Sunday, March 15, 2009

Brokeback Mountain

Before I begin, I need to clarify that this post has absolutely nothing to do with cowboys – or any romantic relationships between cowboys, for that matter. The title was suggested by Duncan, and because it made me laugh, I decided to use it. Its significance will soon become clear…

Last weekend was Sarah’s birthday hike – a 3 day excursion to Suikerboschfontein in Mpumalanga, with her friends and family. After much panic about what food, shoes and backpack to take, I was finally ready, and met some of my fellow hikers at Sarah and Graham’s house in Sydenham on Friday night. We loaded our stuff into the 4 X 4’s, sorted out GPS coordinates and set off at about 18:30, arriving at Suikerboschfontein at 21:30, where we met the rest of Duncan and Luke’s family, as well as the Van Zyl’s. After a quick chat and the allocation of beds, we went to sleep, in preparation for Saturday’s hike. Unfortunately, our sleep wasn’t as peaceful as we had hoped it would be, thanks to Garrith’s phone switching itself on at 4am and his alarm going off. After much scuffling in the dark, he managed to locate it and turn it off, and everyone went back to some much needed sleep.

Everyone was up by 6:30am, making “just add hot water” oats, packing up sleeping bags and berating Garrith’s cellphone. A group of us set off at about 8am, while the rest of the hikers waited for the return of the 4 X 4’s, which had gone to drop off everyone’s stuff at the second camp site. I was in a group with Duncan, his parents (Trish and Peter), John-Mark, Jenny, Martin, Luke and his dad, Robert, and I chatted to Duncan as we walked along, taking the occasional photo and enjoying the scenery. We then dropped to the back of the group, with Luke and his dad, who were taking photos and looking at plants, and I then watched as Luke and Duncan attempted some rock-climbing on a sheer rock face, which was surprisingly successful! We met up with the rest of the group, and then split up again, with Luke, Duncan, Martin, Jenny and John-Mark opting for the complicated rock-climbing shortcut route, while I decided to follow Duncan’s parents and Luke’s dad down the less strenuous path. It was at this point that things went awry. I was stepping down onto the path when I slipped, twisted my ankle and fell sideways into a bush, flat on my back. Luckily, the sound of me falling into the bush brought Trish, Peter and Robert running back, and they quickly stepped in to help me, as Trish helped me up and Robert found me my water and took off my shoe and sock. I was sure that I was fine – aside from the feeling that I was about to faint and my throbbing ankle – and that all I needed was to sit down for 10 minutes. I then noticed that my ankle was already swollen. Robert rubbed Voltaren onto my ankle and bandaged it up (with Graham’s 3 metre long bandage), and gave me some painkillers, while everyone else debated what to do. The rest of the group had caught up to us, and everyone had stopped to see what had happened – a bit like a car crash, I suppose! It was decided that Luke, Duncan, Garrith and Peter would carry me back to the first camp site, and from there we’d decide whether I should have the ankle x-rayed. So, somewhat unceremoniously, they took turns piggy-backing me along the 3km route back to the camp (as the title of this post becomes clear!). All 4 of them were incredibly obliging, considering that they had to manoeuvre me up and down the steep hills, along very narrow paths, and I spent the journey promising to pay for their physiotherapy bills, and bake them biscuits, rusks and a gingerbread house each. Duncan’s dad was very amusing, maintaining that I had slipped and fallen because I was tired of walking and because I wanted attention from the men on the hike – I responded that this was true, and that it had worked, because I now had 3 eligible bachelors carrying me!

We made it back to the camp, and drove into Carolina (the closest town), where I was seen to by a very nice GP, who sent me to the Carolina General Hospital for x-rays. The less said about the hospital, the better – the front desk was manned by Jabba the Hut, and we were very lucky to eventually find the radiographer (who must have seriously wondered about Luke and I debating whether I was pregnant). Nonetheless, the ankle was not broken, and so the GP wrapped it up and gave me a Voltaren injection. We drove back to the second camp site, and had lunch, while the people who had finished the rest of the hike slowly made their way up the hill to the camp. Luke, Duncan and Garrith walked down to the waterfall nearby, and I spent the afternoon watching a very passionate game of Uno and retelling the morning’s events. The evening consisted of dinner (“just add hot water” noodles), joke-telling and singing and a very long conversation with Garrith about assorted sports injuries – I was pretty drugged up on painkillers by this stage, and a somewhat “captive audience” because I couldn’t walk!

Sunday morning dawned, and I discovered that, while still very swollen, I was at least able to walk on the ankle, and so I followed Luke up some rocks to take photos of the early-morning scenery. Everyone set off for the second section of the hike at various times, and eventually I was left at the camp site with Astrid – a friend of the Van Zyl’s. I was really tired of staring at the same part of the camp by this stage, and so I bandaged up my ankle, put on my shoes and went for a very slow walk around the edge of the camp site to take photos. Fortunately, there were plenty of rocks to balance on, and I took some nice photos of the scenery and just played around with different settings and angles on my camera. I spent the rest of the morning reading a book that Luke had lent me, chatting to Astrid and drinking tea. A few hours later, Duncan’s dad came to retrieve us and everyone’s luggage, and we made our way back to the base camp and then back to Johannesburg.

