Counting steps

When I was in Namibia I was following around baboons in a desert landscape. We followed them all day, from sunrise to sunset. And even though I loved the experience, it wasn’t always easy.

It was the African winter, which meant near freezing night temperatures while you’re sleeping in your tent. Then there were the early rises, before sunset (maybe around 5AM), to make sure we’d get to the troop in time. That required a physically hard walk, which was especially daunting if the baboons were on a far away sleeping cliff. There was the carrying around five litres of water to stay properly hydrated during the long warm days. And only then there was the actual follow of the troop during the day, wherever they went.

Continue reading

En passant

While I focussed on Steinbeck, the baboon I was following, something attracted my attention out of the corner of my eye. In  between the scarce bushes a steenbok walked in our direction. He look at me for a moment, after which he lost interest: the baboons didn’t seem to think I was a danger, so the otherwise so skittish steenbok seemed to draw the same conclusion. The next 15 minutes he was browsing next to us, searching for fresh green leaves in the arid desert. Only giving way to the few baboons that approached him a bit too close, he imperturbably continued his path, until he moved out of my sight.

Like Jonah on the mountain

Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah 4:6-8, NIV

In Tsaobis I felt like Jonah every now and then. He sat on a hill overlooking Nineveh, I regularly sat on a hill overlooking baboons. I can relate most, however, to how he must have felt when his tree, and with that his shade, was taken from him. Continue reading

Emotional encounters

Average maximum temperature: 24,1 °C
Average minimum temperature: 7,4 °C
Sunrise: 06:34
Sunset:  17:22

Olifantsrus, Ethosa
In the dark of the night I saw him slowly moving towards me. Instead of moving around the tight bushes, he passed right through the scarce undergrowth. The branches scraped his grey skin, which made a scraping sound. He continued along the waterside seemingly unbothered, with a clear goal in mind. At five meters from the observation hide the elephant came to a stop at the waterhole, under the window where I was sitting. In the red light I saw how he used his trunk to carefully search for water. A loud slurping sound grew from below me, after which he moved his trunk to his mouth to empty it: it sounded as if someone emptied a bucket of water. Every time he repeated this ritual, I amazed myself about the peculiarity of his trunk. I was so close I could see every muscle in his trunk contract. Big wrinkles showed, especially when his trunk was at his lips. Breathless I watched the impressive show. How did I deserve this, crossed my mind while the emotions got to me, that I get to experience all of this?

Continue reading

Monkey bussiness

Average maximum temperature: 30 °C
Average minimum temperature: 13 °C
Sunrise: 06:23
Sunset: 17:23

Somewhere in the Swakop River, Northwest
The shade provides some shelter from the heat, but not a lot. It’s half past one and the sun is at its highest point. I’m surrounded by the rustling and munching of the baboons, while a slight breeze occasionally blows around my head. Straight ahead of me are the hills we’ll undoubtedly climb in the remaining six hours of daylight, behind me are the hills we’ve already concurred. We’re following J-troop, who’s notoriously eager to climb. The hills might be a physical challenge, I prefer them over the woodland we’re currently in. We have to follow the baboons the whole day, and that’s a lot easier on the open rocks compared to the dense vegetation of the woodlands.

Continue reading

Comfort zone

Woah. I had expected it to be so similar to leave for Namibia. Boy was I wrong. When I left for Panama last year, I sincerely didn’t understand the question ‘Are you nervous?’. Now, on the day of my departure, I had butterflies in my stomach and I survived the whole day on a few sandwiches and peppermints. And that while my friend Geeske had given me a big bar of Tony Chocolonely’s chocolate! (Sea salt & caramel, jummy!) I couldn’t get an appetite for it, neither as the fries which I normally treat myself with on a long journey. It’s on. I’m finally really going to Africa. And not only that, I’m going to study baboons and cheetahs. Large mammals in Africa. I’m going to see the animals I’ve been watching documentaries about my entire life. I still can’t believe it. Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing swelled while we take off. We landed on Windhoek Hosea Kutako Airport, named after an important leader of the Herero ethnic group and one of the leading commanders against the colonial powers in Namibia. The hot air pressed against my face while I walked through the open air to the arrival hall. Continue reading