Wednesday, January 25, 2012

taking the long way to the mountain in Okahandja

(continued from the previous entry, in which I agree to go on a spontaneous road trip to Okahandja, before passing out after a night of partying)


Felix is in rougher shape than us when he picks us up in his car on Saturday morning. He’d gone drinking until 6AM. Me, I still have kizomba music ringing in my ears and I’m trying to figure out if an Oshikandela is good or gross for a hangover (I’ll drink it either way), but other than that I’m feeling pretty excited for my weekend trip to the trophy lodge. Whatever that is.

Felix’s parents run a taxidermist workshop in Okahandja, a town about 70 kilometres north of Windhoek. They seem like lovely eccentric folks, judging from their enormous property in the wilderness. The lodge had been robbed a few weeks ago, but it was still full of interesting stuff. Felix’s mother paints ostrich eggs, so they were all over a desk. Besides the taxidermy workshop full of animal skulls and kudu horns soaking in various odd-smelling liquids, they have all sorts of butterflies and tarantulas pinned in frames hung on the bedroom walls, not to mention a real live poisonous puff adder snake in a cage in the living room. Puff adders are one of the deadliest snakes in Africa and of course as a result I am fascinated by them, although I don’t know why anyone would keep on in their living room. There apparently used to be two puff adders, but one killed the other during feeding time, when he accidentally bit his friend. I don’t know how snakes could ever French kiss each other.

I tried to talk to the puff adder, even hissing HARRY POTTER in Parseltongue, but he wouldn’t have any of it. Deadly snake, my butt. This one lives a cushy life, not moving ever.

They also had a pen outside holding about a half a dozen pet meerkats. I’ve decided that meerkats (also known as suricate) are the cutest animals that exist, not that I needed much convincing after the Lion King. Felix’s meerkats all move in unison, following you around, always curious to be a part of whatever action is happening.

right here, I am the action that is happening.

Besides the random live and dead animals around the house, the lodge also had a beautiful braai area outside with a mosquito-net covered swing and a swimming pool by a row of palm trees. I spent most of my time going back and forth between swimming in the pool and dozing off under the mosquito net on the swing, while Willbedone played ZZ Top from inside the house. We were introduced to Mathias, a friend staying at the house, who spoke only German, but that was okay since I was busy swimming and sleeping anyway. It’s a pretty great way to beat stress, and I was glad that Willbedone had convinced me to come up here to take my mind off last week’s robbery. I had a similar offer from Ellie to get away for the weekend and hang out in Johannesburg, but I felt like hanging out in one of the most crime-ridden cities would not actually help take my mind off the robbery. No, this little bizarre animal haven in the wilderness was just what I needed.

In the evening, Felix cooked us up some juicy oryx meat on the braai while Wi11bed0ne whipped up some wild rice and a salad with homemade dressing. We ate outside while we listened to the various noises that night animals make. Afterwards, Felix fell asleep on the swing with his dog Chica, and we had a few beers while chatting with Mathias, who, as it turned out, did understand English.

The next morning, somebody in the house was blasting John Lee Hooker and I was wondering if I had been drunk when I packed the day before. I had forgotten a toothbrush but had brought at least two different tubes of lipstick. Why? What was the logic in this?

I had spent the previous day lounging while enjoying the view of the mountains around us. On Sunday, we decided that we were going to climb up to the peak of the highest mountain in sight.

this is what we were going to climb

I always joke about how as a lawyer I like clear unambiguous direction so I prefer clearly marked hiking trails, but everyone knows that sometimes the best trails are the ones you make on your own. Trailblazing can be fun, especially if you're with someone like Mathias, who had this super belt that carried several litres of water, a knife, and a number of other nifty hiking tools. He spends a lot of time in the bush.

So we cut through the bush, making our own trail. This wasn't actually because we went out and said, "let's make our own trail." It was more because the boys couldn't remember where the actual trail was. Once in a while we would come across an old animal trap made of wires. Felix and Mathias would cut them down and bury them under a rock so no one could get hurt. We were too late for some of them - we found a few kudu skulls along the ground.

On our journey, we came across a couple of fences as well. Obviously I have no qualms about jumping them, since I consider a good fence hop a part of a good hike. After I jumped the last fence, however, I found myself face to face with two angry (and unleashed) dogs.

this was a bit of a frightening moment. Mathias stood in front of us, staring the dogs down, while Wi11bed0ne backed away (she had been bitten by a dog once as a child) and Felix scooped up his little dog Chica, who was freaking out.

I'm sure I'm talked before about the mean guard dogs of Namibia who act as supplementary alarm systems against trespessers on private property. People don't really keep friendly pet dogs here, ones that are well-mannered and respectful; instead, a lot of the dogs here are loud and mean, mean, mean.

A lot of times when you're confronted with these mean-mean-mean dogs, the trick is to stand steadfast and stare at them straight, acting with authority and confidence, like an owner would. Unfortunately this involves having to hide the fear in your eyes, and that's hard to do when you're doing a mental calculation of how much faster you can run than your friends.

Luckily, just as both the dogs and I were tiring of this staring contest, I heard a human voice calling from the distance, and the property's caretaker came running down the path with a stick. I've never been so glad to see a stick in my life. The caretaker shooed the dogs away and told us we were welcome to walk through the property to get to the mountain, because that was the quickest route. We looked at the sight of the two big dogs and envisioned them following us the whole time and thought, let's take the long way to the mountain.

eventually we found the proper mountain trail and our climb up the mountain became a lot easier. Once we reached the summit after scrambling up a set of boulders, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the whole Okahandja area.

the wooden cross at the summit

I was surprised to see how green everything was.

From the mountain peak, we got a lovely view of Felix's house where we were staying...and we could also hear the house alarm going off. Uh oh.

the lodge below us

It was a bit of an odd moment. If the house was being robbed again, there was nothing we could do about it - it would take us almost two hours to get back down to the house. So we just found a spot to sit on the boulders and ate the cheese and liver sandwiches Felix had packed us while we listened to the house alarm and waited for the security company to show up.

It was an amazing sight. There was literally nothing as high as us for miles around except the buzzards circling the sky. Felix had laughed at me for lugging heavy Savanna cider bottles up the mountain with me, but as Wi11bed0ne and I cracked them open - they were still cold - I knew it was totally worth it. It's the Hasher in me that craves cold brews at high heights.

I asked the boys if the mountain had a name, but they didn't know. We decided to call it Mount Chica, after Felix's dog who had led us all the way up to the top, checking back occasionally make sure we were all right. This made me glad Chica wasn't eaten by the other mean-mean-mean dogs.

The descent from the mountain was fairly quick, which was good because the sun had come out from behind the clouds and was blazing hot. We walked into the town to buy some cold Wuma, a "health" drink owned by famous Namibian kwaito artist EES. The streets of Okahandja were quiet and abandoned - everyone was out at church or drinking on their lawn. Despite this, we still managed to find a taxicab willing to drive Willbedone and me back to Windhoek. I felt ready to return home. It had been a therapeutic weekend of relaxing and indulging in beautiful nature, which was just what I needed.

The weekend wasn't completely over though. that evening, Wi11bed0ne and I hiked Avis Dam with the Hashers, our second hike of the day.