Tuesday (15-05) – Go shorty…
… It’s your birthday! My birthday that is. The 25th of my life to be exact.
There is no party but definitely some birthday love. Daan is very sweet, decorates my tent and has some presents for me, imported all the way from Holland. Noeline and Tjaart come around for a cheeky afternoon drink. They also bring a present: fresh spinach ravioli from the lodge. Always a good present, even better when you’re seriously running out of tasty food in camp. All day I’m showered with sweet birthday messages and calls from family and friends.
In the evening Daan and I make pizza and brownies and eat so much that we almost roll back to camp, although the bottle of wine we drink might have something to do with that too.
Friday and the rest of the week - FRIENDS
They are here!! Literally scrambling out of the car after the long journey. For months we have been talking about this, while they were still busy travelling Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and (since 2 days ago) Zambia. Yesterday they arrived in Mongu and today Daan picked them up.
One of them is my long-time friend Amber, whom I met in highschool at only 13 years old and remained partner in crime throughout the highschool years. Despite going our separate ways and not seeing each other daily afterwards, the bond has remained strong and what’s even more special: Daan and I visited her in Zanzibar in January and now she is visiting us. She has brought along her 2 travelbuddies Lisanne and Judith, 2 awesome girls whom I have met a few times.
After unpacking, settling in, dinner and a beer or two, they announce a secret mission which results in them giving me a lovely belated birthday present; a selfmade game (after a game they like to play but couldn’t find readymade) and a cake with candles, it’s awesome. We sit around for a little longer, while sharing the cake with one fork and then go to bed for an early night.
We go out in the field pretty much every morning and see cool things daily (as one can expect in Liuwa). The first morning we find some hyenas on a kill, a following morning we find the lions on a zebra kill. We do a den visit and it turns out that a car surrounded by hyenas big and small is all that is needed to convince them that hyenas are the cutest (cubs) and coolest animals ever. Every day brings along more hyenas and all the big and small animals and displays of nature Liuwa has to offer and to top it all off, we follow a cheetah on the last day.
The evenings are filled with sundowners, dinners, laughter, long conversations and games. Sometimes it’s just the 5 of us, sometimes the entire team joins in. On the last evening we have a braai on the plains.
On Friday, exactly a week after arrival, Daan and I bring them back to Mongu where they board the bus to Lusaka the next day and I discover once more that goodbyes are the f**king worst.
It’s difficult to describe how nice it was to have friends, and especially these friends, around. There have been laughs, endless conversations, fairytales, many questions, answers, games and they helped out with fieldwork too. For me it was special to show people I know from the Netherlands and a long-time friend what we do and what life is like in Liuwa. Also, the past few weeks have been difficult sometimes and to have them around was like a breath of fresh air.
It’s fair to say that not only myself but the entire team loved having them here. The only problem is that we now miss them and their bubbliness again.
More photos will follow, if internet cooperates ;)
Thursday – Cheetah
Out in the field, a few hours after leaving camp, I stop the bike and climb up on the saddle to scan a wildebeest herd. Routinely I scan and then (without actually hoping to find any) I scan for cheetah as well. My eyes shoot down to the receiver as it gives a loud beep on one of the cheetah.
I look in the direction of the loudest beep and immediately see the gracious shape of a cheetah sticking out of the tall grass, looking around for prey with her front-paws perched on an anthill.
It’s LCH-180! And she’s hunting! Excited about my unexpected meeting, I start to follow her on her hunt.
Around 13.00 it gets really hot but that only seems to bother me. LCH-180 has chased a few oribis so far but she’s not been able to get close enough. Obviously motherhood (we think she’s having cubs) has made her hungry because she continues to hunt during the heat of the day without even so much as a 5-minute rest break. While I’m getting hungry too and fried by the sun, Miss 180 continues her hunt with endless patience and determination.
Around 15.00 I get distracted for 2 seconds, looking at some birds flying up far away, but when I look back to find 180 I see her speeding up behind an oribi! I watch intensely as the oribi runs and runs and she chases and chases. When they go into the tall grass I see a little cloud of dust rise up and I throw my hands up. YES! After an excellent chase of an estimated 250m, I find LCH-180 again, this time choking an adult female oribi.
She needs 15 minutes to recover from the long and fast chase and I can’t help but looking at her in awe. LCH-180 is the coolest cheetah of all and the one I’ve spent most time with. She’s very patient, waits for the right opportunity and when she’s really hungry, she will always kill, even if it takes her all day. Now that she’s killed, she can eat and then go back to her cubs, ensuring their survival, and that’s just awesome.
