight beating on us. I ended up with a light sunburn on my arms after yesterday and used sunblock today, although probably wouldn’t have needed to. Even now as I sit in the hut sweat is dripping from my face and down my bear back and chest. Curtis is asleep in his cot next to me, sweat beaded up all over his face. When we finished our hike I took a cold shower in the bamboo stall and it was seriously the most refreshing shower I’ve ever taken.  The water was cold enough I kept losing my breath…colder that I would normally tolerate, but it felt so good after being so hot. I came back to the hut and made Curti go take one too, he was writing in his journal and couldn’t believe I’d ever do anything that took him away from writing but it was too awesome to pass up. He had to experience it.

For our evening hike we went in a different direction. We saw another rhino up close and then a week old giraffe. After the hike they took us up on the hillside where we had a spectacular view. It was really cool to visit and watch the sunset with people I now consider good friends. After the drive back we had a braai (South African BBQ) and enjoyed another excellent salad and steaks. Obert and Andre told us some of their bush stories which involved some pretty scary moments. While they were talking Curti heard a noise and shined the light and two eyes were glowing in the bushes right next to us…it turned out to be a civit, a smaller cat that had smelled the meat.

We talked some more. Andre told us about the time he found a spitting cobra in his bed. Once a guest went in to take a shower and felt something on his back and slowly backed up…another spitting cobra hanging from the ceiling. No wonder he said he wouldn’t tell us his stories until the last night! But despite those moments, they have always been safe. It’s pretty amazing that in all the years of this program there have only been three accidents.

We then talked a while about politics, it was fascinating to hear their views on what was happening in the country. The coolest part of it all was seeing how everyone spoke as equals…not just in terms of skin color but in terms of knowledge. It is very different from when I was here back in the apartheid days in the late 80’s. Andre has never been to formal school yet he speaks five or so languages and is highly knowledgeable not just about the bush, but politics and the world. Both he and Obert are fascinating. Obert had a little story about a time he took several guests on the trail who sound like they were quite racist towards him. Despite their rudeness, he didn’t stoop to their level. It’s horrible to think that people look at others because of skin color and completely miss out seeing them as human beings. The irony is it is they who are the inferior people and it is Obert with his keen understanding and ability to tolerate their ignorance that is the higher functioning mentality. I don’t think an evening like this could have happened 20 years ago. There is still ground to cover in terms of equality, but education and a mutual respect have helped make huge strides forward. Both races of South Africans spoke with compassion, respect, and a true sense of equality. They are South Africans, not blacks…not whites, but South Africans concerned about their country.

It really cooled down in the evening and it was the first night we didn’t go to bed sweating. The hippo continued his belching, the wind pushed through the hut, and it was a perfect ending to a wonderful day.

Continued on Day 10…

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