Monthly Archives: December 2017

Crazy Race

Arrived in Durban at noon.

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Jacaranda-lined avenue

This trip so far has been a crazy race.  I don’t usually pick such hyper travel companions.

Truth is I’m mentally, if not physically, exhausted, have no time to write, let alone to think.

So I took the day off today!

Enough is enough!  “I vant to be alone”( Greta Garbo).

Up at 5:30 to see the elephants; IMG_0569 the rhinos;Hluhluwe rhinocéros blanc_5787the giraffes;IMG_0463 (2)buffaloes;Botswana Parc Chobe Buffle_6258_previewwildebeests;Parc Kruger gnous_7018warthogs,Botswana lodge Phacochère et bébés_4014_previewall that in a semi-coma. I declined the visit to the Zulu village (fake in my opinion) and a second safari in the afternoon.

Went back to my tent  after breakfast and slept until 11.

Being a pathetic photographer, it’s only because the animals were rather lethargic themselves that I managed to catch them in semi-action.

Today is pretty good though, the lodge is practically empty, I just had lunch in blessed aloneness.

I’m sitting on the wide veranda overlooking the savanna with its acacia trees and listening to the songs of weaver birds and sing-song Zulu talk of the personnel.  It almost sounds like very fast-spoken Italian.

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Zulu Nyala Heritage Hotel

My travel companions are no younger than I am, but they all seem to be on some sort of crazy mission, as if it were their last trip: they have to see everything, go everywhere non-stop, rush from one destination to another and comment everything . You’d believe they’ve never seen anything, perhaps have I seen too much… Let’s say that I prefer to see one thing and see it well.

I usually organize my own trips, rent a car and keep some time to loiter, do nothing, get lost, absorb, listen… This time we have some sort of a mini-van.

Well, live and learn.  Organizing a trip takes a lot of time and trouble but it’s worth it, you hold the rudder and sail your ship at your own rhythm.

Moment of grace this afternoon: As I was walking under the yet to be identified tree where the weavers have set up their GQ.  The little guys were busy fluttering in and out of their woven egg of a nest.weaver-bird-nests-img_6552c2a9maria-de-bruynres Fluffy, tiny yellow and black creatures.  Hluhluwe lodge Tisserin intermédiaire - Lesser Masked-Weaver_5983_preview (1)

Sounds of the night: some huge croaking frog or toad; something like two bamboo sticks knocking against each other; the birds have gone to sleep.Botswana Parc Chobe paysage coucher de soleil_3168_preview

It doesn’t take much to make me happy, to make my day.  The aloneness and little yellow birds. Walking fast on a red earth road, this morning, the endless savanna and nothing else ahead of me, except for the occasional baby antelope.terre rouge

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Baby Roan Antelope

 

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Capetown – October 2017

I don’t have the impression to be in Africa yet. Big western style cities;

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Capetown

manicured gardens;

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Kirstenbosch Gardens

Disneyesque hamlets restored to evoke their European or Malay origins but failing to be entirely convincing;

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Franskhhoektown

Malay

Malay Quarter – Capetown

otters and penguins difficult to conciliate with one’s idea of Africa;

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Hout Bay

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Boulders Beach

 

hordes of tourists everywhere and so many smiles and hellos from people who might have every reason not to smile. That makes you wonder how sincere they are. They look and sound sincere though.

This is all rather rushed and much too fast for my own contemplative rhythm. I need to be alone. I need silence. I’m not complaining, I’d just like to be able to hear myself think a little bit, decant what I see, assimilate it. It’s been difficult so far. I always remember Africa as I first saw it in 1975: the huge empty spaces;

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Masai Mara – Kenya

scenery evoking prehistory as one imagines it, being practically alone in the Ngoro Ngoro crater;

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Ngoro Ngoro Crater – Tanzania

in the reserves, the noble Masai defiling spear in hand along the roads, their cattle in tow.

