Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Daan Viljoen and the angry baboons

On Saturday morning, I got a text message from Karen, a young American former military pilot now working for American embassy, asking if I wanted to go hiking. In retrospect, going hiking in the desert at high noon seems absolutely barking mad, but at the time it sounded pretty cool.

I met up with Karen and Julia at their place and we drove out of the city toward the Daan Viljoen Game Reserve. I had only heard about this place before because someone at my office had suggested we hold our Christmas party there, and then someone else explained that this park was now a rehab centre for alcoholics and drug addicts. It was therefore extremely unclear to me whether we were driving to a hiking trail or a rehab centre, but either way I figured that it would be an adventure.

Turns out that it was a game reserve that you could hike in, but it had only been open for a week. It was a bit obviously new – all of the staff had not yet adjusted to the routine of having guests.

“Everyone in the car is over seventeen years old?” barked the park guard.

“Yes,” we said.

“Even this one?” she asked, pointing at the petite Julia.

“Yes,” we said.

“Are you sure? Even this one?”



“Okay, now I’m just getting offended,” protested Julia, who is twenty-five.

The folks at reception looked excited to have guests and ushered us to a lady at the front desk who looked skeptical at our ability to hike the 3 km trail, let alone the 9 km trail we wanted to do.
She was showing us the map of the hiking trail. “Well, whatever you do, make sure you don’t turn left at this point,” she said. “Whatever you do, don’t go there.”

I felt a bit nervous at these instructions. “Are the trails clearly marked?” I asked.

“No, they aren’t,” she said, with the refreshing Namibian honesty that I’ve come to love.

We opted for the 9km trail anyway.

It was a lovely walk that traced the various hills and allowed for the cardio variation I love for my work out, plus a gorgeous view of the rolling hills. We saw baboons a few kilometers away, enjoying the water hole. Off in the distance you could also make out Windhoek, which was far more spread out that I’d realized.

Unfortunately it was also freaking hot. Hiking at the height of the afternoon is not the brightest idea, mainly because you’re not going to see any animals and also because, well, it’s just too hot. I tried to take a break by squatting by the hiking trail and ended up sitting in a thorn bush. I was still pulling thorns out of my butt by that night. The Namibian desertland is harsh. Everything beautiful has thorns.

trying not to think about the thorns in my butt

After an hour in, it had just gotten too hot and we decided to turn around and face the smirk of the desk lady. Unfortunately, not only was she right about our ability to do the 9km trail, but she was also right about the lack of proper trail markings. We found ourselves somewhat lost. I say somewhat because obviously we made eventually made it back safely, but it basically required the unfriendly growl of a nearby baboon to push us in the right direction and back on the main road.

"um, did you hear that?"
"hear what?"
"that growl."
"oh, i think that's a baboon."
"oh, whew."
"baboons are really vicious"
"let's not walk that way."
[picks up rock in hand]

gloria thinks: "well, thank God, Karen is here. she was in Iraq; she can fight the baboons."
karen thinks: "hmm, i don't think i was trained for this."
julia thinks: "i'm smaller, so i can outrun both of them."
baboon thinks: "when are these ugly chatty females gonna go away so i can pick my lice in peace?"

I think we’ll probably wait a little while before we go for our next hike at Daan Viljoen, maybe give them a bit of time to set up trail markers more properly. and maybe something angry baboon-proof. Also, we probably won’t leave at noon next time.

what does this sign mean

Back at the lodge, dying of thirst, I sucked down about three freezie pops in a row. The manager came out to chat with us. He’d formerly run the Big Sky resort in Montana, and was now setting things up at Daan Viljoen. “The thing to do nowadays,” he told us, “is bring more skills to Africa. They have the manpower and the resources, they just need the training. So we are showing them how to set up these tourist lodges. I used to enjoy owning them, but now, in my old age, I prefer to have someone else own them and just put in my work. I worry less. I go on more vacations.” I felt like he was imparting a lot of important information to us, but I was too busy inhaling popsicles to give any sort of intelligent response other than slurp slurp sluuuurp. i was also thinking about the exaggerated stories that i would tell people back in Windhoek about single-handedly wrestling angry baboons.

That evening we tried, we really really tried, to go see the Joy Divine singers performing at the National Theatre of Namibia, but the choir concert sold out by the time we were out the door. Unbelievable. Nothing sells out in this city. Instead we went for drinks at NICE again, which was, of course nice, but felt an awful lot like being back at the Hilton, and a huge contrast from my previous night in the Katutura shebeens. Then a wedding reception broke out, and suddenly the inner ballroom was filled with Namibian women ululating all over the place and all sorts of folks in fancy dress busting out moves to this pop song about not wanting to get your phone number because I can just look you up on Facebook anyway. We considered, seriously considered, crashing the wedding, but figured out that having like six white folks and one “China” saunter into an all-black wedding would be a little obvious. Next time though, I might not let this logic hold me back.