It takes her 1.5 hours to eat almost the entire oribi and after she’s done she lays herself down with a belly as round as a basketball. Soon she will go back to her babies. But it’s 16.30, and that’s my time to go back to camp and find some food too.
Friday – Everyone has a talent
I once wrote about the pole I got as a belated birthday present, to climb in and stuff. Well, although there are some challenges sometimes, such as the weather, sand and insects, I train a lot and teach myself new tricks and I feel good about that. But then I look at Instagram videos and I realise that I will never be as good as the girls (and guys) on there. They are always stronger, more gracious and more flexible than me.
But I won’t let that get me down. Because I’m discovering all kinds of new talents while climbing in my bushpole. Did you know, for example, that yours truly can hit 3 mosquitoes AT A TIME? While DANGLING on a pole? UPSIDE DOWN?
Now go on and find an Instagrammer who can do that!
Sunday - Cookie day
Not to make you jealous or anything, but Daan gave us the day off today and I used it to make speculaas and peanutbutter cookies.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Tuesday – Oribi hunt
I’m in the clan area of Mutata and because of the insanely tall grass (FYI: it tickles my armpits. Now that’s tall) it’s difficult to find any middle-sized, spotted, carnivorous creatures.
The tide turns when I stop for my coffee break and a familiar shape moving over some short grass catches my eye. I kickstart the bike, ride to the hyena and when I get closer I see not one, not two, but six! I look around to see four more of which one is undoubtedly one of my favourites: little Mercury! I haven’t seen her in four months and she has grown!
After photographing all of them, I happily resume my coffee-break while I watch them and they watch me.
When I move on, I find another hyena in the tall grass and while filling in a datasheet I hear a weird screeching cry coming from not too far away. My friend hears it too and points its ears. I watch the hyena intensely, I know it will do something, I just don’t know what. The wait is not long, within 2 seconds the hyena dashes off and runs to the sound. Datasheets, binoculars, cameras and backpack fly everywhere as I try to pack away everything as fast as I can. Some swearing and stashing later I start the bike and start following the hyena at a speed that is too high for comfort in this &^%*$ grass. We get back to the exact place where I had previously left the ten hyenas and now I can see three of them fighting over something. Then one takes a sprint with something in its mouth. Still not having all my fieldgear back in place I frantically grab around me until I find my binoculars. I can see the hyena has it by the spine, four legs sticking out and head dangling down, probably paralysed already… It’s an adult oribi.
This is odd, I’ve never seen hyenas hunt oribi. It’s not that they don’t try, but usually oribis are too fast and jumpy for hyenas to catch. Another odd fact: kill time is 09:22, it doesn’t happen very often that hyenas hunt during daylight.
The exact chain of events that lead to me witnessing an oribi being devoured by three hyenas I cannot give you. I have no idea what happened there and how they managed to catch it. All I know is that in 5 minutes flat nothing remains of the oribi except some contents of its rumen and some flat grass… And that my location is probably the only place in Liuwa where hyenas are seen without a problem.
Wednesday – Needles
It’s the season just after the rainseason, when the grass is at its tallest and life is everywhere.
When not a day goes by without your peaceful state of mind being interrupted.
When the problem is bad when you stay in camp, but 1000 times worse when you’re out in the field.
When at completely unexpected and random moments, it will turn you into a spastic of the highest class.
When not one part of your body, not one piece of clothing, not one tool or equipment is safe.
They will get everywhere. You will still find them months later. They will make you screech like a girl. At random moments you will feel the sting of their sharp end, like a needle piercing your skin.
It’s the grass-seed-season.
Friday – A time to remember
It’s memorial-day in the Netherlands. A day dedicated to remembering the people that have fought in WW2 and have suffered and/or given their life for our freedom. Every year on this date, at 20.00 hrs, the entire country is in a 2-minute silence. Although there is some discussion around the tradition, I think it’s a good one. Freedom is such a huge privilege. We have to realise how fortunate we are and remember the thousands and thousands of people that we have to thank for this ultimate gift.
So every year, whatever happens and wherever I am in the world, on the 4th of May, at 20.00 NL time, I will take 2 minutes to sit down in silence and realise how damn lucky I am to be free. Sitting on the Liuwa sand, gazing up at the stars, my endless train of thoughts is stopped and replaced by an endless gratitude to all of those that have fought to free my home-country and give my grandparents (and therewith, eventually, me) back their freedom, to be who they are and become who they wanted to become.
And the beautiful thing is, after I have sat there for 2 minutes in silence (which usually becomes 5 minutes because I never know when the 2 minutes are over), I feel extremely grateful and happy.
Because there is no better way to be, than to be in freedom.