Sunday, February 26, 2012

not getting eaten by crocodiles

"Do you want to go on a six hour hike?" I asked Mark. No answer. Apparently Julia and I are the only ones who want to entertain such ideas at 7:45AM on a Sunday morning, so it was just the two of us setting off for adventure in Okapuka.

Okapuka is a magical place located about forty kilometres north of Windhoek. When you pull in from the highway, you pass families of warthogs and ostriches and springbok all grazing peacefully side by side. There is a nice restaurant with beautiful scenery, a swimming pool, and opportunities to go on game drives...but what Julia and I wanted to do was the six-hour hike.

The owner was skeptical. Even though Julia and I are both experienced hikers, by appearance we just looked like two petite tourist women, and I was as usual completely inappropriately dressed for hiking in my bikini top, jeans, sunglasses and wool hat.

I swear, it works for me.

Oh yeah, it was also noon, because for some reason, Julia and I like hiking in the hottest part of the day.

"Are you sure you want to do the long hike?" he asked.

"Yes, it looks pretty," we said cheerfully. "How long is it?"

He was a big friendly Afrikaner man with big eyes, a big nose, and a big beard, kind of a living personification of Captain Haddock from Tintin. He scratched his neck and squinted into the sun. "Maybe thirty, thirty-five kilometres?"

Somehow I doubted that. It was being advertised as a six hour hike. The last six-hour hike we had done was twenty kilometres, and we moved at a constant pace. I could tell he was just trying to scare us off.

His next words did succeed in alarming me, however. "When you reach the end of the route, be careful around the crocodile dam."

"The crocodile dam?" I had seen warning signs in the lodge about the crocodile dam. Mainly, that visitors should stay away.

"Yes, try not to get too close to them," the owner replied.

"Does the hiking trail go near the crocodile dam?" I asked.

"It goes through it," he answered.

"Through the crocodile dam?"

"Usually they are not on that side of the pond, but these days they have been wandering. Well, you girls have fun! Drink lots of water!" And then he drove away in his truck, leaving us on the path.

Five minutes earlier, Julia and I had had the following conversation.

Julia: "Did you know that crocodiles can run really fast?"
Me: "On land?"
Julia: "Yeah, they're like one of the fastest animals."
Me: "Oh, crap."

Oh crap.

The hiking trail was a beautiful one, nevertheless, even though it was oddly designed to thrust hikers straight into a pit of crocodiles at the end of a gruelling hike. It was a bit unnerving to keep the thought of crocodiles at the back of my head but I still managed to enjoy myself. The hike took a lot of endurance, especially in the heat. Like the Hakos mountain range, it was not a simple climb up a single mountain, but up and down and up and down a series of mountains.

Like most of our hikes, we were the only hikers on the path and there was not a soul around for miles.

We managed to do the trail in much less time, under five hours. As we approached the lodge ahead of us though, we still had one challenge left: the crocodile dam.

yeah, that's the hiking trail leading right up to the crocodile dam.

Or so I thought. A sudden movement in the bushes caught my attention and made me realize that we'd have to deal with a different obstacle first: baboons.

Blog readers know that I hate baboons. Seriously, I really hate baboons. I'm looking forward to going back to Canada where the only scary animals I might run into while hiking are bears and wolves, which, although scary and dangerous, do not have opposable thumbs that they can use to rob you, and other creepy human-like habits. But there they were, sitting right in the path, with no intention to go away and give my baboon-phobia a lot of space.

Suddenly I heard a loud yell. "Oh thank God, someone's here to chase the baboons away," I thought.

"No, that was the baboon," Julia said, reading my thoughts.

What? Baboons have human voices? Well, that was just freaky. And this one was yelling at us.

"It's a good thing you haven't watched Planet of the Apes," Julia whispered.

I was feeling really nervous about trying to nonchalantly walk past them, especially because I still had a lot of food in my backpack. Instead, I pulled out my mobile phone and called up the lodge. I told them there were baboons on the trail. What did they advise us to do? Wait? Walk?

"Ah, they should just go back to the restaurant," the Namibian staff member told me, which made me think that he didn't understand my question.


"They should just go back."

"Look, I don't know if you mean that the baboons should go back, or if I should go back the other direction to do that five hour hike again, but neither advice makes any sense," I said.

I heard some movement on the line and then a female voice came on the phone. "You should just walk through the baboons," she told me.

"I have food in my bag though - do you think they will try to take it?" I asked.

"You can give them the food, and then they will go away."

This sounded like a stupid idea. I thought about Julia's earlier remark about how hikes in North America feel pretty safe because we're such a litigious society that park authorities go out of their way to remove any potential dangerous risks that might cause a lawsuit. Here in Africa, however, things were different. LIABILITIES EVERYWHERE.

Eventually I decided to hang up on the lodge staff and bravely walk past the baboons, sticks and stones in my hand. By that point the baboons had moved to the side of the path, although I could feel their eyes watching me at all times.

Finally we had reached safety, past the the crocodile dam. Oh right, I had forgotten about the crocodiles.

We could still hear the baboons yelling angrily at us. "I think right around now, we can stop watching out for the baboons and start looking out for the crocodiles," Julia said. This is a line that will stay in my memory for the rest of my life.

Wonderful. "Well, I've got this stick," I said weakly, waving my little stick about.

"I think that if the crocodile is that close to you at that point..."

"I was thinking maybe I'd put it in his mouth and then run away...Kind of like that scene from Peter Pan, with Captain Hook."

But the movie that I was actually thinking about was the penultimate scene from Adaptation. I shuddered. I decided that I was not a fan of close encounters with wildlife unless I was in a car.

"What does that sign say?"

It was not a very good sign. I could tell it was trying to warn me about something,but I couldn't read anything except "LIONS AND CROCODILES ON PREMISES." Oh right. I forgot that there was a lion feeding tour here too.

"I think the best case scenario here is if the crocodile ate the baboon, and then the lion goes after the crocodile," I whispered. "Then we run past."

"I'm sure there are better scenarios," Julia replied.

Even though we had just finished a five hour hike, we walked pretty darn quickly past the crocodile dam.

By the time we reached the other side, we heard the roar of a truck. Approaching us was the owner, bringing a truckful of tourists around on a wild game drive. I eyed them with disdain. Bunch of weaklings, doing the route in a car. I had just finished wrestling baboons and crocodiles and lions with my bare hands - in my macho mind, at least.

The owner bowed to us. "My compliments to you, ladies," he said, impressed that we had done the whole hike.

I smiled and waved, hiding all of the fear that had been swelling inside me for the last twenty minutes. "It was easy," I said, shrugging casually. "Piece of cake."

I tell you this: nothing has ever tasted as good as my cocktail that awaited me at the lodge bar at the end of my hike.