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Exercise, Afrikaaner Style


Lindsey and I are up at 5am, having accepted Andreas' offer of an early morning run. Rueing our lack of sleep and breakfast, we shuffle groggily toward the kitchen tent, where Andreas is leaning easily against a big jackalberry tree, a rifle resting casually on his shoulder. Andreas is possibly the most impressive human being I have ever met. He studied accounting in college and then went to live with the Bushmen in the Kalahari for several years, so he has a vast knowledge of tracking, hunting, the use of native plants, and pretty much anything else you'dwant to know about the bush. At some point, he was a member of the South African Special Forces, so he has a bunch of commando training, and, although he's reluctant to discuss it, I get the impression that he's been involved in a few skirmishes around the African continent. He told us a story about how he once became annoyed with the Johannesburg's police force's inability to catch a murderer, so he decided to track the guy halfway across the city and apprehend him himself. He's also done a fair amount of biological research, including stints living with elephants and hyenas, and he enjoys taking week-long treks alone through the bush carrying only water and a hunting knife. Currently he splits his time between running this camp, a tourist lodge in another reserve, and a dojo in Johannesburg. He is thirty-two years old.

At the moment his most pertinent quality is that he is a competitive triathlete, so this pleasant little morning jog could turn out to be very interesting, notwithstanding the reality that we will be traveling through lion/leopard/elephant/rhino/buffalo territory. Andreas nods us good morning, turns, and sets off down the dirt two-track out of camp at a not-too-sluggish pace, rifle gripped easily in his left hand. Lindsey and I exchange apprehensive glances but quickly set off in pursuit; a little exhaustion never killed anyone, I think, and the opportunity for a jog through the African bush is simply too good to pass up. And as the scarlet sun breaks the horizon, I do not regret my decision. The air is still cool, exercise combats our sleep deprivation better than a strong cup of coffee ever could, and we are moving through one of the most incredible landscapes on earth. Every bush, tree, and wisp of grass is awash with the golden light that comes only in the first few minutes of each day. We pass by a pair of giraffe, who stop their feeding to stare at us through long black eyelashes. A group of impala is less tolerant of our presence, bolting across the path in front of us and disappearing into thick brush. I can think of no better way to begin the day.

Andreas suddenly points down to the dirt, and as I pass over the spot I see the paw print of a substantially-sized feline. "Lion track," he informs us nonchalantly, "freshly laid." Lindsey, who is always a bit apprehensive about large animal encounters, mutters something that sounds an awful lot like "Oh shit you've got to be kidding me." Andreas had given me the rifle to carry a few minutes ago, and I now fight the urge to thrust it back into his hands. But we continue on, as do the tracks of the lion, who had evidently used the road for a good portion of his recent travels. A minute later, the road splits, with the lion tracks heading to the right. Andreas turns the same way.

Lindsey mutters again, this time a bit more vehemently.

Several hundred meters later, the tracks veer off into the bush. Andreas stops and announces this would be a good place to do our mid-run pushups and situps session. Lindsey is not amused, but we perform our exercises obediently, spurred on by the adrenaline of knowing there is something in the vicinity that can eat us for breakfast. The run is resumed without mishap, and half an hour later, we return to camp, sweaty, dusty, and with an even greater appreciation for the physical frailty of humans in a place like this. Andreas is barely breathing hard.

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Last Updated:  13 January, 2003

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