Tuesday, January 29, 2013

That oughta do it

I lamented to Mik via Viber, that the road trip I had been looking forward to was dreadfully uneventful. I've been in town the last few days and couldn't hitch a ride on an airplane cuz none were going to Khwai. That place can be reached via tarmac/cal-crete/trail so World Headquarters gave me a Land Cruiser truck and some deliciously vague directions.

Sam and I loaded a few drums of Jet-A into the back(the weight helps add traction for water crossings but hinders in the deep sand) and I headed north-eastish.

I'd been warned that the men manning the Buffalo Fence(a proper Big-Five barrier designed to keep wild animals separated from the domestics) would likely search the vehicle, demand to see my papers, and generally give me a hard time. But it was hot. They barely lifted their arms to wave when I zipped through.

Thalpi(his name tag reads, "Rock," for the tourists) waited at the bridge to guide me in the rest of the way. I knew from my time flying over the area that we had several water crossing ahead, and I wondered if the after-market snorkel would be needed to keep the engine running. Alas, it was not to be. We easily made it to camp just as the sun kissed the horizon.

I did my scenic flight and thought that I would do a longer one the next day but the Canadians changed their minds. Thanks again, Canada. I loaded the truck with empty fuel drums to take back to Maun and gave the windscreen a rinse. I offered to do the same for Mary's (local school teacher/nature lover/all around self-sufficient badass. She spent Christmas break in the heart of the Kalahari by herself, which she prefers but a student had given her a bed night in the lodge so she offered to show me some different trails on the way back) truck while she finished her coffee.

The engine caught and sputtered enough times that I figured Mary must have a trick for coaxing the '85 to life. But Mary couldn't get it started either. "I think it's the accelerator," said Mary. I had noticed that the pedal stayed pegged to the medal but I just thought it must be part of the charm of her zombie apocalypse vehicle.

I lay on my back and tugged on the cable leading from the accelerator. I got up, brushed off about a third of the sand that stuck to my clothing and asked Mary to pop the hood. I found the carb and saw two cables attached to it. I wasn't yet at the edge of my mechanical knowledge but I could see it from where I stood.

"Mary, give that cable by the gas pedal a tug so I can see which one does what." She did. A plastic doohickey hung snap-fitted to the end of the top cable but wasn't attached to anything else. I popped it off and saw the fresh break. Judging by how the rest of the crack had faded, the watchamacallit had been hanging by a thread for some time.

I found where the other end of the thingamabob should have been and asked Mary if she had any zip ties. Of course she did. I attached the two ends with the cable tie and Mary cranked it over. The cable tie may have kept the throttle open just a bit too far cuz when Mary let out the clutch, the truck leapt like a crazed stallion. "It's fine, Shane, better to have too much than not enough." I'm sure she'll have the mechanic adjust it when she has him fix her brakes, which brings us to part two of our series on bush mechanics.

Luigi moved with his father from Argentina when he was eight. About the time he turned fourteen, his dad said they were moving back. Luigi said go ahead, but I'm staying. Luigi is a bon vivant and a madman.

The brakes on his truck failed half-way between here and Kasane. That didn't bother him one bit until it was time to back the boat down the launch. He debated hooking another truck up to his to act as the brakes but decided that finding a truck big enough to do the job was too much of a hassle. So we're standing by the boat launch cracking beers, hoping that will give us some enlightenment as to how to get that boat the last ten meters so we can get onto the water.

Luigi disappears into the house nearest the boat launch and comes out with a jug of cooking oil. He fills the master cylinder and has one of us pump while he bleeds the lines. The brake pressure comes back, Luigi says, "I prefer olive oil but if you're gonna spend that much, you might as well use brake fluid," and we hit the river.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


The white man sees a black man(perfectly acceptable in this part of the world. You can't ask if the guy is an African-African can you? The American race movement should've stopped with changing from Negro to Black to avoid the word nigger. It's just color like blond or brunette. Afro-Americans aren't any more African than I am Irish. In fact, I'm more Irish than they are African cuz my family has only been in America since after the Civil War. I could get into the history of slavery and how the whites only got into the business at the very end. But that discussion should be explored with commercial hunting.)

So, anyway, the White man walking along the river comes upon a Black man lounging in the shade of a mophane tree. The Black man has a stringer with five fish on it laying in the grass by his feet. The White man says, "Did you catch all of these this morning? You must be a good fisherman."

The Black man smiles, "Yep, I catch all I need to feed my family in an hour or two every morning."

The White man says, "Why not fish a few more hours and catch ten fish? Then you could trade those extra fish for a net. If you cast the net across the river, you'd catch enough fish to hire a man to help you. Why in no time at all, you'd be able to rest in the shade of a tree by the river and enjoy your days."

The Black man looks at the White man and says, "That's what I'm doing now."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Three little pigs

I moved outside when it started. First it bounced back and forth between the clouds far in the distance, the background, the completion of the scene. Hippos grunted and blew, sending spray from the Chobe River towards the heavens. The winds intensified and the lightening, having sufficiently stretched and warmed up decided it was time to start striking treetops.

