Caves, Part II

I had come back to the bundu to get closer to nature, and I had certainly seen a lot of nature on my adventure.  What I wasn’t expecting was that it was also very much about people.  And nowhere did I see that more than when we hiked to the top of Eagle Rock.

We left early, driving up Mohave Highway and then wending through a twisted set of roads that on the map looked like a plateful of spaghetti.  We eventually reached a place called Eagle Junction, and parked in the parking lot under a tree.  Except that it wasn’t a parking lot, it was just an area where vehicles had occasionally parked before, where the grass had been beaten down ever so slightly compared to the taller, undisturbed grass next to it.  And the lone tree was hardly majestic; not big enough to provide even the slightest bit of shade for the vehicle, it acted more as a signpost saying “Park Here” than anything else.

We hiked along the rocky trail, stopping here and there to identify tracks, scat, and animal remains, before the path dropped down into a little valley below the outcrop that dominated the northern skyline.  After crossing a dry stream that had seen water fairly recently, we emerged on a beautiful plain covered with pastel yellow flowers, scaring off a few baboons who loved to eat them.  Before long, we were at the base of the rocky outcrop, and then ascended a steep path up to the southern ridge.

We emerged on a large, rocky plateau, the east side of which drops several hundred feet straight down to the Motloutse River.  This was Eagle Rock, possibly the most scenic spot ever in an area already known for its stunning beauty.

Off in the distance, across the river and in the mopane trees a mile or two away, we could see a lone bull elephant browsing.  To the right, on the plain below, a large herd of impala and a good-sized herd of kudu lazed comfortably near each other, some slowly grazing on the tall, fresh grass, but most just lying down and resting.  Directly below our feet, many colorful lizards came close to see what we were doing and to see if they could scrounge any scraps of food from us.  Far below, on the rocks next to the river, a family of rock hyrax nimbly jumped from boulder to boulder.  Above our heads, catching the strong updrafts caused by the abrupt rise of Eagle Rock, several birds of prey circled and dove and circled again.

—–

After enjoying the expansive view of the greater Tuli region from the top of Eagle Rock, we took a detour on the way back to the vehicle.  Andrew was looking for a brown hyena den he had seen in this area a year ago, and we needed to find out if it was still in use.

We wandered up several side canyons, boxed in by red rock cliffs, large trees gripping desperately at the steep canyon walls with twisted root systems that looked like something straight out of a fantasy movie.  In a place where I had seen so much beauty, and on a day where I had already been completely blown away by the landscape, it just seemed that with every step we took, every corner we rounded, every hill we topped, we saw something even more spectacular.   I was beginning to wonder how much more of this my brain could take before it exploded from an overdose of visual stimulation.

Andrew eventually found the brown hyena den in some rocks against a cliff hanging above a small plain.  As we walked up to the mouth of the den, walking single file behind him, he saw one of the hyenas dash into the den, but the rest of us did not see it.  So we decided to stand around and wait for a little while to see if it would come back out.

bones

Bones were scattered everywhere outside of the brown hyena den. Tuli Wilderness, Botswana, March 2013.

As I stood there waiting for the elusive hyena to emerge, a gentle, misty rain began to fall and I stared not at the opening to the den, but at the ground beneath my feet.  The ground around the opening was littered with skulls, horns, teeth, tufts of fur, and bones of all shapes and sizes.  Maybe it was just having come from the ancient settlement site high on Eagle Rock just an hour or two earlier, but for some reason I was suddenly struck by the resemblance of the hyena den to a rock shelter—a prehistoric home where early man would have spent his days.

At the opening of a small rock shelter against a cliff edge…

…elevated with a view of the surrounding rocky red hills and plains, ideally situated for spotting prey and defending against other predators…

…a small landing in front of the cliff making a perfect place to return from the hunt and gorge on the spoils…

…the rocks below littered with the debris from a thousand previous hunts…

…deep in the wilds of Africa.

After all of my studying of and fascination with ancient peoples, for the first time in my life, it was as if I was actually experiencing it.

This is exactly what it must have been like.

It mattered little if it was the home of a brown hyena in 2013, or the home of australopithecus robustus a million or two years earlier.  Man and his ancestors are just a few of the many species of animals to ever inhabit the planet, and we really aren’t that different from each other.

—–

This story is excerpted from my book Back to the Bundu [ Paperback | Kindle | NOOK | iPad ].

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