Sesriem Canyon to the Middle of Nowhere; More great rocks; Small dead creatures and small living ones too; Time out for a migraine

I’m not exactly sure where we were today, to be honest. I’ll have to look it up when I post this dispatch. I know it took a good seven hours to drive here, though. It’s really boring driving now – the novelty of the desert vistas has worn off and none of us are really bothering to look out the windows or take many pictures en route anymore. Compounding my own boredom now is the fact that I have no good books to read. I’ve read everything I’ve brought with me and everything anyone else brought with them too, plus everything halfway decent on the truck’s library and anything I’ve been able to trade for at campgrounds. I’m reduced to reading a piece of trash by Dan Brown, author of the execrable Da Vinci Code - that’s how bad it is. But somehow we made it to where we were going – somewhere outside the little town of Aus. There wasn’t much to do there, but there were some cool rock formations and a bunch of marked hiking trails, so that suited Sheryl and I.

We took off down the trail as soon as we could – alone. I don’t think Sheryl feels the same way, but I feel like I’ve spent way too much time in and around the truck and with this particular group of people. I need a lot of time alone in the usual circumstances, and I’ve had virtually none for nearly two months now. It didn’t seem to be quite as much of an issue with the group we had before Livingstone, but the “new” group and I don’t mesh quite as well. I still like most of them, with a couple of exceptions, but their various little personality traits have been grating on me for some time, and recently have left me feeling as if someone has been vigorously applying a cheese-grater to my brain whenever I’m around them. But there are only a few days left of the trip and so I’ve been dealing with it by isolating myself as much as I can without being able to physically leave. I notice, though, that I’m not the only one having difficulty – it’s interesting to watch the fracture lines and cliques develop as the group begins to fragment.

In any case, this is all a long-winded way of saying that it was nice to get away from the mob for a little while. They followed us, of course, but we let them pass us and then hung back for long enough that they got tired of waiting for us. The trails were very cool. Lots of neat rocks – sedimentary stuff weathering out in great flakes and sheets. Ideal fossil territory – this part of Africa was the bed of a warm, shallow inland sea back in the Permian period about 250 million years ago. I didn’t find any looking casually, though. We had to be content with all the neat quartz crystals lying around. We walked for a couple of hours, making it to the top of one of the high hills and surveying the big plain beyond. The place was fun for rock-heads like us – all kinds of neat shapes, inexplicably-balanced round boulders and giant cracks. Lots of strange-looking plants I’d never seen before, either – weird constructions of hollow spiked tubes.

Sheryl had to cook that night so she had to rush back, but I lingered behind when I spotted a giant nest of Sociable Weavers in a thorn tree. These are communal birds resembling house sparrows that build gigantic constructions of dried grass, joining them together into one huge nest with many entrances. This one engulfed nearly half the tree and had at least fifty openings. The birds were fearless – they swooped and chattered all around me as I stood under the nest, and perched on twigs no more than ten centimetres from my camera lens. I spent half an hour watching them and playing with them, getting covered in bits of grass falling from the nest (and surprisingly, nothing else fell down on me, which I was pleased about) and only left when I realized it was starting to get dark.

I’m not sure if it was the bumpy driving in the truck, the wacky changes in the air-pressure all day long, or something completely different, but that night I had the worst headache I’ve had in a very long time. I always hesitate to call them migraines, for two reasons: First, I’m not sure they’re neurological in nature; and second, the term has become badly devalued – everyone with a bit of a headache calls them migraines. Be that as it may, I don’t know what else to call them – severe, incapacitating head pain, if not a migraine in fact, is close enough for me. This one came on slowly and I ignored it for too long – I should have done something about it far earlier than I did. By the time I couldn’t ignore it any longer it was too late. My neck muscles had tightened agonizingly and felt as if they were going to pull the plates of my skull apart. I’ve never been sure whether this is a cause or an effect. I went and lay down in our tent, but the heat was stifling and when I opened the flap to get some air the light was agony. The music from the truck and the noise of people talking (and later, snoring) stabbed into my brain. I’d taken 600mg of ibuprofen first thing – that’s a lot for me these days now that I’ve broken my dependency on the drug – but it didn’t have any effect. I cut to the chase and took one of Sheryl’s prescription painkillers, 500mg of codeine. This didn’t make a dent either, so after another hour of agony I took a second. I felt bad about taking them since she only had ten left – I hope she can manage to get more in Cape Town. The second dose of codeine and a lot of patient neck massages from Sheryl were enough to take the edge off so that I could sink into a fitful sleep – thanks love, I owe you a big one. It lasted about three hours, this one, which is a little on the short side, so I won’t complain, but it was quite a bad one while it lasted. It occurs to me now, while writing this three days later, that Sheryl also has some sort of special medication specifically for migraine which I should have taken. Here’s hoping I remember about it next time. That shouldn’t be for a few months, inshallah.

In the morning I felt much improved. We’d set the alarm clock to wake us up early so that we could go for another hike. I took Sheryl to see the birds first, but they were all still sleeping so we moved on. We chose a longer route, one that would take us out and around the big hills we’d climbed the day before. It was a neat walk, characterized by a lot of small animal sightings, some of which, unfortunately, were dead. One little antelope had been there so long he was just bones and mummified skin, but the rabbit was very newly-dead. It was a strange cadaver, though. There was no obvious cause of death, but it was missing fur and skin on several spots. There wasn’t any damage to the muscle underneath, and no blood. This made me wonder about disease and we declined further investigation. Happily, everyone else we saw was alive and well, including three or four antelopes bouncing nimbly from boulder to boulder up on the hill. I thought they were Springboks but Sheryl claimed they didn’t look right.

It was my turn to hustle away, though, this time. I was on cook duty, and even though Elton said he was making us breakfast there was still setup and cleanup to do and toast to make. I’d mixed up the routes on the map and thought we were doing a two-hour five-kilometre hike, when we were really doing a ten-kilometre route rated at three hours. I realized this, I’m ashamed to say, only when I saw a marker that said there were 3km left to the end of the trail. By this time it was twenty minutes to eight – and breakfast was supposed to be at eight, so I ought to be starting setup and toast-making more or less at that moment. I left Sheryl behind (not without some qualms) and ran the three klicks back to camp, arriving breathless and sweaty a couple minutes past the hour. Lee was my cooking partner for the day and had already set up and was halfway through the toast. He was nice enough to let it slide and refused to relinquish the toast-making position, so there was nothing left for me to do, which made me feel a bit useless and slack.

I was also a bit concerned about Sheryl. Namibia is probably the safest country in Africa to leave her alone in one sense – the country is so sparsely populated you can go days without seeing another person – but in another it’s the most dangerous, since there are lots of tempting rocks to climb on and break ankles. Although, knowing Sheryl, she’d probably set off a landslide that buried three nearby villages and walk away without a scratch on her. So, nervous about her and/or her potential innocent victims, I kept scanning the horizon, but I still had time to make tea, eat breakfast, wash up and take the tent down before she strolled down the path.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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