I still couldn't hear the thunder because the bolts struck too far away. I felt the storm intensifying, wind grew stronger and the rains came. But I stood transfixed, bolted to the spot, mesmerized by the lightening.

Ed was born on the first of November. His mom, Donna(whom I probably owe about a thousand cokes) invited B.D. and me to join Ed for a haunted house tour followed by pizza to celebrate his personal New Year. We rolled around the back of the station wagon on the way to the big city.

Some JayCee volunteer led us through the gymnasium turned house of terror. I brought up the rear. We went past the bowls of spaghetti and peeled grapes, mostly bored with the whole thing, caught as we were between childhood and the land of grown-ups. Then we stepped into a room with a pulsing strobe light that was tin-foiled wall to ceiling.

The strobe light flashed on and off. I felt someone watching me. I turned to see a man wrapped in tin foil, only his eyes visible. Every flash brought him much closer. I pushed B.D. to push Ed to get the fuck out of there.

The same terror grew while I watched the lightening but I didn't want to move, knowing that seeing an electrical storm such as this must be a rare event. I tried but failed to count between the strike and the thunder to gauge the distance of the strikes. There were simply too many of them to distinguish between.

I gave up on that silliness when one struck closely enough to stand the hairs up on the back of my neck. The crack deafened but didn't make my ears ring. I wondered about that lack of tinnitus(the frequency of the sound or too much cumulative damage from sitting on the speakers at a Vegetable Spit concert as a teenager?) while I hid under the covers waiting for the storm to end. The strikes came nearly constantly, for an hour there was more light than dark.

I surveyed the damage in the morning. Fences and trees blown down everywhere and the helicopter cover shredded into a Betty Flintstone(Rosy O'Donnell, not the sexy cartoon version) dress. The wind knocked over three houses with straw roofs and wood walls at the nearby village.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Aesop's non Fables

The camp where I've been stationed was scheduled to be closed for two month's worth of renovations in Jan/Feb. That plan had been on the books for more than a year but the head office in London decided not to go through with it. Since the world's travel agents had been informed that it would be closed(and would open again in March as essentially a brand-new lodge, that should be fun for the managers to explain to guests for the next six months. "Where's the fitness center?") the reservations log was all blank spaces as per the old plan. So I was to move to one of their other properties.

I saw a beautiful sunrise, pre-flighted, and lifted for a 50 nm trip to the Northeast. The last 30 or so miles was brand-new country to me. I knew from my nav-log planning that I'd fly over a village, then an airstrip, then I should be on the lookout for some drums full of fossil fuels, they would be at my LZ along with a game drive vehicle and two guests for a scenic flight.

I landed, quickly introduced myself, and asked them to hang tight while I unloaded the fuel pump and removed the doors. After the safety briefing, I asked them if they had any questions. "What are we gonna see today?" Inner dialog, "How the hell should I know? I just got here, my main concern is finding this LZ again at the end of the flight." Outer dialog, "Every flight is different, that's what makes this such a fun gig."

It's challenging at this lodge cuz it borders a park that I can't fly over unless I'm 1000' AGL(above the ground), there are other lodges and game-drive vehicles scattered about, and there's a proper two-lane road that one can probably see from space. So you can imagine the difficulty of staying where I won't disturb others, get chased by BDF(Botswana Defense Force, keep the acronyms coming), or blow the illusion that the guests have of being in the middle of nowhere, all while looking for game, oh yeah, and flying a helicopter.

But I got lucky. We saw wild dogs, the most endangered predator in Africa(no it's not the cheetah. Cheetahs are thriving, they've learned how to live on the edges of wild and domestic areas. Sure they are genetically extinct, but that had nothing to do with human predation, they went through an evolutionary bottle-neck 10,000 years ago. Cheetahs are so similar that skin graphs, or is it grafts, yep grafts, from one animal to the next work 100% of the time without rejection medication. So if one of them gets a flu, they're all fucked, but not much we can do about that. Whoopsie, major tangent.) and they were hunting.

Wild dogs hunt by trotting after their prey. They only chase the sprinters, not the distance runners. After six or eight sprints, the impala or whatever is exhausted and they casually disembowel it while it dies a painful death. Sort of The Tortoise and the Hare, Stephen King-style. I only did half an orbit around the pack, doing my best to share from the air without altering outcomes. And while trying to find the LZ again, we saw a fair number of elephants, zebras, etc.

That afternoon, I joined a staff-only game drive and we had a great leopard sighting. I've been lucky enough to see a few but just to put it in perspective, one of the guys has been in Africa for 18 years, managed camps in South Africa, seen silver-backs fighting, etc. and that was his first leopard.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mammary memories

This was gonna be about Thabalolo, the first HIV positive person that I've known here in Bots to move on to the next life. I was gonna write about how somewhere between 25 and 40% of the population is infected. How no one talks about the disease, how shame surrounds those infected, how they often wait until they're too far gone for the anti-virals provided by government health care to make a difference or how the elders still tell the young people that condom use is white man's population control weapon.