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masai

That was a time when you felt you had pieces of the world all to yourself. I think I’m a bit nostalgic…

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Crique Angèle, the very best hike!

At breakfast, I observe a brightly-colored caterpillar: coral and black. It’s very busy trotting on its many little legs, applying saliva to the dining carbet’s banister and sometimes rising its little head which is hard to distinguish from its fan-shaped tail, a bit like a lobster’s tail. ChenilleCuriously it will turn into a dull colored moth while the fluorescent blue morpho butterfly starts as an ashen caterpillar.morpho

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Guyanese prisoners were given the task to catch those mythical butterflies, then used to dye US $100 bills. The three of us leave at 9 for our expedition. We should be at the creek by 12:30. Much more than we bargained for. There is a path to Crique Angèle, but since it’s not often used, it is obstructed by branches, fallen trunks, roots and invaded by vegetation and treacherous lianas that wrap themselves around your ankles. A certain type of root forms traps like croquet hoops, if your foot gets stuck in one, it’s fast plunge forward.jungle We walk on a thick carpet of dead leaves and fallen palm fronds. If you’re not careful feeling the ground with your walking stick, a soft muddy spot may suck in one of of your feet. It can sometimes be quite muddy and slippery allover, particularly in the descents, but Nathan precedes us, hacking us a way with his machete.IMG_1213 Black flies the size of hummingbirds are constantly buzzing about us but they don’t seem interested in biting. Nathan fashions a fan of noisy palms to ward them off. Stick in right hand, fly swat in the left, we are equipped. We are also quickly drenched in sweat, going up and down hills.  This is not his kind of thing but I cannot renege my Amerindian heritage and forests and jungle throw me in an ecstatic, meditative state, so much so that as we cross a creek on a tree trunk, I miss a step and fall into the creek with my backpack. It’s not very deep, but deep enough for me to swallow a mouthful and get even more soaked than I already was.jungle1 I’m mostly worried for the contents of my backpack but no choice but to keep going.

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Wet and filthy, we reach the creek on time and this is heaven! Five hours away from all civilization, a creek to wash in, as I’m quite dirty by now;

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a cascade (which stole my rubber tongs) with myriads yellow butterflies fluttering over in a disneyesque scene; a “carbet” (open shelter) to hang our hammocks and wet clothes that may or may not dry and Nathan’s good sandwiches and rum punch.Crique-Angel037IMG_1220 Of all the hikes I’ve done in my life, this is by very, very far, the best. Hard camping but talk about exclusive! There is absolutely nobody around! The boys have lit a fire and we’ll roast a baby peccary for dinner.IMG_1201 Tonight, we’re sleeping deep into the heart of the jungle. Monday, August Crique Angèle I can’t say that we slept all that well. That hammock has me tossing and turning to find an approximately comfortable position. We leave after breakfast and the trek back seems a lot harder on the way out than in, even though it’s only half as long. The sun is out today and created patterns of light and shadow that mask obstacles. All in all, we have walked 25 km since yesterday. My still wet shoes are not that comfortable either. We are grateful to see Manuel waiting for us with the pirogue that will take us back to the “semi-civilization” of Saut Athanase.

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Saut Athanase, French Guyana

On the road again… To Regina this time. I drive. For those who might be familiar with Maui’s road to Hana, this road is a close contender.

Road to Hana

Road to Hana, Maui

One hairpin turn after the other. But it’s going pretty well, except for my passenger who seems ready to faint. Nevertheless we make it, park the car in front of the Gendarmerie (police) and get on the pirogue to Saut Athanase.fleuves_-_crique_gabriel We have to cover 40 km to get to destination, that is nearly two hours of pirogue on the l’Approuague river. The river is mirror smooth and reflective, a black-billedCoumarou flower toucan flies over, but apart from that lonely apparition, not much fauna to be observed.Black-billed_Mountain-Toucan Then suddenly, Alfonso, our Brazilian pirogue driver warns of rapidly moving waters. Rare phenomenon, the river suddenly ascends to a higher level, two meters higher as if we had to go up a water staircase, step by bumpy step. In fact, it’s as we were climbing a cascade in reverse, negotiating rocky moguls. Nothing too threatening but enough to send us carefully jumping and zigzagging between stones. The pirogue driver has to know every stone and the depth of water to safely wend his way between them.saut Then it’s dead calm again, alternating with more variations in levels. Some of the basaltic rocks are blooming with feather-shaped pink flowers.

