December 8th marked the last day of our vegetation work for Ben’s project—a bittersweet moment that points to the departure of Ben and John right before Christmas. However, with the transects and quadrats done, time has opened up to begin exploring the mountain and diving into my Samango project…hopefully.
With the rainy season thundering in, everything has begun to flower and turn green—even those dreadfully thorny acacias are admirable with their sunny sprouts. The rivers are swelling and the snakes are coming out (saw three in a few days—one dove off the waterfall from fright, another slithered into the darkness and the last munched on a gecko). Spending the last few days camping out on the mountain with the Barnmates and night walks has lead to spotting a few more animals including bushbuck, snakes, porcupines, bushbabies, warthogs and bushpigs! John saw a leopard as he was setting up a camera at dusk while the rest of us were just over the rocks preparing a campsite. Still very jealous, but I have five more months here to see one—so fingers crossed! The third day out, we found a small waterfall down Lajuma into a very shallow pool. Too much time spent and not enough sunscreen led to my second real sunburn! I didn’t know I could get any darker. Usually my skin takes on a golden hue, but here it is red like the earth.
The thunderstorms here are like nothing from home with flashes that light up the mountain every few seconds and a deep rumbling so close you can feel it. The rain is warm with heavy drops and standing in the darkness getting drenched is so rejuvenating. Luckily they don’t last too long when you’re caught out as I discovered huddled under a shallow cave waiting for the hail to pass—not really staying dry.
With so much rain, John and I took a walk down to the big waterfall. Unfortunately, I dropped my Nalgene into the river leading right up to the 10m drop. Wading in after it with a death grip on the rocks, I tried to rescue it less than 2m from the edge but was afraid of being pulled over by the current. Then John accidentally knocked my shoe off (had a good laugh) but it was luckily caught on some branches and grass below so he was able to go down and grab it while I sunbathed on the smooth rocks to dry off.
It’s odd to think with this weather that Christmas and the New Years are just around the corner. Still haven’t gotten used to the flipped seasons in the Southern Hemisphere. We’ve gotten a pine tree cut down from a grove of these invasive species. It’s so tall that we lean it against the rafters and have sparsely decorated it. I’m not sure what Christmas will hold but I am excited to see my parents on the 31st. The holidays have led to some homesickness and with the two Barnmates leaving, I’m kind of dreading it but luckily Anja and Demis will still be here. By early January, everyone who was here when I arrived will be gone making me “Barn Queen” with the newcomers. Who knows what the New Year will bring in.
(Last three photos taken by John)