Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   lots of elephants
Thursday, April 10 2003

setting: Stinkwood Hut, Storm River Mouth Campground, Tsitsikamma National Park, Eastern Cape, South Africa

We left Stinkwood in Tsitsikamma this morning and drove all the way to Port Elizabeth en route to Addo Elephant National Park. On the way we listened to the radio as usual. Though South Africa has a vibrant local music scene, most of what one hears on the radio is American R&B-flavored pop music from roughly seven years ago. Their preference is melancholy ballads. Interestingly, though nearly all of it was obviously American music (they don't play much British music), occasionally there'd be songs that neither of us recognized. We had to believe that these had been flash-in-the-pan one hit wonders that had mysteriously resonated with South Africans.
Driving through Port Elizabeth, confusion overtook me at a Y-in the road, and somehow I got dumped out onto a surface street. After getting gas and directions, we managed to set our course for the right direction.
There were huge shantytowns just north of Port Elizabeth. These were some of the biggest and most run-down I'd seen to date. They were also the dirtiest. Normally South Africa, even the poorest parts, is well-scrubbed and tidy. There are plenty of people with nothing else to do but clean up the place. But on one stretch of road we drove through a wasteland of plastic shopping bags either blowing in the wind or stuck to vegetation.
The landscape of the interior was revealed in stages as we crossed a series of low hills. The vegetation was mostly bush, perhaps a little denser than we'd seen in Kruger, but with no baobabs. There was also plenty of lush green grass between the bushes, something we hadn't seen in Kruger. I thought that there was probably more rainfall here than at Kruger, and that may have been true. But the band of coastal lushness we'd seen along the Garden Route is a narrow one and the Karoo semi-desert isn't far to the north. Indeed, from the literature I read, Addo Elephant National Park lies on something of an ecological cusp.
There was a restaurant at the Addo headquarters, and, since it was the only restaurant for many miles, we decided to go there for lunch. They told us that we'd have to make a reservation there for tonight if we wanted dinner there, so, having no other obvious choice, we made the reservation. Then we sat outside in the patio area perusing the menu. To her horror, Gretchen discovered that it was identical to the menu at the Storm River campground's restaurant. We'd already ordered the best items on that menu and found them wanting - now what were we going to do? More importantly, what would we do tonight? I said fuck it and ordered a barbecue hamburger. It was awful. Gretchen remembered to specify "no cucumbers" on her salad, but her food was bad anyway. We both got French fries (still known in America as freedom fries), but they were limp, undercooked things and I couldn't eat more than one of them. We decided not to return for dinner.
Our residence for the night was a large rondavel that came complete with a bathroom, a shower, and a view overlooking a watering hole. As we moved in, we could see a bull elephant caked in orange mud and a number of ostriches.
Our tour of the park was done entirely by personal car. We'd been given a map and told where to go, and it was up to us to drive there. A black man controlled the gate to the open range, and when he saw us he walked up with the excruciatingly leisure stride typical of people with his job. Then he said something in a completely alien language. We thought maybe his accent was very thick, so we asked "huh?" and he repeated himself, exactly as before. "I'm sorry," Gretchen said, "We can't understand what you're saying." Then the guy chuckled and said in reasonably good English, "Ha ha! I was asking you, 'Where are you from?'" We groaned at his poor comic timing and told him, "New York." He chuckled a little more and tried to make light with us, again, typical of people with his job. By now, though, we were finding the guy simply irritating. When he made a final reference to his stupid little linguistic prank, I answered with a blasé, "Yeah, you really got us that time!" Gretchen thought that was a hilarious comeback.
We saw plenty of elephants. Individual ones, big ones, baby ones, whole herds, and intimate family groups. We lingered to observe one such group only a couple dozen feet away. There was a big mother, a baby, and a medium-sized elephant (there were also other elephants a short distance away). Gretchen was so worked up about how wonderful they were that she leaned out of the window at one point and said, "Hi!" At this point the medium-sized elephant started making aggressive displays, pushing its ears far forward and approaching the car as if to say, "Okay, you've seen enough now, move on!" On the low-traffic roads of the park, Gretchen had felt a little more comfortable doing the driving, so for the first time on this trip she was at the wheel. The medium-sized elephant was now behind our car, only a few feet away. It reached out its trunk. "Let's get out of here!" I told Gretchen. Varrroom, we were gone. If we'd tarried even a couple seconds, I fear the elephant would have inflicted some sort of damage.
By the way, most of the female elephants of Addo have no tusks. This is the result of excessive ivory hunting pressure early in this century. When the park was started in 1931, there were only eleven elephants in the entire region.
There weren't many other animals visible in the bush. We saw a few scattered antelopes and a single isolated zebra off in the distance. Near a watering whole we came upon a couple of Yellow Mongeese searching for insects not far from the ponderous feet of an elephant. There were also plenty of dung beetles out gathering elephant feces. They're glossy black and the size of a large acorn, easy to spot on the dusty dirt roads. Addo authorities have put up signs everywhere saying they have the right of way. The most spectacular non-elephant was probably another insect, a massive four inch long grasshopper.
In the evening we decided that we'd be happier with our dinner if we made it ourselves. We went to the campground's store and purchased spaghetti, curry mix, and a spicy cabbage and pepper concoction called "Chakalaca." There was a communal kitchen for the rondavels, and it had all the supplies necessary to cook dinner. We were the only people using it.

See some photographs from the South Africa trip.

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