And that was the hike. It was a lot of fun – up until I fell down the hill. But I still had a good time, mostly thanks to Luke, Duncan, Duncan’s parents, Luke’s dad, Sarah and Graham, and I took some beautiful photos. I’m also hoping to do the entire hike sometime soon – if anyone is prepared to ever let me encounter nature ever again, based on the amount of drama that I caused on this hike! If nothing else, I have now added hiking boots to my birthday wish list!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The X Files

Despite the title of this blog post, I haven’t been abducted by aliens! I have just had a really awesome week, and thought that I’d share some of the details. Varsity has been going really well so far. Honours is very different to undergrad, and I’ve learned more about flexibility within the last 3 weeks than I have in 2 years’ worth of yoga. The key to survival is to avoid planning at all costs – it means that when the psychology department suddenly decides to schedule some arbitrary lecture at some bizarre time, I don’t have to worry about rearranging my life!

Monday was spent in my usual never-ending stats lecture (2 and a half hours!), and then a quick visit to Luke’s lab to giggle over the photos from his birthday party (an event which deserves a blog post of its own). I then had to rush to work, while praying that I wouldn’t have to help with a dog Caesar when I got there. Fortunately, it turned out that the puppies had arrived the day before, and so I could train the new receptionist in relative peace, and didn’t have to help rip open birth sacs and convince tiny creatures to breathe while showing her where the fax machine is!

I also ran my first research design and stats tutorials this week – a somewhat nerve-wracking experience! My Wednesday class is horribly bright – they asked far too many questions and succeeded in confusing me to the point that I have no idea whether anything I said made any sense! Fortunately, my Friday class were just desperate to go home (the tut starts at 14:15), and so accepted everything I said. Next week will be the beginning of the real work though, because I’ll actually have to explain statistics to them!

I started swimming again this week, both because I routinely have 4 hours to kill at Wits every so often, while waiting for tutorials to start, and because my fitness level is relatively nonexistent – a small problem, considering that I’m going on a 20km hike next weekend! I’m really enjoying swimming though – the pool at Wits is somewhat big and scary, and so not many people venture into its depths. I was fairly impressed with myself – I didn’t drown after 2 lengths! In fact, I’ve been swimming at least 1.5km each time! The only disadvantages of swimming at Wits are the temperamental showers (you can either have boiling hot or freezing cold water – never a pleasant warm shower) and the lack of power-points, so I end up walking around with wet hair all day because there’s nowhere to plug in my hairdryer. The other problem, of course, is the audience – all the hubbly-smoking students at the Matrix on the one side, and the water-polo boys on the other. I’ve become somewhat addicted to the resultant endorphins from my daily swim though, so I’m no longer particularly bothered by my damp hair or the bystanders!

I finally tracked down my supervisor this week – an event which is being hailed as a minor miracle! I have someone been assigned to someone who only ever arrives at Wits at around midday – and who apparently works until 20:00. Since I’m a morning person, it’s somewhat problematic that my supervisor appears to be nocturnal – and there are some bets on that she’s actually a vampire, which is probably not a good thing either! But, the good news is that I have at least got my first choice in terms of my research topic, and will thus be exploring brains for the next 8 months! And, the vampire seems enthusiastic and has sent me off to read up on frontal lobes, so at least my project is getting somewhere!

The week was rounded off with Paul’s birthday party, which was… um… interesting! Paul is the brother of the ex-receptionist at the vet, and he and I get along incredibly well, despite having virtually nothing in common. Friday was his 27th birthday, and so he invited all his friends to have a drink at Taiyo’s in Norwood. I’d never been to the place before, but as I walked in, I suddenly realized that it was actually dodgier than The Doors – if such a thing is possible! Having navigated my way up the narrowest twirly staircase in the southern hemisphere, I met Paul and the others on the roof. Strangely enough, one of the people there was Govan (a random MSc student who I’d once met in Luke’s lab, and who I’d sworn I’d seen walking around Rosebank earlier that day – a momentous event, considering everyone thinks Govan is MIA! As it turns out, it actually wasn’t him who I’d seen in Rosebank though!). I was a little out of my element, considering that I was vastly younger than everyone else, and don’t drink or smoke, and was seriously considering leaving when I was suddenly saved by… my boss! Somehow, Richard (the vet) had also been invited to the party, and arrived at the same time as Paul’s sister, Gina, and her boyfriend, Chris. The 4 of us spent the rest of the evening chatting about pets (duh!) and extreme sports, and watching the Liberian party-goers next to us dancing away, while I tried to avoid all the second-hand marijuana smoke that was floating around (I failed and felt horrendous on Saturday). I learned a pretty cool “mind-over-matter” party trick from Chris though and had a really nice chat to both Gina and Paul, so the evening was actually a lot of fun! The highlight of the evening really has to be my boss asking if I was planning on partaking in the hallucinogenic substances that were floating around though!

After Friday night’s madness, it was almost a relief to stay at home last night, and I spent the evening watching the first season of the “X Files” that Helen lent me. It was awesome! I had completely forgotten how much I love that show, and the early episodes are awesome, on account of the 1990’s hairstyles, clothes and distinct lack of GPS’s (Mulder uses a map!) and cellphones! And the dialogue is hysterical – not nearly as serious as everyone thinks it was! I leave you with my favourite quote from the second, episode, entitled “Squeeze”, where Scully and Mulder are tracking a mysterious liver-eating serial killer, and enter his apartment:

SCULLY: It looks like the wall's deteriorating.

MULDER: No, somebody made it.
(Mulder and Scully make their way to part of the room where a wall looks like it's crumbling)
This is a nest, look, it's made out of rags and newspapers.

SCULLY: This looks like the opening, think there's anything inside?
(Mulder feels the opening and gets a slimy substance on his hand)
Oh my God, Mulder, it's smells like, I think it's bile.

MULDER: Is there any way I can get it off my fingers quickly without betraying my cool exterior?
(Mulder quickly flicks the stuff of his fingers)