Rule #1: Never sit below a monkey

Something dribbling from above as I hastily duck away with the realization that it’s probably coming from that little Samango fellow scratching his leg innocently—already breaking Rule Number 1 when following monkeys.

Back at Lajuma for about two weeks now and trying to stay busy (with dispersed lazy days) and spending a lot of time by myself in the field wandering around at dusk looking for leopards, sitting in trees in the dark waiting for bushbabies, hiking up to the top of Lajuma, some swimming and of course hanging out with monkeys. Three weeks to go and there doesn’t seem to be enough time to work on any of my projects. I’ve been trying to habituate the bushbabies at dusk by setting up some trays in a few trees and waiting for them as well as following the Samangos to prep for the long days in the Congo.

Nelson, the alpha male of Ben’s old troop (also known as the Barn Troop), has already started getting cozy by  scooting up next to me and just hanging out. The juveniles wrestle below as I sit in a rock or in the trees and mammas will nurse above. Dassies, bushbuck and red duikers casually walk by foraging with one bold bushbuck even charging a group of playing youngsters before taking a nap nearby. The chirps, trills and the occasional boom are very soothing. Oh, the joys of being in the forest! Being back feels like home and all the new barnmates are pretty nice (although I still miss the old ones terribly).

The snakes have been particularly active with one guy getting spit in the eye by a Mozambique spitting cobra (on his second day!). Luckily he had sunglasses on and just got a bit of the venom in one eye. Others have spotted puff adders, cobras and pythons and we are now all a bit paranoid.

Despite the little time left, we’ve gotten off the mountain to visit an African school near Blouberg an hour and a half west(ish) of Lajuma. The students peer at us curiously as we are all obviously visiting foreigners. Upon introduction, we stand individually as the group claps and cheers—an unearned celebrity status leaving us feeling slightly embarrassed.

Judy asks the teens a question, “Can anyone tell us why we’re here?”

They fake coughs, avert their eyes and smile slyly. I guess this type of avoidance is universal.

“No one?”

A shy girl responds, “The Southern Ground Hornbill.”

The Lajumies and I sit off to the side and observe as Judy and the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project educate the teens about the Southern Ground Hornbill—an endangered African bird and the largest of the hornbill species. The school’s windows have been broken by these territorial birds that mistake their reflections for competitors. After a short lecture, video, questions and prayer, we are swamped with questions about our homes and what we are doing in Africa.

A girl living up to her name, Confidence, perks up, “I want to come to America! I want to study ecotourism.”

We politely ask to take photos and they all swarm to the windows and strike poses, giving wide charismatic smiles. Showing them the pictures, they all chatter excitedly before we have to say goodbye.

The Venda students are also back and sampling the mountains for their long term climate change study. I go with them to Goro on the north side and we reminisce about my first week in SA when Rocky the VW van broke down and we were left stranded in over 40c weather with no fresh water.  September—it seems like such a long time ago. This time we have no car troubles but get back after sunset after a long day in the scorching sun digging holes and making pitfall traps to collect insects (Amazingly, I’ve gotten tanner). The students showed me wild fruit you can eat including marula which is absolutely amazing. They laugh as I collect several handfuls teasing, “Someone’s going to get drunk!” Apparently marula is naturally slightly alcoholic—although you have to consume quite a bit to get any sort of buzz.

The evenings back at the barn have been filled with braais beneath a clear sky as I’ve started honing my wood chopping and fire starting abilities–although I still manage to burn the wors everytime. Then the nights end always beneath the Milky Way brushing my teeth and staring at the Southern Cross. It’s weird to think this time next month I’ll be sleeping in a tent in the middle of the jungle in the DRC.

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