Saturday, January 16, 2010

Re-learning how to Peregrinate..

Now that the wet season has set in, I’ve had to learn a new way of walking. When weather permits I like to go out hiking with a pack on for some exercise and a change of scenery. With 35kg’s on your back though, it’s hard to correct when you start to slip so I’ve acquired a walk that, although I lack the grace of either, seems a hybrid between a Geisha’s fast but shortened steps and an ice-skaters plant, expecting as it were to have to glide with each step. It probably doesn’t look as funny as it sounds but it has felt weird learning to walk somehow differently.

Regular bushwalking is easy and my desert style is ingrained after many years trekking in the Pilbara and central Australia. Even my ability to walk on ice and snow is pretty good after 7 days trekking the Overland Track in winter last year. This ground out here however is different. Where the tracks aren’t overgrown with grass taller than me, the are slippery with mud or worst of all, the green lichen has created a surface with roughly the same coefficient of friction as ice. Even my Scarpa SL’s – still the most impressive boots I’ve owned and hitherto awesomely reliable – just turn into ice skates.

I also discovered recently while wrestling my way back to vertical, that it’s easy to slip completely over but hard work getting upright again with a heavy pack firmly strapped to you. It makes a good mini workout in itself but much like a turtle trying to right itself, I probably also made an amusing if ungainly sight. Kauga who was walking with me at the time was very polite and somehow managed to refrain from laughing. I’m not sure I could have mustered the same polite restraint had the roles been reversed.

With practice these days, I’m slipping and sliding less often but with the wet season setting in it’s getting more slippery every day – either that or I’m getting less graceful which I hope is not the case, given that I’m coming off a low base already. The first time I slipped over was only two days before the second time so that should give you some idea of the escalating lichen growth.

Apart from the great exercise and a change of scenery, I’ve also been going out hiking to prepare for the possibility that that I might have to hike out of here in February if the airstrip is too wet. At the very least I’ll be looking at a days hike plus a boat ride or perhaps 5 days over the Mahale Mountains if I feel like taking the more interesting way. Initially the Mahale Mountains was sounding pretty good but after witnessing a few days of 50+mm of rain recently that option is looking much less appealing (at least during the wet season). Might have to get out with the panga (machete) and slash the airstrip after all…

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Week 11 of 20 weeks away from Cambodia…

It's been seven weeks now since the camp shutdown operations and since then it’s just me and the 3 local security guys here. It’s a great part of the world to spend some time but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I'm starting to get cabin fever. With the rainy season settled in, the potential for to get out for hiking or biking trips in the area is severely limited. The grass is now over my head on most of the hiking trails and soaking wet from the daily rain so going anywhere (not that there is anywhere specific to go to now that the river is up) is a wet and muddy affair to be savored less often than I otherwise might.

Christmas and New Years Eve were atypically quiet here. My favourite place to be at that time of year is the Woodford Folk Festival - a brilliant mélange of music by 2,500 artists performing 16 hours a day for 7 days in 18 venues among 300 hectares of pictureeque former dairy land. Being in Australia, it was a little out of my way this year though so I elected to face reality and postpone my visit to 2010. Instead, on Christmas Day here I grabbed a crate of beer and went down to the security guys camp kitchen to celebrate. Turns out none of them drink. What sort of security guys are these? Should I be worried about my safety here? Hopefully they are still good at their job and perhaps it is all just a cultural misunderstanding… Perhaps they in turn are wondering about their safety with a boss who doesn’t drink sodas? Either way, they are a great bunch of guys. Just the sort of easy going people you would want in a remote camp with you for three months and very professional to boot. Luckily for them we had some sodas on had as well, so I had a beer while they had a couple of softies and in a mix of atrociously poor Swahili from me and only slightly better English from them we swapped stories about our home towns and past experiences.

I stayed up long enough to see in the New Years (in Sydney and Perth that is). I’d been hoping for a fireworks display but probably just as well they were canceled this year as the local village is three hours walk away. Must have been budget cuts or some new council ordinance about fireworks in vicinity of grass huts I guess, otherwise for sure they would have had some. Surely? Instead, and in the finest traditions of Hunter S. Thompson, I crafted plans to make up for that by getting drunk on the rest of the beer and firing the shotguns into the air while following up with Molotov cocktail chasers. A great night it would have been I’m sure, but in a (momentary and uncharacteristic) burst of common sense I opened a bottle of red wine and headed for bed at 1030 instead.