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Coumarou flower

The scenery is indeed wild, untouched, spectacular, but the installations at Saut Athanase have suffered with time and the change of owner and we find them rather dilapidated. You can either sleep in a “carbet”: a shelter with a roof but no walls where you’re provided with a hammock or in a bungalow.

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A carbet

Well, things do change and we’re back in squalor: a torrid bungalow with no A/C, holes in the mosquito screens, a furry, none too clean bedspread, with wool pillowcases, no sheets and a door that doesn’t lock. It’s very much like summer camp for underprivileged children. But, hey, we’re accustomed to that stuff. We’ve seen worse. On a positive note, lunch with three French couples and the son of one of them, is delicious: rum punch, salad, smoked peccary stew and sugary sweet pineapple. Apparently, if you take a male banana bud, take away the blossoms inside and chop the outer layer, it will flavor the sauce you cook it with a smoky taste. I’m not so sure about that but worth a try. The French just left and we now have the run of the place. The camp at Saut Athanase is basically run by a father and son team: Manuel and Nathan, from the Karipuna tribe in the Oiapoque region in Brazil.

Nathan

Nathan

At 4:30pm, Manuel asks if we want to go fishing. I say “¿Perdon?” As usual, I’m distracted and I try to decipher his French sentence as if it were Spanish. It takes me a few seconds to readjust my mind to the proper language. “Fishing? Why not?” Back on the pirogue. It bites. I catch a pirai, a small silver fish with a patch the size and color of a lemon slice behind its gills. I feel sorry for it. I don’t like watching him agonize in the bottom of the pirogue. I beg Manuel to hit its head somehow and put an end to its misery, but we have no gloves, no appropriate tool and catching the fish by the tail to hit its head against the boat is tantamount to catching a wet bar of soap.Fish Manuel catches two cumarus, large flat-bodied fish and a few smaller ones. I don’t like that. I pull in my fishing rod and, sitting on a life-jacket in the bottom of the pirogue, try to meditate the fish away. It seems to work. No more biting. I’m quite pleased with myself. Everything is perfectly peaceful, except for bird cries, parrots cawing and the whistling of… ocelots. Manuel explains that ocelots have the ability to imitate various bird and animal cries to attract their prey. Never knew that, how clever of them? A flight of parrots quickly goes overhead.Parrots

On the shores, the jungle is as dense and vividly green as moss. Occasionally, the high purple top of a “bois-vache” (cow-tree that gives a sweet milky sap) peeks through the foliage. An immense rainbow, neatly painted on the sky, widely straddles the horizon. Several times, we approach the shores, duck under the low hanging branches, lianas brushing against our faces, as Manuel hangs the smaller fish we caught as bait for larger catches. We’ll find out tomorrow if he’s had any luck. The sun is setting and crossing the rapids at dusk is a risky enterprise as you can barely see the rocks hidden a few inches under water or barely touching the surface. Hitting a rock might be fatal as the shores offer no refuge and passing the night on a rock is none too appealing. …….. We meet Nathan in the kitchen, it’s only the two of us, Nathan and his father. Nathan is cooking and we chat around our rum punches. Nathan is 25, already has three children, the first one fathered when he was only 13. He’s extremely bright, mature, knowledgeable and his fish couscous is to die for. Tomorrow, we are leaving with him for a two-and-a-half hour uphill hike to Crique Angèle, a hard to reach destination in the middle of the jungle, five hours away from all civilization.

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