A Chocolate Threesome, South Africa

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Birthday-Cake-Candles

Today is my 46th birthday (day 11 at meerkat camp) and the girls have declared it “American Day” – a day that we will do all things American. This includes wearing anything red, white and/or blue; singing our national anthem and happy birthday to me; eating American food; and saying “oh shit” instead of buggers because that’s what Americans say…and before you get judgmental…I’m not the only American they know.  I love these girls. This was a very good birthday 🙂

As for the meerkat project..well…there was a lot of downtime that first week.  After the first couple of days – we were on our own. This was turning into a VERY different volunteer experience from Lion Encounter. Shelton is officially our volunteer coordinator and he’s great but he also has a full time job at the lodge and so doesn’t really see us that often…at least the first week we didn’t see him a lot. Time with the meercats is short.  Maybe an hour and a half in the morning and an hour and a half in the afternoon.  That leaves a lot of in-between time to fill. We weren’t real sure what do with ourselves much of the time. We walked around a lot — did some hiking – but we really couldn’t go far because we were so unfamiliar with the area. It was a weird first week. But thing got better after that.

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Every morning, meerkats start their day with grooming or lying in the sun. During the rest of the day, they forage for food. One meerkat will watch the group of foragers and alert them if a predator approaches. This sentry is relieved and replaced each hour so that everyone can forage.

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The time spent with the meerkats was fun though — they are a riot to watch. They’ll come up from their burrow in the morning to get their core tempurature warmed up in the rising sun of the morning. Then they’re off to forage for food — this is usually when we lose them and head for home.  They move pretty quickly and in the high grass it’s really hard to find the little guys once they get moving. In the afternoon we go out to find them and identify which burrow they will be spending the night in so that we know where to go in the morning.

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They love us when we come bearing gifts (their favorite treat) scorpions or grasshoppers.  Bear in mind that finding scorpions requires a 3 hour hike up to the top of the mountain and back down again.  We don’t do this every single day. Some mornings are so cold that we don’t see them at all and the same applies to the afternoons.

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Feeding them their favorite food – scorpions

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Here are a couple shots of the main house/lodge – it’s really beautiful – and there are more than 400 horses on the property.

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This is just one example of what life is like with the girls.  We’re finally in town at a grocery store. ’m a the helm of a grocery cart and the girls make a bee-line to the chocolate isle where among other chocolate bars, they find one that is called Threesome.  This sends them into hysterics and they have to take a picture of themselves with the candy bar…giggling the whole time.  As the other people in the store are looking at them and looking at me…I notice that the alcohol is in the same isle so I make a bee-line of my own to the wine section.  Later, they noticed that the butter was in a container marked Morning Glory .  As this is a PG blog, I won’t go into specifics, but this sent them into another round of giggles and picture taking and me back to the wine isle for another bottle.  I have several glasses of wine every night.

It’s cold up here in the mountains. We’re at about 7000 feet above sea level.  Imagine that it’s October in Colorado and you have a pretty good idea of what it’s like.  The leaves are just beginning to turn.  During the days when the sun is out it’s very warm…the evenings (if it’s not windy) are like perfect fall nights except that there are a bazillion more stars here then anywhere else in the world.

The mornings are chilly and it’s hard to get out of bed.  We are usually headed towards Shelton’s house around 6:40 am and believe you me…we are walking at a very brisk pace! Now none of this would be an issue if any of us had with us the type of clothing that you wear in this type of weather…like gloves, hats and turtlenecks.  But we don’t.

The first night I froze!  We sat outside to chat with Dayne and Marinette while dinner was being cooked – ate outside and waited for everything to be cleaned up – still outside AND watched the movie outside.  While we had a very nice time – our core body temperatures were slowly going down…down…down.  By the time we said goodnight and went up to our living quarters, we were chilled down to the bone. Our room wasn’t any warmer and I had to walk outside to get to the bathroom which really put me over the edge.  I wanted to take a hot shower – that wasn’t going to happen. The hot water was a tiny little dribble that actually tapered off into nothing a half a dozen times during my first very short shower. The stone floor was cold – the bed was cold – my feet were like ice – you get the picture.  Stephanie and Rachel weren’t doing any better.  I could hear chattering teeth.