Friends keep me posted on life in the outside world and it helps to have the contact but they also love to tell me about the great café or beach or outing that they have just come back from. Cursed swine lol. Still, can’t blame them, I’d be doing the same and having some fun at their expense if I was in there shoes. Some good news that Pete and Tim have shared via Skype though is that Shela, the girl that we organized to get to Dar, is getting good care in hospital there. The Doctors seem to think her skin condition is a reaction to the sunlight. I’m not convinced given that the tiny leopard spots are all over her including places normally covered by clothing but hey, they are the fundi’s so I leave that up to them. In any case, they are still running some tests and are going to do a minor op to remove the growths from her face soon. Apart from becoming a pincushion for blood tests, she now sports a pair of glasses and has gained a little weight from the better diet in Dar Es Salaam plus seemingly gained a lot of confidence along the say. Apparently she’s now running around talking, laughing and very outgoing, much different from the shy, near blind, scarred and spotty girl I last saw in November on her way to Dar. It will be good when they finally figure out what to do about her skin condition but it sounds like the trip to Dar was well worthwhile already. On another good note, as well as the money we chipped in individually, the company has offered to cover the balance of her expenses which will be close to $1,000. It’s always nice to be involved with individuals and companies that have a social conscience. Kind of restores your faith in human beings really.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… It’s definitely an interesting and character building experience to spend two months here in a place with only three other guys, none of whom speak more than a few words of English. I guess I’ll come out of here with more character built in which sounds like a good thing (although I’m not sure if it will make me more eclectic or less suited to normal society – perhaps both). Either way, I’ll be very glad in three weeks time to get to the cafes of a sleepy, chilled-out town called Moshi in the shadow of Kilimanjaro for a big bowl of social interaction and a change of fresh scenery.

After a couple of days eating an unaccustomed diet of fresh and varied food as well as enjoying conversations that don’t have a 2 second time delay or need to be typed, I’ll be off exploring. First stop will be to the Serengeti, then Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara where I plan to disturb as much of the wildlife as possible with the clicking sounds of my camera. A friend told me when I was leaving for Africa that “you haven’t lived until you’ve seen sunrise over the Serengeti” so I rather intend to remedy that lack of living thus far, with a dawn balloon ride over the Serengeti. After that I’m off to Scotland for a couple of weeks then back to Cams to catch up with friends who are coming to visit. While there I’ll just have to 'take one for the team' and put some time aside to take my sadly neglected XR400 for a few runs in the back blocks of Cambodia. Like the valiant steed that it is, it has been sitting there patiently waiting for me to come home. I won’t be long in Cams however as I’m off to Lisbon in April to present at a conference after which I will no doubt fit in some more hiking in the European spring.

At least I’m being productive while I’m out here. It looks like my next book will be finished this month (a risk management how-to guide) and I’ll be sending it for editing in February then putting it up on in March. Hopefully 2 other books should also be finished by then. Much more planned for the year but that can wait for another blog.

2010 is looking like a very good year already...

Internet crisis...

Internet access was down for 2 days. And it was seriously looking like I might have been 2 months sans internet...In many ways that would be fine and many times in life I've wished that emails would cease but.... I'm in the middle of selling a house and finishing a couple of projects such as writing/researching a book plus I quite like being able to speak with someone who speaks more than a few words of English.

It helps you realise though just how much the internet has become a part of our daily lives – for me at least and for the developed nations. Most Africans it seems have never so much as seen a webpage which is a sobering thought when you consider how most of us take it for granted. As for me, well it's one thing to go 3 weeks hiking the Larapinta Trail without email and skype but quite another thing to go 3 months without it in a remote camp.

The router it seems simply decided that it had done it's bit for modern society and shuffled off this mortal coil. When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go and Saturday was the routers last day on this earth. I found another one in an old chest but couldn't tell if it worked (there is lots of ‘stuff’ here, some of which works, some of which is for parts only). Normally it’s easy enough to test such things but with the wireless router I couldn't test it till I got the configuration setup. A simple thing to do if I was in the ‘burbs – one phonecall and job done. Here it took me 3 HF radio calls and 4 satphone calls before I finally had the 3 numbers that I needed. So it goes… Clearly as you can see, I’m back on line now.