Africa, all is love (week fifteen)

Monday 26/05/14
Kath and I went early up to Satara. Not long out of Skukuza, we saw a pack of nine wild dogs. We watched them for a while. When we got up to Satara, we drove around the enclosure with Moses (the man employed to look after the enclosure). We radio tracked the buffalo and saw them run across the road in front of us. They’re still really skittish around us, which is a problem for Kath’s behavioural observation work. We went back to the camp in Satara mid-morning. Kath worked on her proposal the rest of the day and I read.

We went on a game drive this afternoon, which turned out to be really fruitful. There was a small herd of elephant and the young male trumpeted at us and waved his ears. Very scary… Then he decided to go hide back in the bush with his mum. We were watching some baboons further on when they suddenly started screaming and ran up some trees. There were three young male lions coming back to chow on a buffalo. It looked brilliant: they strolled up the sandy bank with the sun setting bright orange behind them.

We had to be back in the gate by 6pm, so we decided to drive back, then realise we weren’t on the right road and so were going further away from camp. We did a u-ey and came back. On our rather rushed trip back, we saw a lioness, a civet, a genet, two porcupine with their mohawks and quill skirts sticking up and heaps of nightjars (little birds) on the road. We got in the gate late, but it was no big deal. We went to a researchers tent, Drew, for a braai, with Matt and Jo too.

Tuesday 27/05/14
Kath and I went out to the enclosure at 4.30am to sit behind the water trough and watch the buffalo come in. Nothing except a warthog came in, and that was pretty skittish. I was a pretty useless observer and fell asleep. When the sun had risen, we used the radio tracker and found they were on the other side of the enclosure.

We went back to the camp for Kath to have a meeting with her supervisor and then we took him out to the enclosure again for a look. I stayed behind to help Henri and Leigh do Henri’s field work on vegetation stuff.

We worked on a transect with a square perimeter of 100m, recording the nearest grass species to ever metre mark. If the closest grass was a perennial, we only had to record that, but if there was an annual closer, we had to record the annual as well as the nearest perennial. For each of those points, we had to record how far away it was from the metre mark, its tuft diameter and its projection (where the tips of the grass began and finished intersecting the measuring tape). We then went around again and recorded a similar thing for trees within two metres of the tape, writing species down and recording height class, projection and number of stems. We then used a numbered board that Henri had made to look at how his vision was obscured for each number by grass and then trees, and he stood 12.5m away from the board each time as we went all around the square transect. He did the same thing at the diagonally opposite corner. It is used as an indication of what an animal could see when looking over the area. We had to cut out a square of grass over three spots inside the transect and collect two soil samples from each of those same subplots, then weigh them all.

We finished up around early lunch time and went back to camp. I read again the rest of the afternoon while the others were doing their work. We had a braai over at Leigh and Henri’s tent, and Jo, Matt, Drew and two people I hadn’t met before who are just about to move from Satara, came over as well.

Wednesday 28/05/14
Kath and I left camp around 6am to drive back to Skukuza. It was really foggy until Tschokwane, so we couldn’t see too much. I met up with Bri and Brady and we drove over to Karen’s house one of the OTS staff) to start building a pizza oven.

Bri and Brady had organised all of the equipment and knew how to make one already, so I just followed instructions. We built a base out of some sheets of wood and a wooden pallet, screwing the wood onto the pallet. Then we made cement and cemented the edges with bricks. In the middle, we lay down opened and emptied wine bottles, so they filled up the base space. You can use fire bricks there, but we didn’t have any, so Brady said wine bottles could be used instead. We levelled that out with a layer of sand, so all the gaps between the bottles were filled. Then we put a layer of wet clay over the top of the bricks and left it to dry.

I was pretty hungry by that stage (when I get hungry, I’m bad at putting words together and being fun), so we went to the tourist camp for a milkshake. We had sundowners at the dam wall after we had time to wash off the dried cement and clay. Linda (the guy who occasionally helped Bri with her fieldwork) came out with us too. Linda wanted to have a couple drinks with us at the golf club, so we had some sprinkbokie shots there afterwards (peppermint liquor with amarula cream on top – delicious!). Bri, Brady and I dropped Lind off at his then made (well, Bri made) dinner before watching a movie. On the way back to mine, I knocked the bakkie against the pole where we park it and knocked some of the casing off…congratulations to me.

