Where animals roam free
The original plan was avoid the north that we considered too commercial and where all tourists from our plane headed. But we were to fast with our circle so we decided to go for a safari to Etosha National Park. We thought it would be the conventional style safari, where you have to buy a ride in some safari vehicle to be able to see anything. We were pleasantly surprised that what is accessible in Etosha, is accessible to everyone by their own car. We could drive in there from sunrise to sunset. I was astonished by the quantity of free roaming animals we have seen there. Everything from numerous herds of springboks, zebras, kudus, wildebeests and other ungulates to pack of lions, families of elephants and even rhinos. Everything living together in a complete ecosystem unregulated by humans. Living and dying, grazing and hunting. Most people have come here just to take some pictures of animals, to see them. I was more fascinated by the cycle of life, that we are somehow not the part of. We are just semi-silent onlookers. For a while I have felt even sad, that I am no longer a natural part of this ecosystem, that humans excluded themselves somehow. But I was glad that we can be good governors of this world when we want to. To show wildlife in their natural environment and present it with all that is related to it. Wildlife has learnt to ignored us, so it may still live more or less wildly, unaware that it has become a tourist attraction. But somehow it felt like symbiosis not a parazitism. A sort of a deal, signed benevolently by us on both signature lines. I just hope we could hold our side of the agreement.
Ethics of a handbag farm
I consider myself a moralist, that is growing slowly into realist and pragmatist. Even more so when speaking environmental issues. I don’t like getting myself drawn into the environmental debates with zealots and extremists, but I like to discuss these issues. Because I like complicated things that can be discussed from many angles and I try to not have a black & white vision of the world. All the environmental themes are full of dilemmas and most of them are like an iceberg, you often can’t see the real big issue under the surface. I have been thinking one of these endless dilemmas through in my head when we have visited a Crocodile Farm in Otjiwarongo. You all probably know why would anybody have a farm with crocodiles - for their leather of course. All crocodile farms are really a handbag and belt farms. It’s a business. And a very profitable one. Now several dilemmas opens up. Is it good or evil enterprise? Should we support it by buying their products? Should we even have a look?
Well, we did have a look and it was quite an interesting experience. The local guide has told us very bluntly about the whole setup. They have about 40 big female crocodiles, all of them pregnant at the moment and 3 males. Each of them lies 30-50 eggs. Thats 1200 -2000 small crocs when they hatch. They lay eggs once a year. The crocodile is “handbag ready” when it is at least one year old. To have a crocodile farm, is very different to having a more common type of farm with cows, sheep, goats, chicken, pigs. It looked there is far less work with crocs than other agricultural animals and they need far less space. They don’t mind to be crowded, to live in a big group, they favour it even in nature. They eat just once a week, just meat, nothing else, but they are not picky, any meat is fine. An adult croc eats about 3-4 kg a week. They crap about the same frequency, so it’s quite easy to keep their premises clean. Their meat is nutritious and delicate, some tastes like chicken breasts, some like fish. Overall a quite “effective” and economical animal to farm. But yes, the leather dilemma. It is quite modern today to be an unconscious environmental hypocrite. To not look behind the immediate environmental offense. No offence meant to anyone, I am often one myself. I haven’t look too deep into the issue of textile industry, but as we too sell some clothes in our eshop I had a little peek into how that moloch works. The very first thing, that stopped me from judging the crocodile farm rashly is the fact, that I am quite positive, that it has a far less negative impact on environment then other food farms and some other textile industry as well. I am not fond of leather products, but looking back, haven’t people always worn pelts and leather clothing? Before you stone me to death in your mind, let me broaden the idea. I am aware of the fact, that hunting for leather and pelts have caused extinction of many animals and not hunting just for these commodities. I too consider it “bad”. From moral and even economical view as well. We have destroyed species for ever. Gone, never to walk this planet again. Economics can chaste us some more, as we have depleted a renewable resource by over greediness. But hunting wild animals and breeding animals for that purpose is different. Yes it’s still the same living being, but domesticated and farm animals have become a part of an artificial food chain, that we humans created when we have broken out of the natural one. In that artificial food chain we grow food for animals so those animals can become food for us or be of other use to us. Ok, but why is so many of us environmental hypocrites? Because we are too selective about our morals. Does chicken have less right to live than a crocodile? We are vegans, because we do not want any animals to be killed because of us and we criticize leather and pelt clothing of course. But we put on a down jacket without a moment’s pause. Just because the fact that some dozen ducks or geese died for that down feather is wrapped in a textile cloth that we approve of and fancy. That thin piece of cloth is often enough to provide our mind an excuse to shut that one metaphorical eye. It’s truly the cloth over our eyes. Today it’s very hard not to be that kind of hypocrite. Even if you wear nothing that ever moo-ed or qwack-ed or baah-ed and you don’t eat no animal products. How can you be sure that those veggies are not grown on a deforested land where thousands of animals lived and had to die or move elsewhere. You would have to be a self sufficient farmer, best in a desert, you have turned into an oasis. And as there is not enough desert even for half of the vegans, this discussion is senseless. Farming, plant and animal alike, is an essential life support of the global civilisation. With most species the nature has a self regulating mechanism. Overpopulation is a very short term problem with animals and they deal with it in a matter of few generations. If there come to be too many animals they soon run out of food resources and the population drops again. Many animals even have a reproduction safety mechanisms so they don’t reproduce so much in the environment where the food is scarce.
