SA4. The Gift

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Whether after a sound sleep or mere simulacrum, mornings in a natural reserve are extradimensional. It’s not just the chattering of the overexcited monkeys, it’s the unbelievable bright light that drags the traveller out of the sleeping bag. At 5 am, life unfolds.

I enjoy stillness: sleepy, I step into the sun and the fascinating African white light which makes the red of the earth come out even stronger – I am a kid in a large playground. Nature has a powerful way to take hold of you and teach you peace. I’m taken aback by life’s sudden oversimplicity and beauty. For seconds, I smile devilishly inside as if holding a massive secret: having fallen through the rabbit hole, I might well have found Wonderland! Finders, keepers!

Human agitation takes over nature’s order, I go back to being myself and the reality is that we need to pack. We move on today. The gymnastics of squeezing the belongings back into the same frame that brought them there begins. Backpacking is an art of logistics: change the winning position of the items and say hello to trouble. You only have that much room for a heap of prime-importance things that were carefully selected based on preconceived ideas of Africa. There must be a Murphy’s backpacking law according to which what you truly need to extract most urgently is inevitably stuck somewhere at the bottom of all things. Another one would be that you only know what you need to take out after you spent half an hour fitting everything in.

But that backpack is home for 20 days and throwing items away is not an option in the first days. Keeping out what’s needed for the day (weather-sensitive), separating clean from dirty clothes, placing the medicine someplace handy and remembering where, packing the liquids so as not to spill anything – a backpacker’s mornings abound with serious pre-coffee decisions.

Fortunately, Janos does not need to go through such trouble. His luggage is still travelling solo somewhere in Africa, so he only has himself to carry around. I pull the string to close my own private backpack, load it on my shoulder and, seriously bended under my 20-something kilo house I do a drunk walk to the truck. We’re heading for Hazyview today. We look like we spent the night counting flocks of sheep but we feel happy: how could any of us not savour this amazing adventure that we’re living? Seated on a stone in full sun exposure, I lose my thoughts in the infinite distance.

Rusks and coffee in hand, we attend an unexpected event. A giraffe comes in view, an old male; it goes to a pond to drink water. It is almost painful to look at it trying to spread its legs before it can finally have a sip. This was our very special gift seconds before we parted from Balule, probably forever.

In the truck we remain silent: already the sense of displacement infects us with nostalgia. We would like to belong more to one place, but the rules of the booking we made do not allow it. This is the game: it’s fast, it’s packed, and too short to create bounds. So we keep on crossing Africa, Takalani behind the wheel. He stops along the way to buy litchis and other local fruits which we share. We are 15 in the group – we slowly start to fuse.

But South Africa explodes diversity, so the magic of one place is easily replaced with another. The drama of having left Balule is washed away as soon as we reach Hazyview. We are now entering the rainforest.

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