Thursday 29/05/14
Spent some time in the morning cleaning up and fixing where I had hit the bakkie into the pole. Afterwards, I met up with Bri and Brady, who were going over to the pizza oven. The clay was still wet and had cracked a fair bit. After Brady had a quick chat with his Dad, we decided to pull it off and mix it with some sand before putting it back on. It got quite messy again.

To make the actual pizza oven bit, we made a mound of sand. We then lay wet paper over the mound. Bri was the main mixer, mixing the clay and sand together. It mainly involved her jumping and running on the ingredients on a plastic sheet. Brady started building the oven part and I helped after I’d done a bit of mixing too. You had to press each layer of clay down onto the one below, so while you were building the rounded part, you were actually pushing on the clay underneath at an angle, rather than pushing into the sand. The sand was just meant to be there as an indicator of how to make it. The clay then needs to dry for a few days (or however long it takes), and then you dig out the sand and light a few fires in it so the paper burns out. It’d be cool if it was ready by next week so we can make a fire and cook pizza before Bri and Brady leave (Bri back to the U.S. and Brady to Cape Town and further African travels for a few months).

We worked on the pizza oven all afternoon until the sun was setting and then met Kath, Henri and Jordan out at the dam wall for sundowners (we were even dirtier looking today than yesterday). We all had a braai at Bri and Brady’s and John came over to join us too (the U.S. social sciences researcher who works at a uni in Canada and is trying to set up a project between here and there). Bri, Brady and I then watched ‘The Castle’, though I was the only one who stayed awake through the whole thing. That’s not an indication of the quality of the movie, as it’s obviously a bloody ripper, just of how tired they were from pizza oven building. I’m glad they got to see some of the parts I keep quoting at them, at least.

Friday 30/05/14
Bri and Brady said goodbye to Kath this morning, as it would be the last time either (especially Bri) would see her in a while as she was going to Pretoria for the next week. Bri, Brady and I then checked the pizza oven, which was still standing but quite wet. We left Skukuza in our hire car just before 10am to drive down through Malelane gate and over into Swaziland for a three-day music festival called ‘Bushfire’.

The border crossing at Jeppe’s Reef was much less hectic than what it had been into Mozambique. Swaziland is quite beautiful and mountainous – not as high as the Drakensburg around Lesotho, but lovely none-the-less. We got to the festival area around 3pm, got our camping wristbands and set up. The area where the festival is being held is basically on someone’s property. All the campsites were open spaces, but at our particular campsite, we were surrounded by a eucalyptus plantation on one side and a sugarcane field on the other. Our camp was near the other OTS students, so we had a fair bit of crossover with them. There were also quite a number of people from Skukuza camping in the next section over, so we could usually find someone we recognised.

I was meant to meet Jordan’s boyfriend, Jem, at 4pm, so I could take him to Jordan and surprise her (she didn’t know he was coming), but I couldn’t find him. We tried another rendezvous point at 6pm, but nobody I asked knew where the entrance to ‘House on Fire’, where we planned to meet, was. I later saw him and Jordan together, and met him in person for the first time. I was relieved to see they’d found each other fairly quickly.

There were three stages in the festival. The main one was outside and had a large grassy area in front. The second one was called the Barn, but it was only going to be opened tomorrow. The House on Fire stage was this absolutely brilliant building/pub thing. It looked like it kept being accidentally extended. There were cement floors and the main ‘stage’ area had an amphitheatre thing with big cement steps and pillows on top for people to sit on. The lights were all kind of haphazardly made shapes. There were about four wooden balconies around the top with metal framing different on every side. The amphitheatre section wasn’t completely covered by a roof, rather it had some open sky between the three corrugated iron rooves that led into it. There were mosaics throughout and poems dug into the concrete on the walls. Nothing really matched and it was all colourful.