But all of that depresses me, so instead this post is about tobacco and nudie mags.

I was with my first friend, Ed. We met at the age of six and have had many adventures. The one we're concerned with today involved the above mentioned items and a barn that housed hay and an old Model A Ford.

Ed lifted a couple of smokes from his mom's purse, then we headed down to the farm. There we acquired a couple of vintage Playboys. We climbed up into the loft and lit the smokes. After a cough or two, we had the hang of it so we busted out the bustys.

When the time came to ash the cigarettes, we looked around and were smart enough(but not that smart, keep reading) not to put ashes on the hay. Nor could we sully up Candy Loving's spread. I held out my hand. Since we weren't yet expert huffers, one of the cherries came off the end of the cigarette and burned my palm when it made contact. I let out a little yelp and shook it out of my hand. Back to the boobies.

By the time we got to the Party Jokes, the cherry had grown into a little fire on the dried hay. Ed and I stomped the holy hell out of it and then made a run for it. No way we wanted to get caught with Playboys, cigarettes, or a burnt down barn.

Sadly, no one from the next generation will get to have that sort of memory in the barn. Partly because porn is now downloaded from the web instead of found in the back of the closet under Grandpa's hunting shirts and partly because the barn fell down a couple of days ago.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

One hand clapping

Mr. Keegan taught physics at Rib Lake High School. He also taught algebra and calculus, it was and is a small school. By the time I met him, he'd been teaching in the neighborhood of twenty years. Mr. Keegan taught a few years, took a year off, taught a few more, took a year off and so on. I thought that was pretty damn cool.

One thing I wondered about in the Cool Department was his wardrobe. He bought one new, high-quality suit at the beginning of each school year. He wore the new suit the first day of school, then it became part of the rotation. Since he'd only purchased high-quality garments and had taken those sabbaticals, he had suits from disco through grunge in the line-up. He stood on his chair to start one class so we could all laugh at the pink plaid ensemble before moving on to the quadratic equation.

Mr. Keegan claimed that whether anyone was around to hear a tree fall, it still made noise. Noise was disturbance of the air. Sound was our interpretation of said disturbance. I found that explanation logical and elegant.

The sky turned the same shade of purple found under the hero's left eye in the seventh round of Rocky IV(see there's still a reason to learn Roman numerals) at about three yesterday afternoon. The wind howled and I heard a plane land at the airstrip. Knowing that no one was scheduled to arrive or depart, I went out to see what may or may not be up.

The pilot landed to wait out the storm with Maun reporting forty knots, gusting 60 from the south. Since the Maun International Airport's runway is 08/26, even if it's goat-free, which it isn't always, that's a bit much as far as landing with a crosswind goes. I helped the pilot tie down the plane, then we went to have coffee and wait for the storm to blow through.

By the time the wind died down, an African Armarula(they produce fig-like fruits that elephants eat after they've partially fermented. Yep, drunken elephants. The liqueur of the same name has an angry elephant on the label.) had fallen across the path, cutting cottage number twelve off from the civilized world. Over on the staff village side of camp, a sycamore fell on Chippie's cabin, crushing the tin roof like a can against a redneck's forehead. No one heard Chippie screaming until the wind stopped.

Rafters smashed into her shins and cut her up a bit but other than being pinned down and scared half to death, she made it through unscathed.

All it means is a hair dryer in every room

I hope by now you've drunk too much, skipped your workout, had an extra piece of pie, or done whatever else is the opposite of that silly resolution you made. All those things are good for is boosting the sales of the Thigh Master so Chrissy from "Three's Company" can get another boob job (Sidenote- John Ritter and Johnny Cash both died on September 12, 2003. Possible lesson; speed is better for you than coke. Remember, POSSIBLE lesson.) or lowering your self-esteem.

I started 2013 by seeing one of the rarest owls on the planet. We had a couple of bird nerds in camp from South Africa. They were standing on the path between me and my cup of coffee, super excited. I'm beginning to appreciate birds more than I have in the past. In part because we get lots of birders this time of year and it's more fun to say 'that's a Waddled Crane, they lay two eggs but as soon as one hatches they leave the other one behind, that's why you'll never see four of them,' than 'I don't know,' and in part because after you learn that why giraffes have urine the consistency of honey, how much more about them do you need to know? Check out the wiki entry for Pel's fishing owl. They couldn't even post a pic of it, had to draw the damn thing.

Anywho, I hit the coffee station and grabbed a piece of toast that I took 'back of house' to enjoy away from the guests. So I'm mid-bite when one of the relief managers (camp managers work 3 months on, one month off. While the managers are gone, the relief managers do their best to fuck everything up, from changing who bakes the bread each day to figuring out "better systems" to keep track of which guest resides in which cottage. In the beginning, I got very frustrated with the incompetence but I've graduated to the seventh level- amusement only.) says, "Happy New Year, Shane." "Happy New Year to you, how's twenty-thirteen treating you so far?" "I have a big boil on my ass, well not my ass exactly but where my leg meets my ass." Well, that's what I get for asking.