We are a bit more sophisticated (un)fortunately. With us it looks like the mechanism is broken or reversed. The poorer people are, the faster they reproduce. Rich more and more often stay childless. There are organisations that are trying to save all the poor and there are organisation that are trying to save all animals and protest against the modification of agricultural crops, so that they are more effective and resistant. Very often they are the very same organisations and people and try to do both. What I am hinting at sounds a bit fascist even to myself, but we just can’t save everyone and everything. We can’t protect and keep everything while living a comfortable life with no scarcity. It’s against nature and even economics that we live by. Yes we all could help to create a better world. We could use money that we do not need to help the poor or to help preserve animals. But are we ready to live simply, surrender our comfortable living, luxurious car, hobbies, travels? Probably not. The chain of natural events we call evolution got us this far and we just don’t want to make a step back. Yes, we are probably working towards our own extinction or at least the natural population drop as any other specie, the only sad thing is it takes us so long that we bring down so many other species with us as well. But that’s nature for you. So is the crocodile farming evil? No. Is it good? No. Is it necessary? No. Is most things we do daily? Well…
Before I leave
There is a good deal of things that I have not done. Yes I mean in general. But there are also many things I have not done and seen in Namibia. Every visit of a new place can leave a bitter aftertaste of sadness when we are about to leave. All goodbyes can be like that. But for me leaving is not a bad thing for some time. Leaving means change. I have learnt to embrace change and even flourish in it. In a different context, some may call it opportunistic. But in context of traveling it’s more of a realization and some kind of a resolution. I am writing this piece with a two week break from writing this blog so it’s going to have a bit of South African experience in it (that’s where I am past two weeks). These two countries got pretty mixed up in me actually. They have some factual similarities concerning their colonial history, racial issues, present economics and dry environment, but what I mean is more of an overall feeling. When I first visited South Africa in 2011 I was leaving after six week with a very strange feeling. I was not sad, because I have realized just then, that I would come back again and was already looking forward to it. I even started to plan a bold expedition - driving from Bratislava all the way to Cape Town, visiting a few known climbing areas and discovering and scouting out potential for some more. I still quite suck at fundraising so nothing has come out of it and I have had to put that idea to rest for a time being. But I have returned to South Africa in two years and in another two years again and after another three years I’m writing this blog from here already knowing, that it is not my last visit. This said, I felt the same about Namibia. I have confessed myself previously, that I’m not very sociable when going on travels (and I sometimes regret not having that easy attitude with strangers and people in general). That mean I don’t perceive new places through people I meet but through the overall atmosphere of the place, through some kind of emotional impact it has on me. There are places that calm me, some inspire or arouse me and some just plainly irritate me. I am aware that it greatly depends on my mood and other circumstances, but I like to put a pinch of rational thinking into the mix to add some spice into feeling and emotions. It wouldn’t be the first time people tell me that I think too much about things and scrutinize them until I got lost in them even if they may seem trivial. But I like to look at things through more pairs of eyes or at least from different angles and I hardly take anything for a fact, but my own experience and not even that sometimes. I am drowning in my introspection sometimes, but who is to say it’s a good or a bad thing?
In my perception of the world I constantly evaluate myself, people and their actions more or less rationally, but I put much more on feeling when it comes to places. I have seen many places I consider beautiful, but not all of them felt the same. It’s like when you are buying a house or an apartment. Many may have fit your rationalized criteria, but not all of them “feel right” even though they may be otherwise the ideal choice. Some of us fall for that hunch, some doesn’t. Time usually tells what was more right but my point is it depends on where we apply this kind of reasoning and selection methods. It may seep into business decisions, life goals setting or even relationships. In some decisions I have often missed this very ingredient, the inner feeling or a hunch, and only now I have realized how important it may become. Before I leave a conclusion I search for that feeling for a longer time now.