Bri, Brady and I walked around, listening to different acts, checking out what food everyone was buying for dinner and strolling through the little market section. The market had a fair few stores where people could sell things they made, from dresses to jewellery to candles to moisturisers to artwork and more. The festival on a whole had such a good set up and it was great that the campsite was so close and so easy to get to. Our camp area was the best one, because even though you could still hear the music clearly from the main stage, it was less rowdy than the others as it’s at the back. I went to bed closer to midnight, listening to Muzart playing on the main stage.

Saturday 31/05/14
Bri had been going around to various figures of authority last night, asking where we could pick up one of the braais that had been advertised on the website to be lent out. Nobody knew, and when she asked again early this morning, she was told that they’d all been given out already. A rather unimpressed Bri made her own ‘braai’ out of broken pieces of a clay pot she found in the plantation, an had put it together before I’d even gotten out of the tent. We (mainly Bri) made breakfast jaffles, which definitely hit the spot.

We went into the festival grounds early and headed to the ‘Barn’ stage. It was literally a barn. They had set up artworks on the wall to be sold, and when we went in, a duo called ‘Tonik’ was playing. There was one guy on a couple of keyboards and the other on various percussion, including a plastic sliding version of a didgeridoo. What was cool is that you had to put on headphones to hear the guy playing the keyboard and the percussion was also made louder.

We did another loop of the market before Brady and I headed over to the House on Fire to watch Pedro the Music Man. He was amazing. He played songs on a piece of plastic tubing. He gave out three different sized ones to the audience for each song, which gave him some backing chords, and he’d stamp his foot which had the tops of coke cans tied together on a rope that made a sort of tambourine sound. It was really clever, a lot of fun and sounded brilliant. It was music to tap along with, and plenty of people got up and danced.

We met up with Bri and went back into the market place for a banana, cacao and almond milk smoothie. We watched Floewe on the main stage. She had a big, powerful voice. We went back to our camp after, and found the OTS students there, so we had a couple of gin and tonics with them and caught up. We watched Dan Patlansky afterwards in the front row, who’s an amazing rock-style guitarist. He played the electric guitar, and at the end, pulled off the strap and was playing it by balancing one string on his thumb and bouncing the guitar up and down. So clever.

Bri had gone to get some food, so Brady and I went back to make a fire, but Brady fell asleep instead. Some of the helpers came by and helped me make the fire, asked how old I was and were surprised that I wasn’t married already. They left after they suggested I should get married quickly and catch up on having the six babies that I was well behind on. I cooked bacon and had to eat it by myself (not really the saddest thing ever to happen…). I also cooked toast over the fire, buttered it with the back of a spoon and vegemited it with my finger. I went back to the festival myself, as Brady was still out to it and Bri was still somewhere in there. I watched Mookoomba for a while, who were great and played upbeat music. Bongo Maffin and LA-33 were also good, and I listened to them on and off for the rest of the evening.

Sunday 01/06/14
Bri, Brady and I went in earlyish again (Brady finally got up after about twelve hours of sleep). Bri and I made tie-dye shirts and then all three of us went into House on Fire to watch Derek Gripper, who’s an excellent acoustic guitarist. He normally plays the kora, a 21 string African harp-lute), so was quite skilled at finger-picking on guitar.

We picked up our shirts afterwards (which looked pretty rad) and dropped them back at the tent before coming back to watch the end of Imperial Tiger Orchestra with the OTS fellas. They were quite lively and fun to watch. We went to the front row to watch Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who were amazing. They are an acapella group that started around fifty years ago and now have three generations involved. They just had so much fun together on stage, and would have some basic dance moved that they all did, but had flexibility in them for some of them (usually the younger ones) to embellish the moves every now and then. They sang beautifully and were well worth standing in the hot midday sun. I would pay to see them again.

We started listening to the next guy, Oliver Mtukuzi, as we wandered back to the Barn for Bri to pick up a print on hessian that she liked, and then headed back to the campsite. Heaps of people had packed up and left already (there were only two more sets left to see before the festival ended at 6pm), but we were staying an extra night before driving back so we didn’t have to worry about going through borders and gates on time.

We made (Bri made…) broccoli and fetta jaffles for dinner, which were actually quite good. We finished off our wine and beers and had smores. The open mic stage was hosting the remainder of the people, and we could hear everyone getting up and having a go from our campsite. It is such a great festival and has one of the best, most chilled vibes of any one I’ve ever been to.

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