I asked Rachel (who has been here for a week now) why she hadn’t said anything to Marietta about the cold. She replied that she didn’t want to be a bother to anyone.  Well that would be the difference between a 19 year old and a 46 year old. Bothering people is what I do best! The next morning I had a chat with Marinette about getting us a space heater for our rooms and with Nicholas about fixing the shower.  We don’t have a fridge yet…but I’m working on it that with Isabelle. On Monday, the space heater showed up along with three hot water bottles and Nicholas managed to improve the shower, but it’s not quite theut” really means “up the mountain”. Why go around it when you can go up and over it? I have now found myself on a dozen or so 5 hours hikes that have just whipped my butt!

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I am also in love with my iPod.  19 year old girls chatter a lot and they chatter about things that are only important and interesting to other 19 year old girls.  And chattering is not talking.  One girl will talk non-stop for 5-10 minutes until she gets tired, runs out of breath or exhausts a topic – but immediately the other one will take up where the first one left off…and on and on it goes.

On day three I started bringing my ipod with me on hikes.  Now you might thing that this would cause them to ignore me but no…they continue to talk to me regardless.  I smile and nod at them – they don’t seem to mind that I don’t actually speak or that I haven’t heard a word they’ve said.  I have organized my songs into a marching/upbeat playlist so that I can keep up with them.  I can actually pass them if I play the Navy, Army, AirForce or Coast Guards songs! Stephanie has legs half the length of mine but manages to travel at twice the speed!

I also love my new gadget – the Amazon Kindle!  I have downloaded a ton of books of all different sorts onto this thing and I carry it with me everywhere!  While we hike for 80% of the time, there are times when we sit and watch the meerkats and the novelty of that wore off some time ago. So while I do watch them some of the time, I’ve managed to get through 3 books in the last week! We went horseback riding on Saturday with some of the lodge guests, Rosemary and Wiesman (pronounced Veesman).

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I had a great horse (whose Dutch name escapes me) who wheezed almost as much as I do when I’m hiking.  After a nice canter down the lane…it sounded like the the death rattle was coming from him.  We stayed at the back of the pack – which suited him and all the other horses because the little stinker is a kicker.  Stephanie has ridden before and did a great job! Rachel on the other hand, had only been on a horse once – a long time ago – so she was a little nervous. She did a super job though – trotting and cantering with the rest of us.  We went down into the valley and ran into herds of ostrich, buffalo, zebra, various waterbuck and other misc. african deer.

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It felt so good to be on a horse – for about 30 minutes – and then the pain started. It’s been four days and my thighs, knees and butt are just starting to feel normal again – but it was worth it!  The girls both needed a nap after our ride. Rachel, because the horseback riding took everything out of her and Stephanie because she insisted that she wanted to sleep with the farm kitten last night.  It woke her up throughout the night and woke me up at 5am.  The cat is lucky that he’s not a wall hanging right now. Later that same day, the clouds came through and it hailed like a you know what — big hail!!!

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Very unhappy horses…

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Crazy weather!

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Sunday morning we woke up and it was freezing!  We didn’t go out to see the meerkats today. There was frost on the ground and the toilet seat.  I would pay a lot of money right now for one turtleneck and a pair of gloves.  I decided that today would be another good pancake, hot chocolate, bundled up and card playing day.  It’s always an adventure 🙂

That’s it for now folks!  I’m finishing this up on my birthday.  It’s almost noon and we’re in town. and the girls have already sung Happy Birthday to me and made me coffee this morning.  I think I’ll go buy us a cake so we can all blow out candles tonight!

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