I often condition my trips with climbing. O.K. maybe more than just often. There is almost everything I do consciously that relates to climbing somehow. But I have mostly selected travel destinations based on climbing conditions there because climbing is what I like in traveling and life. But in recent years I have come to greatly enjoy other aspects of those destinations as well. I have become an admirer of natural beauty in all its forms and realised that, with it has come also a different perception of climbing. I started to look for more beauty in it. I have touched the rock in Namibia only briefly and I wouldn’t say I was amazed from a larger part. But the little I have seen of the the good quality part, perfectly fits into one of my personal goals. I have not left much of a mark in the guidebooks considering the FAs (first ascents) I have put up, but exploration tempts me for some time. Unfortunately I am a bit of a romantic with megalomania about this. I want to do it in a place I consider beautiful and with the right atmosphere, a place with more or less perfect conditions for this sport and allow as few compromises in that vision as possible. If I were an Alpinist, I would strike for Greenland or Antarctica as many now do. My main calling is bouldering for now so I aim for Africa. Before I leave Africa for good, I will find my spot. Before I leave now, I will start planning my return...
The final entry into my Namibian blog is a short episode, a true story about my last hours in Namibia. I had to wake up quite early on the morning of my departure. I'm writing in singular as Petra was leaving one day after me. Nonetheless she have woken up when I did to say goodbye. It felt strange as we have embraced as friends and not wanting to make it anymore awkward I didn’t tarry for long. Taxi has brought me to the airport and luckily there was almost no one at the check in so I went right to the counter, got my boarding pass and drop off my regular baggage and two craspads. I was half expecting some trouble over its dimensions or some oversize baggage fee but the woman at the check in accepted it more or less without comment. As check-in went smoothly, things started to get more complicated at the security scanners. My cabin bag was full of electronics and various chargers and other personal items. I, being quite unorganized when it comes to packing (and other things as well when I come to think about it) created a wonderful web of cables in which other things were caught like flies awaiting a spider. In this case the spider happen to be impersonated by a security officer on duty. She had taken my bag aside and together we have come through the whole contents, while I had to explain what some more suspicious items are for. For example a car version of power inverter or stands of my LED industrial grade reflectors. We have just finished and I have almost put all my belongings back into the bag when an airport police came looking for me, asking people waiting for security check if they are Mr. Greksak. I raised my hand and asked what’s the matter. The police officer was short and wanted to sound tough so he started barking some questions about my big luggage as if I was already sitting in an interrogation room. He asked if I have checked a baggage previously, if it was that bulky but light one, if I have packed it myself and other “usual” questions. I have replied positively to all of his questions and bit my tongue to say just yes and not elaborate. I have made that mistake few years back traveling to China for a Climbing World Championships. There was an epidemic alert of the bird flu or some other so all people arriving to China were scanned for a raised temperature and asked some health related questions. I have disclosed frankly that my throat was sore and quickly added that it happens to me often because of the air condition, but it was to no avail. They took me aside and I have to go through a range of tests and had been under observation for almost 2 hours. I was not about to make that mistake again. The namibian airport police officer was pushing it further however. He took me back through the security checkpoint back to check-in, so that the lady at the counter can identify me as the owner of the unusual baggage. Yes indeed she has confirmed me as being the suspect. After that the police officer has become a shade more sterner. He started to inquire if it is possible that the baggage contains any explosives. By then I started to know where this is heading, but I was unwilling to give in so easily and pretended that I have packed the crashpads some while ago and don’t really remember what else I put inside. So he has taken me through the whole airport, through the security check, immigration, through departure hall outside to the runways and to the baggage area. There my crashpads were set aside and guarded by another two policemen. By then I have admitted to the officer that there might be some of our camping equipment in there. Possibly even a spare gas container to our camping stove. Or two. And of course they were inside, I have put them there myself the previous evening. The three policemen and the x-ray guy were quite relieved when they have seen it’s nothing unusual. The officer have become much more friendly after that, but still said I can not take them on the plane. I tried my luck saying that these containers are tested for pressure change in planes (which they are) and that I fly with them all the time (which I don’t). He explained to me on the way back to the departure hall that a few years back they had sort of a situation at the airport when one of these containers was punctured and started to burn, luckily the plane was already safely on the ground but since then they don’t allow it into planes. I said that I understand and apologized for making them jumpy so early in the morning. He said it was all right, that it is their job to be jumpy early in the morning and then he even surprised me by apologizing in return for his tough behavior in the beginning. I just smiled. He was about to leave me in the departure hall, when I asked him (yes I still have to learn when to be quite) whether I should at least tell the immigration officers that I am leaving Namibia. I can’t recognize how black people blush, but I think he must have blushed, because for a moment he looked very uncertain and lost for words. Then he come back to himself and said that of course and apologized to me once again. He wanted to push me to the front of the line and started to organize people there, but I thanked him and have walked to the back, saying I am not in a hurry. It was his turn to smile and I think we both parted with kind of a good impression about people. An hour and half later I have departed Namibia and thought it made a pretty good impression on me altogether.