Saturday, June 14, 2008

elephants and clowns

so the next day we drove to brandberg, this huge mountain that has namibia's highest peak. this is brandberg, with a spirnging springbok in front of get there you go through Uis, another ghost town that gives me nightmares. we park in this barren shopping center to buy some friggin' matches. we get approached by guys selling minerals and i point to the sign that says "any transgressors caught selling minerals will be prosecuted." next comes a guy who introduces himself as Marco, the best branberg guide available. he insists he's worked with our organization and drops a name. then repeats the name again and again like, oh, i worked with eric last year, do you know eric? yes, we know eric. i also know Eric, too, oh yeah, and eric, eric is a nice guy.
marco says he needs a ride to branberg and can show us around. robin and i confer in secret: well the lonely planet guide sucks and we can't send this guy packin' he seems to know conservation, we sort of have a reputation here...we should at least give him a ride and then see what's up. so we say sure, why not.
marco says his friend christian needs a ride too. so they both hop in. i'm very wary. making sure i see their hands, no funny business. we all exchange names and it's obivous they've forgotten mine because every sentence starts with "rrrrrrobin!" with a big rolled r, but they'll actually talk to both of us. "rrrrrrobin! i hope you don't think it's rude if we stop somewhere first to pick something up?" no, that's ok. so we stop at a store. marco goes in and christian starts telling us how he's on the board of this conservancy that he works with. guy knows what's going on, sounds legit. i start to relax. marco comes out of the store with a bag full of 2 liter beer bottles and some wine, tho it looks light brown so it must be moonshine or something. i'm thinking they are going to drink them over the weekend but no, they open the booze right then and there, and start swilling. they also start negotiating their price. 300 namibian dollars per person and we will show you elephants! um, that's ok, thanks, we're the ones giving you a ride here, you should pay us! hahahaha...swig swig swig, spill booze all over our vehicle.
they start arguing with each other in clicky language. i'm convinced they're deciding who will slit my throat and who will drive the getaway car. robin is from montreal so i start speaking in french. what do you think of these guys? how much do you want to pay them? do we have to? marco pipes up "rrrrrrobin! do you think that we don't understand french? why don't you just talk about us in english?" a little awkward. i tell them if they speak clicky, we will speak french. he says "ca m'est egal." dang.
with booze they start to mellow out, make jokes, chit chat. marco pulls out a cigarette. sorry, no smoking in the car guys. "rrrrrrobin! can you stop the car so that i may smoke and christian can show you the euphorbias?" ok, i guess. we get out and go to a euphorbia tree. they smoke like chimneys. christian rubs a euphorbia branch with two rocks and some milky stuff comes out. "poison! very bad!" yes, we know. "poison!" yeah, got it, why don't you prove it is poisonous? "haha, you are very funny!" back in the car, 5 minutes later christian is moaning and rubbing his eye. "euphorbia! in my eye!" oh great, this clown got poison in his eye. we use half our water supply to rinse it out. who are these clowns? they teach me the four different Damara language clicks. impossible. saying good morning requires two different types of clicks really quickly you have to bite your tongue. for some random reason, maybe boredom, we decide that they will show us a campsite, some elephants, and we will pay them 200 Namibian dollars. sortof a lot, but, whatever. they are excited, but argue a lot with the clicking. we first stop at this village, its location is noted thanks to the sign: an old car door. here we meet this really old guy and they ask where the desert elephants are. the guy gets really excited and starts acting out this whole elephant encounter. this is already worth my $100. the old guy and his buddy let me take pictures and they draw a little map in the sand. mapping! we offer them some marie cookies, even though they have no teeth. they are very grateful. we go to the campsite, these shady spots all spread out along the river, very nice. i pitch my tent in the middle of a whole bunch of elephant prints. the reception we decide to get a cold drink and have our lunch. we pull out our picnic and the two clowns pull out theirs. nevertheless ours seems more appealing, so they are digging into our hard boiled eggs and peanut butter. they are making hard-boiled egg and peanut butter sandwiches with our bread. who are these clowns? marco is peeling his third egg and i put the carton away. half my eggs are gone! the only thing that makes up for it is this really cute baby meerkat running around under our. feet. i pick him up and put him in my lap and i want to take him home.
we drive down towards the river bed, and during the dry season, they become smooth roads. there are lots of tire tracks...and elephant prints, not to mention huge piles of poo, like basketballs. fresh, too. i'm becoming a real skatologist here.
we turn a corner and there they are. magnificent. and a little baby elephant too! we climb up onto a ledge and robin and i are pefectly content to watch the elephants do their thing - douse themselves with dust, grab at trees with their trunks. marco and christian are holding onto their beer bottles, they insist on taking pictures for me. they take terrible pictures. like half an elephant. we must get closer! closer! no seriously guys, this is fine, we can see perfectly. we must get closer! so much for the client being boss. so we get into the car and slowly drive up, pretty damn close to these elephants. marco and christian are all "we have to be rrreallly quiet! the elephant doesn't like noise!" only he is screaming this and we are all, we understand so shut up. and then marco says yeah, shut up dude, and then christian says no you shut up and then they get into a clicky argument and i just wanted to knock their heads together like curly and moe. they insist on taking more pictures...of the rear view mirror, the back of robin's head. maybe they don't understand the look through the viewfinder part. they think they are doing me a huge favor but they are just using up my battery. then this south african guy shows up and long story short, the guy pisses off a big elephant and it starts to charge his car. he backs up out of the way and swerves so that the elephant is headed straight towards us. i am imagining our car being crushed, sides impaled by tusks. we peel out of there and go a little further, but now the elephants and the two clowns are now very agitated. the clowns won't stop yelling and getting out of the car to go yell at the south african guy and the elephants are giving us the stink eye. for the love of god will everyone just shut the fuck up!! but they won't. it goes on. finally they say "ok we saw the elephants now we can leave."
their eyes are all glazed over, they are sweating, totally wasted drunk. on the way back, christian breaks out the marriage proposal "i will treat you so well you won't have to work"
oh really? what will i do then?
"you will tend the crops"
oh, sounds awesome! will you be drunk all or only most of the time?
"i want to go live in texas"
this sounds delightful!
we get back to the campsite and frick and frack are pulling out their tent, all excited about camping with us, fully expecting to mooch off us for the rest of the weekend.
"we will guide you to the white lady (another rock painting. ho-hum)"
will you be loud and annoying eat all our food too? here's your $200, now scram!
as we booted him out of the car christian asked "i did well, right?"
yah, sure ya did. i did get their mailing address though, and i plan on sending them each a t-shirt - one obama and one hillary.

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